This lush green park encompasses 131.5 acres of land donated to the city specifically for use as a public park. The original donation of 100 acres (1883) was given by Col. Lemuel P. Grant. An additional 44 acres were added by 1890. Over the years, expansion of streets around the park reduced its acreage to the present 131.5 acres. A popular gathering place even before Col. Grant's donation, Grant Park became a destination for thousands seeking a quiet respite or a cool swim in Lake Abana. Gentlemen rowed their ladies across the lake, others strolled the many paths and trails in a thick forest, while others enjoyed carriage rides, sculpture gardens, rose gardens, natural springs, picnics in the gazebo and the native flora. Street cars brought city dwellers to the park.
Grant Park was the pride of a bustling new city of the New South. The original deed to the city stipulated the use of the land as a park and called on the city to "make this park open and available to all residents of Atlanta." Today, Grant Park is the oldest existing city park and has the distinction as the first land donated to the city specifically to be a public park.
The Grant Park Conservancy was formed in May 1998 to begin the restoration, renovation, beautification and maintenance of historic Grant Park.
Get your bearings: The park is bordered by Boulevard on the east, Atlanta Avenue on the south, Cherokee Avenue on the west, Sydney Street on the north and Park Avenue on the northeast.
The Fountain at Milledge Avenue (Cherokee Avenue/Milledge Avenue)
This two sided fountain was installed in 1927. The west side (facing Cherokee Ave.) had an intricately tiled frieze with a fish spouting water into a bowl which then spilled into a collection pool. The fountain created an inviting entrance to the park and helped differentiate between the city and the park experience. The east side (facing the park) is framed by winding staircases on either side and a grotto effect of granite block with a collection pool. The fountain is not operating at present.
The architectural firm of Edwards & Sayward designed the fountain. The firm is noted for other structures in Atlanta (the Roosevelt, club house at Bobby Jones Golf Course), buildings in Charleston, S.C. and on the campus of the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Follow park roadway south (as you face the foundtain with your back to Cherokee Ave south is to your right) to wooded area with picnic tables next to roadway. To the west of the tables you will find Constitution Spring.
This is one of five fresh water springs in the park. Long time park residents recall a flow rate of ten thousand gallons a day. These springs provided a fresh water source for Lake Abana, however the natural flow was diverted into the storm water pipes installed in the park in the early 1900s. The spring is believed to be viable. A group is now studying this spring to determine its viability for possible use in irrigation.
Inside the wooden fence, the Conservancy has installed a native shade garden. Many of the plants living here are rescued from construction sites in partnership with the Georgia Native Plant Society. Spring (mid-March-May) is the best time to view the garden although a number of the plants remain through summer months as well. What can you expect to see in the garden? Mayapple, Solomon's Seal, Woodwardia (Southern Chain Fern), Royal Fern, Cinnamon Fern, Christmas Fern, Southern Wood Fern, Native Columbine, Wild Ginger, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Spiderwort, Bloodroot, Toad Shade Trillium, Catesby Trillium, Wild Geranium - Cranesbill, Foam Flower, Witch Hazel, Rue Anemone, Galax and more. Typically, the spring bloom begins in mid-late March with the tender white blooms of the Bloodroot and continues through January when the Witch Hazel puts forth it modest flowers.
Follow sidewalk south to stone bridge. This stone bridge was installed in the park in the 1890s and was a carriage entrance to the park. A stream ran beneath the bridge and entered Lake Abana just 100 yards (approx) to the south. Follow sidewalk to roadway and cross to plaza area in front of the Cyclorama building.
A new storm water retention pond was installed in 2003 as part of a storm water and flood control project. During construction one of the original five natural springs was uncovered and amazingly continues to produce a vibrant flow of water. The pond was filled with spring water and is fed by the spring at a rate in excess of 18,000 gallons per day. A review of early 1900 maps of the park indicate this spring to be Salaam Spring. Salaam is a biblical name meaning "restoration". Stabilization work around the pond continues. Plans call for an encircling pathway, benches, swings and new plantings.
Parver-Stone Pathway and Granite Columns
The paver-stone pathway was installed in 2003 as part of the storm water and flood control project. The columns that anchor the walkway are replicated from those in an overlook behind the Judge John Erskine Fountain. The Conservancy continues to work on plant/tree installation along this new pathway to create a meandering park promenade.
What is it? Think Victorian IMAX Experience. The Cyclorama is a painting and diorama depicitng the Battle of Atlanta (July 1864).
The Battle of Atlanta painting was purchased by George V. Gress and Charles Northern and moved into a facility at the Augusta Avenue entrance to Grant Park (1893). The painting was donated to the city in 1898 and is now one of the top tourist attractions in the city with more than 200,000 visitors each year. The painting was originally commissioned by a union army officer, General Logan, who was involved in the Atlanta campaign and defeat in 1864. He had decided to run for vice president and based his campaign on his military heroism in the Battle of Atlanta. The painting was a political advertisement for Logan and was to travel the country during the campaign. Although the painting toured several cities, General Logan died before the election. The painting was placed in storage in Milwaukee until Gress and Northern purchased in and moved it to Atlanta.
There are very few paintings of this type remaining in the world. Only three are in the United States — Gettysburg, Pa., the Museum of Natural History, New York and the Cyclorama here in historic Grant Park. The painting is known as one of the finest examples of its kind in all the world. Afficionados from around the globe travel to Atlanta to view the Battle of Atlanta in the round.
