Georgia, U. S. A.

Atlanta old and new-The history of Atlanta
Atlanta Old and New: 1868 to 1879

Articles in this series:
Atlanta:Prehistory to 1847
Atlanta:1848 to 1868

An epiphany occurred in Atlanta during the 1870's. No longer would the city at the rail hub of Georgia be shaped by events external to the city, but by the people of the city. The cosmopolitan city proper was more homogenized than any other city in the state. Relatively large Jewish and black populations were accentuated with people from virtually every state and many foreign countries who flocked to the rapidly expanding new economic center of the Southeast as it tried to recover from Civil War between 1865 and 1867.

Original Kimball House about 1875
The original Kimball House
January 1 broke cool and clear at the start of 1868. Few people realized it would be a pivotal year in Atlanta history. The State Constitutional Convention had begun meeting in December of the prior year and General John Pope, commander of the Third Military District was about to be replaced by General George Meade, the commander of the Army of the Potomac from Gettysburg until the end of the Civil War. Meade would be welcomed warmly by Atlanta with a banquet in his honor and an old nemesis, John B. Gordon, was at the table. Pope, before he left, ordered the state treasury to reimburse the cost of the convention. Governor Jenkins refused and Pope conveniently left the mess for Meade to clean up.

On January 13, 1868, Meade did just that. He removed Jenkins from office and essentially dissolved the civilian state government, appointing Brigadier General Thomas Ruger as military governor of the state, sacked a number of other officials and, by the end of February, ordered the state offices moved from Milledgeville to Atlanta. Reaction from city politicians centered around their inability to house the state government. Enter H.I. Kimball. One of the more famous carpetbagger's in Atlanta history, Hannibal Ingalls Kimball came to Atlanta in 1866 from Hamlin Gore, Maine by way of Hartford, Connecticut.

Forsyth ST. about 1875
Forsyth St. near downtown in 1875
As the Constitutional Convention was wrapping up its business in March, construction of the Opera House at the corner of Forsyth and Marietta Streets was abruptly halted because the Atlanta Opera House and Building Association went bankrupt. On June 2, Hannibal's brother Edwin Kimball purchased the structure at a receivership sale for $31,750 and changed its name to the Kimball Opera House. It was completed with funds guaranteed by the state, then leased to the state government under Rufus Bullock, the new Governor of Georgia, who happened to be a close friend of Hannibal Kimball. On August 23, 1870, Hannibal Kimball, who had purchased his brother's interest, sold the building to the state for $250,000.

By the end of 1868 the Atlanta treasury, which only held $20 dollars at the end of 1864, saw almost $500,000 in receipts. Kimball's Opera House was preparing to open as the offices of the state government and as the local opera house, which it did on January 13, 1869, a day after the building was open to the public with a gala ball. One corner of the "state house" was allotted to the city for use as a U. S. Post Office, although it did not open until April, 1869. Later that year Atlanta purchased Oglethorpe Park, the city's first park, and received its own judicial district encompassing Fulton, Dekalb and Clayton Counties. Rounding out Atlanta's success that year was the heavily publicized ascent of Dr. Albert Hape and Professor Samuel King in King's hot air balloon, the Hyperion on December 10. Hape's brother Samuel would found Hapeville in 1874.

Morris "Mo" Rich was destined to become an important name not only in Atlanta history but in retailing history in the Southeastern United States. During 1867 he founded M. Rich Dry Goods at 36 Whitehall Street (now Peachtree Street). In 1868, while much of the South was still in anarchy, Rich took 3,000 dollars and drove a cart to Washington D. C. to purchase some of the first pennies seen in the South. While he publicly stated that he had made the journey because he felt it was essential to have the new currency to do business, it was a marketing ploy. Customers flocked to the store simply to get the pennies. As brother Emanuel joined him in 1871, he used the opportunity to abandon his original structure the following year in favor of a larger building located diagonally across the street on the corner of Hunter and Whitehall Streets. Daniel joined Mo and Emanuel in 1878 and the family expanded again, opening a new store at 54-56 Whitehall Street. The third store (occupied in 1881), which was substantially renovated and expanded in 1906, still stands today at 82-86 Peachtree Street, SW and 111-115 M. L. King, Jr. Drive, SW. In 1924 Mo's nephew Walter renamed the store to Rich's.

