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US-23 From Sea to Inland Sea - Day 17

Across Mid-Georgia

Hi everyone, Don Milne here again, your ROADTRIP-'62 ™ traveler. We’re still traveling southbound on US-23, the first of our routes. We’re now sixteen days out from our northern beginning point of Mackinaw City, Michigan. Yesterday we traveled a short 55 miles from Gainesville, Georgia and today we’re starting in Atlanta, Georgia. Then we will head south on the two-lane roads of 1962. I'll be driving on this virtual roadtrip, but if you see things you like, I encourage you to get out and enjoy them for yourselves. A virtual roadtrip like this may be fun, but there's nothing like the real thing! At any time, just click on an underlined word below to learn more about the places on the trip. So let’s buckle up and see the rest of Atlanta!

Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. (public domain photo, from WPClipart)

Today we’re going to look at some of Atlanta’s history. In 1962, we could not have visited any of the historic sites here that are now connected with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At that time, he and many others were still making history, working to end legal segregation policies across the country. These laws and the activities to end them were most concentrated in the southern states. Dr. King was born in Atlanta on January 15, 1929. After he grew up he moved away when attending colleges and then became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. It was during that tenure he helped lead the successful Montgomery Bus Boycott from 1955 to 1956, which resulted from the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. For 381 days, the Negroes (the term in common use in 1962) in Montgomery, who were a majority of the bus riders in the city, stayed off the busses to protest her arrest. During the next several years Dr. King worked on many protests and was also arrested many times in many different cities throughout the south, even between meetings with Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy. His meeting with President Kennedy was on October 16, 1962 and he had served time for a conviction for leading a march in Albany, Georgia in February of that same year. Dr. King’s most famous speech was given at the March on Washington in 1963, he was named “Man of the Year” by Time Magazine that year, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, and of course was tragically assassinated in 1968. Today you can see bits and pieces of his life at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. This site is a collaboration between the National Park Service, Ebenezer Baptist Church and The King Center. The King Center was established in 1968, after Dr. King’s death. The Martin Luther King, Jr. Visitor Center wasn’t constructed until 1995. You can only visit the Birth Home of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on a park ranger-led tour, which is strictly limited to 15 people per tour, so register early if you’re interested in the home.

A sobering thought as we travel: 1962 was NOT a year to be traveling in Georgia, or Alabama or Mississippi for that matter, if you were a black man. It was a volatile time of changes and scared people. Our virtual roadtrip through this part of the country is simply something that those of you who are black could not have done back then. If you did, you could not have stayed or eaten at some of the places we’ve been and could not have seen some of the other sights we stop at in Georgia. If you tried, you could have been arrested just like Dr. King, though in some cases the locals didn’t like to wait for the justice system and may have just beaten you on the spot for daring to be too uppity. Sad but true.

1962 Coca-Cola ad
1962 Coca-Cola ad from magazine

A big piece of Atlanta’s history is one of the city’s most famous things. Atlanta is the home of the world’s best-selling soft drink, in either 1962 or today, Coca-Cola! Invented in 1886 by John Pemberton and first sold at Jacob's Pharmacy, in its early years Coca-Cola was closer to a patent medicine than a soft drink. Bottling began in 1899 and in 1916 the classic "contour" shaped bottle was introduced. It was originally marketed as an energizing drink, sort of like Dr. Enuf that we sampled back in Johnson City, Tennessee. As laws, the formula, and the advertising changed, it became known as "The Pause That Refreshes", and from the 1940s on it has dominated the soft drink market. The Coca-Cola Company was headed for much of the time from the 1940s through the 1960s by Robert Woodruff, who had the vision that Coca-Cola should always be within "arm's reach of desire." Under his guidance, the number of countries bottling Coca-Cola nearly doubled and is now over 200. Coke, as it became known, also fit well with the coming of fast-food in the 1950s, with the advertising imagery of happy couples at drive-ins becoming a standard. All this time, they sold only one flavor, original Coke. True, there were some bottlers who offered the fruit flavors of their Fanta brand through the 1950s, but it never received much national notice. This changed with the introduction of Sprite in 1961, and the first diet soda, TAB, in 1963.

