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Park History
Piedmont Park Map
“As the old adage says, “we have all been warmed by fires we did not build and shaded by trees we did not plant... ” Perhaps the ultimate question for a responsible citizenry is not how will we live, but how will the coming generation live?”
- Donald Keough
  Piedmont Park has a rich history that spans over the course of nearly two centuries. Since 1822, Piedmont Park has continuously evolved, changing hands in the process, and going through several phases, first from a forest to a farm, then to a fairground and suburban park, and finally to the urban park that it is today. 

From Forest to Farm
The site that is now Piedmont Park was initially a forest. In 1834, Samuel and Sarah Walker, one of the area’s pioneer settlers, purchased the land for $450.  It is worth nothing that at this point, Fulton County had not yet been established, and Atlanta did not yet exist.  The Walkers then built a cabin on what is now the Active Oval, cleared the trees, and began transforming the forest into farmland.  The Walkers had their first son, Benjamin Walker, that same year.  In 1857 when he was twenty-three years old, Benjamin Walker purchased the farm from his father and settled into a new log cabin where the Piedmont Driving Club is located today.

Stone Balestrade from the Cotton States & International Exposition - 1895

Fair Ground
Many expositions and fairs were held at Piedmont Park during the next seventeen years, most notably the Piedmont Exposition of 1887 and the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895. The Piedmont Exposition was regional, and its purpose was to promote the industrial and agricultural might of the region. The Cotton States and International Exposition, on the other hand, was a World’s Fair. This expo had a grander purpose than its predecessor – to promote all the Southern cotton states and encourage good relations and trade with the international community.  The Cotton States and International Exposition ran for 100 days, featured 6,000 exhibits, and attracted 800,000 visitors.   Today, Several features of the park created during this time remain evident today, including:

•  Today’s ball fields were carved out of the hillside below the Driving Club to form a horse racetrack. Five years later, this field hosted the first game in what has become the oldest intercollegiate football rivalry in the South, Georgia vs Auburn. From 1902 – 1904, the Crackers, Atlanta’s original professional baseball team played ball on the fields of Piedmont Park before moving to a stadium on Ponce de Leon Avenue.
•  A small lake was created from a spring that flowed into the park near today’s Visitor Center for the exposition in 1887. In 1895, the lake was enlarged to approximately its current size of 11.5-acres and named Clara Meer.
•  The stone balustrades scattered around the park once held steps leading to the major building built for the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition.

Public Park
In 1887 and again in 1894, the owners of Piedmont Park considered selling it to the City of Atlanta. This purchase was a tough sell for a number of reasons— the park was considered too far away from the city; although the price for the land was fair, the City wasn’t in the land business; and Atlanta already owned Grant Park and didn’t see the need for another park. The third attempt to sell the park was successful. On June 15, 1904, the City of Atlanta purchased Piedmont Park and extended its city limits north to encompass the park acreage, as well as several developing neighborhoods between West Peachtree Street and North Highland Avenue.

Olmsted Brothers plan for Piedmont Park - 1912

In 1909, the City elected to transform the decaying fairgrounds into a park and enlisted Olmsted Brothers, pre-eminent landscape architects of the time, (and sons of Frederick Law Olmsted), to develop a master plan for the park. Due to budget limitations, their plan for Piedmont Park was not fully implemented. Nevertheless, the Olmsted Brothers’ 1912 plan greatly influenced the development of Piedmont Park. In fact, the current master plan, adopted by the City of Atlanta and Piedmont Park Conservancy in 1995, honors the brothers’ original vision for the park.

During its first quarter century as a city park, many features familiar to park visitors today, were developed.

•  In 1910, the first permanent building in the new park, the rest house was erected, funded by the sale of the remaining 1895 Exposition buildings. In 1996, Piedmont Park Conservancy restored this historic building to create the Visitors’ Center located near the 12th Street gate.
•  During 1913 and 1914, tennis courts were erected on the site of the old 1895 Manufacturers Building, the same site as today’s Tennis Center.
•  To support the swimmers, a wooden bathhouse was built in 1911, eventually replaced by the current stone bathhouse in 1926. Clara Meer was host to swimmers, diving platforms, sunning platforms and a giant, double water slide.
•  The Park Drive Bridge was built, which provided residents of the developing neighborhoods east of the park more convenient access. (1916)

While the park experienced few physical changes from the 1930s to 1960s, the next two decades were a sea of change. In 1976, the high ground of Piedmont Park was leased by the City of Atlanta to the Atlanta Botanical Garden. In 1979, the golf course was closed, freeing up 70 acres of green space on what is now Oak Hill and the Meadow. In 1983, Piedmont Park was closed to through traffic, creating a more pedestrian-friendly park and opening the pathways to a new mix of wheeled traffic—skateboarders, bicyclists, and rollerbladers.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the rapid growth of organized events produced a dramatic increase in park usage. The Dogwood Festival (est. 1936), the Arts Festival of Atlanta (est.1954) and Gay Pride (est.1972) attracted large, diverse crowds to the park. In-park musical performances also took center stage, ranging from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Allman Brothers concerts, to the Montreux Jazz Festival. Increased park usage compounded by a decreased city budgets led to a clear deterioration of Piedmont Park. Now also plagued by illegal activities, it became clear that a long-term solution to fund the care, maintenance and security of park was critical.

The solution was a public-private partnership.
In 1989, unwilling to accept the decline of their beloved park, a small group of concerned citizens and civic leaders joined together to form Piedmont Park Conservancy, a private, nonprofit organization dedicated to the restoration and preservation of Piedmont Park. In 1992, The Conservancy established a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Atlanta, making official the public–private partnership and mutual goals to rehabilitate and maintain Piedmont Park.

Through the generosity of corporate, foundation and individual contributions, Piedmont Park Conservancy has raised more than $23 million in private funds to complete the first half of the Master Plan restoration, including the renovation of Oak Hill, Lake Clara Meer and the Meadowlands. Through its member support, Piedmont Park Conservancy funds landscaping maintenance workers and off-duty police officers to keep Piedmont Park safe, clean and beautiful, and offers a variety of educational programming through its new Community Center.

Dock on Lake Clara Meer

Through the work of Piedmont Park Conservancy and its members and supporters, century-old Piedmont Park is once again the premier green space and central gathering place of Atlanta.

You can help improve Piedmont Park by supporting the Conservancy. Take advantage of the educational and recreational programs offered by Piedmont Park Conservancy.

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Keep in Touch

Piedmont Park Conservancy
P.O. Box 7795
Atlanta, GA 30357-0795
404.875.7275 (PARK)
404.875.0530 (fax)