Atlanta Travel Guide


The region where Atlanta and its suburbs were built was originally Creek and Cherokee Indian territory. After these tribes were deported along the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma by the Federal government, white settlement in the area increased rapidly.

Atlanta was first planned in 1836 as a terminus on the Western & Atlantic Railroad, for lines connecting from Birmingham, Chattanooga, Macon, and Athens. The terminus was originally planned for Decatur, but its citizens did not want it. Another spot was arbitrarily picked, around which the village of Terminus grew up in expectation of railroad traffic. Besides Decatur, several other suburbs of Atlanta predate the city by several years, including Marietta and Lawrenceville. As the population grew, it was eventually decided that a better name for the town should be found, since Terminus was more or less a technical term.

Originally it was suggested that the town be named after former governor and then-mayor of Terminus, Wilson Lumpkin. Already having a city and a county named after him, the Governor refused and suggested that the city be named after his daughter, Martha, instead. Therefore, starting in 1843, Terminus was known as Marthasville. The origins of the modern name are somewhat difficult to describe.

In 1845, the Chief Engineer of Georgia Railroad, John E. Thomson, suggested the name Atlanta for the town. The motives behind the change are unclear, as is the source behind the name. Thomson himself reportedly told different stories about the source of the name. One story suggests that the name is a feminization of Western and Atlantic Railroad, while another claims that the name is a variation of Martha Lumpkin's middle name, Atalanta. Whatever the case may be, Marthasville was renamed Atlanta in 1845 and was incorporated as such in 1847.

In 1864, the city became the target of a major Union invasion in the American Civil War, the Atlanta Campaign, later immortalized in the novel and film Gone With the Wind. The area now covered by Atlanta was the scene of several battles including the Battle of Peachtree Creek, the Battle of Atlanta, and the Battle of Ezra Church. On September 1, 1864, Confederate General John Bell Hood evacuated Atlanta after a four-month siege mounted by Union General William T. Sherman, and ordered all public buildings and possible union assets destroyed. The next day, mayor James Calhoun surrendered the city, and on September 7 Sherman ordered the civilian population to evacuate.

He then ordered Atlanta burned to the ground on November 11 in preparation for his punitive march south. After a plea by Father Thomas O'Reilly of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Sherman did not burn the city's churches or hospitals. The remaining war resources were then destroyed in the aftermath and in Sherman's March to the Sea. The fall of Atlanta was a critical point in the Civil War, giving the North more confidence, and leading to the re-election of Abraham Lincoln and the eventual surrender of the Confederacy.

After the war, Atlanta was gradually rebuilt and soon became the industrial and commercial center of the South. From 1867 until 1888, US Army soldiers occupied McPherson Barracks (later renamed Fort McPherson) in southwest Atlanta to ensure Reconstruction era reforms. To help the newly freed slaves the federal government set up a Freedmen's Bureau which helped establish what is now Clark Atlanta University, one of several historically black colleges in Atlanta.

In 1868, Atlanta became the fifth city to serve as the state capital. Henry W. Grady, the editor of the Atlanta Constitution, promoted the city to investors as a city of the "New South," by which he meant a diversification of the economy away from agriculture and a shift from the "Old South" attitudes of slavery and rebellion.

As Atlanta grew, ethnic and racial tensions mounted. A race riot in 1906 left at least twelve dead and over seventy injured. In 1913, Leo Frank, a Jewish supervisor at an Atlanta factory, was put on trial for raping and murdering a thirteen-year old white employee. After doubts about Frank's guilt led his death sentence to be commuted in 1915, riots broke out in Atlanta and Frank was lynched.

In the 1930s, the Great Depression hit Atlanta. With the city government nearing bankruptcy, The Coca-Cola Company had to help bail out the city's deficit. The federal government stepped in to help Atlantans by establishing Techwood Homes, the nation's first federal housing project in 1935.

With the entry of the United States into World War II, soldiers from around the southeast went through Atlanta to train and later be discharged at Fort McPherson. War-related manufacturing such as the Bell Aircraft factory in the suburb of Marietta helped boost the city's population and economy. Shortly after the war in 1946, the Communicable Disease Center, later called the Centers for Disease Control was founded in Atlanta from the old Malaria Control in War Areas offices and staff.

In the 1960s, Atlanta was a major organizing center of the civil rights movement, with Dr. Martin Luther King and students from Atlanta's historically black colleges playing major roles in the movement's leadership. On October 19, 1960, a sit-in at the lunch counters of several Atlanta department stores led to the arrest of Dr. King and several students, drawing attention from the national media and from presidential candidate John F. Kennedy. Despite this incident, Atlanta's political and business leaders fostered Atlanta's image as "the city too busy to hate" by avoiding the types of violent confrontations that took place in Selma, Alabama and Birmingham.

In 1990, the International Olympic Committee selected Atlanta as the site for the 1996 Summer Olympics. Following the announcement, Atlanta undertook several major construction projects to improve the city's parks, sports facilities, and transportation. The games themselves were marred by the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, which resulted in the death of two people and injured several others.


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