Atlanta History Center: 30 Awesome Things You Have To Experience
History is anything but stale at the Atlanta History Center. 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.
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.
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.
This is a MUST for the Hunger Games fans in your life, and a “Must Act Fast” – the exhibit closes on March 31. If you didn’t already know, AHC’s Swan House was a film location for Catching Fire, Mockingjay, Part 1 and Mockingjay, Part 2, and this tour gives you an exclusive look at rooms featured in the films, in addition to an exhibit of production photos and film props. Taking pictures is allowed, and you’ll get to enjoy an extra-special photo op at the end, 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 back yard, 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.
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.
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”). From 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., the kiddos can enjoy arts and crafts, stories, playful activities, and a guided tour of one of the History Center’s exhibitions or destinations. With admission at just $5.50 per child, this is an inexpensive way for you and them to enjoy the AHC.
For those who homeschool, the AHC’s Homeschool Days are a perfect way for young people to put their history lessons into practice. These four-hour programs will keep homeschoolers actively engaged in the day’s theme–coming soon are the Industrial Revolution and the Cold War–via exploration of the History Center’s exhibitions and historic homes, and performances by historic interpreters. Appropriate for tots to teens.
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. These FREE admission days (June 17-18, 2017) 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 look no further than 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.
You’ll never again take your wool socks for granted after experiencing the Sheep to Shawl program. True to its title, AHC interpreters will guide visitors through the process of cloth making, from shearing the Smith Family Farm sheep to wool-dyeing to weaving on the loom. While on the farm, you can also make a candle, watch open hearth cooking demonstrations and catch the blacksmiths in action.
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.
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.
Smith Family Farm brings Southern folk to life at this family-friendly festival. Experience traditional Southern foodways on the open hearth, tap your toes to live rootsy bands, sip on craft beer, and try your hand at folk crafts like candle dipping and basket weaving. Fall in Georgia means it’s still comfortable enough to spend a little time exploring the History Center’s 33 acres of grounds and gardens, too.
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!
School may be out, but the AHC will keep the learning and fun in demand. Based around themes–past ones include “Turn of the Century” and “Weird History”–the AHC’s education team will keep your kiddos engaged and moving via interactive lessons and immersive experiences. For the writerly types, the genre-specific writing camp at the Margaret Mitchell House–like “Fanfiction” and “Write On: The Essentials”–are a must. Stay tuned for the summer 2017 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 (past readers include B.J. Novak of One More Thing and Jessica Knoll of Luckiest Girl Alive). Upcoming Author Programs will explore Emmett Till, the Civil War, and a crucial member of FDR’s staff whose story now takes center stage.
Brought to you by the Atlanta Preservation Center, The Phoenix Flies is an annual celebration of our city’s most precious historic sites. Specific to the Atlanta History Center, you can RSVP for special and FREE Phoenix Flies tours of the Kenan Research Center and Cherokee Garden Library, the Margaret Mitchell House and more. Space is limited to 25 people per tour.
A members-only event, the doors of the History Center are kept open late (6:00-9:00 p.m.) for visitors to revel in all campus destinations, including Swan House and the Smith Family Farm. This year, visitors will also get to learn about the Cyclorama’s restoration and solve a mystery, Sherlock-style.
2017 and 2018 are a big years for the History Center, as it celebrates the addition of the Cyclorama and Texas to its collections. For those who don’t know, the Cyclorama–the famous, hourglass-shaped 1886 painting of the Battle of Atlanta–will be moved from its Grant Park home to the Buckhead campus in early 2017. Restoration will begin after the move, and the public grand opening is projected for fall 2018. The Texas, a historic locomotive, is expected to move to AHC May 2017 and to be open to the public in fall 2017–a celebration of Atlanta’s true Terminus roots.
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.
You may be skeptical of how spooky history can be, but Haunted Halloween just may leave you hollerin’, especially when you’re being followed by zombified, ax-wielding pioneers at Wood Family Cabin or “carnival castaways” in the History Center’s gardens. But don’t worry–Haunted Halloween has plenty of kid-friendly programming, and your event guide will have all activities conveniently categorized by their spook factor.
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.
31. See the Cyclorama
Scheduled to open in Fall 2018, the Cyclorama is a historic diorama and painting that depict the Battle of Atlanta. You can take a behind the scenes guided tour now for an additional fee. Once the exhibit opens, it you can view it at no additional fee (although guided tours will be extra.) Here is a sneak peak of what to expect.
WHERE TO STAY NEAR ATLANTA HISTORY CENTER
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Daniel is a career IT and data analytics professional who recently set out on the adventure of a lifetime. Leaving the corporate world behind Daniel set his sights on full-time travel writing and digital marketing. His plans include building an amazing business or three, maximizing time with his partner for life Lesli and four spectacular kiddos, dialing his snowboarding up to eleven, and writing and delivering dad jokes.