In my July 30 column I wrote about Benjamin Plaster, the pioneer settler who came to the area shortly after the War of 1812 and owned more than 1,300 acres of what would become “Buckhead,” from Brookwood Hills all the way to the Lindbergh MARTA station and beyond.
This was before there was an Atlanta or even a Terminus, an early name for the future city. Thick woods covered the region and the few people who lived here farmed the land. I have to put Buckhead in quotes because I choose not to acknowledge this area as Buckhead despite the efforts of Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell and the state.
At the end of the column I wondered why the road bearing Plaster’s name, Plaster’s Bridge Road, which connected the area with present-day Midtown, was renamed Piedmont Road. An astute reader and perhaps a few of you knew the answer to the question. Author and historian James Ottley directed me to the website Tomitronics.com, which is operated by Atlanta historian Tommy Jones.
The story of Plaster’s Bridge Road changing to Piedmont Road finds its source in the estate of Benjamin Walker, the son of another pioneer settler named Samuel Walker. On his father’s land Walker built a stone house on Plaster’s Bridge Road in 1868, according to Franklin Garrett in his history “Atlanta and Environs.” The Walker property stretched over 190 acres in what is today Midtown.
The first significant development came in 1887, when the Gentleman’s Driving Club, known today as the Piedmont Driving Club, purchased Walker’s home and property for a private club. The stacked-stone home served as the original clubhouse. It would be a place where the city’s business and civic leaders could meet and “drive” their ornate horses and carriages, leading them around a track in front of the clubhouse.
On Oct. 10 of that year the city held the Piedmont Exposition on the land recently acquired by the club. The 12-day event featured goods and natural resources of the Southern Piedmont: the Carolinas, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia. The exposition, the first in Atlanta, drew more than 200,000 people including President Grover Cleveland and his wife, Frances. It was the first time Atlanta was nationally recognized as a destination for commerce and visitors, which became the city’s calling card for the next century and beyond.
The exposition also brought both public and private development to the area, including realigning Plaster’s Bridge Road to meet with Calhoun Street near 10th Street. That section of road would be renamed to reflect the successful expo and eventually the namesake park, Piedmont.
The Piedmont Exposition was the forerunner of the more successful, larger and longer Cotton States and International Exposition. Held in 1895, it raised Atlanta’s profile to an international level and proved once and for all the city was ready to shake off the devastating effects of the Civil War and claim the mantel of the capital of the new South.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a former news editor of this paper and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.