Tag Archives: history

“Unpacking” my own Manuel’s Tavern

IMG_9724Mom had never been to Manuel’s Tavern. Or Man-WELL’s as she insisted on pronouncing it, possibly correctly. For the brief period that she and Dad lived in Atlanta she knew of it but never actually went. Dad, a Georgia Tech graduate, was familiar enough with Manuel’s to stop by on his bike on the way home from work on Fridays to pick up a quart of beer (in a milk carton?!) for him and mom to share in their new old house in Candler Park. (I picture them sitting on the front steps watching neighbors pass by or leaning against a wall in a bare room on halfway refinished floors.) It was the 1970s and the 20-year-old Manuel’s was already an acclaimed institution. I can only wonder that Dad never took her there–I guess there was always next time. Nearly 40 years later, Mom confessed this to us when she and P came over for a wedding in November of last year. There wasn’t going to be another “next time” so after the wedding on a cold Saturday night, we got a ride to Manuel’s for a late night beer. It was nearly midnight when we breezed in the back door in our wedding clothes and slipped happily into one of the wooden booths by the bar.

I never lived close enough for Manuel’s to become my own go-to bar, but I have known it since my days in Athens and later living in Atlanta. Squeezing into the packed bar on a weekend night was daunting, finding a spot to sit at Carapace required planning ahead, but there were less crowded weeknight meals of chickens sandwiches or casual gatherings in the Eagle’s Nest. And there was always plenty of beer. To me as to most anyone who went there, Manuel’s, despite the layer of grime that every dive bar has, always exuded a special sense of place that was hard not to respect.

As most everyone knows now, Manuel’s is undergoing renovations and a massive development of the surrounding land- and possibly overhead air-space. They closed on December 27, 2015, but promise to reopen, bolstered for a new generation. Thanks to rather incredible documentary project they say the interior will boast the same finishes, wooden booths, bar and, much to most folks’ skepticism, the same photos and stickers, pennants and memorabilia on the wall in the exact same places. At least, they say they CAN recreate it, I’m not really sure they’ve promised to.

IMG_9716The project to preserve what amounts to a “harbor of memories in an ever-changing city” is being carried out in a [mostly] Georgia State University project called “Unpacking Manuel’s Tavern.” A recent article in GSU magazine goes in-depth on the project, an awesome piece of digital preservation, a collection of histories and memories that anyone will be able to “walk through” and, as they say “unpack.”

So while my own unpacking of Manuel’s will go unrecorded (besides here) if you follow there facebook page you’ll find a few other memories, people are eager to share and I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’ll be looking forward to the “Unpacking” project’s release as much as to the reopening of Man-WELL’s.

One for the Road, GSU magazine, Q1.16 IMG_9730


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.


too few Travelers

such is the plight of Travelers Rest just outside of Toccoa, Ga.

Somehow, in all my explorations up and down 441 when I lived in Athens, I never once visited Travelers Rest. I don’t think I’d even heard of it. There were other state parks on my list, Tallulah Gorge, Watson Mill Bridge, Unicoi… but never here. This year, Travelers Rest State Historic Site (not a park but under the same State staffing umbrella) has been listed as one of the Trust’s Places in Peril because the site is dangerously close to closing. Too few Travelers in recent years led to a decline in revenue (a tour is just a few bucks) that prompted the State cut the hours down to one day a month. This happened a few years ago, not long after a “Friends of Travelers Rest” group had formed in Toccoa. Luckily the Friends group had formed and pretty quickly stepped in to take over the operation of the site on the other Saturdays of the month so that the few travelers that DID come through wouldn’t have to guess which Saturday of the month it was open. This is how it continues operations today, open only on Saturdays, there is a small office/entry room in which you can barter for a tour of the inn/house, postcards and christmas ornaments.

The first part of Travelers Rest was built around 1815 by a Mr. James Rutherford Wyly who was involved in the construction of the Unicoi Turnpike, an early road that lead from the headwaters of the Savannah River through the foothills of the Appalachians to Knoxville. TR was located near the indian village Tugalo, so the site was a natural crossroads for trade. In 1833 Devereaux Jarrett bought the property to add to his plantation and extended the plantation plain house form to serve as his home as well as the stagecoach inn and office for the plantation.

The property was lived in until the 1950s by Elizabeth Jarrett White—famous in her own right as the first woman to vote in Georgia—who sold the property to the state in 1955. During her life there, however, she had already begun promoting it as a tourist destination for folks like these here in 1934. Now that I think about it, the 1930s (beginning more in the 1920s I suspect) seem to have been a time of great wandering in the countryside. Despite a lack of money, folks were packing picnics and going for Sunday drives in their automobiles which were just becoming pretty widespread. Also the HABS program was begun…

Well, we at the Trust finally made our first trek out to Toccoa (the mountains to me) back in December and got a tour of the site for free. Hopefully we can get them some funding for more repairs and better marketing perhaps to get those travelers to stop by. In the meantime, consider this my effort. It’s your Georgia history! Get on over to Toccoa and visit Travelers Rest!

Traveler's Rest
a historic view up the road?


too many counties

I just discovered part of the reason why Georgia has so many counties, we’ve just had too many governors that needed something named after them!

this is the Table of Contents page taken from the “Georgia Governors’ Gravesites Field Guide”


Buttermilk Bottom

Once you’ve heard of a place called “Buttermilk Bottom” how can you resist spreading the word??! H actually stumbled upon it on the Atlanta Time Machine website, in the form of a song, and shared it with me. This song memorializes a poor black neighborhood on the edge of downtown, the floodplains, the lowlands, the bottom of Atlanta. The name may come from the smell that permeated the area caused by the backed up water in the downward sloping sewers. In the mid-20th century this neighborhood still had no telephones or electric lights. The African-American neighborhood was considered a slum and the city did not feel the need to invest improve conditions there until they found a new, more economically productive use for it.

