History is anything but stale at the Atlanta History Center. It’s the best of the Atlanta history museums because it has it all. In fact, it comes alive every day in fresh and fun ways, thanks to extensive collections and exhibits, sweeping grounds of gardens and historic structures, and energetic educators and historic interpreters. Whether you’re a native “Grady baby” or just visiting for the weekend, the AHC will school you on ATL’s humble roots, its complicated past, and its forward-thinking future. Here are our 30 must-do recommendations for your next visit.
The Atlanta Historical Society was founded in 1926 with the mission to study and preserve Atlanta history. In 1990, after decades of collecting, researching, and publishing information about Atlanta and the surrounding area, the organization officially became Atlanta History Center.
What began as a small historical society grew to encompass 33 acres of gardens, four historical houses, varied programming including awarding winning exhibitions, and is one of the largest history museums in the southeast.
1. EXPERIENCE TURNING POINT: THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR
Containing 1500+ artifacts, the Turning Point exhibit will give you firsthand glimpses into what life was like during the American Civil War for soldiers and civilians. Highlights include the actual Confederate flag that, during the time of the city’s surrender, flew over Atlanta. You can also examine diary entries and letters, weapons and uniforms, and educational videos and dioramas.
2. GATHERROUND FOR STORIES OF ATLANTA
The tradition of storytelling is alive and well in the AHC’s newest signature exhibit. What’s the story of Atlanta? Who tells it, and how? Explore the history of the city through the various perspectives – from artifacts, videos and recordings of her most influential figures and leaders to the experiences, words and images of everyday Atlantans. Catch “Meet the Past” museum theatre performances on Saturdays and Sundays, too.
Present meets past at this wooden log cabin on the AHC campus, one that formerly housed the Wood family near a Creek Indian settlement along the Chattahoochee River. While visitors can explore the cabin and its surroundings during the museum’s regular hours, you’ll have the opportunity to meet and interact with costumed “Meet the Past” interpreters on weekends, April through October. They’ll give you even greater insight into what Georgia frontier life was like in the early 19th century. Be sure to head to the cabin’s backyard, which features a meadow of plants native to the Georgia Piedmont and tended honey beehives.
Some of Atlanta’s most important literary history is housed in “the Dump,” located in the heart of Midtown Atlanta (the main AHC campus is located in Buckhead) at 10th and Peachtree Streets. On the tour of Apartment No. 1, you’ll see the very space in which Margaret Mitchell, aka Peggy, wrote the Southern classic, Gone With the Wind. The Margaret Mitchell: A Passion for Character exhibit explores her early writings and journalism career. For those who love the film and its history, check out The Making of a Film Legend and Stars Fall on Atlanta exhibits…and buy some GWTW swag in the gift shop, too.
5. GET A MEMBERSHIP
For those who regularly find themselves at the museum, a membership pays for itself in its perks: free admission and guest passes, discounts at the gift shop and Kenan Research Center, discounts on special programs like Homeschool Days and Author programs and workshops, and discounts on summer camps, depending on the membership level. Most members will also qualify for reduced admission prices at Rhodes Hall and Macon’s Hay House, thanks to The Georgia Trust for Historical Preservation.
6. TAKE THE KIDS TO MAGIC MONDAYS
Tailored to toddlers and preschoolers, Magic Mondays take place once a month, each time with a unique theme (upcoming ones range from “Seasons” to “Welcome to Atlanta”). Each Magic Monday has a unique monthly theme designed for toddlers and preschoolers. Using our expansive 33-acre campus as inspiration, we create fun opportunities to enrich youngsters and encourage a sense of creativity and play.
The program is offered 10:00am – 1:00pm. Admission is $6.50 adults; $5.50 children, free for members. Discounted rates are available for groups of 10 or more children.
For those who homeschool, the AHC’s Homeschool Days are a perfect way for young people to put their history lessons into practice. Atlanta History Center offers special programs for homeschool students and their families. During these day-long programs, offered 10:30am-3:30pm, explore a different subject through engaging hands-on experiences, performances, historic simulations, and a variety of activities designed for kids from toddler to teen.
