Unique walking tour of Atlanta's railroad gulch, combining history and urban exploring.
This unique walking tour explores the history and spaces of Atlanta's "railroad gulch". Amidst the forgotten spaces beneath the viaducts that span the railroads in the heart of downtown, we will find clues to the earliest history of Atlanta and follow the development of the city around the railroad junction. How did Atlanta come to be where it is? Is Underground Atlanta really underground? Are there still trains beneath the streets of Atlanta? What's all this about a peach tree? The tour will find the sites of Terminal and Union Stations and the few historical elements that remain. We will discuss the importance of the Zero Milepost, but unfortunately at this time it cannot be accessed.
Mission: This is a private event that happens when I feel like it, not a regularly scheduled commercial tour. Tours are typically held on Saturday afternoons in the spring and fall. I send out notices about ten days in advance, at which point RSVP is required. Jeff Morrison is an architect in Atlanta, with interests in railroad history, urban infrastructure, and seeing people in uncomfortable places.
I hope you can join us for Pecha Kucha on May 19. These are lighting-brief talks about things people are passionate about, organized around a theme. The format is twenty slides, exactly twenty seconds each. I will be talking about how I got started giving walking tours, how they grew and have led to me writing a book. See you there!
Did you know Atlanta has an Unseen Underground Walking Tour? Join us at Pecha Kucha: Moonlighting on May 19th to learn more about the history of Underground Atlanta and The Gulch from tour guide Jeff Morrison. 7pm at Brother Moto $5 donation at the door.
Here is the cover for the book! The title is "Atlanta Underground: History from Below". The title refers to the idea that the stories and photographs are bound together by a particular vantage point. It is the story of Atlanta told from this particular place, and viewed from the bottom looking up.
The image is Magnolia Street, which is directly below the portion of Andrew Young Intl Blvd in front of the Georgia World Congress Center. The busy tracks of the Norfolk Southern pass over the short tunnel. I found myself driving through this massive space one night long ago, and I was so fascinated that I had to come back and start exploring.
I have been taking photographs down here for twelve years, but I could never really capture the feel of the space. All my other photos are cropped square, and they needed a vertical format image for the cover, so I went back and got this. I knelt down and shot from between the guard rails of a bridge to get just the right composition.
I took a group down here just the other day, and stepping into this space my friend kind of staggered, looking up and around, and just said, "What is going on here?" What I like about this image is that is captures the scale of the space, and the abstract geometries, and the play of light and shadow, and the open question of what this strange place is for. It makes people say "Wow" and "What?".
I have lots of big announcements coming up. First, I am thrilled to have been invited to participate in Pecha Kucha on May 19. Pecha Kucha is a specific presentation format in which you have 20 slides and exactly 20 seconds each in which to tell your story. It is basically an evening full of people talking about things they are passionate about. I will be talking about my experiences leading the tours and writing my book, and sharing some great images I have collected along the way. This will be a great event and I hope we can fill a lot of seats!
I have spread out all the photographs for my book. Time to edit out the less worthy ones. I will end up with forty-four of my photographs, alongside sixteen select historic maps and images for context.
Yesterday I was looking for information on Haralson Bleckley at the Keenan Research Library at the Atlanta History Center. Bleckley was an architect who drew up plans in 1909 for a grand civic plaza that would cap over the railroad tracks of the Gulch, all the way from the State Capitol to Terminal Station. He championed the idea for decades, and while it gained broad public support, it was never implemented by the city.
So they pulled a box of papers from the basement, and I found myself perusing hundreds of newspaper clippings from Bleckley's own personal scrapbook, chronicling his efforts over thirty years.
I usually don't worry over what could have been, but I have to say that Atlanta would be a notably better city if this investment had been made a hundred years ago.
Newspaper articles and commentary cartoons from the personal scrapbook of architect Haralson Bleckley, who championed a civic plaza capping the railroad gulch for decades in the early twentieth century. From the collection of the Keenan Research Library at the Atlanta History Center.
[01/30/19] I have just finished the very rough first draft of my book. Woot! It now at least has a beginning, middle and end.
What is my favorite thing I have learned so far in researching my book? Well, I knew from posts by Atlanta Time Machine that Lester Maddox, former governor and proud owner of the segregated Pickrick Restaurant, operated a souvenir shop in the 1970's incarnation of Underground. Among other political memorabilia, he sold miniature replicas of the ax handles nicknamed "Pickrick Drumsticks", that he used (and provided to customers) to fend off black customers from the restaurant. I did not know he ran that store while he served as lieutenant governor for Jimmy Carter. I also had somehow never heard that, shortly after leaving that office, he toured the country with his former busboy from the Pickrick, blues musician Bobby Sears. Billing themselves as "The Governor and the Dishwasher", they performed folk songs interspersed with banter, clearly modeled after the Smothers Brothers. They appeared on Laugh-In and the Dick Cavett Show, and apparently every Saturday night at Underground, as advertised in this photo. This is our amazing, tragic, crazy history. (Just to be clear, I think the story of the Pickrick is shameful, not funny.)