Bronze Bust of Mr. Talbot
There is a green island in the traffic circle adjacent to the Cyclorama. On that green island you will find a bronze bust atop a gray granite pedestal honoring Thomas W. Talbot, founder of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) in 1888. The bust was placed in the park and dedicated in 1948. (see HISTORY on this website)
At public auction, George V. Gress purchased a collection of rail cars that contained exotic animals from a circus that had gone bankrupt. He kept the rail cars but donated the animals to the city and formed the first city zoo (1889). The collection was placed in Grant Park, over the objections of the Olmsted design firm. The collection consisted of one hyena, two African lionesses, two silver lions, one black bear, two wildcats, one jaguar, one gazelle, one 'coon, one elk, one Mexican hog, two deer, one camel, one dremedary, two monkeys, two serpents, and more. Today, Zoo Atlanta attracts more than 1 million visitors to the park. Zoo Atlanta is a private non-profit organization that leases approximately 40-acres of Grant Park from the city of Atlanta for $1 per year.
Walk through the plaza toward the zoo entrance, turn right and walk up to Cherokee Avenue. Proceed south on Cherokee Avenue to Ormond Street.
The Judge John Erskine Memorial Fountain
Given to the city of Atlanta by the daughter, Mrs. Willard P. Ward, of a Reconstruction judge in post-war Atlanta, the fountain was originally installed at Peachtree Street and West Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta (1903). It was moved to Grant Park in 1912 and placed at a main entrance to the park (Cherokee Avenue entrance). It provided a focal point to a main entrance to the park. Artist/sculptor J. Massey Rhind designed and installed the fountain.
Judge Erskine served on the Federal Bench in Atlanta from 1868-1883, and was at one time under consideration (by President Ulysees Grant) for a Supreme Court appointment. The Judge was known for his even temper and fairhanded rulings which included such issues as property rights for Southern landowners, opening the court system to the inclusion of African-American jurors, and ruling in favor of the Federal Mint allowing for the issuance of currency without backing of gold reserves.
Just behind the fountain you can see a granite and brick overlook (fenced and not accessible). This overlook, at one time, gave visitors a view of the lake and park. It is currently on the leased grounds of the zoo and is not open to the public.
Natural springs fed streams in the park and they in turn, fed a man-made four acre lake. The lake was later expanded to six acres and was utilized for swimming and row boating. It was actually a retention pond designed for storm water management but became the center piece of the park. The lake was drained in the early 1960s. The area Lake Abana once occupied is now a parking lot and zoo grounds. The name Abana comes from Kings 1 which refers to a river outside the city of Damascus. The name means “gathering of waters”.
Walk south on Cherokee Avenue and turn left on Atlanta Avenue. Go to the corner of Atlanta Avenue and Boulevard SE and turn into park between two stone pillars. Follow the roadway up the hill, around a bend. To the southeast of this point is Ft. Walker.
Col. Lemuel P. Grant was commissioned by the Confederate States of America (CSA) to design and build defensive fortifications around Atlanta to protect the city from invasion. It is one of the last remaining Civil War fortifications in the city. The site provides a sweeping panorama of downtown Atlanta, earthen berm, rifle pits and historical marker. The fort was situated with defenses facing the south to prevent Union forces from entering the city. While the fortifications were a deterent to invading troups, Sherman was able to control the rail lines in and out of city preventing resupply to Confederate soldiers and residents.
Follow the roadway north toward parking area. The sidewalk will turn down hill and lead you to a stone pathway. Take the stone pathway down hill.
The September 11 Memorial White Oak
An engraved stone along the pathway marks a White Oak planted by the Conservancy on Arbor Day 2002. The tree and stone are a memorial to lives lost on September 11, 2001. Although the original tree perished, it was replaced by a descendant of the Wye Oak from Annapolis, Maryland. The Wye Oak was thought to be 400 years old and was the oldest documented white oak on the East Coast. Age, weather damage, and disease finally took their toll on the Wye Oak. The grand tree was taken down in 2004. It is survived by many just like this. We can only hope that it lives to be as old and grand as its parent.
Continue to the bottom of the pathway and turn right; follow sidewalk up hill past small red brick building (public restrooms). Continue to the top of the sidewalk. You can see the gazebo from here. Turn left and follow road around to other side of gazebo.
The original gazebo or bandstand was placed in the spot (approximately) in the early 1890s. It was a popular gathering spot and hosted Sunday afternoon concerts. Today, the gazebo serves many groups who come to picnic.
Follow the roadway around the gazebo and toward the playground. This is a great spot to stop and watch children playing on new equipment installed in October 2003. A partnership between the Conservancy, the Grant Park Parent Network, the City of Atlanta Bureau of Parks, Recreation and Cultural Affairs, Home Depot and KaBOOM! created this new playscape for the many children who frequent the park. Follow the sidewalk down the hill past the playground, to the roadway and turn right. This will take you back to the starting point at the fountain at Milledge Avenue. As you turn toward the fountain look to your right and up the hill. Just below the crest of this hill the remnants of Civil War rifle pits can be viewed. The rifle pits ran from Ft. Walker, through the park and connected fortifications around the city.
Thank you for taking our walking tour. Please contact us with questions or comments.
Grant Park Conservancy
499 Broyles Steet, SE
Atlanta, GA 30312
The Grant Park Conservancy is a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring and maintaining this historic public space. Donations are welcome.