A Peek Into Atlanta’s Streetcar History
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There’s a lot of buzz about the new Atlanta Streetcar Project that laid its first tracks in May 2013. The streetcar line includes 12 stops providing access to popular attractions and destinations such as the Georgia Aquarium, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, Georgia State University, the World of Coca-Cola, CNN Center and the historic Auburn Avenue corridor. The line also reconnects the two halves of downtown that were disconnected by freeway construction, and will also directly connect with MARTA’s rail and bus systems, and will eventually connect to the Atlanta Beltline.
This mode of transportation, however, is not new to Atlanta. In 1872, mules and horses pulled trolley cars up and down Whitehall Street, now the ubiquitous Peachtree Street, along Mitchell Street and up to Oakland Cemetery. Then, as railroad companies slowly formed, tracks were laid and an actual trolley system was realized.
In the late 1800s, the Atlanta streetcar was nicknamed the Nine Mile Trolley because of the nine-mile circle it made around the city linking many neighborhoods. Virginia-Highlands and Inman Park grew in popularity as the streetcars made them more accessible. Lines connected residents with downtown via Ponce de Leon and Dekalb Avenue and also ran as far north as Buckhead and Howell Mill.
Atlanta’s original streetcars were eventually retrofitted, made electric and converted to function without tracks. Those soon gave way to buses, and the tracks were paved over to make way for cars. Fast-forward to present day where city officials are banking that the new streetcars will encourage people to park their cars and get on the trolley. Sometimes the best steps into the future begin with a look to the past.