Founded in 1837 as Terminus and later renamed Atlanta in 1856, the city has a varied and somewhat hidden history after Civil War destruction, a massive fire in 1917, lots of street name changes and ongoing replacement of historic buildings with modern versions or parking lots. Despite all the changes, there is still a history of transit, Civil Rights and Civil War, stately Southern architecture and famous landmarks if you know where to look.
If you’re on MARTA, here are the stations to visit to experience some of Atlanta’s past.
1. West End
South of downtown Atlanta, the West End MARTA station is almost in the same location as the former Whitehall Inn & Tavern (Lee Street and Abernathy Blvd). Built around 1830, the inn existed before the railroads and the City of Atlanta, and one of the first streetcar lines was built here, connecting West End to Five Points.
Whitehall Street today follows the old streetcar path from West End to downtown Atlanta, and near the Garnett MARTA station the street name changes to the famous Peachtree Street.
In West End itself, you’ll find historic homes in the Queen Anne, Stick Style, Folk Victorian, Colonial Revival, and Neoclassical Revival styles as well as the Joel Chandler Harris house (also known as the Wren’s Nest). Author of the Uncle Remus stories, Harris lived in West End and you can tour the building or attend a storytelling session.
2. King Memorial
The King Memorial MARTA station is next to Oakland Cemetery, the resting place of notable Atlanta residents and Confederate soldiers. The cemetery is one of the largest greenspaces in Altanta with tours and events throughout the year. Famous graves to look for: Bobby Jones, Margaret Mitchell and Maynard Jackson (of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport fame).
While in the area, check out the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic Site (although better to take the streetcar there via the Peachtree Center MARTA station) and the historic Grant Park neighborhood.
Lemuel P. Grant, a railroad engineer and civic leader, donated the land that became Grant Park, and his 1856 mansion partially exists today, one of the few antebellum houses in Atlanta still standing in their original locations.
The Atlanta Preservation Center now owns the building and renovations are ongoing. Surrounding homes are in bungalow and Victorian styles, and the large public park, also called Grant Park, has sports facilities, swimming pool, large farmer’s market on Sundays and Zoo Atlanta. Be prepared to walk or bring a bike with you on the train to more quickly view the area.
Tip: Atlanta’s bike share program (Relay Bikes) has bikes for rent in front of the station.
3. Inman Park
If Civil War history fascinates you, head to the Inman Park MARTA station. Located where part of the Battle of Atlanta took place, the station is near several historic markers and Springvale Park, where brigades ascended a ravine to attack Federal troops. The neighborhood itself is also full of history. As Atlanta’s first planned suburb, Inman Park is full of towering Victorian mansions and craftsman homes on winding, tree-lined streets. Coca-Cola’s founder, Asa Candler, has a mansion in the neighborhood, and a trolley barn that housed early streetcars to and from downtown Atlanta is fully renovated near the MARTA station.
The PATH trail also connects with the station and provides a scenic walk or bike ride to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library and Museum for additional history. Supposedly the hill behind the library is where Sherman watched Atlanta burn.
4. North Avenue
On the red and gold lines north of downtown, the North Avenue MARTA station is surrounded by historic landmarks. Some of the highlights include the Fox Theatre, Shriner headquarters controverted into a Fox movie palace, the largest drive-in restaurant still in operation (The Varsity), the location of the “Gone With the Wind” movie premiere gala (Georgian Terrace Hotel) and The Biltmore building that contains beautiful ballrooms from the 1920s.
Take a 60-minute tour of The Fox Theatre or attend one of the many shows, eat or drink at the Georgian Terrace Hotel (The Livingston has fine dining on the main floor and Proof and Provision is a hideaway drinking hole in the basement), or order a frosted orange at The Varsity for the full experience.
5. Five Points
Near the Atlanta Zero Milepost (which you can view via an underground parking deck), the Five Points MARTA station spans the railroad gulch in the center of the city. Connected to the MARTA station is Underground Atlanta, which sadly is only about one-fourth of its original size. View there one of the city’s original gas-lamp street lights and walk along the underground Alabama Street to the Georgia Freight Railroad Depot, one of the oldest buildings in downtown (pictured here). Three of Atlanta’s passenger rail terminals were also near the station, but none still stand today.
While in the area, walk to the Fairlie-Poplar Historic District just north of the station for one of the few intact areas of downtown Atlanta that wasn’t torn down or destroyed in the years after the Civil War. You’ll find the largest number of historic commercial buildings in Atlanta. Notable structures include Atlanta’s Flatiron building (the oldest standing skyscraper), the elaborate Candler Building, the 1911 U.S. Post Office and Courthouse and the Healey Building.
For a more comprehensive view of the neighborhood, you can hop on the Atlanta Streetcar in the district (Luckie at Cone stop) for a tour of Fairlie-Popular as well as a look at the historic Sweet Auburn Avenue and the Martin Luther King Jr. Historic District. Or choose an ATL-Cruzers tour in for a guided look at Atlanta history via Segway or electric car at the DoubleTree hotel at 160 Spring Street NW (recently renamed Ted Turner Drive).