Besides 1962 not having the Coke flavors we’re familiar with, we also could not have seen the World of Coca-Cola. This is the company’s flashy museum of all things Coke, which opened in 1990 and moved to a new building in 2007. I suspect we could have seen some small exhibits at the company’s headquarters building then, so let’s go anyway and look for Coca-Cola items from 1962. Today’s exhibits encompass over 1,200 artifacts from around the world, on display along with a 4-D theatre and interactive exhibits. One thing we would have seen in Atlanta in 1962 that has now been moved into the museum is the "Neon Spectacular" sign that used to be downtown. From 1932 until 1981, Coca-Cola had an advertising sign in Margaret Mitchell Square. It began as an electronic billboard that showed news of the day but changed into the Spectacular in 1948. The square where it used to be is now the Atlanta Braves ballpark. And speaking of baseball, no city along US-23 had a major league team in 1962, including Atlanta! The Braves didn’t arrive until 1966, when they moved here from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Margaret Mitchell Grave, Oakwood Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia
Margaret Mitchell Grave, Oakwood Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia (Photo by J. Glover, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)

A somewhat odd site to visit is Oakland Cemetery, here since 1850 and now on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s the first Atlanta cemetery, containing many notable people, Civil war soldiers, statuary and architecture. The cemetery has grown from just 6 acres to 88 acres: the last lots were sold in the late 1800s. We enter through a distinctive entrance gate that was added in 1896. Some of the monuments we can see are the 65-foot tall Confederate monument that the tallest building in Atlanta when it was erected in 1874, Jasper Smith guarding the entrance from atop his mausoleum, and the Lion of Atlanta honoring over 3,000 unknown Confederate dead buried here. As we drive the bricked roadways, we pass graves of many people who were influential in early Atlanta including six Georgia governors and 24 mayors. Other famous people include Margeret Mitchell, author of "Gone With The Wind", and golfing great Robert T. "Bobby" Jones.

You can even find tour guides to help you learn about the history of Atlanta through the cemetery. Like many older cemeteries, Oakland has a "Potter's Field," where the indigent or unclaimed bodies were buried. This section has over 17,000 graves with only a single monument. Because of former customs and laws, African-Americans and people of Jewish faith are also interred in separate sections. A feature not seen in northern states, from before the War Between the States, is the "Black Section", where slaves were buried and identified by both their name and their owners’ name. In the Jewish section is the grave of Dr. Joe Jacobs, in whose pharmacy Coca-Cola was invented. The cemetery also acts as a botanical preserve with mature oak and magnolia trees. Unfortunately, on March 14, 2008, Oakland Cemetery was hit by a devastating tornado and approximately 150 of these centuries-old trees were toppled. Monuments were also broken but the Bell Tower, which serves as a visitor center, museum, shop, office and archives was spared.

Zoo Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia aerial photo
Zoo Atlanta, Atlanta, Georgia aerial photo (public domain photo, from U.S. Geological Survey)

After a drive and stroll through Oakland, we have time for one more stop in Atlanta. It won’t be the Margaret Mitchell Home, author of Gone With the Wind. This building was just another run-down apartment house in 1962 and she had died in 1949, so there was nothing much to see here. Since that time, it has been recognized for its historic value and it opened to the public in 1997 after a multi-million dollar renovation funded in large part by the German auto company Daimler Benz. No, our final stop before leaving town will be Zoo Atlanta. The zoo is back in Grant Park, near the Cyclorama and that is no accident because both were originally owned by the same entrepreneur, George Gress. He acquired the zoo in 1889 when he bought the animals left behind by a bankrupt circus. He later donated the animals to the city and they placed them in Grant Park. The location became known as the Municipal Zoo. This was one of the attractions I mentioned earlier: both the Zoo and Cyclorama were open to whites only for the next 80 years!

