Atlanta’s origins are unique in that we were planted like a seed. We did not spring up around a geographical feature like a deep water port. In 1837, the Georgia General Assembly edited the Western & Atlantic Railroad’s charter, allowing that the “terminus” of its railroad could be up to eight miles from the Chattahoochee. In 1842, a good spot was found, and surveyors planted a seed, in the form of a stone post, in the ground to mark it.
We still have that post. We keep it under a parking deck in an abandoned office building. But its current resting place is not the geographical center of Atlanta. So where was that? The Atlanta Banana decided to find out.
The historical marker that goes with the post gives us a clue:
The original terminus was between the present Forsyth and Magnolia Streets.
Well, all right, but if you look at a modern map of the city, that’s pretty vague. To be fair to the marker, it’s from 1958 and a lot has changed since then. Here are Magnolia and Forsyth marked on a modern Google map of Atlanta.
As you can see, there’s a pretty wide area there. There are some railroads which give us a bit of a clue, but the Georgia Dome and Phillips Arena occupy a lot of that space. Thankfully, there’s such a thing as the Wikimedia, which contains Old Maps of Atlanta. There we find this map from 1853, which shows a black shape which seems like a pretty good clue as to where the geographical epicenter might once have been.
The problem with that map is that though Forsyth is marked, Magnolia St. isn’t. It’s pretty different from a modern map. Here’s our Google map with the 1853 map overlaid.
It’s tough to tell how right this is, firstly because your correspondent is neither a cartographer nor a historian. Secondly, there is some discrepancy between the proportions of the 1853 map and Google’s satellite-based representation of the city.
A map from 1911, however, does have Magnolia on it, and it helps narrow our search area down a bit.
There’s some guesswork involved here, but the middle of the empty triangle in the 1911 map seems to be where the original Terminus was. So what’s there? Well, if you’re a Falcons fan, you might already know. It’s the area — which is not to use words like “wasteland” — known as The Gulch.
Here’s a panorama of the Gulch, taken last night.
There’s also a vine of the same view here.
Now, you may say to yourself, as we do, “Well it kinda sucks that the historic epicenter of Atlanta is, to use the Wikipedia’s editor’s term, ‘unbuilt.'” But there’s good news. As our friends at Curbed have noted, a current plan for the site, called the Atlanta Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal (MMPT), will “blow your mind.” Sadly, the slick GDOT video has been removed from Vimeo, but there’s also a somewhat less slick looking GDOT web site with some information. The ATL Urbanist also has some thoughts about the future of the Gulch.
We love the MMPT idea on a lot of levels, but most of all because that location is where everything that is Atlanta began. What better place to plant a new seed of Atlanta development? We would love it. But there’s a way we could love it even more.
We implore you, the State of Georgia, Georgia Department of Transportation, Governor Deal, and Kasim Reed. Please, please rescue the Zero Mile Post from underneath the parking deck at 90 Central. Return it to its rightful spot, or as close as we can get it. It’s amazing that we have such an artifact at all, but to have the artifact and leave it out of redevelopment plans of its original site would be absurd.
Let’s make the Gulch into something of which we can all be proud, with a stone jewel returned to its rightful place: the Terminus.
Perry Buffington and Kim Underwood, “Archival Atlanta, Forgotten Facts and Well-Kept Secrets from Our City’s Past,” (1996)
Webb Garrison, “The Legacy of Atlanta, a Short History,” (1987)
James Michael Russel, “Atlanta 1847-1890,” (1988)
The National Park Service’s Zero Mile Post Information
Wikipedia’s History of Atlanta