The History of Piedmont Park
Piedmont Park has a rich history that spans over the course of nearly two centuries. Since 1822, Piedmont Park has continuously evolved, changing hands in the process, and going through several phases, first from a forest to a farm, then to a fairground and suburban park, and finally to the urban park that it is today.
From Forest to Farm
The site that is now Piedmont Park was initially a forest. In 1834, Samuel and Sarah Walker, one of the area’s pioneer settlers, purchased the land for $450. It is worth nothing that at this point, Fulton County had not yet been established, and Atlanta did not yet exist. The Walkers then built a cabin on what is now the Active Oval, cleared the trees, and began transforming the forest into farmland. The Walkers had their first son, Benjamin Walker, that same year. In 1857 when he was twenty-three years old, Benjamin Walker purchased the farm from his father and settled into a new log cabin where the Piedmont Driving Club is located today.
Many expositions and fairs were held at Piedmont Park during the next seventeen years, most notably the Piedmont Exposition of 1887 and the Cotton States and International Exposition of 1895. The Piedmont Exposition was regional, and its purpose was to promote the industrial and agricultural might of the region. The Cotton States and International Exposition, on the other hand, was a World’s Fair. This expo had a grander purpose than its predecessor – to promote all the Southern cotton states and encourage good relations and trade with the international community. The Cotton States and International Exposition ran for 100 days, featured 6,000 exhibits, and attracted 800,000 visitors. Today, Several features of the park created during this time remain evident today, including:
• Today’s ball fields were carved out of the hillside below the Driving Club to form a horse racetrack. Five years later, this field hosted the first game in what has become the oldest intercollegiate football rivalry in the South, Georgia vs Auburn. From 1902 – 1904, the Crackers, Atlanta’s original professional baseball team played ball on the fields of Piedmont Park before moving to a stadium on Ponce de Leon Avenue.
• A small lake was created from a spring that flowed into the park near today’s Visitor Center for the exposition in 1887. In 1895, the lake was enlarged to approximately its current size of 11.5-acres and named Clara Meer.
• The stone balustrades scattered around the park once held steps leading to the major building built for the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition.
In 1887 and again in 1894, the owners of Piedmont Park considered selling it to the City of Atlanta. This purchase was a tough sell for a number of reasons— the park was considered too far away from the city; although the price for the land was fair, the City wasn’t in the land business; and Atlanta already owned Grant Park and didn’t see the need for another park. The third attempt to sell the park was successful. On June 15, 1904, the City of Atlanta purchased Piedmont Park and extended its city limits north to encompass the park acreage, as well as several developing neighborhoods between West Peachtree Street and North Highland Avenue.
In 1909, the City elected to transform the decaying fairgrounds into a park and enlisted Olmsted Brothers, pre-eminent landscape architects of the time, (and sons of Frederick Law Olmsted), to develop a master plan for the park. Due to budget limitations, their plan for Piedmont Park was not fully implemented. Nevertheless, the Olmsted Brothers’ 1912 plan greatly influenced the development of Piedmont Park. In fact, the current master plan, adopted by the City of Atlanta and Piedmont Park Conservancy in 1995, honors the brothers’ original vision for the park.
This article was republished from PiedmontPark.org