Where do you take your friends or family when they come to Atlanta to visit? Maybe you start with the Aquarium, the Martin Luther King Museum, a sporting event, a Piedmont Park event, or a pub crawl on the Beltline. One thing is for sure, Atlanta does not lack things to do or places to go. But even if you have lived in the city for decades, there are some unusual things to see in Atlanta to impress even your friends who think they know everything about city. Here are five of the quirky, that mix history, nature and the weird, all of which you have probably driven by without ever knowing of their existence. And while these just touch on the surface of Atlanta’s oddities, start with these, and start exploring!
Doll’s Head Trail
Just a few miles from downtown Atlanta lies a trail covered in a crazy collection of outsider art. Constitution Lakes Park is a nature preserve, but a distinctly urban one. At the site of an abandoned 19th century brick factory, it’s a birder haven, thriving wetlands and wildlife refuge.
When the South River Brick Company stopped digging up that famous Georgia clay to fire their bricks, the industrial site was left to be taken over by an encroaching natural world. The brickwork’s clay pits were so deep, when they filled in with rainwater it created a system of man-made ponds, known as Constitution Lakes.
DeKalb County bought up the property in 2003 and began constructing paved trails and boardwalks around the ponds, creating a 125-acre preserve. And even though it’s only a few miles from downtown Atlanta, the preserve has attracted fauna not typically seen in such an urban environment.
Cutting a path through this preserve, is a short hike known as Doll’s Head Trail. Created for, and dedicated to, found art, the Doll’s Head Trail was the work of a local carpenter named Joel Slaton, who envisioned an art project created from discarded doll parts and other trash that was scattered around the site. He encouraged visitors to contribute their own found art, which is dominated by doll heads, but also include bottle creations, collages, decorated chinks of old bricks, and doll part. The key to the collection is the idea that everything must be found inside the park itself. It’s repurposing at its finest that cleans up the nature preserve while creating art. Bringing things in with you is discouraged, as the trailhead sign says, “litter makes the angels cry.”
The entrance to Constitution Lakes Park is near the east side of the intersection of Moreland Ave and South River Industrial Blvd SE. Follow trails and signs from the parking lot to access the Doll’s Head Trail
Eastern Sub-Continental Divide Mural
Unlike most major cities, Atlanta is not built around a waterway; Atlanta was founded around railways. And railways are best designed where there is minimal elevation change, such as along a hydrological feature known as a continental divide. A little-known mural reveals the hydrological reason for Atlanta’s founding in this location., the Eastern Sub-Continental Divide Mural
Although the well-known Chattahoochee is Atlanta’s largest river, it was not central to Atlanta’s founding. It was the terminus station of the Western and Atlantic railroad line that was central to its founding. The name was eventually shortened to Atlanta, the feminine of Atlantic, as the official name of the city in 1845, with many still using the nickname “Terminus.”
With the Eastern Sub-Continental Divide running east to west through the city, any water that falls north of the divide will eventually make its way to the Gulf of Mexico; meanwhile, any water that falls south of the line will head to the Atlantic Ocean. Along Dekalb Avenue, which follows the ridge line east to west, is a little-known mural marking this unique hydrological feature.
Known as “Native Waters,” this 350-foot mural depicts many of the largest rivers in Georgia as well as the native flora and fauna found along these waterways. The mural was a community project, led by muralist David Fichter, created in part to remind us of our vital connection to the natural world. Among the many features in the mural is a portrait of Horace King, a successful bridge builder who overcame slavery to build the first covered bridge over the Chattahoochee River, connecting Georgia and Alabama.
The mural is located at the intersection of Connecticut Avenue NE and Dekalb Avenue NE. For best views of the expansive mural cross Dekalb Avenue to view it from the railway line. You can also see it while headed east to west on MARTA between Edgewood-Candler Park and East Lake stations.
Conjoined Calves of the Georgia State Capitol
Tucked under the glimmering gold dome of the Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta is a curiosity that has many visitors seeing double. Proudly on display next to the introduction to the Capitol Museum are stuffed, conjoined twin (two heads, one body) calves born in the town of Palmetto in 1987. They were originally introduced alongside other taxidermized animals in a display that celebrated the state’s natural resources, and that has since been removed from the museum. The beloved animals were too popular not to be returned to display, and now reside inside a curiosity-cabinet near the entrance, alongside a conjoined (two heads, one body) snake and moon rocks brought back from the Apollo missions.
The duality of these animals inside the Georgia Capitol building is not lost on many visitors, who will also be passing statues of Confederate figures, such as Alexander Hamilton Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederacy and Georgia Congressman, and paintings of civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King Jr. Outside, on the capitol grounds, statues of segregationist and slave-holding governors stand beside one of humanitarian and president Jimmy Carter, and Atlanta’s second Nobel Peace Prize winner.
The Georgia Capitol Museum is open Monday to Friday, 8:00am to 5:00pm for free, self-guided tours. The conjoined twin calf heads are on the fourth floor.
On the west side of Georgia Tech’s campus sits the largest “living building” in the southern United States. Part of the School of Architecture at Georgia Tech, it is home to a blueberry orchard, honeybees, an apiary, and more than 900 solar panels. The recently opened Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design building also includes classrooms and event spaces.
From the outside, the building feels almost out of place for its urban surroundings. A combination of natural wood and cement with broad, large windows, the building seems like it should be in the middle of the woods instead of on a college campus in Atlanta. Using reclaimed wood, windows that help regulate the temperature, and a sophisticated water reclamation system, the building is designed to barely make a blip on the ecological radar.
Salvaged materials mean this new building incorporates a lot of campus history. The bathroom tile was sourced from a roof update at the Georgia Tech Alumni Association building and the staircase treads are heart pine joists that were salvaged from a renovation of the 140-year-old Tech Tower.
The Kendeda Building also has a green roof, bees to produce honey, and more than 900 solar panels. The building is open to the public during normal business hours. A schedule of public tours can be found on the building’s website, and private tours are available by request.
The Elvis Shrine Vault
At the crossroads of the five points, that is the neighborhood of Little Five Points (L5P), stands a building that was once a prominent city bank. In an area unable to support something so corporate as a bank, the building was sold and converted into the Star Community Bar, or the Star Bar. Faced with the dilemma of what to do with the heavily fortified vault, the owners found the perfect solution: re-purpose the space as an eternal shrine to Elvis Presley.
The original vault door and locking mechanisms can still be seen guarding the memory of The King. The “Grace Vault” includes memorabilia where safety deposit boxes can still be seen and a subject appropriate “throne” at the head of the room. Visitors come to visit and pay their respects to Elvis’ enduring memory at this bizarre and unique tribute to The King.
The Star Bar is open from 8:00pm to 3:00am on Mondays, and 5:00pm to 3:00am Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Blog Post by Carlen Ruth Hultgren