[12/02/18] Working chronologically, I've reached the point in my book where I get to write about the Omni Complex. It occurs to me that this may be the only book in the world to include both the Andrew's Raid and the World of Sid and Marty Krofft. I can even include them in a contiguous narrative, and explain their significance to one another. I'm pretty proud of that.
I was riding in the car with some co-workers at lunch yesterday, and suddenly we were listening to myself talking on WABE! City Lights was discussing the new exhibits of the Texas locomotive and the Zero Mile Post, and they included part of an interview I did seven years ago with John Lemly.
wabe.org Tuesday on "City Lights with Lois Reitzes": 1:30: Musicians John Driskell Hopkins and Joe Gransden join Lois Reitzes to talk about their Christmas album and about performing at the 2018 National Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. 25:20: Producer Myke Johns visits the Atlanta History Center for a look...
Here is an article by Maria Saporta about the relocation of the Zero Mile Post, which begins "It's just plain wrong." It includes several quotes from Steve Stancil, executive director of the Georgia Building Authority, who made the final decision.
Unfortunately, his sentiments are similar to those expressed by Norfolk Southern after demolition of the Interlocking Tower. They knew what they were doing was wrong, they just couldn't come up with a better idea on their own.
Our urban planning is still rooted in a culture of deal-making, in which it is every man for himself. If we had an aspirational culture of city panning, we would be working together to find solutions, and these things would be seen as opportunities, not liabilities.
saportareport.com Read Atlanta’s zero milepost belongs at Atlanta’s zero mile mark by Maria Saporta for SaportaReport here.
[11/01/18] After 168 years, the Zero Milepost no longer marks the endpoint of the Western &Atlantic Railroad, or the original centerpoint of the city. Having survived the Civil War, General Sherman, the construction of three depots and a bridge around it, and the demolition of two of those, it could not survive the good intentions of the Atlanta History Center and the laziness of the Georgia Building Authority.
I am tired of hearing politicians refer to the Gulch as just a hole that needs to be filled, so I have written a guest blog for ThreadATL. The idea is that where other cities have river fronts that they have been able to revitalize, we have the Gulch, which is like our own dry riverbed. But instead of seeing it as a problem, we can still see it as an opportunity.
threadatl.org This guest post comes from Jeff Morrison, an Atlanta architect who operates the popular Unseen Underground walking tours of Downtown’s historic sites. He is the author…
[10/12/18] If you were lucky enough to get an Eventbrite ticket for the special Gulch tour tomorrow, you should have received a notification that the starting point has moved. It is going to be a totally unique and timely event. See you there!
Here is a video spot that the City Council produced to help explain what the Gulch is. It was tough to distill my two-hour tour into micro-sound bytes. I don't think they have posted it yet, I'm not sure why.
Recap: As you may know from earlier posts, the fate of the Western & Atlantic Zero Milepost is uncertain. It is currently enclosed in an unoccupied building owned by the Georgia Building Authority. The building will need to be demolished in the near future for the replacement of the Central Avenue viaduct, and the GBA is tyring to decide whether to leave the milepost in place or permanently relocate it.
Call to Action: I have recently learned how to submit public comments for consideration. An announcement is expected by the end of the year, but there may just be a few days left to influence the decision. Once a plan is established and announced, fighting it will be an uphill battle.
My own position is that the significance of the milepost is its location, and that some simple creative ideas could protect it in place and make it more readily accessible to the public. But I encourage everyone to voice their own opinion.
Please show the GBA that this is important to us!
Public comment site:
Select the following categories:
Type of Feedback: Comment
Program Area: Other
Location: "Zero Milepost"
[10/03/18] I'll have a few important announcements coming up in the next few days. For now, clear the afternoon of Saturday, October 13 on your calendars. Trust me. I'll explain in a day or two.
In researching the first chapter of my book, I came across this delightful quote about the Best Friend of Charleston, which ran on the South Carolina Canal and Rail Road from Charleston to Hamburg, SC (across the river from Augusta). Pulling the world's first regularly-scheduled passenger trains along what was then the longest railroad in the world, it was in many ways the impetus for the State of Georgia to envision a network of railroads crossing southeast, intersecting at what would become Atlanta.
The Charleston Courier wrote of its initial six-mile run in 1830, "The one hundred and forty-one persons flew on the wings of wind at the speed of fifteen to twenty-five miles per hour, annihilating time and space... leaving all the world behind. On the return... [the locomotive] darted forth like a live rocket, scattering sparks and flames on either side... and landed us all safe at the Lines before any of us had time to determine whether or not it was prudent to be scared."
