Atlanta is a city of greenery and a lot of that comes from its many parks. Many neighborhoods have a park and some, like mine, more than one. The parks are mostly local to each area though open to anyone as they tend to be city property. They range from just a wild natural area, to green open spaces, to those with playground sets for the kids. What is good about Atlanta is that the local neighborhoods step in to help keep these parks clean and alive.
However, Atlanta’s centerpiece in the park category is Piedmont Park, located in the middle of Midtown, easily accessible from every cardinal point. The park’s history is longer than Atlanta’s own. A land lottery in 1821 distributed the land just ceded by the native Creek Nation of Indians. Early pioneers acquired a forest that would later become Piedmont Park to build their farm (the Walker family) before Atlanta itself was established! It is interesting to note that the original cabin was built on what is now called “Active Oval” where an oval track’s center fields host any number of sports activities. Another cabin was built a couple of decades after the first one in the area where the Driving Club sits now.
The area became the location of many expos in the late 1800s and that’s how the park as we know it began to take shape. The Piedmont Exposition of 1887 and the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895 are the most important ones, with the latter being a World Expo to promote the southern states internationally and it ran for about 100 days and attracted 800,000 visitors, way before highways and planes facilitated bringing visitors to Atlanta. Pretty impressive.
The park was finally bought by the City of Atlanta in 1904 after hesitating many times because it was “so far” from the city (at that time, of course, Atlanta was just what we know as downtown). A lake, steps, tennis courts, and other landscape changes (including carving out what is now the Active Oval to give it its current topography) were implemented in those years. The Atlanta Botanical Gardens were established along the northwestern edge of the park (worth a visit any time of the year but especially for the winter night lights!).
But this park never ceases to be improved. In the last decade, the park underwent major “renovations” with paths being installed and a dog park being established. Sadly, the old railroad line that used to run along its eastern edge has disappeared (at least part of it) — Atlanta may be one of very few places were destroying history is celebrated as “progress” (to be in the company of Beijing in this category is not a compliment, folks…). I enjoyed climbing an old train there once in the younger days. But all in the name of progress and of creating a better park space in the midst of the hustle-and-bustle that we call Atlanta.
The park sometimes hosts events like festivals, and is a great place for a walk, a run, a swim, or a picnic. Back in my college days, a hot balloon race used to take off from the southeastern fields and it was quite the sight. The movie in the green event allowed folks to come and watch a movie on a summer evening while bringing food and beverages to enjoy.
The park has evolved over the decades and is under good stewardship of the city and a conservancy group which will help ensure the park continues to be an oasis in Atlanta for current and future generations to enjoy.
What parks exist in your town that serve as great outdoor gathering places?