Friday, March 29, 2013

Calhoun Street

Calhoun Street was a previous name for present-day Piedmont Avenue. One of Atlanta's earliest known street names, it existed from at least 1853 to 1892.

Calhoun Street in the 1850s
(Credit: 1853 Vincent map)

Other Names

Piedmont Avenue (since 1892)

Name Origins

According to Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett, Calhoun Street was named for James Montgomery Calhoun (1811-1875), a four-term mayor of Atlanta who is perhaps best known for surrendering the city to Union Gen. William T. Sherman during the Civil War.
(Credit: Pioneer Citizens' History of Atlanta)
Calhoun was born in Abbeville District, South Carolina, and by the time he was 18, both of his parents were dead. He moved to Decatur, Georgia, to live with his older brother, Ezkiel, a doctor. Calhoun chose instead to study law. In 1832, he passed the bar and married Emma Eliza Dabney (1810-1860), daughter of Judge Anderson W. Dabney of Jasper County, Georgia, and apparently "a lady of intelligence, education and refinement." They would eventually have eight children together, including William Lowndes Calhoun (1837-1908), another Atlanta mayor.

The 1830s marked the beginning of the Georgia state government's lengthy efforts to encourage white settlement and relocate Native Americans, such as the Creeks. Violence broke out when speculators sought to defraud the Creeks of their land allotments, and the so-called "Creek War of 1836" was launched. Although Calhoun was a practicing lawyer during this time, for unclear reasons he became involved in the conflict, serving as captain in an army led by Gen. William Scott and distinguishing himself in a battle near Stewart County, Georgia.

Calhoun's success as a military leader seems to have encouraged him to try his hand at politics. In 1837, Calhoun won a seat in the Georgia House, representing DeKalb County, and in 1851, he was elected a state senator. A year later, in December 1852, Calhoun moved to Atlanta, which would be his home for the rest of his life. As a lawyer and state senator, Calhoun was a prominent citizen of Atlanta. When the Civil War broke out and Atlanta was transformed into an engine of the Southern war effort, Calhoun sought an influential role. He was elected mayor in 1862, the first of four consecutive one-year terms. As the war progressed, Calhoun drew upon his military experience and organized a militia to protect the city.

Sherman and staff after the capture of Atlanta
(Credit: National Park Service)
However, the siege directed by Gen. Sherman proved to be too much for anyone, including Atlanta's Confederate protectors, who retreated on September 1, 1864. The next day, Calhoun officially surrendered the city at the corner of Peachtree Street and Alabama Street. Sherman ordered all remaining citizens to evacuate, and when Calhoun protested, gave his famous response, "War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it."

After the war, Calhoun practiced law in Atlanta with his son, Lowndes, until his death in 1875. He is buried with his wife in Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery.

Garrett, Franklin M. (1954/2011). Atlanta and Its Environs, Volume I. University of Georgia Press. (p. 300)
Pioneer Citizens' Society of Atlanta, Pioneer Citizens' History of Atlanta, 1833-1902 (pp. 288-291)
Sherman, William T., Letter to James M. Calhoun et al.

Name Sightings

Calhoun Street appears on the earliest known street map of Atlanta, Vincent's 1853 map. It appears in city directories throughout the 1860s-80s. Its final appearance is Polk's 1891 ACD, after which it is renamed Piedmont Avenue.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Piedmont Avenue

Piedmont Avenue is a street running north-south from Downtown to Piedmont Heights. It originates at Capitol Avenue, near the Georgia State Capitol, and ends at Cheshire Bridge Road, where it becomes Piedmont Road. It's had this name since at least 1892. Before that, it was known as Calhoun Street.

Piedmont Avenue on Google Maps

Other Names

Piedmont Road (north of Cheshire Bridge Road)
Calhoun Street (before 1892)

Name Origins

Piedmont Avenue was likely named for the Piedmont Exposition, held in October 1887, the second of three major expositions in Atlanta in the late 19th century. Earlier that year, the Gentleman's Driving Club (now the Piedmont Driving Club) purchased 189 acres of land from Dr. Benjamin Walker, whose family had farmed it since the 1830s. The Driving Club then leased the land to the Piedmont Exposition Company, a group of Atlanta businessmen seeking to organize a regional exposition. To prepare the land, organizers cleared an entire forest and built several large structures, including a 570-foot-long main building and a horse racing track, in just over 100 days. The event was a marked success, drawing 50,000 attendees to a speech by U.S. President Grover Cleveland in a city whose entire 1890 population was around 65,000. It also set the stage for Atlanta to host a world's fair on the same (improved) grounds in 1895.

The Piedmont Exposition main building
(Credit: Harper's Weekly, October 1887)

But why "Piedmont"? The exposition's purpose, according to Wallace Reed, an early Atlanta historian, was "to collect together the evidences of the resources of the Piedmont region of the Southern States, including Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee." So we can trace the origin of "Piedmont" here, in reference to the Southern Piedmont region of the United States.

