In 1926, 14 prominent Atlantans established the Atlanta Historical Society. They were united by a goal of stirring up greater interest in the city’s history. With no funding and no building to call home, the society’s founding members began collecting historical documents and artifacts.
Ninety years and one name change later, the Atlanta History Center is an award-winning institution with a 33-acre museum complex. A visit to the museum’s sprawling Buckhead campus ranks as one of Atlanta’s most enjoyable and interactive educational experiences. The complex is just 10 minutes’ drive from AMLI Buckhead and AMLI Lindbergh. The museum also operates a few historic houses elsewhere in Atlanta, including the Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown. Here are some of the most noteworthy Atlanta History Center attractions, on and off the Buckhead campus.
Atlanta sprang up at the intersection of two major railway lines. As a result, it was destined for regional greatness. As history unfolded, the city also proved an important national transport hub and commercial center. Atlanta was a crucial battleground during the Civil War. It played a major role in the Civil Rights Movement. It hosted the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. And, more recently, Atlanta has become something of a case study on urban revitalization. “Gatheround,” the Atlanta History Center’s newest cornerstone exhibit, weaves these and other chapters of the city’s fascinating history together. On weekends, performers masked as historic figures from Atlanta’s past share their stories in the exhibit’s dedicated performance spaces.
Atlanta was strategically crucial during the Civil War. Ammunitions and other supplies not originating in or bound for Atlanta often passed through en route. The city and its surroundings were the site of several military battles, most notably the Battle of Atlanta. And shortly before the war ended, Atlanta spent four months under siege before the city was burned to the ground.”Turning Point” showcases more than 1,500 original Union and Confederate artifacts. It is one of the country’s largest and most highly-regarded Civil War exhibits.
Noteworthy architect Philip T. Shutze designed this stately mansion for Edward and Emily Inman in the 1920s. Step inside for a glimpse into the life and style of a wealthy, well-connected family at the end of the Jazz Age. Most of the furnishings inside the stunning Early 20th Century Revival home are original. And if you have questions about what is and what isn’t, experts are around to help. Museum employees dressed as the home’s architect, decorator, owners, and staff roam the grounds educating and engaging with visitors.
The Swan House Gardens, designed by Shutze with baroque Italy in mind, are as stunning as the house. An Atlanta History Center ticket includes admission to the Swan House and its gardens. For an additional 0, you can explore rooms not open to most visitors on a 45-minute, behind-the-scenes tour.
Around 1840, a hog farmer named Robert Smith built a plantation home in present-day Dekalb County. The house sheltered five generations of Robert’s family before his great, great-granddaughter Tullie donated it to the Atlanta History Center in 1969. The museum moved the house to its Buckhead complex, where it was restored to resemble a working farm in 1840s Georgia. Other buildings on the farm include a standalone kitchen, dairy, blacksmith shop, corn crib, chicken coop, smokehouse, and gardens. Live chickens and sheep live on the Smith Family Farm, one of the museum’s most popular children’s attractions. Interactive opportunities include caring for the animals, tending the garden, weaving, and helping in the kitchen.
Enchanting gardens, woodlands, and nature trails cover two-thirds of the Atlanta History Center grounds. The Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden, bordered on one edge by Peachtree Creek, is home to Georgia’s most diverse collection of native plants. The peaceful and inspiring Frank A. Smith Memorial Rhododendron Garden is stunning in late spring, when its namesake flowers bloom. For “Old World” trees introduced to Georgia by explorers, visit the bucolic Sims Asian Garden. The garden is populated by Satsuki azaleas, Japanese maples, and hydrangea. Then there’s the Swan Woods Trail, which meanders through acres of forest dominated by pine, beech, and tulip trees. The Swan Woods are also home to the Garden for Peace, part of an international network of peace-promoting gardens.
Margaret Mitchell’s first and only novel was conceived and written in a tiny apartment in a grand Tudor Revival mansion. Today, the entire house is dedicated to the author and her weighty classic Gone with the Wind. Mitchell’s apartment is decorated to look as it did when she resided in it. The rest of the house contains exhibits detailing Mitchell’s life, legacy, and timeless work. Also of note is an exhibit covering the film adaptation’s Atlanta premiere.
Entrance to the Margaret Mitchell House is included with an Atlanta History Center ticket. But the house Mitchell lived in is five miles south of the museum’s Buckead campus, at 979 Crescent Avenue NE.
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