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Southwest Atlanta and the Original Streetcars

Before southwest Atlanta developed into the neighborhoods that exist today, the area was once a rural outlier of a city in its infancy as a transportation hub. The history of West End, Westview, and Adair Park were very much shaped by the original lines of transportation around which they existed – stage coaches, the early streetcars, and the heavy rail lines that once looped the city to form the Atlanta BeltLine. These southwest Atlanta neighborhoods only began to develop as suburbs once Atlanta began developing as a city.

View of an unpaved road and windmill in West End, Georgia, a town later annexed into the city of Atlanta. Photo credit: Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center.

View of an unpaved road and windmill in West End, Georgia, a town later annexed into the city of Atlanta. Photo credit: Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center.

The White Hall House was the crux of the earliest development of West End in 1835, when the area was merely an intersection on a stage coach line. (Today, that intersection is Lee Street and Ralph David Abernathy.) Back then, White Hall House served as a central tavern and inn for travelers along the route in an otherwise sparsely populated area. West End’s development as a neighborhood only began to pick up steam after the Reconstruction period, with the establishment of the first horse-drawn streetcars.

View of streetcar no. 223, with a sign showing a Whitehall Street-Lee Street route, at a carbarn in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo credit: Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center.

View of streetcar no. 223, with a sign showing a Whitehall Street-Lee Street route, at a carbarn in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo credit: Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center.

This early streetcar line from downtown through West End was founded by the Atlanta Street Railway Company, a company that would someday become part of Georgia Power through various acquisitions and mergers. Southwest Atlanta development was heavily influenced in part by the expansion of this line along Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard. Soon after, competing streetcar lines appeared and expanded service down Lucile Street and to Westview Cemetery, and down Lee Street. These expanded lines would effectively connect what are now the West End, Westview, and Adair Park neighborhoods with the burgeoning city of Atlanta.

View of the grounds of Westview Cemetery, established in 1884 four miles west of downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Photo credit: Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center.

View of the grounds of Westview Cemetery, established in 1884 four miles west of downtown Atlanta, Georgia. Photo credit: Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center.

In an 1891 print of The Street Railways Journal, the editors of the publication reported on the formation of the Atlanta Consolidated Street Railway Company, noting that Atlanta had “shown a growth which is almost unparalleled” in the preceding three decades, and that it was “becoming one of the most important railroad centres in the South.” West End’s status as a suburb of Atlanta was sealed when it was annexed by the city in 1894. Adair Park and Westview were developed as subdivisions in this same period, and as Atlanta’s population expanded westward, Oakland City also became part of its official boundaries.

View of the Inman Park Trolley Barn on Edgewood Avenue in the Inman Park neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. Photo credit: Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center.

View of the Inman Park Trolley Barn on Edgewood Avenue in the Inman Park neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia. Photo credit: Kenan Research Center at Atlanta History Center.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, a man named Joel Hurt was busy establishing the first electrified streetcar line from downtown to Inman Park, Atlanta’s first planned streetcar suburb. With the success of this line, Hurt set to consolidate and electrify Atlanta’s other existing streetcar lines, including those on the southwest side of the city. Eventually, these companies would combine with the city’s utilities company to become Georgia Railway and Electric Company, operating more than 200 miles of streetcar track in Atlanta.

A streetcar passes down an old line in Atlanta. Photo credit: Kenan Research Center.

A streetcar passes down an old line in Atlanta. Photo credit: Kenan Research Center.

The rise of the automobile had a national effect on both streetcar services and the use of heavy rail for freight and passenger transport. This was no different in Atlanta, as automobiles grew in popularity and became the favored by many over public transportation. Many of the rail lines that compose the Atlanta BeltLine’s 22-mile loop have gone out of service at various points in the past several decades as highways were built and railroads declined. The Westside Trail, which cuts a line through southwest Atlanta, was a CSX rail route until 1984, when the line went inactive and became an overgrown division between the historic neighborhoods it intersects. Atlanta’s streetcars were replaced with trackless trolleys, and then in 1949, they disappeared altogether.

The Westside Trail was once a CSX line which became inactive in 1984. Photo: Christopher T. Martin.

The Westside Trail was once a CSX line which became inactive in 1984. Photo: Christopher T. Martin.

That is, until December 2014, when the City of Atlanta introduced the first 2.7-mile loop of the downtown Atlanta Streetcar. The downtown Atlanta Streetcar’s 2.7-mile loop is just the beginning of a modern streetcar network that will expand into the Atlanta BeltLine and connect in with MARTA transit.

The Atlanta Streetcar made its debut on December 30, 2014.

The Atlanta Streetcar made its debut on December 30, 2014.

In addition, construction on the Westside Trail is underway, which will connect Adair Park at University Avenue to Washington Park at Lena Street with a multi-use corridor. These neighborhoods, divided for decades, will once again be connected to each other and to the larger network of transit, trails, and greenspace that are the backbone of the Atlanta BeltLine program. Studies are underway to determine transit alignment along this corridor, tying southwest Atlanta to other parts of the city by way of modern streetcar and connections to MARTA rail.

The Westside Trail is officially under construction. Photo: Christopher T. Martin.

The Westside Trail is officially under construction. Photo: Christopher T. Martin.

These infrastructure investments are not only reminders of the past, but keys to the future, paving the way for economic development, connections to job centers, parks, schools, and other benefits to public health.

Sources:

Edwards-Pittman Environmental, Inc. (2013). Phase I Archaeological Survey of the Atlanta BeltLine Southwest Corridor, Fulton County, Georgia. Smyrna, GA: Richard A. Moss and J. Dylan Woodliff

New South Associates. (2012). Historic Streetcar Systems in Georgia. Stone Mountain, GA: Patrick Sullivan, W. Matthew Tankersley, Mary Beth Reed, Sara Gale, and Mary Hammock.

Street Railway Publishing Company. (1891). Street Railways in Atlanta. The Street Railway Journal, 7, 540. [Google eBook version]. Retrieved from play.google.com.

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