An artifact that marked the creation of the City of Atlanta has been moved from Downtown to its new home at the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead.
The Georgia Building Authority has agreed to a five-year renewable license agreement with the Atlanta History Center to preserve and interpret the Zero Mile Post, which was installed in the 1850s to mark the Southern terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad. The site, near the Georgia Freight Depot, was used to determine the city center of Atlanta in 1842.
As the redevelopment of Underground Atlanta and South Downtown continues, the Zero Mile Post was moved from its original location under the Central Avenue Bridge to protect it for the future and to secure it in a safe place. The post will go on public view when the 1856 Texas locomotive and its accompanying exhibition, “Locomotion: Railroads and the Making of Atlanta,” debut on Saturday, Nov. 17. The new Rollins Gallery at the Atlanta History Center features a wall of glass windows facing West Paces Ferry Road, allowing the Zero Mile Post and the Texas locomotive to be viewed day and night, when it is dramatically illuminated.
“The Atlanta History Center is honored to have the opportunity to preserve, protect, and present the Zero Mile Post in an environment that can offer meaningful interpretation of the artifact’s significance,” said Atlanta History Center President and CEO Sheffield Hale. “Positioning the Zero Mile Post beside the recently restored Texas locomotive, one of the two remaining Western & Atlantic locomotives [the other being the General] that would have passed by that very mile post scores of times during its service offers valuable interpretive possibilities. Railroads built and created Atlanta, and these two objects tell Atlanta’s origin story like no others.”
Usually placed along rail lines at each mile, markers informed train crews where they were along a specific route. The Zero Mile Post’s crown is pyramidal, and one side of the marker is engraved with “W&A RR OO” – the W & A indicating the Western & Atlantic Railroad and the double-zero designating the beginning of the rail line. The other side of the marker is engraved “W&A RR 138.”
When removed from the ground, entirely exposed, the marker measures 7 feet 5 inches, and weighs approximately 800 pounds. And that is how the Atlanta History Center will display it. Original plans were to dig a hole to place the Zero Mile Marker post as it originally was, with only 42 inches exposed. However, once the post was safely transferred to the Rollins Gallery, and rolled up beside the Texas locomotive, the History Center saw an opportunity to present the full scale of Atlanta’s origin artifact.
One of the opportunities guests have in the new Locomotion exhibition is to climb aboard the cab of the Texas, and view the 7-plus foot artifact from the cab, providing a whole new large-scale perspective to these Atlanta icons.
Secured inside a building behind a locked fence, Zero Mile Post was last accessible to the public in 1994 when the structure served as a passenger depot for the New Georgia Railroad, a tourist rail line that ceased operation.
To mark the Zero Mile Post’s original site, the Georgia Building Authority had a surveyor mark the exact GPS coordinates of the old marker’s location, and will install a replica of the Zero Mile Post there that has long been displayed at the Atlanta History Center. The Georgia Historical Society will provide an interpretive marker to accompany the replica post downtown. The marker and replica post will be positioned along sidewalks that will be constructed around the original site, increasing the visibility and awareness of this preserved historic spot on a daily basis, something that could not be done previously. The building that housed the Zero Mile Post is slated for demolition before the end of 2018, leaving the location and the replica easily accessible to the public.
In addition to viewing the Zero Mile Post and Texas locomotive, guests will be able to view the Solomon Luckie Lamppost on display in the adjacent gallery as part of the exhibition “Cyclorama: The Big Picture,” opening Feb. 22, 2019.
Originally placed downtown to provide gas lighting during the same 1850s time period as the Zero Mile Post, the Luckie Lamppost was preserved because of its scarred metal from shelling during the Battle of Atlanta. It is called the Luckie Lamppost in remembrance of Solomon Luckie, a free African-American barber who, according to various accounts, was fatally injured while standing nearby during the shelling by shrapnel from the shell or a broken-off piece of the lamppost.
“These are the three great Atlanta icons, period,” Hale said. “The Zero Mile Post, the Solomon Luckie Lampost, and Texas locomotive, present a triad of iconic artifacts indicative of the founding of Atlanta and its expansion during the Civil War and beyond. At the Atlanta History Center, they will prompt a rich discussion for generations to come about the many facets of our collective history.”