Walking Tour of Underground Atlanta
Underground Atlanta, or “the original Atlanta” has been here from the very beginning; please follow this walking tour for a taste of Atlanta’s history.
Stop 1 – Railroad Depot
We will start here at the Railroad Depot because it was the railroad that caused Atlanta the greatest growth. The Georgia Railroad Freight Depot is the oldest building in the area. When it was built in 1869, the Depot was Atlanta’s tallest building in the area until it was reduced to one story by fire in 1935. In 1833 a stake was placed at the zero mile marker and the railroad it spawned was born.
The building of a railroad was not an easy enterprise. John Thrasher, the grading contractor, had to contend with poor equipment, backbreaking labor, and a worker’s strike. Thrasher broke the strike by dismissing the strikers and hiring 25 slaves owned by a local preacher. The preacher was paid $16 a month plus a board for their services. Thus, slaves can be credited with some of the earliest construction of Atlanta.
The first train to arrive at this depot did not come by rail, but rather, the locomotive “Florida” arrived on Christmas Eve, 1842, on a wagon drawn by 16 mules.
In 1848, Atlanta was incorporated with a population of 21 people and an area of 1 mile in each direction of the zero mile marker. When the American Civil War began in 1861, Atlanta was a thriving community of 10,000 people with an extended area of 2 miles in each direction. Because of Atlanta’s railroads, it became a major supply depot for men and equipment. Generals Sherman and Grant both stated that the battlefields of the Civil War were littered with equipment stamped “made in Atlanta” or “shipped from Atlanta”. A year after the Civil War the population was 10,000 whites and 9,000 blacks.
Please enter through the glass doors to your left and proceed down Lower Alabama street.
Stop 2 – Vendor Kiosks
As you walk down Alabama Street past the vendor kiosks please note the historic storefronts. The street vendors here in Atlanta have had a long history. Alabama Street as we see it today was largely a vacant field in 1830 when it was referred to as Humbug Square. Traveling medicine shows (Snake Oil Salesmen), dancing bears, political speeches, gamblers, and fast-buck artists gave the area a carnival atmosphere. This street was one of the 7 original streets in Atlanta and the city’s first to be paved.
Please proceed down Alabama street until you reach the next stop, the intersection of Alabama and Pryor Streets
Stop 3 – Intersection of Alabama Street/Pryor Street
Let’s stop here for a moment at Alabama and Pryor Street. At the corner of these streets was the jail or Calaboose. No more than a log cabin with a dirt floor, flat roof, and padlock on the door, it stood near this corner as a sign of progress and security for the decent folks in Atlanta. However, many of those arrested for drunkenness were freed by friends who simply “tipped” the building over so they could crawl out.
Stop 4 – Planters Hotel
Turn left with me onto Pryor Street and walk over to the Planters Hotel marker. On July 22, 1864, the armies of the North and South met in a bloodbath known as the Battle of Atlanta. At the site of Dantes Down the Hatch stood the Planters Hotel. The hotel became a military hospital, but not just a hospital for Southern soldiers. By 1864, both armies treated the wounded from the Union and the Confederacy as equally as possible. Therefore, the hotel would be filled with the injured wearing both blue and gray. Chaplain McNeely of the Confederate Army described how he would visit these hospitals and see the “men of both armies lying side by side waiting to see the surgeons.”
Stop 5 – Lower Alabama Street
As you leave the Planters Hotel and continue back down Lower Alabama Street, imagine the busy scene as we stroll down Alabama past the glass doors toward the escalators. By 1870, the population of Atlanta was 37,000 and growing. The area along Alabama Street was busy from morning to night. The horse-drawn trolley referred to as the “hay burner”, made daily stops here. Joel Chandler Harris, who in 1880 published the first of his Uncle Remus Stories, was a frequent rider and always caught the first car of the day and sat near the door. From horse and mule power, the trolley moved to steam and then electric. The electric trolleys opened up the suburbs to the inner city.
Remember the fountains to your right. They will be mentioned in detail as we travel upstairs.
