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The origin and development of the historic Edgewood community reflected wider patterns of growth in Atlanta and its environs during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of the factors spurring the growth of Edgewood at that time continue today, and its more recent resurgence as a vital and thriving residential, business, and entertainment district lend rather potent support to the visions that shaped it at its inception. Similarly, the social impress of the past is still evident in modern Edgewood with the geography and development still bearing traces of the racial and economic disparities characteristic of the American South in general and of Atlanta in particular.
The community of Edgewood was first developed during Atlanta’s post Civil War “boom” period of 1870 – 1910. With the extraordinary growth of Atlanta’s population during this time, and the development of an extensive core downtown business district, many forward-looking business and municipal leaders began to see the need for separate areas of recreation and residential development for the ever increasing numbers of those who worked downtown. Thus, the process of suburbanization along the lines of Chicago and New York was begun in Atlanta.
The communities of Edgewood, Grant Park, Inman Park, Ansley Park and Druid Hills were each begun during this same period in order to “answer” the growing need for residential development kept apart from downtown congestion while still maintaining easy access to the city center. Yet, despite contemporaneous development and a similar purpose, each of these communities developed upon very different lines and each has preserved an individual character to this day. One of the reasons for the individual character of these communities is that, with the exception of Edgewood, these communities were each developed by single investment companies as large residential units bearing the unmistakable stamp of uniform and innovative layout, design and architectural principles. Likewise, with the exception of Edgewood, they were developed and marketed by and large for a homogenous group of middle and upper middle class buyers. The pattern of development in Edgewood, on the other hand, was predominantly that of the smaller builder developer. Parcels of twenty acres or less were often purchased and then developed as blocks of individual or several houses at a time. Often the small builders were also residents of the community themselves. This led to a more heterogeneous building style, with smaller lot sizes and relatively modest design principles, which is quite evident today.
One of the reasons for this difference in development may be attributable to the initial disparity in convenient public transportation available to the residents of the aforementioned communities. Whereas the land development companies of Inman Park, Ansley Park and Druid Hills each invested in or indeed co-owned the emerging trolley companies connecting the new suburbs with the Atlanta city center, the community of Edgewood may have been hampered by its proximity to the Decatur trolley line which faltered economically through several corporate incarnations.
Another reason for the disparity in development model and early growth was clearly the racial makeup of the Edgewood population. The community of Edgewood as originally conceived comprised not only the area south of the railroad tracks as is identified today, but also the area north of the railroad tracks to McLendon avenue and the Candler Park community. The community around Candler Park, originally Edgewood Park, was designed and marketed for the predominantly white middle class residents of the Druid Hills neighborhood and efforts were taken to disassociate it from the historically African-American enclave of Edgewood south of the railroad tracks. In addition to the change of the Candler community and park name, many of the streets that bisect the Edgewood community still bear different names on the north and south sides of the rail line. Similarly, the inequalities in the development of and investment in public schools, transport, and services south of the tracks reflected and reflect policies of racial discrimination and exclusion.
Looking back at even a thumbnail sketch of Edgewood’s past history it is easy to see that many factors originally contributing to its growth continue today. Its easy proximity to downtown Atlanta, varied and beautiful housing stock, blossoming retail and entertainment sectors and the diversity of its residents each contribute to its vibrancy as one of Atlanta’s earliest intown “suburbs”. The same challenges concerning maintaining comfortable and convenient living, recreational and business activities within Atlanta’s urban landscape exist today as in the past. Likewise, the dialogue concerning the appropriate allocation of resources and community involvement to ensure just and equitable intown development continues in Edgewood today, as it does throughout the City of Atlanta.
Written by Shawnalea Garvin