The Zoo was typical of small municipal zoos for most of its life, with small cages for the animals. Some modern, naturalistic exhibits were built in the period from 1951 to 1967. The World of Reptiles remains as an example of work from this period. In 1961, the zoo acquired its most famous resident, a silverback gorilla known as Willie B. He was kept in a small cage with only a black and white television for company and a tire swing for exercise. In 1984 the Atlanta Zoo was named one of the 10 worst zoos in the country. This is the zoo we would have seen in 1962. Today the entire zoo has been transformed into a modern place for animal conservation, housing over 200 species. Beginning in 1988 new habitats have been constructed for gorillas, the Ford African Rain Forest, and other animals. For the past 10 years there has been a giant panda exhibit and habitat. The elephants, rhinos, and zebra also roam freely in the Masai Mara area. And there’s a lot for us humans to do too! You can see video and movies in the SouthTrust Wildlife Theater, a rock climbing wall, a carousel and of course, a zoo train. The train is unusual, having a replica of an 1863 locomotive. And, just to keep things easy today, I’m having zoo food for lunch.

There’s still more to see but there are also more US-numbered routes through Atlanta, so I’ll leave some surprises for them. One of the other routes we encounter in town is US-29, which we cross and which parallels much of modern I-85. Another route we cross is US-78, which is named the Stone Mountain Freeway to the east of town. It has an excellent view of Stone Mountain, a granite monolith that has been carved with a relief of Civil War figures. This southern answer to Mount Rushmore lies too far east of town for our 5-mile rule and so we’ll leave it to be seen on a Roadtrip-'62 ™ along US-78 someday. There is also US-278, which runs along with US-78 through Atlanta. And finally, US-19, which we’ve crossed before, and US-41. They don’t touch US-23 in the city, but run to the west a bit.

Henry County Courthouse, McDonough, Georgia
Henry County Courthouse, McDonough, Georgia (Photo by John Trainor, from Wikimedia Commons, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

We finally leave and soon find ourselves in rolling farm country and passing through some small towns. Reminds me of Ohio again except for the red earth here. Not all Georgia soils are red, but we’ll see a lot of typical Georgia red clay for the next few days. My second house was painted this color and the paint color was actually called Georgia Clay. As with most red soils in the world, this color is primarily due to iron oxides. The red soils in Georgia are the effects of a warm, humid climate working to weather acid crystalline rocks on the rolling hills, over a very long time. It is so typical of Georgia that in 2006, the state legislature declared it Georgia's "official dirt." We soon come across something fun in the city of McDonough, Georgia is the McDonough Welcome Center. It’s in a 1920s Standard Oil Gas Station on the Courthouse square and it still has some old gas pumps on the island outside! In 1962 this station was probably still serving customers. Good place to stop in and use the rest rooms today and pick up a little information on the town. A statue honoring Confederate veterans was erected in 1910 in the center of the square. The Courthouse square is surrounded by other stores and even the Romanesque Style Henry County courthouse, built in 1897. If you want to walk around a bit, there are a number of historic houses with varied architecture that can be seen walking a few blocks around downtown.

A few more small towns down the road and we come to Jackson, Georgia and Indian Springs State Park. After the better part of two days in the big city, I’m ready for the forest again. Just before we get there, US-23 now veers off along the Ocmulgee River but it used to head past the park and westerly to Forsyth, Georgia. We’re going that direction. Indian Springs is the oldest state park in the United States, acquired by Georgia in 1825, apparently in the treaty that ceded the Creek Indian lands to the state. The park is located at a springs used by the Creek Indians for its healing qualities. As a state park, it became the site of a resort in the 1800s. There is a lot to keep one busy on its 528 acres, either in 1962 or today, including camping, swimming, a nature trail, a museum of Creek Indian and resort era history, and even miniature golf. It’s the chance to wander in nature once again that I’ve come for.