Proceed down Lower Alabama until you reach the MARTA tunnel
Stop 6 – Gas Light
Before we take the escalators to Upper Alabama Street, let’s take a few moments to hear the story of this old gas lamppost in front of you. The Gas Lamp was 1 of 50 erected by the Atlanta Gas Light Company in 1856. It was shelled by Union artillery prior to the Battle of Atlanta. Solomon (Sam) Luckie, 1 of 40 free blacks in Atlanta, was leaning against this lamp talking with a group of white businessmen when a cannon shell wounded him. The businessmen carried him to their local surgeon where he died from his wounds. Sam had owned the Barber and Bath Salon, in the nearby Atlanta Hotel. Luckie Street was named for him. The Gas Lamp was relit during the premiere of Gone With the Wind in 1939.
Please proceed up the escalators and continue out the doors to your right.
Stop 7 – Viaducts
With a population of 200,000, the best way to deal with the growing traffic was to raise the street. In 1910, iron bridges had to be constructed over the railroad tracks to provide better traffic flow. Local architect, Harold Bleckley, proposed concrete bridges to replace the iron ones which would also create a linear mall and public plazas.
In 1929, the construction of these bridges, or viaducts, elevated the street system 1 1/2 stories. The businesses moved upstairs to the second floor, which then made this the main floor to the new upper street. This gave birth to what is now Underground Atlanta.
That’s why we say that rather than Underground being called the basement, Underground is the main level and the upper level is really the “attic”. Let’s take a look at the historic Connally Building directly across from the glass doors coming from the escalator.
Stop 8 – The Historic Connally Building
The hotel on Underground Atlanta’s property was formally known as the Connally Building. This historic 1915 office building was meticulously restored and eleven floors were added to create a luxury seventeen-story property, which is reminiscent of the finest European hotels.
Continue to your left.
Stop 9- Peachtree Fountains
Across the street from the Connally building, you will see the Peachtree Fountains. Although they are beautiful, these fountains are not the grand scale Bleckley had envisioned with his plazas. In fact, only one of Bleckley’s plazas was attempted and that was at the entrance to Underground near the zero mile marker. The current Fountains Plaza replaced it.
This area has seen plenty of struggles for equality and civil rights. Only one block to the west stood the Atlanta Hotel where Solomon Luckie worked as one of only a handful of “free people of color” in 1860. One block further west is the business district around Five Points where the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. brought his philosophy on nonviolence to bear on the white business. On Central Avenue, just a block to our east, the funeral procession of Dr. King made its way over the viaduct of Underground on its way to Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Continue down Upper Alabama Street to the intersection of Upper Alabama and Pryor Street.
Stop 10 – Union Depot Site
Let’s stop at the Union Depot site at the intersection of Upper Alabama and Pryor Street. At this site stood the Union Depot, the domed building portrayed in Gone With the Wind. As you remember, Scarlett and Dr. Mead tended to wounded soldiers at the Union Depot in the movie. The station was destroyed when General Sherman burned Atlanta prior to his beginning the “March to the Sea”.
Continue across the street to the intersection of Upper Alabama and Central Avenue.
Stop 11 – Capitol
This is Capitol View. As our last stop on the tour, let’s take a last look at Atlanta’s amazing history.
Ahead of us is the shiny gold dome of the Georgia State Capital Building. In 1864, when Atlanta fell to the Union Army the 2nd Massachusetts Infantry pitched their tents on the grounds.
A block south and hidden from view by the Catholic Church is City Hall. At the time of Atlanta’s capture, the Neal House stood there. It was General Sherman’s headquarters during his stay here in Atlanta.
The Catholic Church standing nearby is the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. When General Sherman made his plans known that he was to burn the city, Father O’Reilly, Priest of Immaculate Conception, demanded the churches be left standing. Sherman later admitted that he would have had the Priest shot but for the large numbers of Catholics in his army. Not only was the Catholic Church spared but the other four denomination’s sanctuaries that stood nearby were left unburned as well. The church received the designation of Shrine due to the miracle of the saving of the church’s and Father O’Reily’s life.
Only a few blocks to our North is Auburn Avenue wherein 1929 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born. His tomb is only a short distance from his birth home.
Underground Atlanta part of the original Atlanta, has seen and participated in much of Atlanta’s great history, good and bad, right and wrong, as we have grown from a city of 21 souls to over 4 million. A city that has grown from the Civil War to Civil Rights.
Thank you for taking our self-guided history tour.