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Site of Ponce sinkhole was once a landfill
Crews continue working Wednesday to repair a large sinkhole along Ponce de Leon Avenue in Midtown Atlanta on Tuesday, June 27, 2023.

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com

Crews continue working Wednesday to repair a large sinkhole along Ponce de Leon Avenue in Midtown Atlanta on Tuesday, June 27, 2023.

After a giant sinkhole nearly swallowed an SUV Tuesday afternoon, residents and shop owners along Ponce de Leon Avenue started to question their street’s integrity.

Turns out, the street containing the sinkhole, which opened after a sewer line about 18 feet below street level was breached, has a storied past. More than a century ago, it was the site of a ravine, a creek — and a landfill.

Crews from the city’s watershed management and transportation departments worked through the night Tuesday to stop the leak and are working to fill the hole and repave the road. Repairs were completed Friday evening, the watershed management department announced.

But, it’s not the first time these crews have been called to Ponce de Leon. Regulars report Tuesday’s sinkhole is one of several road-related problems they’ve seen on their block. Chanho Jung works at Poncey Cleaners and Laundry Mat, which has been located on Ponce for nearly 15 years, he said. The street’s last water issue arose just a few months ago, he added.

“It was on the other side (of the street),” Jung said. “Water was coming out of the ground. They might still be working on it.”

The street’s former iterations may be contributing to its periodic issues, according to Sharon Foster Jones, author of “Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Avenue: A History.”

In 1955, city workers were called to fill a different pothole extending 42 ½ feet below the street and 25 feet in diameter. The hole was located in almost the exact spot as today’s pothole, right over the former ravine and landfill.

All of these issues could have to do with the street’s foundation, Jones said.

Atlanta’s first transit system — mule drawn trolleys — was created in 1869, when the street where Ponce de Leon is now located was a private right-of-way. A deep ravine filled with a creek occupied the area between Myrtle Street and Argonne Avenue at the time — exactly where the pothole lies today, according to Jones.

In order to allow streetcars to cross the avenue, Atlanta’s primary trolley company had to build a bridge.

“This trestle was 270 feet long and 40 feet wide, meaning that until the ravine was eventually filled in, technically, 270 feet of Ponce de Leon Avenue was suspended in the air as a bridge.”

By 1892, city workers had filled part of the ravine with a landfill, according to the Library of Congress, before they built today’s Ponce de Leon above it. Jones said she doesn’t know what happened to the creek.

Jones added when she heard about Tuesday’s incident, she immediately thought of the bridge that used to stand there.

“I looked at the picture carefully,” Jones said. “I knew that’s exactly where the bridge was. And it was really a high bridge. Which means the land underneath it must be man-made and could be unstable.”

Tina Leftwich, general manager of Mary Mac’s Tea Room, said this week’s sinkhole is not the first experience she’s had with potholes near Ponce and Penn. Though she said she wasn’t around in 1955, she noticed a water main leak on Ponce just a couple of months ago.

“It never fully opened up or anything like that,” Leftwich said. “But you could see that it was cracking, so I don’t know if it was going to be a pothole or a sinkhole. We never let it get to that point. We called (the city) as soon as we saw it, and they were able to make the repairs.”

While the restaurant might have lost some business while the road was closed Tuesday, operations were completely back to normal by Wednesday morning, she said, adding her appreciation for the city’s swift response any time there’s been a problem on Ponce.

“We appreciate the timely fashion that they jumped on it,” Leftwich said. “They made sure they took care of it. They’re looking out for businesses in the area.”

Chris Bivins, self-appointed “head magician” and co-owner at the Torched Hop Brewery, said he saw about a 25% decline in sales Tuesday night after the hole opened in the road in front of his restaurant.

“It’s been mentioned in the news pretty heavily,” Bivins said of the chasm under repair this week outside his brewery. “In the next couple of days, though, I’m hoping we see a push when the street reopens.”

He said he’s tried to make it clear to patrons that the business was still open and operating while repairs were underway.

A banner fixed to the top of Torched Hop Brewery assured patrons: “Yes, there is a sinkhole on Ponce. And yes, we are open.”