Rediscovering Atlanta

by jeffhilimire on September 20, 2012

I’ve lived in Atlanta since I was about five years old. Like most people, I’m a transplant from the North, with family roots in Chicago and New York and none in the South.

If I’m being honest, while growing up the allure of Chicago and New York always left me with the “grass is always greener” syndrome. Those cities are massive and bustling, and surrounded by water and bridges. The rich culture and history of them excited me. Seeing the old buildings was unique given that not many buildings in Atlanta are older than Sherman’s pyrotechnics display back in 1864.

I was even excited about the cold weather and snow that you get in those cities. When I was younger we’d travel north for a week during the winter, typically around Christmas, and enjoy all the benefits of snow – sledding, snowball fights, ice skating – and none of the downsides.

But my entire life and career have been in Atlanta and over time I’ve really come to love this city. Through my work I’ve been able to work with some real Atlanta institutions – technology work with Georgia Tech, launching the first Georgia Aquarium website, digitally rebranding the city (Brand Atlanta), social consulting with the Chamber of Commerce, digital agency of record for the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau, and even helping to launch the arena football team, the Georgia Force.

I also sit on several Atlanta boards and participate in multiple technology incubator / start-up accelerators in hopes of helping Atlanta leave its stamp on the national tech scene.

However, it wasn’t until I was selected to be a member of the Leadership Atlanta class of 2013 that I started to really become interested in Atlanta and its history, and ultimately what the city means to me personally.

The Leadership Atlanta program, of which we’re currently about a month in, is going to open my eyes to the past, present and future of Atlanta. Concurrently, I’ve started reading what seems to be the de facto history book of Atlanta, Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn. Truth be told, when I started the book I wasn’t sure I would be able to get through it, so I made a pact with a few other members of my Leadership Atlanta class to read the first 40 pages by this coming Friday. To my surprise, I’m almost through 140 pages and I can’t put it down.

What’s fascinating to me is all the names that, if you live in Atlanta, you hear all the time but you really don’t understand the historical context of them. Candler Park, Woodruff Arts Center, Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd, Inman Park, etc.

Even how the name of Atlanta came to be. Originally Atlanta was named Terminus and then later changed to Marthasville (named after Governor Lumpkin’s daughter). But as Atlanta was a railroad hub, it turns out the name, Marthasville, was too long for the railroad tickets so they needed to change it. Atlantica-Pacifica was an option due to the hope that the city would be a transportation hub for the country, but it was shortened (again due to the space on the tickets) to simply, Atlanta. Thank God for that.

I know there is a good chance this is very boring to almost everyone reading this and I apologize in advance, because its probably going to continue for a while. I’ve always tried to share my daily thoughts and feelings on this blog, and through the Leadership Atlanta process I am quite certain I’m going to learn more and more about Atlanta and continue to be enamored by learning more about this city that I call home. And I’ll likely be sharing that experience here.

Tomorrow is “Race Day”, which is a 2-day program and the first official part of the programming component of Leadership Atlanta. I hear that its incredibly powerful and for many people “life changing”. I intend to go into it with eyes wide open and experience it for everything that it is.

  • http://twitter.com/KaitlynDennihy Kaitlyn Dennihy

    I might have to pick up this book as well. The Atlanta mentality to simply rebuild vs restore architecture is fascinating and incredibly disappointing all at the same time, would love to learn more about the city’s past.

  • Simms Jenkins

    +1 on all of this and agree that book is a must read for anyone wanting to get a real sense of Atlanta’s history.

  • http://twitter.com/ratpack Chad Elkins

    This explains your question about Oakland. Yeah, we definitely need to go out there for a walkabout. Give me 2 hours and you’ll be amazed at what you can learn. Just from the names you mentioned in this post: Martha Lumpkin is there as is Richard Peters who is one of the people at the railroad credited for pushing the name change through. He also donated land to help create GA Tech along with his daughter Nellie Peters Black who helped get women admitted to UGA Law School and worked to establish Grady Hospital. Former Mayor Ivan Allen is there as are the two men who created Atlanta’s 1st planned neighborhood (Inman Park) with the original Beltline: Joel Hurt & Samuel Inman. If you are still using foursquare, you can follow the Oakland Cemetery account where I’ve written a bunch of historical tips: https://foursquare.com/oaklandcemetery/lists/created

  • http://www.facebook.com/kendrickdisch Kendrick Disch

    I too am a transplant and have recently become more curious about Atlanta’s past, so I’ll definitely find the time to read the book you mention.

    On a related note, it seems odd that Atlanta doesn’t really have a great history museum here (i think there might be one in buckhead, but I haven’t been yet… maybe they need some marketing help?!)
    I look forward to reading more history thoughts! Keep sharing!

  • http://www.jeffhilimire.com Jeff Hilimire

    I just was told about the Atlanta History Center (http://www.atlantahistorycenter.com) by @twitter-14388587:disqus and I think I’m going to try to check it out soon. Let me know if you go…

  • Pingback: I’ve got a few things on my mind, and they aren’t what you think…

  • http://www.facebook.com/edhillseo Edward Hill

    Jeff, you might enjoy a well-written book called: Atlanta Rising: The Invention of an International City 1946-1996 by Frederick Allen. There are great stories about race, Atlanta’s mayors and business in Atlanta. I thoroughly enjoyed the stories and learned a great deal about the city.
    http://www.amazon.com/Atlanta-Rising-Invention-International-1946-1996/dp/1563522969/ref=cm_lmf_tit_4

  • Pingback: This Thanksgiving I’m thankful that my eyes have been opened wide

  • http://www.kendrickdisch.com/ Kendrick Disch

    I just went a few weeks ago… it was way more massive than I thought and I didn’t leave enough room in my schedule to look at everything. I spent 3 hours there and made it through about half the exhibits. Overall I enjoyed it and will be back to see the rest. I think the price is a little high and the technology is a bit outdated. They could stand to have the interactivity brought into modern times.

Previous post:

Next post: