In 2022, the Conservancy will join various organizations for Olmsted 200, a coordinated national and local celebration of Frederick Law Olmsted’s bicentennial birthday coming up in 2022. Be on the lookout for more information relating to the celebration in 2022!
As you walk through the Park, have you ever wondered where those stone walls or steps came from? Piedmont Park has a rich history spanning over the course of nearly two centuries. Since 1822, Piedmont Park has continuously evolved, changed hands, and underwent several transformations. It first began as a forest, then a farm, then a fairground and suburban park, and finally to the urban park that it is today.
HISTORY OF PIEDMONT PARK
From Forest to Farm
- Piedmont Park was initially a forest
- In 1834, Samuel and Sarah Walker, among the area’s pioneer settlers, purchased the land for $450
- Walkers built a cabin on what is now the Active Oval, cleared the trees, and transformed it into farmland
- In 1857, their son Benjamin Walker purchased the farm from his father and settled into a new log cabin where the Piedmont Driving Club is located today
Stone Balustrade from the Cotton States & International Exposition – 1895
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. Its purpose was to promote the industrial and agricultural might of the region. The Cotton States and International Exposition 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.
Several features of the Park created then still remain today
- 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.
- In 1887, a small lake was created from a spring that flowed into the park near today’s Visitor Center.
- 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.
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. 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.
1912 Olmsted Brothers Plan for Piedmont Park Influenced Park Offerings Today
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 of today’s features familiar to Park began
- 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)
- 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.
Piedmont Park Transitions to 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 $66 million in private funds as it works to complete the Master Plan including the renovation of Oak Hill, Lake Clara Meer and the Meadow. Through its member support, Piedmont Park Conservancy helps to keep Piedmont Park safe, clean and beautiful, and offers a variety of educational programming.