Saturday, March 19, 2011

Grant Park: A Walking Tour

Grant Park Pond
I have friends who live in Historic Grant Park who have shared a few highlights here and there about the area so when I saw the Grant Park walking tour in the Phoenix Flies offerings, I jumped at the chance for a an imparting of a docent's knowledge.

I arrived at Grant Park, at the designated meeting space, in plenty of time to start snapping photos. Just prior to our 6:00 p.m. start time, I noticed a lady with a blue notebook standing on her own and assumed she was to be our tour guide. She was.

I went over and introduced myself. Carol introduced herself and we chatted about Grant Park and tourATLANTA until the other tour-takers arrived.

Carol, to my benefit as well as the other tour participants that day, is one of the founding members of the Grant Park Conservancy and she's lived in Grant Park for a number of years…we not only had a tour guide who knows the Park, she has a vested interest in knowing everything there is to know about Grant Park.

The other tour participants arrived, a modest group compared to the 30-something member group Carol had the day before, but I think we were the real troopers showing up for a tour on a Monday night.

There was a married couple, a young British lady visiting for the weekend and another you lady who happened to be a docent at the Fox Theatre, as well as Carol and me. The group ended up being more conversational than some other tours I’ve been on, which was a great chance of pace.

Gathered and acquainted, the tour began.

The Tour

First, the clearing up of a common misconception…Grant Park is actually named for Lemuel P. Grant, a successful engineer and businessman who donated 100 acres for the creation of a public park in 1883. Later another 40 acres were allocated, but due to residential and road expansion, the size today is 131.5 acres.

The oldest public park in Atlanta, Grant Park is also the largest park in the city. The next three largest are Chastain Park, Freedom Park, and Piedmont Park.

Grant Park, established in 1882, Grant Park was designed by the Olmstead Brothers, sons of the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead who designed Central Park in New York City. The Olmstead Brothers also created the redesign of Piedmont Park in the early 20th Century.

Before we set off on foot, Carol pointed out the only surviving historic statue in Grant Park, that of Thomas Wilson Talbot. The inscription on the statue reads:

"Erected by the membership of the International Association of Machinists, May 5, 1948, to the memory of its founder Thomas Wilson Talbot, 1949-1892, through whose efforts came light out of darkness and hope out of despair. And that generations to come might extol his greatness, this monument is solemnly dedicated to free men everywhere who toil for a livelihood."
The other statues that used to be in Grant Park have been moved or mysteriously disappeared…some might have been traceable, but relocation records were not kept.

Fort Walker
Our first stop was Fort Walker, built during the Siege of Atlanta (July 22-August 25, 1864) and one of the few remaining fortifications in Atlanta from that period. The remnants of the fort include platforms from where cannons would fire on invading forces. The three elevated platforms we saw each had a stone path leading up to them, presumably to more easily transport ammunition (cannonballs) to them.

Atlanta Cyclorama
Next, we doubled back and stopped at the Atlanta Cyclorama and Zoo Atlanta, both situated in Grant Park. Carol proceeded to give us a little history about those two destinations. I’ve visited and blogged about Atlanta Cyclorama and Zoo Atlanta both, but it’s always nice to hear stories retold from a different point of perspective (I always learn something new).

Carol reminded us that we’re in a major anniversary of the Civil War, so a visit to the Atlanta Cyclorama (one of only three surviving cycloramas in the United States) is perfectly appropriate during 2011 given its depiction the Battle of Atlanta during the American Civil War.

Lion Bridge
The Lion Bridge, located on the Cherokee Avenue side of the Park, is a fine example of park architecture in the late 19th Century. The spring that once fed it has since been rerouted, as have three others of the original five in the Park. Part of the Conservancy’s restoration effort includes bringing the springs to life again.

Constitution Spring, also diverted, used to flow more than 10,000 gallons per day, according to long-time residents of Grant Park.

The double-sided fountain, installed in 1927, has not been operational in many decades. Actually, the Conservancy has located no long-time residents who recall when it was working, but that hasn’t stopped the Conservancy from including the restoration of the fountain on their “to do” list.

Baseball Field
The newly renovated Recreation Center was next on our tour. The Rec Center includes a rather ominous structure (closed when we were there) as well as a ball field, tennis courts, basketball courts, and a public swimming pool.

The swimming pool is open spring through autumn and reserves periods for adults only and neighborhood only swimming times (a great perk for the neighborhood, I think).

There are many playscapes throughout Grant Park, but the brand new Playground is by far the most popular. With a multitude of slides, swings, and junglegyms, more than 100 children and adults have been seen playing and socializing with neighbors.

A Pond for runoff water was created in 2003 using one of the previously covered springs that now provides more than 18,000 gallons of water a day. Of the five original springs in Grant Park, using maps from 1900, it was determined that this particular spring was called Salaam Spring. Salaam is a biblical word meaning “restoration.”

The Grant Park Conservancy is currently working on a 20 year plan to restore Grant Park to its grandeur of yesteryear.

As with all tours, much more information was imparted than what I can share here (which would defeat my goal of getting people out to explore the city), but I hope it’s enough to entice you to explore further, to go on your own walking tour of Grant Park.


The Grant Park Conservancy offers a self-guided walking tour through Grant Park via a printable highlights tour.

Additionally, First Saturday Work Days is a day that the Conservancy welcomes individuals, groups, and corporate volunteer teams to work in the Park on various projects throughout the Park. Over recent years, thousands of volunteers have planted thousands of trees, shrubs, flowers, mulched, and learned about the history of Grant Park and its plans for the future.

The Return

Will I return to Grant Park? Of course I’ll want to go Zoo Atlanta from time to time and yes, I want to return to Grant Park occasionally as well. I will be curious to see the progress of the restoration projects, particularly the double-sided fountain.

Touring Grant Park

Date toured: Monday, March 14, 2011
Location: 840 Cherokee Ave SE (directions)
Cost: Free
Parking: Free onsite parking

Touring Grant Park

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