Atlanta’s originals: Visit landmarks that are unique to our city

The Big Chicken reopened Thursday, May 11, 2017, after four months of renovations inside and out.
The Big Chicken reopened Thursday, May 11, 2017, after four months of renovations inside and out.

Credit: Courtesy of Trevor Park

Credit: Courtesy of Trevor Park

Some are historical, one risqué, and others just rare, but they all make the metro area special.

We all know that metro Atlanta is a one-of-a-kind place, but there really are some things here that really are unique — in fact, some are the oldest or the first. True landmarks. So, to add another boost of civic pride, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution compiled a list of firsts or the one-and-onlys to be found in the area.

Navigational chicken

Way before GPS or Waze, if you needed directions in Cobb County, the Big Chicken was the navigational beacon. It’s rumored that pilots approaching Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and nearby Dobbins Air Reserve Base reportedly still use it as a reference point for landing. This landmark, which fronts a KFC restaurant, is a 56-foot tall, steel-sided structure at the intersection of Cobb Parkway (U.S. 41) and Roswell Road. Built in 1956, it underwent a $2 million renovation in 2017. We’re not against technology, but if we’re looking for directions, we’ll just ask “Should I take a left or a right at the Big Chicken?”

The Big Chicken KFC in Marietta.
The Big Chicken KFC in Marietta.

Credit: Henry P. Taylor

Credit: Henry P. Taylor

Chain reaction

Two of the most beloved restaurant chains started in metro Atlanta. Waffle House was founded 1955 by Joe Rogers Sr. and Tom Forkner. The first one opened on East College Avenue in Avondale Estates. The Waffle House Museum is on that original site and recreates the popular 24-hour eatery. Although currently closed because of the pandemic, it is filled with more than 60 years of Waffle House history and memorabilia. S. Truett Cathy opened Chick-fil-A’s original restaurant, the Dwarf Grill, in 1946 in Hapeville and later renamed the Dwarf House. The first Chick-fil-A opened in the Greenbriar Shopping Mall, and the first free-standing one in 1986 on North Druid Hills Road. The Hapeville Dwarf House is still open. And, while we’re on the subject of unusual or one-of-a-kind, let’s tip our hat to The Varsity, surely an Atlanta icon.

The first Waffle House was in Avondale Estates. Today there are more than 2,000 restaurants.
Photo Courtesy of Waffle House.
The first Waffle House was in Avondale Estates. Today there are more than 2,000 restaurants. Photo Courtesy of Waffle House.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Original Dwarf Grill
The Dwarf House is still open in Hapeville. Photo courtesy of Chick-fil-A.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Oldest house

The Tullie Smith House, built around 1840, is the oldest house within the city of Atlanta and now is at the Atlanta History Center. Robert Smith built it in DeKalb County where he farmed 200 of the 800 acres, and he enslaved 11 people. His great-great-granddaughter, Tullie, was the last family member to live on the property. Another house of note is Meadow Nook, an antebellum house in East Lake, which is only one of three antebellum homes still in their original locations within the city limits. The house was owned by journalist and legislator Lt. Col. Robert Augustus Alston. He was murdered at the Georgia State Capitol in 1879 as a result of writing about the abusive convict labor leasing system.

The Tullie Smith House at Christmas, underscoring the importance of not being from 200 years ago.
The Tullie Smith House at Christmas, underscoring the importance of not being from 200 years ago.

Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Credit: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Places of worship

The Hindu Temple of Atlanta, located in Riverdale, is the largest Hindu temple outside of India. Built in 1960, the 27,000-square-foot temple features more than 34,000 pieces of Turkish limestone, Italian Carrara marble and Indian pink sandstone. Sandy Springs is the home of the Atlanta Georgia Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the first temple built in the Southeastern United States and the second east of the Mississippi River since 1846. One of the oldest church in Atlanta is the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, which was dedicated in 1873.

The Hindu Temple of Atlanta holds a prayer vigil.
The Hindu Temple of Atlanta holds a prayer vigil.

Credit: Joey Ivansco / jivansco@ajc.com

Credit: Joey Ivansco / jivansco@ajc.com

Does compute

Kids today have never known a life without computers, so there’s some value in learning about civilization when an apple was just a fruit. Go to the Computer Museum of America in Roswell, where one of the world’s broadest collections of personal computers is on view. From rare prototypes and one-offs, the museum features room-size supercomputers as well as the various software systems and marketing campaigns that brought computers to our homes and lives.

Lonnie and Karin Mimms talk about an Apple Lisa on display at the Computer Museum of America, in Roswell. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.
Lonnie and Karin Mimms talk about an Apple Lisa on display at the Computer Museum of America, in Roswell. PHIL SKINNER FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Milling about

Lawrenceville is home to Freeman’s Mill, which was erected between 1868 and 1879 by John Griffin and Levi J. Loveless. The historic gristmill recently underwent a renovation and is now part of a park. Not so lucky were the Roswell Manufacturing Company Mills, which were burned by Union forces in 1864. While the Gwinnett County mill turned out flour and grits, the Roswell mills produced textiles (and later milled grains) and at one point was the largest cotton mill in north Georgia. The ruins, which are next to Vickery Creek and are part of Old Mill Park, are still there; another mill, rebuilt in 1882, now serves as offices.

