The Phoenix serves as Atlanta’s symbol because of the city’s rebirth after the Civil War out of the ashes of itself.
But the Phoenix is also a suitable symbol for Atlanta because the city has repeatedly recreated itself, knocking down the old in search of a modern identity. Visitors and locals alike often note that our city has very few historic buildings because reminders of the city’s past are difficult to spot. But a much older Atlanta exists in the photographic record if not in the current built environment. The Handbook of the City of Atlanta (1898) and the Atlanta Standard City Guide (1907) proved instrumental in teaching us about where old buildings were situated and mapping them out in the new ATLMaps layer showed us what replaced them.
Plotting the images of these historic Atlanta guidebooks was a surprisingly time-consuming task. A majority of the buildings and historic sites have been demolished, paved over for “progress” and parking lots. Some sites, including Gammon Seminary and Clark University moved in the 1950s, a result of political pressures to merge with other historically African American universities. Streets have been renamed, sometimes twice over. Even when an address was easy to find, it rarely corresponded to the exact historic location, despite being off by only one or two buildings or across the street. Research beyond simply Googling the name of the building for its address was in order.
Eventually, we developed a system for cross-referencing a number of resources to pinpoint the exact locations of the sites presented in the historic Atlanta guidebook images. After transferring the images and their metadata to Georgia State University Library Digital Collections, we used the index of digital Sanborn maps (1867-1970) of the year closest to our guidebook’s publication date (1899) to look up the Sanborn sheets. This process went significantly faster after noting the sheet number of the majority of the sites first and then tracking down the sheets with multiple sites, rather than looking up the sites individually. From here, the process entailed comparing the contemporary Google Earth images with the historic Sanborn maps. In the downtown area where street names have stayed fairly consistent, this was a simple process. It became significantly more difficult the further outside of the city center the sites were located, as streets were more likely to have been renamed and the completion of the city dramatically changed from industrial factories to modern neighborhoods.
Further, a number of sites in the Atlanta guidebooks were not noted in the indexes of Sanborn maps. For these sites, historic preservation efforts have provided enough information to pinpoint locations that have since been moved. One such site is the Erskine Memorial Fountain, which had fallen into disrepair to the dismay of local residences, after being moved from its original location in midtown Atlanta to Grant Park. Other sites have little traceable record of their original locations and their photos have not been included on the map layers.