Just off Marietta Square, behind Cool Beans Coffee Roasters and Hemingway’s, is a place of relative quiet.
Atherton Square is a spot beloved by coffee sippers, artists and those looking for a peaceful place to rest their feet after walking around Marietta Square. The area has gotten more foot traffic since the opening of the adjoining Mountain to River Trail, and it is also used by the city for some events, but it has nevertheless maintained its quiet charm, said State Rep. Mary Frances Williams, D-Marietta.
Atherton Square is named after Williams’ father, former Marietta Mayor and State Rep. Howard “Red” Atherton.
“I love it because it’s this private little square, kind of tucked in,” Williams said. “It’s a huge honor, and I’m kind of blown away by it, always have been.”
Williams and her brother, Jim Atherton, and sister, Nancy Lewis, were on hand Wednesday as Atherton Square was officially rededicated.
Mayor Steve Tumlin characterized Atherton as a tremendous figure in Marietta history and in his own youth.
“Atherton Drug Store was the center of the universe for those of us who liked to skip Sunday school and go to the drug store counter,” he said with a laugh. “But what Red Atherton did for us is amazing. … Nobody fought harder for the Marietta Square, downtown Marietta than Red Atherton.”
One of Atherton’s accomplishments as mayor was the creation of the Downtown Marietta Development Authority.
At the ceremony, the city revealed panels bearing historic photos and information about the city’s past. The panels are designed to obscure the singular blot on Atherton Square’s picturesque landscape, a transformer pit in the middle.
The city had previously performed other improvements to the area in recent years, including replacing the brick walkways on and leading to Atherton Square. The project cost $860,000, which includes a $500,000 federal grant, $200,000 from a special 1 percent sales tax and $160,000 from the city’s park bond.
One unique aspect of the newly revamped square is a replica pole-car built by members of the city’s facilities and grounds group.
A pole-car is a small train car that moves along the track powered by riders pushing against the ground with poles.
The one in Atherton does not move, and is meant to represent a similar car used in the Great Locomotive Chase.
As a refresher, that’s an event that happened during the Civil War when Union troops hijacked a train called the General. A group of rail employees led by conductor William Allen Fuller gave chase over 87 miles.
“One of the things (Fuller) did, and this is in all the accounts, is he had to actually get on a pole-car with four or five other folks, and they actually had to use poles and pole that car down the railroad track to try to get to where they found another train they can use,” City Manager Bill Bruton said.
Bruton said guests are free to climb atop the pole car, and the city hopes it will become a hotspot for photos and selfies.
Looking around the revamped Atherton Square, which includes a plaque dedicated to Howard Atherton, Williams said her father did not care much for plaques and honors.
“I think he might be a little embarrassed that there was a monument to him here and also a little proud,” she said. “He was not super-interested in accolades and that kind of thing. He just had things he wanted to get done. He cared more about the city of Marietta in terms of his political career than anything else.”
But she said he would definitely be proud to see how Marietta Square looks today.
“I know he would be so pleased at what’s happened through a series of mayors, (Robert) Flournoy, Joe Mack Wilson, certainly Thunder (Steve Tumlin), all these mayors who really cared about Marietta. I just think he’d be really pleased with where the Square is today.”