Category Archives: discovery

a circa 1900 Culture of Health

The original gymnasium at Rhodes Hall

The original gymnasium at Rhodes Hall

It’s always been a bit of mystery, why this room on the 3rd floor of Rhodes Hall is called the “Gymnasium.” It resembles nothing of a gym today and even so, wouldn’t heavy exercise equipment be more suited to a basement? One of our volunteer tour guides even speculated on the regular that he believed it was a reference to the German “Gymnasium”—an academic grammer school. This theory that it was used as a school room could be justified by the fact that the Rhodes grandkids (Rhodes and Wilmotine Perdue) lived here for a time and visited frequently when their mother (Louanna Rhodes Perdue) remarried.
In previous attempts to research the matter I’ve come up empty-handed but recently I’ve visited both the Biltmore Estate and the Carnegie Mansion in New York and the realization that both of these grand homes for retired wealthy gentlemen at the turn of the century had private gyms encouraged me to delve back into the matter.

CULTURE OF HEALTH
The notion that we take responsibility for our own health—by eating right, breathing fresh air, and getting enough sleep and exercise—has been around for much of human history, since Hippocrates published books on regimen and the Greeks started the Olympics (from “Excercise is Medicine: a Historical Perspective”. The emphasis on exercise and health has fluctuated in importance, resurfacing it seems, during eras of prosperity, when humans had time to step back from basic survival and develop more philosophical pursuits and high individualistic ideals, such as during the Renaissance.

1866 London Gymnasium, in the German model

The Industrial Age in Europe and America brought about more economic prosperity and further advancement in medicine, which at that time was mostly focused on preventative health. In Germany, Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, “the father of modern physical education as we know it today” was “a fervent German nationalist, and believed that the best kind of society was one that had established standards of physical strength and abilities. The first Turnplatz, or open-air gymnasium, was opened by Jahn in Berlin in 1811, and the Turnverein (gymnastics association) movement spread rapidly.”(<a href="http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Physical_education">New World Encyclopedia)

In America, the importance of physical education seems to have gained significant ground in the late 1800s. By the 1880s, the "physical education" movement led to the formation of a professional group, the American Association for the Advancement of Physical Education, signifying renewed attention on the importance of maintaining personal physical health in the field of medicine.

With the social movement of physical education, it should come as no surprise that the well-read and wealthy philanthropists of the Gilded Age would have taken an ardent interest in their own health as well. The ideals of social reform for these leaders were not limited to the masses, they maintained high expectations of themselves and their family members as well. Responsibility for one’s own health fit perfectly with the individualistic ideals these men and women set for themselves and society at large.

The earliest evidence of a private gym in America might be the gym at the c.1870s Hegeler Carus Mansion in LaSalle, Illinois (I’d never heard of it either). One self-described fan of 19th century physical culture described it:

The mansion was built during the 1870s and the gym was part of the original plans. It’s a large space, 35.5′ x 17′ and the ceilings are roughly 25′ in height. Along with a collection of 35 wooden dumbbells and 4 large Indian clubs hanging from racks on the walls, it also houses the remnants of a Victorian rope-and-pulley weightlifting system, two large gymnastics ladders and support platforms, a horizontal bar of adjustable height, a set of parallel bars, “flying rings” hanging from the ceiling, a c1920 electric exercycle and miscellaneous bits of sports equipment (wooden stilts and skis, etc.) (ArtofManliness.com)

Biltmore gymThe gym at George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Mansion (c.1895) is also located in the basement next to the indoor swimming pool. Swimming pools at this time were also strictly for health and sport, not the leisure and play we mostly associate with pools today.

However, it is Andrew Carnegie’s gymnasium that most resembles the gymnasium at Rhodes Hall. Andrew Carnegie, like Amos Rhodes was a self-made businessman. Both men built their respective “mansions” late in life, a retreat on the northern reaches of their respective cities from which they could still conduct business in their retirement (though Carnegie did raise a daughter here, she wasn’t born until he was in his 60s). Their mansions are extremely modest in comparison to the Biltmore which was built for hosting guests, partying and raising a young family. Perhaps for this reason, the addition of a swimming pool was just too extravagant, and their gymnasiums were located in the privacy of the 3rd floor.

from the Cooper Hewitt Museum at the Carnegie Mansion, New York City

from the Cooper Hewitt Museum at the Carnegie Mansion, New York City

Of course, the 3rd floor at Rhodes Hall was also home to Mr. Rhodes’ billiard table and a smoking room, it seems the household amenities of the wealthy over a hundred years ago are not far from those of today.


the South Site

I don’t want to harp on the icky stadium issue (New Atlanta Stadium to cost $1.2 billion, however, when N and I biked through there recently it got me thinking about what was in this area before.

friendship church atl
The Georgia Dome (c.1992) behind Mt. Vernon Baptist peeking out from behind Friendship Baptist Church on Mitchell St., Atlanta

To make way for the new Falcons stadium on the “south site,” two historic African-American churches will be demolished. The Friendship Baptist Church congregation dates its founding to 1862, and began construction of the current sanctuary in 1871. It shows up, on the corner of Mitchell St. and Haynes (removed in the 1990s for Friendship’s expansion after the areas roads were compromised by the construction of the Georgia Dome) and sharing a block with commercial and residential buildings, in the 1949 aerials below (bottom-most yellow square).

