5 must-visit historic Atlanta sites

5 must-visit historic Atlanta sites
Source: Flickr, Warren LeMay

For a city that is less than 200 years old, Atlanta has a rich history that can be easily explored when you make a visit to the area. Though the city was formally founded in 1847, the Creek Native American tribe made its home in the area for thousands of years before with their settlement known as Standing Peachtree village on what is now Peachtree Creek.

Though COVID-19 has affected our ability to fully immerse ourselves in some of Atlanta’s most historic sites, you can still walk through the outdoor portion of many of them. Others are more or less fully open, with preventive precautions taken into account. Here are 5 must-visit historic Atlanta sites worth exploring.

Swan House at Atlanta History Center

With two locations in the Midtown and Buckhead neighborhoods of Atlanta, the Atlanta History Center is a creation of the Atlanta Historical Society which was founded in 1926. Though the Midtown location has been closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Buckhead location where the Swan House is located has remained open, with appropriate precautions in place.

Swan House is a mansion constructed in the mid-1920s by the Inman family, a very old and influential group in Atlanta’s history. The home and most of its original furnishings were purchased in the 1960s by the Atlanta Historical Society and opened to the public as a museum and the society’s headquarters. The home and furnishings were restored in 2004, and it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Across the 33-acre campus are history-related exhibitions, the Goizueta Gardens and other historic homes. One interesting attraction is the Cyclorama, which features a massive full color, three-dimensional painting and visual story of the Civil War Battle of Atlanta from 1864. The attraction itself has a storied Atlanta history and has been on display at various locations in the city for more than 128 years.

Address: 130 West Paces Ferry Road NW; Atlanta, GA 30305

Oakland Cemetery

If you’re in the mood for a long walk this fall, Oakland Cemetery is the perfect place to be immersed in history and traverse 48 acres of hills and graves in the city’s oldest extant burial grounds. There are about 70,000 graves in Oakland Cemetery, and they include Civil War soldiers and persecuted groups, including sections of Jewish and African American residents’ graves. In addition there are former Atlanta mayors, six former Georgia governors and other well-known Atlantans like author Margaret Mitchell and golfer Bobby Jones buried there.

The cemetery dates back 160 years to 1850 and features 50 miles of brick streets and walkways. It is considered a hallmark of 19th century Victorian style, combining both a burial ground and a park. Many styles of gravestones throughout the area range from obelisks and mausoleums to typical granite markers to sculptures of all kinds. This is a noteworthy spot for anyone interested in history and design of the times.

Address: 248 Oakland Ave SE; Atlanta, GA 30312

Sweet Auburn Curb Market

Along a mile and a half of Auburn Avenue near downtown Atlanta is the Sweet Auburn Historic District of the city. This part of the city is known as the center of success and excellence for the Atlanta Black community. Its name was coined by John Wesley Dobbs, a famous turn-of-the-century African American Atlanta political and civic leader. The area was also home to several influential churches such as Big Bethel AME and First Congregational as well as famous clubs for African American performers.

One of the area’s gems that is still a popular gathering place today is the Municipal Market aka the Sweet Auburn Curb Market. This food hall is home to 30 businesses including produce sellers, butchers, a seafood market, a bakery, a cooking school and 10 eateries. It was founded in 1918 and moved into its current location in 1924. This is a favorite lunch destination for many Atlantans and still retains its magic more than 100 years after its founding in one of the most historic parts of the city.

Address: 209 Edgewood Avenue, SE, Atlanta, GA, 30303

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum

One of the most famous Georgians of all time is certainly former President Jimmy Carter. His Presidential Library and Museum makes its home within Freedom Park in Atlanta, nestled between the Poncey-Highlands and Little Five Points neighborhoods. While the museum and library are currently closed due to the pandemic, the grounds of the Carter Center (as it is locally known) are still open to be explored.

The grounds feature a Japanese garden, and on Saturdays they serve as host to the Freedom Park Farmers Market. For now, interested visitors can tune in to virtual tours and features from home by visiting the center’s website. The center is home to President Carter’s papers and other materials relating to his administration and his family’s life. A visit is sure to inspire, as this President is one of the few with a modest upbringing who made his living before and after his Presidential term by working as a peanut farmer in rural Georgia.

Address: 453 John Lewis Freedom Pkwy NE, Atlanta, GA 30307

Martin Luther King Jr. National Historical Park

Over nearly 35 acres, the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site is one of the most-visited destinations in Atlanta and pays homage to world-renowned civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This site includes the birth home of Dr. King, where he lived until age 12. Visitors can also go to Ebenezer Baptist Church to listen to his speeches and sermons as well as to learn about the church’s history and watch a video of Dr. King’s sister discussing her family and the church’s importance.

Outdoors in the park there is a rose garden and fountain known as the International World Peace Rose Garden as well as the “Behold” monument. There’s also the King Center, intended to spread Dr. King’s message of radical nonviolence. This is also the location of Dr. and Mrs. King’s Tomb and the Eternal Flame. Finally, you can walk the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame which features the shoe prints of civil rights pioneers.

Unfortunately many of the indoor exhibits are currently unavailable due to the pandemic, but visitors are encouraged and welcome to explore the outside areas of the park as there is still much to see and read outside.

All in all, Atlanta is a city full of rich history with attractions that put that history on display. Definitely make time to visit these historic sites if you are in the city. They are the perfect destinations for the history buff and the casually curious visitor alike.

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