Spend a Day with the Past at Atlanta History Center

The past comes alive at new Atlanta History Center exhibit.
  • Washerwomen of the 19th century put in a hard day's work.
    Washerwomen of the 19th century put in a hard day's work.
  • Follow the path of the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917.
    Follow the path of the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917.
  • The butterfly is the symbol of Inman Park, Atlanta's first successful planned suburb.
    The butterfly is the symbol of Inman Park, Atlanta's first successful planned suburb.
  • Rosalyn Walton was one of the Atlanta Nine, the students who desegregated Atlanta Public Schools.
    Rosalyn Walton was one of the Atlanta Nine, the students who desegregated Atlanta Public Schools.
  • Take a walk down memory lane.
    Take a walk down memory lane.

Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood is all about amazing shopping, delicious food, beautiful hotels, nightlife and stunning neighborhoods. One of its shining stars is the Atlanta History Center, home to the elegant Swan House, the charming Smith Family Farm and one of the largest Civil War exhibitions in the United States. 

There are plenty of great restaurants nearby, and the beloved Atlanta Cyclorama will soon reopen in its new home at Atlanta History Center. It’s no stretch to say you could spend a day at Atlanta History Center, with outdoor gardens to explore as you take a break between its various exhibitions.

The newest exhibit, “Gatheround: Stories of Atlanta,” tells Atlanta history through stories of Atlantans who put their mark on the city we love today.

The Country's Movements Told Through Atlanta's Past

Alonzo Herndon was one such citizen. Herndon, the city’s first African-American millionaire, ran a barber shop – see a chair from his shop in the exhibit – and founded the Atlanta Life Insurance Company.

As you enter the 7,700-square-foot exhibition hall, you may sit and watch a seven-minute video featuring, among others, the Indigo Girls and Martin Luther King Jr., telling what they love about the city.

A timeline of artifacts begins with the Native American presence in Georgia nearly 13,000 years ago and continues with, to cite a few examples, carpetbaggers, the Winecoff Hotel Fire and Hank Aaron.

If you have lived in Atlanta for a while then there’s no doubt that you will enjoy this exhibit. And even if you are new here or just visiting, you may be surprised at all the stories and events that make up Atlanta’s history.

Experience Hands-On Historical Perspectives

My friends and I loved the Washerwomen display where you can try to pick up a heavy load of laundry and try to stir a pot full of dirty laundry (neither is easy). This display highlights the Washerwomen’s Strike of 1881, when more than 3,000 African-American laundresses staged a work stoppage in a fight for higher wages. When you note the chores washerwomen performed every day, you can sympathize with their everyday life.

As the display notes, every day, washerwomen had to collect dirty linen, fetch water, make lye soap, boil clothes, stir boiling laundry, hang heavy items, fold, press and deliver.

Meet The Past Personally

One exhibit features Inman Park, the city's first successful planned suburb. Established by Joel Hurt, Inman Park is home to the city's earliest Victorian-era housing and curvilinear streets. It is named for merchant Samuel M. Inman.

Among the many highlights of the “Gatheround” exhibit are the Meet the Past museum theater performances where actors portray a notable Atlanta personality. Each performance lasts about 12 minutes.

The day I visited, I saw a riveting performance in the section of the exhibit devoted to Leo Frank – the Jewish superintendent of the Atlanta Pencil Factory – which portrays the historical Gov. John Slaton as he weighs whether or not to commute Frank’s death sentence. 

Other Meet the Past performances portray Rosalyn Walton of the Atlanta Nine, the students who desegregated Atlanta Public Schools; a newsboy who recounts the Atlanta Race Riot; and Eli Sotto, a Greek Holocaust survivor who ran a barbershop in Midtown for six decades.

Face to Face with Atlanta's Stories and Scenes

Push a button to light up a map showing the path of the fire of 1917. And, behold the rolltop desk of beloved Atlanta journalist Celestine Sibley.

Don’t forget to “photo bomb” yourself into an 1890s Georgia Tech football game, a 1950s protest in Piedmont Park or a Dragon Con gathering. Then e-mail the image to yourself. Or, step into a recording booth and tell your own Atlanta story.

Before or after you visit Gatheround, pop into the new Souper Jenny’s location right at the front of Atlanta History Center. Grab a sandwich, salad or bowl of soup, and while you are there, browse the bookstore, pick up a gift and let the kids entertain themselves in the play area.

Don't stop there on your visit, because there are plenty of things to do in Buckhead. When you're hungry, be sure to experience some of the many restaurants in Buckhead, too. Make a day of it.

Journalist Carol Carter writes and edits for Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. Carol made her own contribution to Atlanta history as a founding staff member, in 1978, of Atlanta Business Chronicle.

 

 

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