Every step on campus leads to a historic landmark

Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

When Georgia State students walk around the Atlanta campus, they are unknowingly walking through a history textbook. Atlanta is historically significant to American history, both a central commercial hub during the Civil War and a cradle of the civil rights movement.

Sherman’s March to the Sea destroyed most traces of antebellum Atlanta during the Civil War, and the buildings still standing today have undergone multiple renovations. Those who opposed the success of Atlanta’s Black businesses destroyed many civil rights-era buildings, but they are not the only ones to blame.

Historically Black neighborhoods like Sweet Auburn and Old Fourth Ward are underfunded, have become dilapidated or were partially demolished to make room for modern lofts and apartment complexes. Other historic downtown buildings are used for businesses and university development.

But Atlanta has not entirely rid itself of its history. Strolling around the downtown campus, students can find a multitude of plaques describing a building that once stood or is repurposed. Do not shy away from reading them; there is a lot to learn about this culturally rich city.

Peachtree Street and Fairlie-Poplar District

The historic Fairlie-Poplar District is located in the heart of the city and surrounds Georgia State’s downtown campus. In this district, students visit the Helen M. Aderhold Learning Center to attend classes, the local Walgreens and their favorite restaurants such as Reuben’s Deli and Rosa’s Pizza.

The district was a commercial hub in the late 19th and early 20th century. Atlanta’s first skyscrapers reside in this district, and their construction put Atlanta on the map as an emerging modern city.

When students walk down Peachtree Street to the Georgia State College of Law, they walk past the Candler Building, unaware of its history. Asa Candler, the man behind the project, was a Georgia native and a significant investor in the Coca-Cola Company. 

The Candler Building completed construction in 1906 and was one of the earliest and, for a time, tallest skyscrapers in Atlanta. People working in law, dentistry and banking used the Candler Building as an office space.

The building was ahead of its time, with electric elevators that carried passengers to a barbershop and swimming pool in the basement. Today, the Candler Building is the Candler Hotel, an upscale hotel owned by Hilton.

The corner of Peachtree and Marietta Street, specifically 12 Marietta Street, marks Jacob’s Pharmacy, where John Pemberton sold the first glass of Coca-Cola. To commemorate this sale, the City of Atlanta and Georgia State agreed to place a neon Coca-Cola sign atop the Walgreens across the street. Today, at 14 Marietta Street, Georgia State students can find the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies.

Edgewood Avenue and Sweet Auburn

Edgewood Avenue runs from Five Points to Old Fourth Ward. Today, bars and restaurants line the street. Georgia State art students walk down these streets to reach the sculpture studio but may not know the area’s rich history. Sweet Auburn became a business district for African Americans following the Atlanta Race Riots of 1906.

According to the National Park Service of Atlanta, Sweet Auburn is a “historically significant African American area.” This district was the stomping grounds of prominent civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis. Auburn Avenue is the home of King’s childhood residence and the original Ebenezer Baptist Church.

The second-largest Black-owned insurance company, Atlanta Life Insurance, began in the Sweet Auburn District. Alonzo Herndon, who was born into slavery, founded Atlanta Life Insurance in 1907.

Atlanta Life’s purpose was to provide life insurance for African American families who could not afford it or were denied by white insurance companies. Atlanta Life is still in operation today.

Atlanta Daily World, Atlanta’s oldest Black newspaper, can also be found on Auburn Avenue. Morehouse graduate William Alexander Scott II founded the newspaper in 1928. Atlanta Daily World’s former headquarters, located at 145 Auburn Avenue, is now an Arden’s Garden and Condesa Coffee

The Coca-Cola Company is one of the biggest corporations to come from Atlanta. 

Coca-Cola’s original bottling plant is the same building as Georgia State’s Baptist Student Union. Located at 125 Edgewood Avenue, the Dixie Coca-Cola Bottling Company Plant is the only building from Coca-Cola’s early history still standing.

Built in 1891, the Bottling Plant is where Coca-Cola transitioned from a drink sold at a soda fountain to the bottled drink Coke fans are familiar with today.

Remember Kell Hall?

Kell Hall was Georgia State’s first permanent classroom building. In Georgia State’s early years, Kell Hall was the only university building. It contained classrooms, a library, a recreation center and campus offices. 

Before the university acquired the building, Kell Hall was an office building and parking garage, hence the steep ramps students had to climb to get to class.

Today, Kell Hall is an archived memory. Georgia State students can see where Kell Hall once stood between Langdale Hall and the Arts and Humanities building. Kell Hall is now completely demolished and a new greenspace is under construction.

Oakland Cemetery

Founded in 1850 as the Atlanta Cemetery, the Oakland Cemetery, one mile from the downtown campus, is the oldest cemetery in Atlanta. Oakland Cemetery is where some significant Black Atlanta figures are laid to rest, including Maynard Jackson, Carrie Steel Logan and Selena Sloan Butler. 

In contrast, nearly 7,000 Confederate soldiers are buried at Oakland Cemetery, and Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederacy, was interred at the cemetery for some time. Oakland Cemetery is also the home of the Confederate Obelisk, the tallest structure in the cemetery.

Fun Facts

Margaret Mitchell, the author of the infamous “Gone with the Wind,” wrote the novel out of boredom when an ankle injury left her bedridden. Mitchell died at Grady Memorial Hospital five days after being struck by a car while crossing Peachtree Street. She is buried at Oakland Cemetery.

Martin Luther King bought life insurance from Atlanta Life when Civil Rights opposers endangered his life.

John Pemberton, the founder of Coca-Cola, was a Confederate lieutenant colonel. He sustained an injury in the war and became addicted to morphine. To wean himself off, he began experimenting with cocaine-infused wines, which led him to create the Coca-Cola recipe.

The historic Flatiron Building, found on Peachtree Street, is Atlanta’s oldest standing skyscraper and was built five years before New York City’s iconic Flatiron Building

Atlanta is the only city in North America to be destroyed as an act of war.

Georgia State’s campus is unique not only because of its placement in the middle of a major city but also because of the lessons learned from Atlanta’s history. When Union troops burned the city in the Civil War, it prospered despite the devastating defeat. It is no coincidence the “Atlanta of the Ashes” statue is placed smack in the middle of downtown. Just like a phoenix, Atlanta rose from the ashes and was born again.

Georgia State students have the city’s entire history within walking distance of their residence halls and classrooms. Atlanta’s historical significance has shaped the university, and Atlanta natives will influence the future. 

As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “We do not make history. We are made by history.”