Freeman’s Mill, which was erected between 1868 and 1879, now is part of Freeman’s Mill Park in Gwinnett County. 
Photo courtesy of Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation.
Freeman’s Mill, which was erected between 1868 and 1879, now is part of Freeman’s Mill Park in Gwinnett County. Photo courtesy of Gwinnett County Parks and Recreation.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Some of the workers in the Roswell Manufacturing Mills, which were destroyed by Sherman’s March in 1864. Courtesy of Roswell Historical Society Archive
Some of the workers in the Roswell Manufacturing Mills, which were destroyed by Sherman’s March in 1864. Courtesy of Roswell Historical Society Archive

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Transportation central

Atlanta started out as Terminus, and some of that history is still around. Built in 1869, the Georgia Freight Depot is the oldest building in the city and was the main freight depot for the Georgia Railroad and Banking Company. Several other towns still have their original depots including: Marietta (1864); Kennesaw (1908); Forsyth (1898); Duluth (1871) and Hapeville (1890).

A lounge like no other

The Clermont Lounge, which opened in 1968, isn’t the first strip club in Atlanta, nor will it be the last; maybe it’s the oldest. That, however, isn’t enough to give it all its glory and acclamations. Beloved by Hollywood stars as well as locals, The Clermont Lounge is such a cultural icon that when Oliver Hospitality bought the Clermont Hotel and undertook a $20 million renovation turning it into the Hotel Clermont, the Nashville-based developer reportedly spent nearly $1 million saving the lounge and preserving its special ambiance. The neighborhood even threw fundraisers for the out-of-work dancers during the renovation. But why not? After all, the late Anthony Bourdain noted, “This place should be a national landmark.”

Located in the basement of the Clermont Motor Hotel, Clermont Lounge is an Atlanta staple, drawing locals and A-listers alike.
Located in the basement of the Clermont Motor Hotel, Clermont Lounge is an Atlanta staple, drawing locals and A-listers alike.

Credit: ajc.com

Credit: ajc.com

The greatest fizz

In metro Atlanta, Coke is it, and one can see the history of this local-company-made-good story at the World of Coca-Cola. But on Edgewood Avenue, the headquarters of the Dixie Coca-Cola Bottling Company still exists. It is, in fact, the oldest surviving building associated with the early days of Coke, and from 1900 to 1901, it was the headquarters of the Dixie Coca-Cola Bottling Co., parent of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. Built in 1891, the Victorian building, noted for its irregular shapes, almost looks as if it were forced into its corner lot. A National Historic Landmark, it is now the home of the Georgia State University Baptist Student Union. The first Coke served from a fountain was at Jacobs’ Pharmacy in 1886 for a nickel. The pharmacy is long gone, but there is a historical marker at 12 Marietta St. Fleeman’s Pharmacy, which opened in 1914 and closed in 1995, and had at one point the longest-running commercial Coca-Cola soda fountain in the world. Fleeman’s is now an empty former bourbon bar in Virginia Highland.

No to Newton and Galileo

Go to Emory University, and there is a marker that just may fit into anti-science movements. Roger Babson didn’t believe in gravity, and a monument was erected in 1963 by the Gravity Research Foundation to remind students of the “blessings forthcoming when science determines what gravity is, how it works, and how it may be controlled.” Babson, who founded Boston’s Babson College and ran for president on the Prohibition Party slate, focused his ire on gravity after his sister drowned. In a 1948 essay “Gravity — Our Enemy Number One,” he railed that gravity is responsible for millions of deaths and accidents, including plane crashes, broken bones and intestinal issues. The marker is still at Emory, appropriately enough outside the math and science building.

WHERE TO GO

The Big Chicken. 12 Cobb Parkway SE, Marietta.

Waffle House Museum. Temporarily closed. 2719 E. College Ave., Decatur. 770-326-7086, wafflehouse.com/museum.

The Dwarf House. 6 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; Closed Sundays. 461 N. Central Ave., Hapeville. 404-762-1746, chick-fil-a.com.

Tullie Smith House. 9 a.m.-4 p.m., Tuesdays - Sundays; closed: Mondays. 130 West Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta. 404-814-4000, atlantahistorycenter.com.

Hindu Temple of Atlanta. Open by appointment. 5851 GA-85, Riverdale. 770-907-7102, hindutempleofatlanta.org.

Atlanta Georgia Temple. Open by appointment. 6450 Barfield Road, Sandy Springs. 770-393-3698, churchofjesuschrist.org/temples/details/atlanta-georgia-temple.

Computer Museum of America. Noon - 5 p.m. Fridays; 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. Saturdays; closed: Sundays - Thursdays. 500 Commerce Pkwy. Roswell. 770-695-0651, computermuseumofamerica.org.

Clermont Lounge. 7 p.m.-3 a.m. Mondays-Wednesdays; 3 p.m.-3 a.m. Thursdays -Saturdays; Closed Sundays. 789 Ponce De Leon Ave., Atlanta. 404-874-4783, clermontlounge.net.

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