Part of what is exciting about the Atlanta BeltLine project is that there is so much history buried in Atlanta, and much of it can be found by exploring the rail corridor that loops the city. For those of you that love Atlanta as much as we do, seeing glimpses of the past makes the future even more exciting. These glimpses remind us what it took to get here and what it will take to get where we want to go.
The 22-mile Atlanta BeltLine loop is made up of several historic rail lines that circled the city, as Atlanta started as a rail hub and transportation center of the southeast. While some corridors (northwest and northside) are still active, the others went out of service over the last several decades.
With the help of the Atlanta History Center and the Digital Library of Georgia, we have collected some photos and maps that provide a look into the history of Atlanta around the Atlanta BeltLine.
Some of the earliest documents we dug up included maps from the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition held in what is now Piedmont Park. Atlanta’s status as a trade and business center was showcased as hundreds of thousands of visitors attended the exhibits and attractions.
An official history of the exposition published in the following year credited the railroads for helping to make the exposition possible. Several of the rail lines, including Southern Railway, purchased Exposition bonds, contributing to its funding.
The Southern Railway transported visitors both locally and long-distances, and the exposition brought in so many additional travelers that the schedule was expanded. As evidenced from the sign in the photo, trains departed every few minutes. Southern Railway also laid additional tracks to accommodate the influx of visitors, connecting the station with its terminal inside the exposition.
The map above is marked up to show the locations of present-day structures in Piedmont Park. The additional tracks run along the south side of the map and meet with the main Southern Railway line. The familiar curve of this corridor is part of what is now the Eastside Trail on the Atlanta BeltLine.
The medieval-looking building you see in the picture above was the administration building, which sat on the west side of the grounds on Piedmont Avenue, at what is now the 14th Street entrance to the park. The photo below is a shot of the exposition looking north from atop the Phoenix Wheel, one of the many exposition attractions which included a maze, a haunted swing, and a merry-go-round.
Most of the buildings from the Cotton States and International Exposition were subsequently torn down, but some structures, such as the stone balustrades, still remain.
The Cotton States and International Exposition and South: Illustrated, Including the Official History of the Exposition (Google eBook). Illustrator Company, 1896.