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History of Atlanta, Georgia

Atlanta, county seat of Fulton County, has been the capital of Georgia since 1868. It is located at the confluence of the Chattahoochee River with Peachtree Creek. Founded entirely to meet the needs of railroads, it was the first great American city to be located at a place that was not significant for water navigation.

The present site of Atlanta was on the frontier between the Creek and Cherokee Indians. The first non-native settlement was Fort Peachtree in 1813, which no longer exists. A replica was built by the City of Atlanta.

In 1837, the Western & Atlantic Railroad was being built eastward, and the Georgia Railroad was working its way west. The point where they were to meet was marked by an employee of the Western & Atlantic. This came to be known as the zero-mile marker, and a community grew up around it. At first known descriptively as Terminus, it was later renamed Marthaville, until renamed again as Atlanta.

In December 1842, the first train ran to Marietta, Georgia. Growth continued and in 1847, Atlanta was incorporated to include the four-square-mile area center on the terminus. The first city election in 1848 was contested by the Moral Party and the Free and Rowdy Party. The latter won the vote. The Telegraph arrived in 1849 and several additional railroads reached Atlanta within a few years. In 1854, the Georgia legislature created Fulton County to include Atlanta and its suburbs.

By the outbreak of the Civil War, Atlanta had a population of around 8000. Owing to its role as a hospital center, there were about 20,000 people in the city when General William Tecumseh Sherman reached it in 1864. As part of his policy to crush the Confederacy's resistance, Sherman ordered Atlanta to be burned, but following the war, the city rapidly rebuilt and soon exceeded its prewar population.

The Freedmen's Bureau was established after the war and remained in operation until 1870. Its efforts led to the establishment of Atlanta University in 1865 and, with help from the Methodist Episcopal Church, Clark College in 1869. The two institutions merged to form Clark Atlanta University in 1989. Morehouse College in 1867 and Spelman College in 1881 were both founded by Baptists. All of them now participate in the Atlanta University Center, a consortium of historically black colleges.

The Sisters of Mercy founded St. Joseph's Hospital in 1880, the oldest Atlanta hospital still in operation. Piedmont Hospital was opened in 1905.

In 1913, Leo Frank, the manager of an Atlanta pencil factory, was tried and convicted of the murder of 13-year-old Mary Phagan. The trial had heavy overtones of anti-semitism and questions were soon raised about the evidence. Eventually, the governor commuted his sentence to life. A mob, upset that Frank might not be executed, lynched him in August 1915. The event's notoriety led to two opposing developments -- a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and the founding of the Anti-Defamation League.

Because Atlanta was built as a railroad center, the numerous train tracks throughout the city posed problems for vehicle traffic. In 1929, the downtown street level was moved one-and-a-half stories above ground level. The original street level area is now known as Underground Atlanta.

Atlanta was the scene of protests against racial segregation led by Martin Luther King Jr., but in general, the city adopted one of the most progressive approaches to racial problems of any large Southern city. Integration of city schools took place without major incident.

Atlanta hosted the 1996 Olympic Games. Although generally considered a success, the games were marred by a bomb attack that killed two persons. Eric Randolph eventually pleaded guilty to the crime.

The Atlanta History Center is the largest museum that preserves Atlanta's heritage. Grant Park is the site of Zoo Atlanta. Fernbank Museum of Natural History is located in the largest old-growth urban piedmont forest in the country. Art for adults is on display at the High Museum of Art. Children are the center of attention at Children's Art Museum.

Stone Mountain, outside of Atlanta, was a meeting place for Indians before the arrival of white settlers. A large memorial to the Confederacy has been carved into its side.