Inman Park is Atlanta’s first planned residential suburb and also Atlanta’s first electric trolley neighborhood. Created at the cusp of the twentieth century, this ideal Victorian neighborhood — curved streets, generous residential lots, and verdant parks — was built upon the wrecked land of Atlanta’s Civil War battlefield, two miles east of downtown Atlanta. Inman Park was the brainchild of a renaissance thinker named Joel Hurt (1850-1926), who modeled the neighborhood after other trolley neighborhoods he had seen throughout the United States. In particular, Hurt had been impressed with the park-like neighborhoods created by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Although Hurt consulted with Olmsted, he ultimately relied upon his own civil engineering skills and those of landscape architect James Forsyth Johnson to plat Inman Park in the late 1880s.
The neighborhood was an immediate success; Atlanta’s nineteenth-century elite flocked to Inman Park to construct grand homes which had been designed by the city’s best architects. In its heydey, Inman Park residents could travel via electric trolley to downtown Atlanta for work, and then return home to the pastoral lands of Inman Park for relaxation – after paying the hefty trolley toll of five cents each way. Turn-of-the-nineteenth century business moguls such as Asa Griggs Candler, founder of the Coca-Cola Company, called Inman Park home during this successful period of Inman Park’s growth.
Decline in Popularity
As the twentieth century wore on and automobile use became prevalent, Inman Park’s popularity among Atlanta’s movers and shakers lost its shine. Trolleys were no longer necessary for travel to work, and the high Victorian architecture of Inman Park became outdated. From about 1910 until after World War II, the neighborhood was home to solidly middle-class residents – not the high society homeowners who had built the neighborhood at its inception. Smaller houses were built throughout the neighborhood, weaving bungalows and American Four-square houses among the mansions. The neighborhood gradually declined into a grouping of ramshackle old homes, many serving as boarding houses for transient renters.
Restoration and Preservation
In 1969, the houses of Inman Park began to be caught up in the restoration and preservation movement that had started in San Francisco and moved throughout the country; the beauty of Victorian houses was being re-discovered, and people were learning to revere the architecture. In 1970, the first Inman Park neighborhood association was formed, and shortly thereafter, newcomers were restoring dozens of houses in Inman Park. In 1973, the entire neighborhood was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Atlantans continued to breathe new life into Inman Park and into the other historic neighborhoods of the city, conquering zoning problems, mortgage restrictions, poor schools and crime. The greatest foe conquered by the historic neighborhoods was the Georgia Department of Transportation; it had sought to bisect Atlanta with a new highway, which would have annihilated the historic neighborhoods.
Today, Inman Park is the neighborhood of Joel Hurt’s dreams: beautiful homes filled with professionals who appreciate the charm of urban living in a bucolic setting. Almost all of the houses – both the mansions and the smaller dwellings – have been restored to their former glory, and the parks scattered throughout the neighborhood are well-maintained green spaces which pay homage to Hurt’s original designs. A strong neighborhood association – IPNA – continues to fight for the betterment of the neighborhood, mostly financed by a three-day annual festival that brings thousands to Inman Park for food, music, and a tour of the historic homes. Throughout the neighborhood, visitors can see a symbol, created by a neighborhood resident back in the earliest days of Inman Park’s restoration. This symbol – a yellow and black butterfly – captures Inman Park’s theme of rebirth, with two faces outlined in the butterfly’s body looking left and right to signify both the past and the future of Inman Park. The original Inman Park neighborhood, along with a few adjacent Victorian developments, are now part of the Inman Park Historic District, and the historic appearance of the district is regulated by the City of Atlanta.