Another family who played an important role in Atlanta history following the Civil War was that of William Mitchell (for whom Mitchell St. is named). He moved to Henry (now Rockdale) County in 1835, 12 miles south of Decatur. His grandson Russell Crawford Mitchell returned to Atlanta after fighting for Robert E. Lee. Russell, who fought at Seven Pines and Second Manassas, and was severely wounded at Sharpsburg returned to Atlanta to start a lumber mill and raise a family. Russell's son Eugene Muse Mitchell would become well-known as a lawyer, historian, and father of Gone With The Wind author Margaret Mitchell.

Ad from Brotherton's, a store near M. Rich's
Brotherton's, "Finest Dry Goods South of Baltimore" competed with Rich's.
Former Georgia Governor Joe Brown returned to Atlanta in late 1870 as president of the Western and Atlantic Railroad. The "state line" was sold following a period of abuse that included firing of long-term employees and replacing them with friends of politicians. Belgian Laurent DeGive purchased the defunct Masonic Temple and opened it as DeGive's Opera House on January 24, 1870. Towards the end of 1870 the city lost a popular Irishman who owned the Chicago Ale House on Pryor Street. During a contest in at the Georgia State Fair held in Oglethorpe Park, Michael Kenny was thrown from his horse and died when his head struck a pole. Kenny's Alley in Underground Atlanta bears his name.

While Atlanta continued to gain population, the early 1870's did see an economic contraction. Hannibal Kimble declared bankruptcy in 1871, then was forced to flee when the state government was returned to the Democrats in 1872 (his friend, Rufus Bullock,was a Republican). As Bullock and Kimball fled Atlanta began placing iron rails in the streets for horse and mule-drawn trolleys. Education was becoming important in the once-again booming city. The earliest steps for public education were laid in the late 1860's, but in 1872 Atlanta was divided into three districts (they were called wards then) and public schools were established for whites. It would be two decades before similar schools were created for blacks.The Panic of 1873 set even more failures in motion with the largest being real estate investor Jack Wallace. Literally hundreds of pieces of property across the city were sold at auction to cover his debts. News of the panic overshadowed the completion of the Atlanta-Richmond Air Line to Charlotte, North Carolina.

In 1874 the Ladies Memorial Association completed the monument in Oakland Cemetery simply labeled "Our Confederate Dead." The city charter was rewritten, creating a bicameral city council that had power over all municipal financing, strengthened enforcement of city laws and improved the fiscal responsibility of Atlanta. One of the first acts passed by the rechartered city was creation of a new waterworks in the area today known as Lakewood.

One of Atlanta's greatest promoters, Henry Grady, printed his "New South" editorial on March 14, 1874, calling for the financial support of the Deep South by northern industrialists. Among his plans were an industrialization of the city led by none other that Hannibal Kimble. Kimble would not return until 1876, but 29-year old civil engineer Joel Hurt arrived in 1875. Journalist Joel Chandler Harris arrived the following year, trying to avoid a yellow fever epidemic that had broken out in Savannah. While neither arrival was particularly important at the time, both would play an important role in Atlanta's later history.

Celebration in Atlanta for Rutherford B. Hayes
Celebration honoring President Rutherford B. Hayes, first sitting President to visit Atlanta
In 1877 the state approved the move from Milledgeville to Atlanta in a general election. It also called a new constitutional convention, conveniently located in Atlanta. September 22, 1877 was a red letter day in the history of Atlanta. Rutherford B. Hayes and his wife, Lucy Webb Hayes visited the city, first sitting President to make the journey. Alexander Graham Bell's telephone made its way to Atlanta in 1877 when the Western and Atlanta Railroad's passenger agent and Union Station were connected by wire. By the end of the decade nearly 100 businesses would have service. In 1878 the U. S. Army's Signal Service opened a weather office in the Kimball Opera House.

Although the arrival of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877 was a significant milestone, in 1879 it was surpassed by the arrival of a man who was once a much more sinister force in Atlanta's history: General William Tecumseh Sherman. He arrived by train from Rome, Georgia on January 29 and remained in the city for 2 days, greeted by politicians and local dignitaries.

Articles in this series:
Atlanta:Prehistory to 1847
Atlanta:1848 to 1868

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