Atlanta’s garden of Eden

8 Jul

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Are we heartbroken about the demise of DeKalb’s plans for a tacky theme park? No? Well, you know, Atlanta did have its own amusement park, and I’m not talking about the place in Austell where you can buy Taz satin baseball jackets. It was Ponce de Leon Park, and it was the most beautiful place on earth, known as “the Coney Island of Atlanta.” That area is now known as “where the Whole Foods is in Midtown.”

Well, we all know the Atlanta Crackers used to play at that site, but before Ponce de Leon Park came along in the very early 20th century, that area had a spring and some little man-made lakes with summer houses.
lake-c1895(via Southern Spaces)

A summer house along Ponce; can you imagine? Everything you see covered in water in that photo is now covered in asphalt, for parking.

But before parking, the lake was filled in to become a ballpark for the Atlanta Crackers in 1907. (The infamous magnolia tree from the deep right field still stands to this day!) Not into baseball? You could still catch other entertainment nearby like alligator wrestling.
Sears 1 1950(via Atlanta Time Machine)

When Ponce de Leon Park opened June 1, 1903, it offered such amenities as the lakes, greenspace for picnics (although no one threw around new urbanist words like greenspace back then, not even Olmsted), along with “the theater, the merry-go-round, the laughing gallery, the cave of the winds, the penny arcade, the Japanese ping pong parlor, the Ferris wheel, the pony track, the miniature railways, the Gypsy village, the shooting gallery, the knife and cane boards, the baby racks, two attractive restaurants, pop corn and candy stands and two elegant soda water pavillions.” A GYPSY VILLAGE?! A JAPANESE PING-PONG PARLOR?!?! And what the dickens is a baby rack?
wPDL_Park11

Read more about the park at Southern Spaces in this fascinating article “Vale of Amusements: Modernity, Technology, and Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Park, 1870-1920” by Sarah Toton, or about the ballfield at the New Georgia Encyclopedia, or check out these old postcards of the park. If you have the money or can find it at a library, David Kaufman’s Peachtree Creek: A Natural and Unnatural History of Atlanta’s Watershed is also a great read on the springs and park.

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Previously: Breaking news! Atlanta’s seedy past!

8 Responses to “Atlanta’s garden of Eden”

  1. Rusty Tanton Wednesday, July 8, 2009 at 6:40 am #

    Awesome. I think Atlanta blogs should start a fund to rebuild a “cave of winds” on Ponce. I will avoid obvious flatulence-related jokes.

  2. Sarah Toton Thursday, July 9, 2009 at 10:41 pm #

    Thanks for the link to the Vale of Amusement article! To answer your question: a baby rack is a kind of shooting gallery that was popular at bars, fairs, parks, and other amusement venues from the late 1890s into the first decades of the twentieth century. Similar kinds of “games of skill” include cane racks and knife racks.

    It’s hard to find a good picture of an existing baby rack, but here’s an example: http://www.kfauctions.com/737_Baby_Rack_Shooting_Gallery_Game.aspx

    Hope that’s helpful!

    • Ford Chance Wednesday, June 16, 2010 at 3:05 am #

      Great article about the “old Ponce De Leon springs”. I saw one picture of it somewhere a few years back, with a sign about the exclusion of black people that was mentioned. It read something to the affect that only servants and nannies could enter. Wish I could find that again. Also, does anyone know if there are any similar articles about White City and its predecessor, Little Switzerland in southeast Atlanta?

  3. Victory B. Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 10:53 am #

    Whoa! I live on Ponce now and find this pretty amazing. Too bad it is now populated by Murder Krogers.
    Two things:
    1. I love this blog!!!!!
    2. I was in Sarah Toton’s class at Emory, she’s the best!!

  4. atlpaddy Tuesday, April 5, 2011 at 7:27 pm #

    Hey, another amusement park similar to Ponce de Leon Springs was the White City located to the SE of Grant Park. Apparently White City Amusement Parks were a popular chain during the turn of the century (like an early twentieth century Six Flags). Here is more info from Larry Johnson’s blog:

    http://larryfeltonjohnson.typepad.com/photos/white_city_amusement_park/

  5. newtreeguy Wednesday, May 25, 2011 at 2:49 pm #

    Actually that top postcard *is* the White City Amusement park. Whoever published the card put the wrong title on it. On the linked Sanborn map you can tell the photographer was standing on the roof of the waiting room. This was between Berne & Confederate down in Ormewood Park

    http://dlg.galileo.usg.edu/sanborn/CityCounty/Atlanta1911-V4/Sheet528.html

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Ponce de Leon Park — Zany and Long Gone | The Wren's Nest - Thursday, July 9, 2009

    […] at the delightful Atlanta ladyblog Pecanne Log, our arch nemesis Christa T has written an excellent post about the old Ponce de Leon Park and its incredible baby […]

  2. ATL history blogging | Atlanta Metblogs - Friday, July 10, 2009

    […] have both been doing a bit of the old history blogging.  Christa has some great posts on the old Ponce de Leon Springs, historic Atlanta cross dressers, and Atlanta’s seedy past.  Rusty did some digging on Alex […]

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