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.
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?”
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 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.
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.
Credit: Joey Ivansco / email@example.com
Credit: Joey Ivansco / firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
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.
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.”
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.