Everybody in Atlanta knows Piedmont park, right?


If you don’t about Piedmont Park, you need to get it together. For decades, Piedmont Park has been the stage for a plethora of concerts and events that rake in millions of dollars in revenue to our wonderful city.

In the late 19th century, expositions were pivotal in building a city’s revenue via tourism. Expos in those days usually displayed the newest gadgets and inventions. These display festivals also allowed public leaders a platform to seduce visitors into doing additional business. I guess you could say the exhibitions grandfathered the festivals and trade shows we enjoy today.

The Cotton States Expo of 1895 is actually the grand finale of a series of expositions held in the post-Civil War era. The first exposition was held in 1881 in Oglethorpe Park, but was a bit of a bust. According to GeorgiaEncyclopedia.org, there were only 40,000 residents in the city of Atlanta, was international in the fact that only cotton from around the world was displayed. Even with a lower than expected attendance of 200,000 paying visitors in a two-and-a-half month span, Atlantans were still eager to help their city grow (Newman).

The second was held on October 5, 1887. More than 20,000 people attended the opening ceremony for the second expo known as the Piedmont Exposition, with over 50,000 in overall attendance. According to Stephen K. Prince of the Georgia Historical Quarterly, this was the day The New South was born, “to the strains of Handel’s ‘Hallelujah Chorus’” (Prince).

Two men who were exceptionally influential in the movement towards Atlanta’s future were Henry W. Grady and Booker T. Washington..

Henry W. Grady, civic leader and journalism upstart contributed to the solution with a series of articles and speeches he gave throughout the country. An Athens native, Grady attended college at the University of Georgia and wrote for – and owned – the Atlanta Daily Herald, in which he wrote an editorial about the “New South”. In 1889, Grady died at the ripe old age of 39 from pneumonia (Georgia Public Broadcasting).

Thirty years after the Civil War and the freeing of slaves, blacks were still struggling on tiny plots of land still owned by plantation owners. This concerned Booker T. Washington, one of the greatest African-American minds of the time. He spoke at the opening ceremonies, giving his Atlanta Compromise speech urging both blacks and whites to “cast it down [your buckets] in agriculture, mechanics, in commerce, in domestic service, and in the professions” (http://www.edchange.org).

Its goals were to build trade between southern states and South American countries and show the products and facilities of the region to the rest of the nation and to Europe. The Exposition sported exhibitions by six states and special buildings honoring the achievements of blacks and women, whom were having their own struggles with suffrage. To attract more visitors and tempt them to stay, the Exposition featured amusement rides like carousels and the “Phoenix Wheel”, which was a huge Ferris wheel, as well as what passed for a movie back then. Even though the event was thoroughly advertised, only 800,000 people visited the site. Over the following years, the buildings were demolished and the exhibits disassembled, and the site of the Cotton States and International Exhibition of 1895 become our beloved Piedmont Park.

Photo by Tood Massar via http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu

Photo by Tood Massar via http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu

Sources of research:

Georgia Public Broadcasting. (n.d.). Georgia Stories: Henry Grady, A Georgia Biography. Retrieved February 2, 2013,   http://www.gpb.org/georgiastories/story/henry_grady

Newman, Harvey, K. (2010). Cotton Expositions in Atlanta. Retrieved January 30, 2013,  http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-2913

Prince, K. Stephen. (2008). A Rebel Yell for Yankee Doodle: Selling the New South at the 1881 Atlanta International Cotton Exposition. Georgia Historical Quarterly, Vol. 92, Issue 3, Retrieved January 18, 2013, from EbscoHost available through GALILEO

Washington, Booker T. (1895) Speech at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition. Retrieved February 4, 2013, http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/speeches/booker_atlanta.html

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