Atlanta’s Zero Mile Post, and its location, deserve respect and access
That upright rectangular stone against the far wall in the photo below is the famous Zero Mile Post of Atlanta, as seen through the dirty windows of the locked building that was constructed to protect it.
This is one of the most precious artifacts in the city. The marker was laid down over 160 years ago in the spot where two rail lines converged and where a town grew up around them. It was used as a center point for measurements of city limits in Atlanta’s early years, when the boundary was a perfect circle (note: there’s a common misconception that the post used to sit somewhere else; but because the post was used as a geodetic marker to pinpoint the center of Atlanta in its early years, we know that it has always been in this same spot — did it get moved a foot or two during the demolition of the Union Station it used to sit in front of? Maybe. But there’s no evidence of that.)
Generations of Atlantans went to great lengths to protect it as the viaducts were constructed and buildings were demolished. As Franklin M. Garrett notes in his book “Atlanta and Environs,” the post was protected for years by a ‘cribbing’ of heavy lumber to keep it safe during the construction of the Central Avenue viaduct. Those Atlantans understood that, instead of uprooting it and relocating it, the post should remain where it is, because the value of it is intrinsically tied to its location.
Now it’s in an empty room that stays closed to the public, owned by the Georgia Building Authority, along with a single stained chair. GBA wants to tear down the building and take out the post during the rebuild of the Central Avenue viaduct, to allow easy access to a state-owned parking deck nearby during construction. The post could be permanently relocated.
I believe that Georgia, Atlanta, and WRS (owner of the Underground Atlanta property beside this) should partner to make this a great, accessible space for pondering the beginnings — and future — of the city. For an example of the kind of creative use of space under overpasses that’s been done elsewhere, look at this plaza and restaurant that sit under an overpass in Mexico City. There are many other examples like this.
This is not a museum piece: it’s a location-specific artifact
I see a lot of comments from people online who want the Zero Mile Post moved to a museum, and frankly it makes me very sad.
The post’s worth in our shared history is intrinsically tied to its location where it served as a geodetic marker for the city limits in early years, after marking the terminus point of the rail line around which Atlanta formed. The fact that the area surrounding the post is gross and unwelcoming should not be the driver on a decision about the post’s fate.
The value we assign to the object AND its position should be the driver for changing the fate of these inappropriately grim and disrespectful surroundings.
Again, the city, the state, and WRS can partner to make this a better place. And please don’t come at me with warnings about “political will” — that’s a rationale for inertia. We’ve been inert on bettering the built environment of Downtown’s parking-blighted spaces for too long.