Admission to Homeschool Days is $8.50; $6.50 children of members; and free for adult members. Discounted rates are available for groups with 10 or more children.
8. BE MERRY AND BRIGHT AT CANDLELIGHT NIGHTS
Atlanta has no shortage of illuminated holiday events, but the AHC pairs “holiday” with “history” like no other. In addition to typical Christmas program activities–carols, lights, a Christmas market, a tree lighting, and an appearance by Santa Claus–wander through the History Center’s twinkling campus, learning about how holidays were observed in time periods of the past, thanks to interpreters at Swan House (1930s), the Smith Family Farm (Civil War), and the Wood Family Cabin (pioneer).
What’s Juneteenth, you ask? The word refers to the annual recognition of the abolition of slavery in the United States. These FREE admission days at the History Center will educate visitors about the ills of slavery and the strides for freedom through crafts, activities, interpretations and more.
That’s right: Atlanta’s favorite soup spot now has an AHC outpost. A seasonally-driven menu of soups, salads and sandwiches can be enjoyed with beer and wine purchased from the Museum Shop in this cozy and colorful AHC dining amenity. If you’re planning a summer visit, the menu will be sure to include some chilled options. Just stopping by for lunch during your workday? There’s no museum admission charge for those simply hoping to dine. Souper.
Spearheaded by the ladies of the Atlanta Forward Arts Foundation, Swan House’s carriage house was transformed into a chic Southern eatery, gallery and gift shop in the 1960s. Today, ATL ladies head to Swan Coach when planning their BFF’s shower or birthday bash. Whether you’re a walk-in or a booked-ahead group, you’ll get to savor dreamy, quintessential Southern fare. Can we get another round of mint juleps and cheese straws, please? Check out the exhibitions, often focused on Southern artists, too.
PWTP’s tagline–“Free history, cold beer”–pretty much says it all. Catering to ATL’s millennials but open to all, Party with the Past moves to a new location for each event and always takes place in a venue of historic significance, from Westview Cemetery to the Fox Theatre to the Carter Center Library and Museum. A cash bar is on hand, as is a food truck or two, and each bi-monthly event includes a brief lecture about the venue and its history. A perfect after-work happy hour experience that will leave you with a few factoids to share at your next dinner party. Is there a better way to explore exhibitions of historical significance than with a cold beer?
When you visit Swan House, you’ll learn all about the Inman family and what Atlanta life was like in the 1930s. Thanks to its open house setup, you can explore the house’s rooms and grounds, including the driveway where Henrietta, Swan’s very own Hudson, is parked(except when stored during winter.) You’ll definitely want to take a picture with this iconic beauty.
Though the exhibit is temporarily closed to make way for the Texas locomotive and The Battle of Atlanta cyclorama painting, keep in mind that you can relive the dream, thanks to this memorabilia-filled exhibition on the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games.
In addition to the museum and historic homes, the AHC’s 33-acre campus also boasts six distinct gardens among its 22 acres of green space. From the Swan Woods to the Sims Asian Garden, budding botanists and outdoor lovers will delight in the trails, trees and sheer variety of plant species (most native to Georgia) that abound. You’ll love the views of the gardens from the Quarry Bridge, too–especially for photo ops.
You may have trouble convincing the kiddos to see the rest of campus once they catch sight of these kid-sized historic homes. They’re sure to get a kick out of the ornate play spaces once inhabited by the children of Atlanta families past. Minecraft who?
Self-guided Swan House tours allow you to check out all four levels of the classy Atlanta home, from the kitchen to parlor to kids’ room, but the real show-stopper is the spiral staircase in the neo-classical home’s foyer. A highly-Instagrammable moment for the photogenic. Don’t miss the collection of Swan House architect Philip Shutze downstairs, either.
Step back into the rural agricultural life of Atlanta in the 1860s at the Smith Family Farm, which includes the Tullie Smith House farm and its surrounding gardens, open hearth kitchen, barn, slave cabin and livestock. First-person historic interpreters will demonstrate daily activities like cloth-making, blacksmithing, farming, and other domestic duties. Say hi to the farm’s sheep, goats, and cat, Dodger, too!
