Let’s Jump Right In – The Spiritual History of Atlanta, Part I

History of Atlanta:

Moundbuilder Native Americans descended to the Creeks, who inhabited the area near present-day Atlanta. Their village was named Standing Peachtree and was, in the 1820s, the western edge of America’s frontier. They ceded the land to the heavy-handed American government and were largely eliminated from the area via the Trail of Tears.

With the railroad boom, Georgia General assembly decided Georgia (Savannah, specifically) needed a connection with the West. They got Stephen Long to choose a spot in 1836. With permission from Mr. Ivey, he placed a 0 mile marker on his land at present-day Five Points. A few years later Samuel Mitchell donated several acres to form the terminus, which is now Underground Atlanta, about a block and a half to the southeast. Early on, Terminus was a rowdy place with railhands and prostitutes that lived in nearby shanties as shops developed along the rail depot. After being called Thrasherville and then Marthasville, John E. Thomson of the railroad suggested it be named Atlantica-Pacifica. It was shortened to Atlanta, and residents saw it fitting. More railroads joined in from all sides, and the city continued to grow.

In 1845, the first Jewish residents arrived. In 1847, Atlanta had 2,500 residents as well as at least one church.


 The first Atlanta city council meeting approves wooden sidewalks, a ban on Sunday business, and a marshal.

 September Crime Spree: Atlanta’s first homicide, end of a family feud, occurs when William Terrell stabs James McWilliams; Terrell gets four years hard labor. Also, Judge Francis Cone stabs Alexander Stephens at the Atlanta Hotel; Stephens survives, later becomes Governor of the state, then Vice President of the Confederacy.

One of Atlanta’s first mayors, Norcross, cleaned up the town and survived threats from local outlaws. In 1855, the Fulton County Grand Jury mentioned “evil of vast magnitude, the herds of unruly and vicious boys who infest the streets of the city … by day and night, especially on the Sabbath, to the great annoyance of citizens…”

In the Civil War, the city became a hospital. Its population doubled to 20,000. Retreating southern general Hood ordered anything of value to the Union army to be destroyed. Sherman came through and destroyed everything else except hospitals and churches, at the persuasion of Father Thomas O’Reiley.

By the end of 1865, all 5 major rail lines were operational again, powering the “resurgens,” that is, the rise from the ashes. By the end of the century, over 150 trains per day would pass through the city.

In 1865, a school for black children opened in an old church building on Armstrong St. In 1869, the Methodist Episcopal Church’s Freedman’s Aid Society founds a coed black school that later becomes Clark College. Over the late 1860s, a number of blacks gain political positions but are forced out as Reconstruction governments crumble.

It swelled as a transportation hub with large black and Jewish populations, with many businesses and opera houses opening. Schools were started in the 3 wards for whites but not blacks for another 2 decades. In March 1874, Henry Grady printed the “New South” editorial which called for Deep South industrialists to support the city and defined Atlanta’s success as lying in connection with the North, more industry, less reliance upon agriculture, and a more diversified economy.

In 1870, a Baptist college moved from Augusta to Atlanta. Its name was changed several times before becoming Morehouse. The first Atlanta public school for blacks, the Gate City Colored School, was started in Big Bethel AME’s basement in 1879. In 1881, Morris Brown College, the only Atlanta college begun exclusively by African Americans, held classes in the same basement. That same year, the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary opened, which later moved to McPherson Barracks, being called Spelman Seminary. Now it’s Spelman College.

In 1885, prohibitionists won a referendum and made Fulton County dry. John Pemberton, afraid sales of his French Wine Cola will suffer, goes into his lab and creates headache remedy Coca-Cola. Georgia Tech was founded as well.

In 1889, Decatur Female Seminary opened, now known as Agnes Scott.

1895: Cotton States Exhibition. 800,000 attend from U.S. and 13 countries. Booker T. Washington gives the Atlanta Compromise speech. There was a building devoted to the “New Woman” as well as the “Negro Building.”

The 20th century continued the frenetic growth of the city. Louie Newton, editor of the City Builder magazine, talked about the “Atlanta Spirit”—the thought pattern that whatever is good for business is good for Atlantans.” “Sweet Auburn” became Atlanta’s community analogous to 1920s Harlem. With its fast-paced growth as a result of rail travel, all other areas of Atlanta’s infrastructure lagged far behind, such as roadways and sewers.

In 1901, the Baptist Tabernacle Infirmary and Training School for Christan Nurses is founded, now Georgia Baptist Medical Center.

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