Indian Creek, Georgia
Indian Creek, Georgia (public domain photo by Bwjsmartdude, from Wikimedia Commons)

There is also a building left in Jackson from the springs resort period, the Indian Spring Hotel. It was built between 1823 and 1825 and is the only mineral springs hotel remaining in Georgia from that period. Between 1953 and 1974 J.H. Elliott, an antique dealer, operated it as a museum, so it’s a perfect stop for us. Today, the Butts County Historical Society is working on restoring it to the 1823-1833 time period when the stagecoaches stopped at the inn. Jackson boasts a more unusual way to view history, too. I found a 1962 history of the city, written by Marshall Avett, who worked from news articles published in the Jackson Progress Argus and interviews. He lists virtually every event in the city for that year (and many other years also), such as high school football scores; deaths; a public meeting in April, 1962 that finalized the route the I-75 freeway would be constructed on; and Rufus Head became the first "Negro" since the post-Civil War Reconstruction period to run for public office in Butts County.

On the way out of town I’m stopping to buy some 1962 picnic food and charcoal to use at the next park. Let’s see now, some good food for grilling might be pork chops, early 1960s priced at 59 cents per pound. I can bake some potatoes with them, only 4 cents a pound, and they’re great buried in the charcoal. Of course I need dessert: watermelon for less than 3 cents a pound in 1962. What a feast! After I’m stocked up, I’m off to High Falls State Park. It’s west of old US-23 on Blount Road and it holds the last waterfall of our trip. Though the state park wasn’t established until 1966, the waterfall was here long before and the land was donated to the state in 1961. There is even more room to hike here than at the last state park, so I will take my time getting to the series of falls on the Towaliga River. After a good hike, I need a good meal. I’m grilling out with the supplies I just bought, though it won’t be at those prices, and we’ll enjoy the smell of a fire tonight! Or, if you want to camp and enjoy the fire late into the night, go right ahead. High Falls also has a campground.

High Falls, High Falls State Park, Georgia
High Falls, High Falls State Park, Georgia (Photo Copyright Home From The Wilderness, at Flickr, used by permission.)

Eventually though, I must leave and find a motel, because I’m not camping. Forsyth, Georgia is the next city, a city with two railroad depots remaining in town. One is from the Monroe Railroad, which in 1838 was the first railroad constructed in Georgia. It ran from Macon, Georgia to Forsyth. Earlier in the trip I mentioned Circleville, Ohio as unusual because it was laid out in a circle. Well, maybe that was not so strange in the early 1800s. Forsyth was also established as a circle, in 1823. It measured a radius of ½-mile from the courthouse square. Driving around town to find a motel, we meet a couple of roads that are going some of the same places US-23 does. Beginning at the farthest north tip of Michigan’s mainland is US-41, which went through Atlanta though it never touched our route there. Now we meet it and travel together to Macon, Georgia. Also alongside us between Atlanta and Macon is I-75, which crossed the Mackinac Bridge and met us at our starting point in Mackinaw City, Michigan. We then traveled with it for some distance in Michigan. Both of these roads are heading to Florida and both go farther south than we will.


But tonight we’ll travel no farther, as it’s time to find our motel. Forsyth looks like another town where we’ll have to stay at a newer motel: I couldn’t locate any older ones in good condition. Everything is new and bunched around the freeway interchange. So, take your pick of modern comfort and catch some zzz’s. See you tomorrow on ROADTRIP-'62 ™ !

US-23 sign of 1961
Georgia US-23 sign of 1961

All photos by the author and Copyright © 2012, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne, except as noted.

All other content Copyright © 2012, 2021 - Donald Dale Milne.

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What's the weather in 1962?

Weather on May 15, 1962 for Forsyth, GA, from the National Climatic Data Center:

  • Low = 63°F
  • High = 92°F
  • Precipitation = none
  • Mean Wind Speed = 6mph

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