In the early 1960s, under the banner of “Urban Renewal,” The “crime-ridden neighborhood” was torn down to make way for the Atlanta Civic Center which was built in 1967, and other “improvements” to the city of Atlanta. All that’s left of those chatty front porches, churches, corner stores and juke joints is a plaque at Ralph McGill and Piedmont, and a song that’ll get you shaking your hips.

The exact boundaries of the old Buttermilk Bottom today are unclear, the Civic Center now stands on part of the larger area which was the western end of the Old 4th Ward, in the floodplain between Ralph McGill and Peachtree. The photo above shows Mayor Hartsfield scoping out the slum near Piedmont in 1959.


Atlanta’s most historic Coca-Cola landmark

So, I know you want to know about the Dixie Coca-Cola Bottling Company building on the corner of Edgewood and Courtland in downtown Atlanta. It’s a beautiful gem of a Victorian building and doesn’t look a thing like it could have seen anything akin to manufacturing. It looks like a little Victorian house, maybe with a saloon on the bottom floor…

125 Edgewood 1893-2011

In 1886 Joel Hurt and Samuel Inman formed the East Atlanta Land Company, that’s right, Inman Park, Druid Hills, the Hurt Building, and … Edgewood Avenue. Edgewood didn’t even exist until 1888, when Hurt, wanting a direct line to run a streetcar to his upcoming subdivision, made it happen (by coercing the legislature, buying up land along the route via the East Atl Land Co, and leaning on the city to condemn properties he was unable to purchase). 125 Edgewood at the future corner of Courtland and Edgewood appears to be one of the properties he bought, as well as most of the Edgewood frontage on that block and in 1891 the Victorian commericial/residential building was built. The historic picture below is from 1893, the streets were still dirt, but a streetcar line was already operating to Inman Park.

Meanwhile, another shrewd Atlanta businessman (and later Inman Park resident), Asa Candler, was building his own monopoly. After a good bit of swindling on Candler’s part, The Coca-Cola Company was officially formed and previous records were destroyed to obscure any dubious origins (wiki). In 1894 Joseph Biedenharn of Vicksburg, Mississippi, began bottling Coca-Cola to sell the soda to country customers “right off back of the turnip truck” (not sure if that was talking about the customers or the selling), Candler acknowledged the gratuitous cases sent him with a mere “that is fine”–he was not interested in bottling his product. On July 1, 1899, Benjamin Thomas and Joseph Whitehead of Chattanooga secured a contract to bottle Coca-Cola in the U.S. (excepting Mississippi and New England which had their bottling operations and Texas for the time being). They began in Chattanooga then Whitehead headed to Atlanta where he started the Dixie Bottling Company just one block down from Candler’s Coca-Cola Company headquarters at 179 Edgewood. That’s right, it was 1901 and Whitehead and Lupton opened the bottling operation in this cute little Victorian commericial/residential building, one of many businesses to grace this building with their presence over the 70 years or so of it’s operational existence. And it didn’t last long, not even long enough to appear in the City Directory before they moved to expand operations. But a picture below shows a sketch of the early bottling operations and how it may have appeared in this special little building.

So why is it a National Landmark? it wasn’t actually the site of the Coca-Cola Company, it wasn’t even where the drink was first bottled (certainly an significant step in its impact on the world), it wasn’t even the first official bottling operation condoned by Candler himself, but it was the site of the FIRST OFFICIAL BOTTLING OPERATION IN GEORGIA. and that’s important.

After the Dixie Bottling Company moved out, 125 Edgewood was home again to a rotation of diverse enterprises: John Payton’s Beer Saloon around 1911, Joseph Horowitz Ladies clothing, and, for a couple decades, Virgil Shepard’s window display shop. Whereas this area had been largely racially mixed (black, white, Jewish), by the 1920s it seems that things were more segregated and the block was mostly comprised of black-owned businesses evident by their advertisements appearing in the Atlanta Daily World, the offices of which were just around the corner on Auburn.


Rhodes Hall

I didn’t expect to be doing much this summer, much less working for the Georgia Trust driving around backroads inspecting old houses. But here I am with a temporary desk on the 3rd floor of Rhodes Hall, a ca. 1906 Romanesque Revival “castle” stuck in the bend of Peachtree and hemmed in by the beginning of Buford Highway and I-75/85. Idyllic location. Of course, it WAS an idyllic location when Amos Rhodes first picked this hilltop location on his 114 acres that extended mostly west from Peachtree (what is now the 75/85 interchange) but this is hard to picture from the ground. It is much easier to imagine the sea of green land and the sweeping view down Peachtree toward downtown from the top of the Rhodes Hall tower.

On my first day there K gave me the tour, introducing me to people, and showing off appropriate rooms. A tour of the famed Civil War windows I did not get though, upon later observations i must admit they’re pretty magnificent. No, the best part of my tour was the Attic. Straight up we went and looked out a 3rd floor attic window onto the front yard and Peachtree. The massive stones are exposed on the interior and rafters spun up the underside of the roof of the turretted corner we were in, the heavy wooden floor and rafters had that wonderful smell and feel of well-built older homes: a smell of quality wood and the undisturbed age of a place. My desk would be located in the 3rd floor gymnasium, though i couldn’t help wondering how much use this place actually got. For a home begun when the children must’ve been nearly grown and then given over to the State of Georgia for “historical purposes” less than 30 years later after Mr. and Mrs. Amos Rhodes’ deaths. Something else wonderful about working in this place is how the people, the offices, and particularly the 3rd floor remind me of my childhood days in the offices at the Old Capitol. Yes, i feel a little bit at home here (: