Posted by Debby Yoder, ATHENS, GA – The City of Athens embraced historic preservation in the 1980s when R.E.M., the B-52’s, and the Indigo Girls where making Athens a music epicenter and much of the country was tearing down old building. The well-preserved buildings provide a peaceful balance for the energy and exuberance of college students on their own for the first time. There is both a sense of history and a look toward the future. Many of the buildings have signs for more than one business- the original and the current. Some date from the mid-1800s while others have recently filled what little space remains.
There is the Morton Building, constructed in 1907 by Pink Morton, born a slave but rising to prominence. He owned more than 25 buildings in the area, this one in “Hot Corner” the center of black economic activity during segregated times. Across the street is one of the only downtown buildings still owned by African-Americans, formerly home to The Athens Republique, an independent black newspaper but now operating as a soul food restaurant. Around the corner is the Creature Comforts Brewery that opened this year in an old tire store. R.E.M. fans will remember Weaver D’s Fine Foods distinctive square brick building, closed now, but still sporting a bright green exterior.
Spacious buildings near the railroad tracks are being converted in lofts as student and local populations continue to grow. Just behind the iconic UGA arch sits the Holmes-Hamilton Building, named for the students who integrated the school. It is typically not acknowledged that their bravery saved all public schools in the state. Governor Vandiver was planning to close all public schools rather than abide by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision when the 1961 federal order to de-segregate the University of Georgia was handed down. Vandiver knew that it would be political suicide for him to close the university and deny football fans their “Dawgs” so he changed course and reluctantly allowed limited enrollment for blacks.
Most of the downtown area has been converted to restaurants and bars and on weekends it is packed, especially during football games. The city hosts a large cycling event, the Athens Twilight Criterion, every April. In June, they offer AthFest, a large music and art festival that takes place over several days on outside stages and in the clubs in the downtown area. The winter holidays show a different side with the trees covered in lights illuminating the wide downtown streets. Things are much quieter during the semester break. Whenever you visit, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the lives of the people who have lived here over the years, they all seem to have been interesting characters.
Debby Yoder is a regular contributor to Social Shutter as well as a Sociology major at Georgia State University. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.