Because of these columns, I am a wanderer — an explorer, if you will.
For my column two weeks ago, for example, I drove out to New Providence Baptist Church searching the 19th-century cemetery for the grave of William Johnson. He is the man for whom Johnson Ferry Road is named.
I have been out to Standing Peachtree Park several times. Near that park, a Muskogee village attracted the first white settlers to the area.
I have walked through the cemetery across Arden Road from New Hope African Methodist Church and felt the worn letters on the tombstones with my fingers trying to make out names and dates.
These places are hidden in plain view. They are open and accessible, and even though countless people drive by them every day, few stop to explore or to learn about them. I doubt they would know what to look for if they did.
One of my favorite places in the Buckhead is the Kenan Research Center at the Atlanta History Center. On any given afternoon, it is a lonely place save staff and volunteers. This building around which the center grew has newspapers on microfiche going back 150 years, every book on Georgia and Atlanta history imaginable and access to a vast trove of archives — scrapbooks, programs, bulletins, photographs. It is all accessible at no cost, and yet sits empty most days.
There is a bit of an intimidation factor. It took me a few visits to get the rhythm down.
That’s the way it is with many of Atlanta’s cultural and historic treasures. At least when I open the door to a 100-year-old church, I have some credibility in that I write for a newspaper. It’d be different, I suppose, if I responded to a startled stranger with, “I’m just curious; mind if I look around?”
Once a year, though, the Atlanta Preservation Center takes the mystic out of many of these places, opening their doors to the public in a friendly and accessible manner through Phoenix Flies.
Beginning this weekend and running through March 24, hundreds of Atlanta’s historic sites are offering tours. There are several lectures at the nonprofit’s Grant Park home on subjects ranging from how to grow the preservation community to a history of opera in Atlanta by the Atlanta Opera. Everything is presented free of charge.
The only catch — if it is a catch — is Atlanta Preservation Center members get first dibs on the events with limited space.
There are two tours of the Piedmont Driving Club led by Boyd Coons, the center’s executive director, that I imagine are already sold out. Each one is limited to 25 guests. That’s not one of those places the “I’m just curious” or “I’m with the press” line works.
Become a member. At $35, it’s the best bargain in Atlanta.
The Buckhead Heritage Society is participating with a history of New Hope African Methodist Church March 23 at 3012 Arden Road. This is also a walking tour of the Battle of Peachtree Creek and a tour of Standing Peachtree Park.
There are too many events to do them justice in these pages. I recommend visiting www.preserveatlanta.com and reading about the opportunities.
I will add one event I am particularly interested in is the MARTA-tecture March 9. I am a fan of our regional transportation system, and I am always struck by the beauty of MARTA stations. I realize that sounds strange, but next time you get off the train at Peachtree Center, check out the exposed rock walls juxtaposed by the futuristic suspended ceiling.
The Five Points station has arches and intricately designed facades, the old downtown buried in a MARTA station. The Georgia chapter of Docomomo U.S. (Documentation and Conservation of the Modern Movement) will give a tour of the architecture, public art and history of the development and construction as we ride the trains from station to station.
Atlanta is a city of hidden gems. There are secrets around every corner. The Atlanta Preservation Center is opening the doors and welcoming anyone and everyone to learn these stories.
I guarantee you will find something of interest. You just have to get up and check it out.
Phoenix Flies is the perfect excuse to just do it.