Mt. Vernon Baptist Church began in 1959 and still retains it’s mid-century sanctuary. Mt. Vernon was built at the intersection of Hunter (now MLK) and Haynes, a fragment of which still exists for now, on the 1949 aerials the lots appear to be empty (yellow block just below the Georgia Dome), and across Haynes St from the long back wall of an industrial rail yard.

On the edge of what we now call Vine City, this area was home to the African-American elite of Atlanta in the mid-20th century. It had long been home to African-American institutions like Morehouse and Spelman. In the 20th-century Vine City was home to Atlanta’s business and later Civil Rights leaders—Martin Luther King, Jr.’s family lived out there as did Alonzo Herndon, a leader in the business community. Friendship’s role in this community was strong, they even claim to have housed the earliest classes of Morehouse and Spelman and certainly contributed to the raising of Atlanta’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson, whose father, Maynard, Sr., was pastor from 1945-1953.

So, to really picture this neighborhood before the Georgia Dome, I’m turning to some old maps (1949 aerials):

Gulch-4-up

In 1949, the neighborhood west of the future Georgia Dome was primarily residential, packed tight on unpaved streets and alleys. The Dome itself sits halfway on the industrial yard that was east of Mt. Vernon, the rest of the World Congress Center and Philips Arena are located on what were once residential streets north of the industrial yard and between rail lines that once led to Terminal and Union stations. Commercial buildings lined Mitchell and the former Hunter St. which were entry points to the west side of Atlanta, only a few blocks from Terminal Station (bottom left purple block). Terminal Station was demolished in 1971-72, apparently beyond the reach of the preservationists who rallied to save the Fox a few years later and I wonder sometimes if my 18-year-old dad first entered Atlanta from under that arched colonnade, one of its last passengers.

Friendship Baptist then, constructed in 1871, saw the whole westside grow up around it. And though its location today feels adrift in a sea of redirected (mis-directed?) streets, parking lots and fences but its position in the community was anchored by this once-prominent location on Mitchell. No doubt the Mt. Vernon congregation felt they’d come across prime property too when they built in the 1950s just behind Friendship.

Today’s aerial view is full of holes, a widened Northside Dr. adds to the expanse of pavement here, blocks full of homes and shops that were not overlaid with oversized arenas have been redrawn with inward-looking housing projects or parking lots. There are many empty lots and fast food chains. There are a lot of fences. Imagine a downtown Atlanta street grid, walkable, human-scale, that marched westward from train tracks instead of a west side that’s been wiped clean of anything historic—except for Friendship Baptist Church. And now that, the root of so much Atlanta history, is about to be wiped clean too.


Juliette, Ga

Speaking of fake places, I was outside of Forsyth and headed to Gray, by a road that wouldn’t get me there quickest by any means but was possibly interesting. I had heard of Juliette and I didn’t know why but the map had a square that said “textile mill” and that sounded interesting indeed. Unlike most hamlets, it’s hard to miss, a cluster of buildings welcome you right before the train tracks, and as you turn down the street to your right you think just how cute this is and great that people live here still, or at least, it seems that way. And then you start to notice the gimmicky stores, a “general store” with touristy knick-knacks and then 5 more shops just like it, no, maybe 10, 15… and that’s it, gimmicky or “antique” shops (all essentially the same) and the Whistle Stop Cafe. I was flabbergasted.

Whistle Stop

I still couldn’t remember why Juliette sounded familiar after I’d driven through “town,” up the hill beyond (the textile mill across the tracks and river looked pretty cool and used) to a big empty house for sale and back. So I parked and decided to have a quick look around. I knew, of course, the instant I stepped into one of those shops (pick a shop any shop), Fried Green Tomatoes was playing on the 13″ tv and souvenirs touted the same. I bought a souvenir and wandered out, still curious.

On up the road I ran into the proprietor of the Depot (an actual wooden train depot turned into another knick-knack “antique” shop, i managed to avoid his invitation to go in), and we chatted in the road a while. I had just noticed that the facade of the one brick building in town was fake, movie-fake, ACTUAL-MOVIE-fake. He had no problem admitting that, it was their business after all, but when I inquired what Juliette looked like BEFORE the movie I got a flurry of answers. He pointed out a couple buildings that had been there, the addition on the fake brick building and the fake-bricking of it, the Depot was just out in the woods there (1/2 a mile away? 20 miles?), this was moved in and this was built… “all your looking at is original, the real stuff.”

