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.

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