Oakland Tours in Focus: Happy Birthday, Atlanta!

by Marcy Breffle, Education Coordinator

Atlanta’s Zero-Mile Post marker

On December 29, 1847, Georgia governor George W. Towns approved legislation that reincorporated the town of Atlanta as the city of Atlanta. In 2017 Atlanta’s celebrates is 170th birthday!

In 1837 a marker was placed near present-day Underground Atlanta to mark the Southeastern terminus of the Western and Atlanta Railroad. A settlement sprang up around this end point and was known as Terminus, literally meaning “end of the line.”

As Terminus continued to develop, locals began to contemplate a new name for the settlement. The name Lumpkin was put forth in honor of Wilson Lumpkin, a former Georgia governor and the disbursing agent for the Western and Atlanta Railroad. Lumpkin declined the honor, so instead the residents chose to rename the settlement after his 16-year-old daughter Martha. On December 23, 1843 the settlement was incorporated as the town of Marthasville.

Lucky for us (can you imagine cheering “Go Marthasville Falcons!” at Mercedes-Benz Stadium?), the name Marthasville did not stick. Deemed too provincial, Marthasville was changed in favor of Atlanta. The name was first used by John Edgar Thomson, the chief engineer of the Georgia Railroad, to designate his railroad’s local depot. Some say Atlanta was the shortened version of “Atlantica-Pacifica,” while others argue that the name was yet another tribute to Martha Lumpkin, whose middle name was allegedly Atalanta. The General Assembly officially changed the name on December 26, 1845.

An October 1845 article in the Charleston Courier agrees that Atlanta is a far “more poetic name” than Marthasville.

Acts of the State of Georgia, 1847

Full Title: AN ACT to amend an act entitled an act to incorporate the town of Marthasville, in the county of DeKalb, passed on the twenty-third day of December, eighteen hundred and forty-three; and also to enlarge the boundary of said town, and to incorporate the same under the name of the city of Atlanta; and to change the name of the town of Rome to that of the city of Rome; to provide for the election of a Mayor and City Councilmen and other officers of said cities, and to confer upon them specified powers; and for other purposes herein mentioned.

Section 1. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the State of Georgia in General Assembly met, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That from and after the passage of this act, the town of Atlanta shall be known and called the city of Atlanta, and the authority and jurisdiction of said city shall extend one mile from the State Depot in every direction.

Photo: Governor George W. Towns, Acts of Georgia 1847

Put on your party hats and celebrate Atlanta’s birthday with a visit to Historic Oakland Cemetery! Our general overview tour, “Sights, Symbols, and Stories of Oakland” is offered every Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. No reservations are required!