By Caitlyn O’Grady

When Sharon Foster Jones was a little girl, the signs above the drinking fountains in the old Sears Building (formerly City Hall East and soon to be Ponce City Market) proclaimed that the source of the water was the old Ponce de Leon Springs. This wasn’t true. The springs were too polluted by then to provide drinking water. This was what Jones calls an “old lady history,” a cute story that’s passed down but that’s not based in truth. Jones is interested in hard history, especially in the hard history of Atlanta, her hometown.

Jones’ success with writing her first two books, Inman Park and The Atlanta Exhibition (both part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series) was due in large part to her love for history.  It was this love of history that inspired Jones’ third book, Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Avenue: A History ($19.99, The History Press).

For Christmas, Jones’s husband gave her an antique photograph of Ponce de Leon Avenue. She was intrigued with what she saw and began to research the street’s history. She discovered legendary stories about the avenue like Margaret “Peggy” Oliver, who lived in Atlanta’s first penthouse in The Ponce de Leon Apartments (today The Ponce de Leon Condominiums) and threw legendary parties in exquisite pajamas, and Bob Montag’s longest homerun hit in history accomplished by hitting a baseball into a coal car of a passing train from the long-gone Ponce de Leon Ballpark. Jones soon realized there was potential for a book.

While Jones was flush with information about the avenue, finding the exact location of the springs that had initially brought development to the area proved more difficult. It was important for Jones to find the origin of the springs because as she says in the book, “as civilization found the springs, so did civilization find and form the avenue.” It had been widely accepted that the springs were under the old Sears building. It wasn’t until she saw a present-day photograph of the building’s basement that she realized it couldn’t be the location of the spring’s source. All that was a there was a pump and no concrete documentation that it was the source of the springs. So Jones plunged into researching precisely where the source was.

She knew that it existed somewhere nearby but uncovering its exact location was tricky. She used topographical maps, old photographs and sewage blueprints to discover the likely location of the spring source, which, as she predicted, is not underneath the Sears building. She goes further than any other historian has in pinpointing the exact location of the springs and reveals it in the book.

It frustrates her that there is no historical marker to denote the location of the spring and to explain its importance to the history of the area. Perhaps Jones’ book will act as a catalyst.

This article is part of Atlanta INtown’s partnership with the freelance writing class at SCAD-Atlanta. Students are contributing articles, video and photos for our website and social media portals.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.