I do wish I’d saved my lunch for eating at the Whistle Stop Cafe with the other tourists (even a foreign couple!!) who drifted through Whistle Stop, i mean Juliette, on this gray Wednesday. Next time.


Ligustrum sinense

I have been contemplating this post for a while now, but A’s comment this morning brings it to my attention that it is HIGH TIME it get done. Regarding the possibility that privet pollen was the cause of her (and my) allergies these last few days, she said, “oh, no! i love privet! please tell me it is not what is doing this to me!!” well, that was the first time i’d seen “love” and “privet” in the same sentence and I was concerned.

Ligustrum japonicum - waxleaf Ligustrum sinense - privet

Privet in our family is a bad word. Once upon a time, when all the exotic Asian varietals and new plants were introduced, people got really excited. Southerners, in whose soil these plants thrived—and MORE than thrived—immediately filled their yards with the showy and heavenly scented non-native wisteria, honeysuckle, trumpet flower, kudzu and privet. Privet was valued for its easy growth as a quick hedge, a substitute for the restrained boxwood in Southern formal and slightly less formal gardens. Country yards could suddenly afford a lush and easily maintained accoutrement of the wealthy but this also meant homeowners intentionally ringed their yards with what would soon prove a problematic invasive.

Recently, Ligustrum has repeatedly come up as an attractive yard shrub in several circles and after some confusion is has been determined that there ARE vastly different varieties. On the Vernacular Georgia trip down to Clinton I felt a bit silly arguing against my elders that that rather nice tree-like shrub in the yard of a historic home could NOT be Ligustrum despite the tell-tell blue berries. The leaves were much larger and waxy, nothing like the flimsy little leaves of the hedge that encircles Sunshine’s yard (and bursts from the orchard). Turns out, it’s a different kind, Waxleaf Ligustrum some might say, or Ligustrum japonica perhaps, wikipedia images do little to help the definition hence the extended confusion at the discovery that all privet might not be the invasive woody weed I’d learned to abhore. On top of that, what wikipedia returned for me first was English privet which looks nothing like either!!

Today we might liken this to the current fanaticism for Thuja Green Giant, a fast-growing evergreen, bred and marketed for its ability to “Quickly screen out neighbors or unsightly areas….without taking up a lot of yard space…” A few words of wisdom any landscaper or gardener would do well to remember, weed resistant! fast growing! such traits should be questioned, not for the verity but for what else that says about the nature of the plant. just be wary, and don’t you dare plant any Ligustrum sinense (Chinese privet) near my yard.

webpage for identifying invasive plants


studyin’ Cities, learnin’ Bourbon

Lemme tell you sump’n about Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.

In my US Cities class, I am doing a project on the town, i mean city, of Frankfort, Kentucky (that’s the capital didn’t you know?). Part of my research involved a trip to Greens where I discovered that not one or 2 but about HALF of all the Bourbon on their aisle was from the Frankfort micropolitan area, and Woodford Reserve (that’s the O-ficial Bourbon of the Kentucky Derby) is from just beyond the Franklin County line in nearby Versailles. This little part of bluegrass country is also the heart of Kentucky Bourbon for a another reason, I guess you could say it’s the birthplace of it because it was Frankfort resident, distiller, and friend of politicians (as well as himself being Mayor at one point), Colonel E.H. Taylor, Jr, succeeded in getting the Bottled in Bond Act passed which ordained that Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is well, what it is. This, of course, insured the future of a significant part of the region’s economy.

That is, until Prohibition hit.

Above is the first barrel of Old Taylor after prohibition was lifted in 1933, you know they were happy. The distilleries put people back to work, from laborers at the plant to saloons, inns, and policemen. At one distillery, 200 locals were immediately employed with more to be added when the bourbon started to be churned out, this, in the midst of the Depression. Must have been something.

A few notes on the regulations: Bourbon Whiskey is considered a “distinctive product of the United States” and no other country has the authority to call their whiskey Bourbon. Straight means that the whiskey must contain at least 51% of the identified grain, in the case of Bourbon this must be 51% corn. Bourbon must also be aged in NEW, charred American white oak barrels and there can be no additives for color or flavor. More here.

All this information did of course, require some special research methods:


tiny landscapes

School is eating me alive, and will only get worse, honestly at this point i don’t even know how i’m going to squeeze in Thanksgiving dinner (i haven’t even thought of the 9-10 hours round-trip that will be taken out of my week just to drive there! oh no!). but i still manage a break with a friend every now and then that i can work toward, then return home and hit the books once more. or the computer. anyway, i’m beginning to ramble.

you can see more of the tiny landscapes P and I came across on a hike around Arabia Mtn here.

tiny II


you get your bricks at Rockmart

discovered this this evening during an impromptu stroll around Oakland Cemetery. Funny when everything starts to link up.

bricks