Atlanta History Center: Connecting People, History and Culture
This is a guest blog post by F. Sheffield Hale, president and CEO – Atlanta History Center
Atlanta History Center was founded in 1926 by 14 Atlantans dedicated to preserving the history of their city. In 1966, the society made the move to Buckhead, purchasing the Swan House and surrounding estate as their new headquarters. In many ways, that decision to move to Buckhead and invest in such a large tract of property paved the way for the Atlanta History Center that exists today.
Today, Atlanta History Center occupies a 33-acre campus in Buckhead and a Midtown campus that includes the Margaret Mitchell House. Our Buckhead campus features 13 exhibition spaces, three historic houses and dozens of acres of gardens and trails.
Our newest facility is the Lloyd and Mary Ann Whitaker Cyclorama Building, which houses The Battle of Atlanta cyclorama painting. This 360-degree painting, which is 49-feet tall, longer than a football field, and weighs 10,000 pounds, is an example of a popular form of entertainment in the late 19th century. The Battle of Atlanta was completed in 1886 by a group of German and Austrian painters working for the Atlanta Panorama Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The painting commemorates a crucial United States victory during the Civil War, which led to the reelection of Abraham Lincoln and eventual U.S. victory. As the painting moved south in the 1890s, it took on new meanings and was even advertised as a Confederate victory in an early newspaper ad.
In its new home at Atlanta History Center, the painting is presented as an artifact rather than an attraction. Our newest exhibition Cyclorama: The Big Picture explores art and entertainment history, and the history of Civil War memory. A 12-minute film projected onto the painting itself explores the changing perceptions of the painting over time. For those who want to learn more about the American Civil War, our permanent exhibition Turning Point: The American Civil War offers a comprehensive overview of the four year conflict, drawing from the largest Civil War collection in the country.
In addition to Cyclorama and several other exhibitions, visitors to Atlanta History Center also have access to thousands of items in our living collections through Goizueta Gardens. Goizueta Gardens include 33 acres of curated gardens, woodlands and trails ranging from the formal Swan House gardens to the rare native plant collection in the Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden. Also located throughout our campus are three historic houses: Wood Family Cabin, Swan House and Smith Family Farm. Smith Family Farm includes the oldest surviving farm house in Atlanta, along with a working blacksmith shop, live farm animals, heirloom crops and more. All of the historic houses provide the opportunity for hands-on history.
Visitors should also be sure to see the newest temporary exhibition Any Great Change, a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment and women’s suffrage movement. This exhibition is located in Swan House and includes information about Emily C. MacDougald and her daughter, Emily Inman, owner of Swan House. MacDougald was president of the Equal Suffrage Party of Georgia and Inman participated in Atlanta suffrage parades. Those interested in learning more about Swan House are invited to check out exclusive behind the scenes tours.
All of these exhibitions, gardens and experiences, along with much more, can be seen with the purchase of a general admission ticket, which grants admission to all 33 acres of history as well as the Margaret Mitchell House in Midtown.
For researchers interested in learning more about Atlanta history, the Kenan Research Center is free and open to the public six days a week. The research center contains extensive archival collections, including books, manuscripts, maps and photographs. Finding aids and digital materials are available online.
Atlanta History Center also engages in a number of community partnerships to enhance those programs’ offerings and improve access in the Atlanta community. The Fulton County 4-H Extension Office is located in McElreath Hall and 4-H regularly hosts meetings and programs on the Buckhead campus. StoryCorps Atlanta also has their recording booth in McElreath Hall, creating a space for families to have heartfelt conversations that will be archived at the Library of Congress.
Throughout the year, Atlanta History Center offers a robust series of programming for kids and adults alike. For a complete list of upcoming events and exhibitions, visit our website. Atlanta History Center members receive free general admission, access to special events and discounts on all of our programs. Those interested in becoming a member can also find more information on our website.
At Atlanta History Center, our vision is to connect people, history and culture. Our 33-acre Buckhead campus affords opportunities to offer immersive experiences, vast living collections and space to expand and grow over time. As we approach our 100 year anniversary of preserving and presenting Atlanta history, we’re already looking forward to the next 100 years of history-making.