The exhibition highlights the ways African Americans advocated for full inclusion in American democracy from 1865 through World War I. Black Citizenship in the Age of Jim Crow was created by the New-York Historical Society in collaboration with the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Atlanta History Center has enhanced the exhibition with a focus on local stories and artifacts.
School may be out, but the AHC will keep the learning and fun in demand. There are several options for campers to enjoy during these four weeks of camps! History camp themes vary from the ancient world to the history of space, and writing camps themes range from basic writing skills to learning how to create fictional and fantastical stories.
The AHC’s education team will keep your kiddos engaged and moving via interactive lessons and immersive experiences. Check out their camp schedule; camps fill up fast!
Both the History Center and Margaret Mitchell House play host to some of today’s best-selling authors. While many of the readings and lectures focus on works of nonfiction, fiction is just as frequently celebrated. Upcoming Author Talks include: Chris Finan, author of How Free Speech Saved Democracy, and Kwame Onwuachi, author of My America, and more!
22. BRING THE LITTLE ONES TO TODDLER STORYTIME
Bring on the playdate! Toddlers and preschoolers enjoy a monthly themed story time and history program that includes guided exhibit exploration for your little ones! Some of the past monthly story times themes: All Aboard! The Many Ways To Get Around Atlanta, Bee-Mine: How Bees Pollenate, April Showers: How Does Rain Work?, and more! Check their calendar for dates/themes!
This is a roarin’ 1920’s lawn party you won’t want to miss! They’re throwing it back to 1928, when Swan House was constructed to be the retirement residence of the Inman family. Come and see how the house was meant to be used—for spectacular parties, historic cocktails, and live jazz on the lawn. Dress up is always encouraged, but not required!
On February 22, 2019, Atlanta History Center opened Cyclorama: The Big Picture, featuring the fully restored cyclorama painting, The Battle of Atlanta. In the 1880s, The Battle of Atlanta cyclorama painting was an immersive experience—the equivalent of virtual reality today. The painting is a full-color, three-dimensional illusion designed to transport the viewer onto the battlefield. Cycloramas were created as a form of entertainment—they were the IMAX of their time. You won’t want to miss this!
Celebrate Dia de los Muertos at the AHC on this FREE admission day. Collaborating with the Consulate General of Mexico and the Institute of Mexican Culture, the History Center presents a festival where you can experience cuisine, crafts, cultural entertainment, and the iconic decorated altars associated with this observance.
Make sure to swing by the Museum Shop for historic swag, be it a book or a Made-in-ATL gift. Best of all? The AHC is now a purveyor of craft beer and wine (which can be enjoyed on site at Souper Jenny). Pro tip: buy the Acrobatic Goat IPA brewed by Burnt Hickory Brewery. It’s named after the beloved performing goat, Richard (he was named after Little Richard, but his name is simply Richard, and he does perform!) It doesn’t get more “shop local” than that.
It turns out that your AHC membership gets you into more than just the History Center’s doors. All levels of membership can utilize the Time Travelers partnership, which includes Georgia locations like the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum and Marietta Museum of History. AHC also participates in the Reciprocal Organization of Museums (ROAM), meaning your membership grants you two-for-one opportunities. Already a member of the High? No problem. Atlanta History Center allows entrance for two to AHC and the Margaret Mitchell House with the Dual or Family level. Several other Georgia museums also offer reciprocity through ROAM, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, American Horticultural Society or Association of Children’s Museums. Interested? Check it out!
IMMERSE YOURSELF IN MORE ATLANTA:
- Check out these five Compelling Exhibits at The Center for Civil and Human Rights.
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- 21+ Awesome Atlanta Farmers Market experiences you won’t want to miss
- 41+ Fascinating Museums in Atlanta your family will absolutely adore
- Stop and drink a cold one, or two, at one of 38+ Atlanta’s Best Breweries
WHERE TO STAY NEAR ATLANTA HISTORY CENTER
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