Thursday, November 14, 2013

A short history of baseball and mass transit in Atlanta

The recent announcement that Atlanta's Braves plan to leave the city center in favor of a new suburban stadium has caught the entire nation by surprise. While I am not in favor of the move, the decision reminds me of the various roles transit has played in Atlanta baseball. In my mind, the two have always been intertwined: Atlanta's earliest organized baseball team, the Cracker's, played in a stadium accessible by streetcar. Ivan Allen chose the location for Atlanta Fulton County's Stadium based on it's proximity to "the Georgia State Capitol, downtown businesses and major highways". (Turner Field was built beside the original Braves stadium - but I don't know enough about the Olympic plans to say if consideration had been given to building elsewhere.) 

With all of that in mind, a brief (unofficial) history of baseball and mass transit in Atlanta:




• 1866 - Georgia’s General Assembly charters the Atlanta Street Railway Company.
• September 8, 1871 - The first horse drawn trolley line begins operation. Tracks extend from the city’s center to Peters Street near the present location of Spellman College. The “West End” line goes along Mitchell and Forsyth to the Fort McPherson Barracks.

• January 1872 - Service added from Marietta Street (downtown) running northwest to North Avenue
• May 1872 - Service added from Decatur Street (downtown) running east to the north entrance of Oakland Cemetery (no longer an entrance)
• August 1872 - Service added from downtown running north along Peachtree Street to Pine Street.
• 1874 - Peachtree line is extended further north to the present intersection of Peachtree Street and Ponce de Leon Ave. "Since the Ponce de Leon Avenue did not exist at the time, the rail line traveled east on a private right-of-way to Ponce de Leon Springs, a popular seasonal recreation spot in the lands beyond the city" [1].
• February 11, 1885 - the south's first organized, professional baseball league is formed by Henry W. Grady. At the end of the 100 game season Atlanta narrowly defeats Augusta to win the first Southern League pennant [2].
• 1899 - Southern League officially disbands but is credited with making baseball popular in the south.
• 1901 - Southern Association is formed. Atlanta's team is the "Firemen"[3].
• 1903 - Atlanta's baseball team changes it's name to the "Crackers". The Crackers become one of professional baseball's most successful franchises, winning more titles than any other team except the Yankees [4]. They play at various parks around Atlanta. 
• May 23, 1907 - Ponce de Leon Ball Park opens; the Crackers finally have a home field. The wooden stadium is built in the amusement park at the end of the streetcar line. 
•  September 9, 1923 - The stadium burns down. Uniforms, trophies and records are lost. 
• 1924 - A new steel and concrete stadium is built by RJ Spiller, a wealthy concessionaire. "The new park debuted in time for the 1924 season, and was widely hailed as the finest minor league stadium in the nation." [5] The outfield is noted for having a pair of magnolia trees in center field; as of 2013 these trees are still standing along the access road behind Whole Foods. 
• 1940's - the proposal to build an interstate cutting through downtown Atlanta begins
• 1954 - Atlanta Cracker, Montag hits the longest home run in baseball history. "It landed in a coal car passing on the railroad tracks beyond the right field fence at the Ponce de Leon park. A few days later, after the train had gone to Nashville, Tennessee, and back, the conductor asked Montag to autograph the ball, which by that time had traveled more than 500 miles." [6]
• 1958 - Interstate development maps outline a path alongside current-day Turner Field.
• 1961 - As part of his campaign for mayor, Ivan Allen Jr promises to build a sports facility that will attract a Major League Baseball team. After winning office, Allen chose a 47-acre plot in the Washington-Rawson neighborhood for the building site, citing its proximity to the Georgia State Capitol, downtown businesses and major highways [7].
• April 15, 1964 - Groundbreaking ceremony for the future Atlanta Fulton County Stadium
• 1965 - MARTA is formed by the Georgia Legislature
• 1965 - Atlanta Crackers play their final season in the new Atlanta Fulton County Stadium.
• April 9, 1965 Milwaukee Braves play an exhibition game against the Detroit Tigers in the new stadium.
• 1966 - Both the Atlanta Falcons football team and the newly minted Atlanta Braves baseball team move into Fulton County Stadium. Both teams share this facility for the next 26 years. (In 1992 the Falcons move to the Georgia Dome).
• 1968 - Construction for MARTA fails city of Atlanta, Fulton County and DeKalb County referendum.
• 1969 - Construction on 285 begins.
• 1971 - Voters pass MARTA construction referendum 
• April 8, 1974 - Hank Aaron became baseball's all-time career home run leader by hitting his 715th home run
• 1975 - Marta ground breaking
• March 29, 1997 - First Braves game in the new Turner Field (formerly the Olympic Stadium)







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