As mentioned in class, my research paper is on the interurban line from Atlanta to Stone Mountain. Today, I visited the town to find traces of that interurban line and do a little background research for my paper.
Interurban lines were, in essence, long-distance trolley lines connecting a central city to a large rural city. Atlanta had only two, one to Stone Mountain (which was, essentially, an extension of the Decatur interurban) and one to Marietta. Unlike normal trolleys, interurbans operated on private right-of-ways as long as possible. Meaning, they avoided running in public roads. Generally, the exception to this was in the center of a town, where there was no room to build the track anywhere else.
The above picture shows the route of the line as it leaves Fourth Street to run on a private right-of-way. On some busier and shorter interurban lines, streets were built on top of the tracks and the land would be taken over by the city. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case here. Georgia Power still owns the right of way, and has high tension power lines built on portions of it outside of town. This portion is used to connect a few houses to the power grid.
In contrast, the line ran through the street here. This was a junction where the Fourth street (straight ahead) and Mountain Street (on right) portions of the loop through downtown joined to return to Atlanta (behind the camera). This area is not heavily built up, but by the end of the next block to the right, it is.
Like their street-borne brethren, interurbans were primarily electric-powered. While there were dummy lines (steam-powered streetcars) early on, these were quickly replaced by electric lines. According to Gunter Barth in City People, about ninety-seven percent of all trolleys (I suspect interurbans were included in the total) were electric by 1902. In Atlanta, the connection between electricity and trolleys extended beyond just being the fuel: both utilities were under common ownership.
According to O.E. Carson in Trolley Titans, the trolleys and interurbans in Atlanta were consolidated under Georgia Railway and Electric Company in 1902. This would later become Georgia Railway and Power Company, and then Georgia Power Company. The above GR&P Co. data plate was found on a pole used to support the interurban’s catenary (overhead power lines). It was apparently installed in February 1922, when the interurban was still quite profitable.
Prior to the arrival of the interurban in 1913, the main form of transport here was the Georgia Railroad. This is the city”s depot, where passengers to Atlanta boarded. Due to an unusually high fare on the interurban, the railroad remained competitive. Railroad passenger service ended long after the interurban had ended: May 1983 to the interurban’s March 1948. This building is an excellent example of the metropolitan decentralization Jon Teaford describes in The Metropolitan Revolution. While it was once used to funnel people into the big city, it is now used to govern the city of Stone Mountain.
In this view of downtown, the automobile, which won out over both the railroad and interurban, is evident. This town had been built to be accessed by walking alone, and it still has some vestigial sidewalks as evidence of that. But more space along the street is devoted to giving autos a place to park than for giving pedestrians room to walk. This is somewhat like the old city centers Teaford mentions, which pushed to develop lots of parking decks in order to remain commercially central in an increasingly auto-dependent, decentralized, middle-class suburban culture. In this case, the downtown has many shops, but they are mostly boutiques, antique shops and other businesses which cater to the older set. Perhaps the traffic coming to the businesses is nostalgic for the days of their youth, when they lived in more centralized towns.
Despite automobiles clearly having the edge in today’s decentralized Atlanta metropolitan area, transit is still hanging on. One block east of the former Georgia Power substation and trolley barn is a MARTA Park-Ride lot. While it was not extremely busy, the twenty or thirty parked cars means that many fewer vehicles in the rush hour traffic of Highway 78. The two shelters looked fairly new, which seems to be a sign of confidence in transit’s future here. However, no bus route actually serves it. Route 121’s closest stop is in downtown Stone Mountain, about four blocks away.
Teaford, Jon. The Metropolitan Revolution: The Rise of Post-Urban America. New York: Columbia University Press, 2006.
Barth, Gunther. City People: The Rise of Modern City Culture in Nineteenth-Century America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Carson, O.E. Trolley Titans: A Mobile History of Atlanta. Glendale: Interurban Press, 1981.
Hanson, Robert. History of the Georgia Railroad. Johnson City: The Overmountain Press, 1996.