Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Avenue: A History
In September, the Midtown Book Group enjoyed the honor of hosting an Author Event at Barnes & Noble/Georgia Tech with local historian, Sharon Foster Jones, author of Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Avenue: A History. It was a terrific evening, with a large group in attendance to learn about the development of Ponce, and to hear about Ms. Jones’s research and the writing and publication process for this and her two other books about Atlanta history:
[Coincidentally, The Atlanta Exposition is a history in pictures about the 1895 Cotton States & International Exposition in Piedmont Park, which opened on September 18, 1895.]
Did You Know? Five Fast Facts About Ponce
1) Ponce de Leon Avenue was named for the natural springs discovered in 1868 by a railroad crew during the construction of the Air-Line Railroad (now known as the Beltline). It was the springs, reputed to have medicinal qualities, that were named after the Spanish explorer and his fabled Fountain of Youth.
2) The Ponce de Leon Springs quickly became a destination resort:
“By 1872, Atlantans were traveling from downtown to Ponce de Leon Springs for fun, relaxation and to partake of the healthful waters of the springs. It was an all-day round trip to travel the two miles from the city to the springs...”
Two years later, there was a trolley line out to the springs, and in the early years of the 20th century, the recreational area surrounding the springs was developed into a full-blown amusement park, across the avenue from the Atlanta Crackers baseball stadium.
3) By the early 1920s, Atlanta motored on to new amusements in their new Ford automobiles (the Ford Factory opened on Ponce in 1915). The Sears, Roebuck Company bought the Ponce de Leon Park property in 1926, razed it, and built the mammoth department store and distribution center on the site. The springs disappeared.
[Apparently, there is no plan or interest in unearthing the springs as part of the Ponce City Market re-development – although, wouldn’t that make a cool “water feature”?]
4) As Ponce de Leon Avenue developed into a thoroughfare to the springs in the late 1800s, easily accessible to and from downtown on the streetcar, Ponce became a sought-after “rural” neighborhood for Atlanta’s elite families.
One of the most recognizable Ponce mansions still in existence today (after extensive renovation in recent years) is the Edward Peters home, on the southeast corner of Ponce & Piedmont Avenues. The home was built around 1883, at an estimated cost of $12,000. Ivy Hall is now the Cultural Arts and Writing Center for the Savannah College of Art & Design Atlanta Campus (SCAD).
5) After the devastating Great Fire of 1917 swept through the area, burning over 1,900 structures in a 73-block, 300-acre area, many of the Ponce mansions were destroyed and never rebuilt. Through the 1920s, with the increasing popularity and freedom of automobiles and the rise of the new “suburban” neighborhoods, Atlanta’s elite moved farther out and Ponce transitioned toward multi-family homes, apartment buildings and commercial establishments.
From the book's back cover:
"An economic turn in the twentieth century transformed the avenue into a crime-ridden commercial corridor, but in recent years, Atlantans have rediscovered the street's venerable architecture and storied history. Join local historian Sharon Foster Jones on a vivid tour of the avenue -- from picnics by the springs in hoopskirts and Atlanta Crackers baseball to the Fox Theatre and the days when Vivien Leigh, Clark Gable and Al Capone lodged in the esteemed hotels lining this magnificent avenue."
All of this and more -- including the answers to last week's "interesting tidbits" -- is found in Atlanta's Ponce de Leon Avenue: A History, a slender volume of photographs and references, packed with a detailed, factual reckoning of progress and development along what became Ponce de Leon Avenue.
Many thanks to Sharon Foster Jones for a wonderful book and interesting discussion, for graciously answering so many questions, and for sharing a fascinating glimpse of Atlanta's past with Midtown Book Group.
Next up: Midtown Book Group – October 2012
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo:
"The Snowman, Norwegian author Jo Nesbø's U.S. debut, should please even the most die-hard Stieg Larsson fans. On the first day of snow, a child wakes up to find his mother has disappeared during the night. Outside, a snowman has appeared out of nowhere, the calling card of one of the most terrifying serial killers in recent fiction... Brilliantly crafted, this credible and dark page-turner fully fleshes out the characters, especially Hole, a hardened detective with sharp instincts and real heart."
Date: Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Time: 8:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Location: Barnes & Noble/Georgia Tech at 5th & Spring
For details & more information, visit Midtown Book Group on Yahoo!Groups.
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