In 1904, the Driving Club sold the land to the City of Atlanta, which established it as Piedmont Park. Piedmont Avenue forms the park's western border, and it's considered "Atlanta's Central Park," though it's neither the city's oldest park (Grant Park, established 1895) nor its largest park (Chastain Park, at 268 acres).

Newman, Harvey K. (2010). Cotton Expositions in Atlanta, New Georgia Encyclopedia.
Reed, Wallace P. (1889). History of Atlanta, Georgia. D. Mason & Co. (p. 476)

Name Sightings

The earliest reference I can find to Piedmont Avenue is the 1892 Koch map, where it is incorrectly spelled "Piedmond." It also appears in the Saunders Atlanta City Directory that same year (p. 289). A city directory from the previous year, 1891, has no listing for Piedmont Avenue and shows Calhoun Street extending from the Georgia Railroad to the northern city limits. This suggests that Piedmont Avenue first appeared in 1892, just a few years after the Piedmont Exposition of 1887.

Related Streets

Fair Street, named for another Atlanta exposition.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Elizabeth Street

The inaugural ASNP entry. Let me know what y'all think. Here goes nothing! -Kurt

Elizabeth Street is a street in Inman Park. It runs north-south from Freedom Park to Dekalb Avenue. It's had this name since at least 1889.

Elizabeth Street on Google Maps

Other Names

Elizabeth Avenue (1890s variant)

Name Origins

Elizabeth Street was named for Mary Elizabeth Hurt Jones (1824-1882), who once owned the Joel Hurt Cottage on Elizabeth Street, one of the oldest homes still standing in Atlanta. Elizabeth Jones's first cousin was the father of Inman Park developer Joel Hurt. In the early 1870s, Elizabeth and her husband, James Vickers Jones, moved to Atlanta and built a house in the heart of modern-day Inman Park. James died in 1879 and Elizabeth sold the house and property to Joel Hurt in June 1882. She died just a few weeks later at age 58 and was buried in the Hurt-Jones family plot in Oakland Cemetery.

The Joel Hurt Cottage c. 1890
(Credit: Tommy Jones)

The legacy of Elizabeth's house continued long after her life. In the late 1880s, Joel Hurt enlarged and remodeled the house in the Queen Anne architectural style. It's believed that Hurt and his family lived there from 1887 until 1904, when they moved to a newly built mansion at 167 Elizabeth St. NE. Elizabeth Jones's house, located at 117 Elizabeth St. NE, is known today as the Joel Hurt Cottage.

Jones, Tommy H. Joel Hurt Cottage.
Marr, Christine, and Sharon Foster Jones. (2008). Inman Park (Images of America: Georgia). Arcadia. (p. 12)

Name Sightings

The earliest sighting of Elizabeth Street I've made is in Polk's 1889 Atlanta City Directory (p. 179). It's first listed as Elizabeth Avenue, though by the early 1900s the name settled into the present Elizabeth Street. There's no mention of the street in Polk's 1888 ACD, suggesting the street was first named in 1889. Possibly Joel was moved to name a street in honor of his cousin after she passed away in 1882.

Related Streets

Hurt Street is directly east of Elizabeth Street and runs parallel.

Welcome to ASNP!

Atlantans love to rename their streets. Every few years, going back to at least the early twentieth century, someone has been trying to rename an Atlanta street. The reasons vary. Sometimes people want to recognize a worthy person, place, or thing. Sometimes they want to strip the honor from a recipient deemed unworthy. Other times people rename a street to give it more prestige, or to separate themselves from another group of people. The list goes on.

If we think naming a street for somebody is an honor--and many of us do--then we have to admit that renaming the street strips the honor from somebody, or something, else. And that, in turn, requires us to know something about why the street has its name in the first place. This can be tough. Unlike some other big cities, there is no definitive book or reference for Atlanta street names. There are some great starting points here and there, but for the most part, we're on our own. The history and origins of street names in Atlanta is a big mystery waiting to be solved.

This blog, the Atlanta Street Names Project, is about solving that mystery. Let's discover the stories behind the streets we live, work, and travel on every day. We want to make this a big collaboration, online and offline, involving anyone who's interested in Atlanta streets. In fact, this project is already collaborative, involving folks at the Atlanta History, and other valuable resources.

Our plan is to update this blog regularly with new research on various street names in Atlanta. If possible, each post will contain information about the street name's origins (where the name comes from), its history (when the street was created and how its name has changed over the years), and relevant stories or images. We'll cite sources to keep things scholarly and encourage additional research. Not all of us are professional historians and we view our work as just a starting point. For us, one of the most exciting parts of the project will be getting other folks involved--people like you.

Welcome to the Atlanta Street Names Project. You may want to start by learning how to contribute and checking out the list of resources. Let the discoveries begin!

-The ASNP Team