Probably at least a little hyperbolic, but clearly this was an eye-opening new experience. Now we can travel that speed by hopping on an electrical scooter.
[09/05/18] I am very excited to announce that I have just signed a book deal with Globe Pequot Press! The book will be a collection of architectural photos of the Gulch, with select historic maps and photos, paired with an historical overview of the area from the 1830's to today. It will be like the tour, but with less stairs to climb. I will be sure to post updates as it takes shape.
atlanta.curbed.com Abandoned, century-old offices will house industrial lofts and a retail corridor called "The Canyon" in the latest major investment near the Gulch.
We are closing in on three thousand followers on the FB page, but I've only got three reviews. If you have attended a tour in the past, would you take a moment to go to Reviews and click on Recommend, and if you'd like, write a brief note about what you liked about the tour. Thanks so much!
I'm sorry to report that the interlocking tower, the last remnant of Terminal Station, is being demolished. Sad to see it go.
This image was captured today, a demolition that now removes any remnant of the Terminal Train Station - we will provide more information as it become available.
Good news! The Atlanta City Council just passed a resolution that "the Western and Atlantic Railroad Zero Mile Post shall be protected and remain in perpetuity in its historic site underneath the Central Ave Viaduct"—having the city's support and understanding of the historic significance of the mile post and its site is important but this is far from over.
We are glad to have worked with members of Atlanta City Council to provide a city-wide voice of support for the city’s birthstone.
Please join the effort to save the Zero Mile Post, by voicing your concerns to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, and the state district representatives: Park Cannon, and Senator Nan Grogan Orrock --thank you Atlanta City Council !
Maplanta is producing block prints of the milepost ( not made by rubbing the actual milepost with ink).
etsy.com TLDR: This is a block print of the Atlanta zero mile marker. I hand printed each one in on my dining table in Atlanta. Each frame was hand made exclusively for this print, Each frame is unique, and each print is unique and number in an edition of 29. The frames have a saw tooth hanger and
Thanks to everyone who came out last night to the RenewAtlanta open house. Public comments can be submitted here: [email protected] until May 31. All questions will be responded to and all comments will be made available to the public. Please make known your support for preservation of the Zero Milepost.
The viaduct replacement project is being conducted by RenewAtlanta (the City of Atlanta's engine fo using the recent TSPLOST funds) and GDOT. Their planning process includes public engagement, environmental impact surveys, and cultural resource surveys.
The Zero Milepost, and the building which houses it, are controlled by the Georgia Building Authority. Demolition of the building would be necessary to perform the viaduct demolition and replacement. The GBA has suggested they may be motiviated to remove the building sooner to gain access to the adjacent parking structure (also owned by the state), which is impacted by both the current Courtland bridge project and the Central Ave project. They have indicated that they are open to various solutions for the Milepost itself, including moving it to other public or private locations.
In my opinion, the location of the Milepost is inherent to it's significance to the city. It should be protected in place. Furthermore, a plan should be developed for protecting it in the future while also making it accessible to the public.
The GBA has not made their plans public, and has not responded to recent requests from citizens and the press. It is not clear what the decision making or planning process is at the GBA, and what obligation they may have to notify the public prior to taking action. Our hope is that they can be engaged into a public debate so that we can ensure that the best solution is reached for the future of the Milepost.
Even though RenewAtlanta does not control the fate of the Milepost, I would encourage you to give them your comments about it, so that they are on record, until the GBA can be engaged directly.
Thank you for your support!
[05/17/18] Tonight is the night of the public open house at City Hall. Your chance to support the Zero Milepost, and get on the list for the next tour!
Here is a detail of a map of Georgia in 1845 by Henry Tanner. The junction of first three railroads is shown just west of Decatur, but Marthasville/ Atlanta is not shown yet.The Western & Atlantic Railroad goes northwest to Chattanooga, the Georgia Railroad goes east to Covington & Augusta (connecting to Charleston), the Monroe Railroad (soon to be the Macon & Western) goes south to Monroe & Macon (connecting to Savannah).
I am happy to announce the next tour will be:
Sunday, May 20 at 10:00am!!
Tickets are free, but space is limited to forty people. Here’s the deal: to get on the list, you must attend the public information meeting about the Central Ave viaduct project and the fate of the Zero Milepost. The meeting is:
Thursday, May 17, 6-8pm
in City Hall at the "Old Council Chambers".
If you cannot make it, send someone in your place. If you don't plan to come on the tour, come to the meeting anyway. Regardless of your point of view, I am hoping we can show the City and State how important the Zero Milepost is to us, so let’s try to get a huge turnout. I hope to see you there.
renewatlantabond.com Visit the post for more.
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