The 1996 Olympics was not the first time the city of Atlanta invited the world to its doorstep. In 1895, the city hosted the Cotton States and International Exposition which was designed to promote the region and showcase innovations in agriculture and technology as well as products, accomplishments and various businesses.
The event was held at Atlanta's Piedmont Park. Two million dollars was spent to transform the then privately owned Piedmont Driving Club to the expanse of exhibit halls, sidewalks and gardens you see in the image I provide here.
Six states had exhibition buildings and even a country or two including Argentina. Other buildings were dedicated to agriculture, machinery, fine arts and others featured the accomplishments of women and African-Americans.
There were all sorts of amusements to see including Charles Franklin Jenkins demonstrating an early movie projector called the "Phantoscope," an ostrich farm, an electric fountain, the "Phoenix Wheel," and a huge midway including celebrities such as Buffalo Bill, and the genuine Liberty Bell even made the trip to Atlanta from Philadelphia.
Composer John Phillip Sousa composed "King Cotton March" specifically for the exposition. President Grover Cleveland attended, as well as Booker T. Washington, who made what is remembered as his "Atlanta Compromise" speech.
For 100 days between September and December 1895 the Exposition took over the city of Atlanta. According to the memoirs of Atlanta attorney and historian, Walter McElreath, who has family ties to Douglas County, "The railroad yards were jammed every morning with trains that brought enormous crowds. The streets were crowded all day long. Every conceivable kind of fakir bartered his wares. Dime museums flourished on every street. Vast stucco hotels stood on Fourteenth Street …"
McElreath further records he spent a great deal of time on the streets looking at the strange crowds -- American Indians, Hindus, Japanese and people from every corner of the globe -- who had come as professional midway entertainers.
Close to 800,000 attended the Exposition, and they were all hungry. One of the most highly touted restaurants on the exposition grounds was the Creole Kitchen, which was housed in a real Georgia log cabin built of roughhewn logs recalling the days of early pioneers, and "this" is where our Douglas County connection comes into the story.
The Creole Kitchen was constructed of logs that were cut and hauled in from the banks of Sweetwater Creek. The exact location of the timber harvest is unknown, but W.W. Austell, the oldest son of Alfred Austell Sr., assisted in obtaining the logs for the construction.
Walter T. Downing, an Exposition architect, interjected his ideas, and the log cabin became a pretty substantial two-story log building with space for 400 as you can see from his rendering I present here. Newspaper accounts state that the logs were covered with a profusion of grey hanging moss that I guess was there to facilitate the southern vibe.
Upon entering you would see a staircase leading to the roof garden where visitors were encouraged to dine and experience the splendid view of the plaza and the nightly fireworks. The roof top area was decorated with bright awnings and decorative palms.
The first floor ceiling was decorated in reds and yellow while Arcadian-style curtains hung on the windows that had been handmade by woman from southern Louisiana. In the center of the room was the lunch counter while private rooms were located on the sides for large groups. The middle dining area contained dozens of tables and chairs of light wood for patrons.
The right side of the room contained an attractive booth where soup of all kinds could be bought, including creole gumbo while a booth on the opposite side was concerned with serving coffee from large silver urns, and though the Creole Kitchen was housed in a building made of logs the Haviland china was used as well as real silver spoons.
I have to wonder how many patrons slipped a "momento" silver spoon into their purse or pocket.
Mr. and Mrs. W.T. Edmondson, caterers and known to be familiar with creole cooking and service, were the managers while Helen Taylor, a famous cook from New Orleans at the time, was the head chef. The menu would change daily. A sample menu included but was not limited to oysters on the half shell, trout tenderloin, shrimp salad and don't forget the perfection of New Orleans candies -- pralines!
It was touted that First Lady Francis Cleveland would dine during the presidential couple's visit to the Exposition in October 1895. I have been unable to verify where she ate, but I do know the Alabama Press Association, the governor of Illinois and his staff, as well as Julia Ward Howe, American poet author, and suffragette, best known for writing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," dined within the walls of the Sweetwater Creek logs.
The sad part of the Exposition is very little of the buildings remained. All of the magnificent buildings including the Creole Kitchen were taken down, and today very few people who access Piedmont Park know that it ever existed.
I'm assuming the Sweetwater Creek logs were sent to a mill where they were converted to lumber and contributed to Atlanta's housing boom at the turn of the last century. They may still exist in some of the homes in and around Piedmont Park.
Lisa Cooper writes the amazing stories of Douglas County each Sunday. You can find her new book "Every Now and Then: The Amazing Stories of Douglas County" online at Amazon, print and Kindle versions. Locally, her book can be found at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art and the Douglasville Welcome Center located at O'Neal Plaza in the former Douglasville Banking Company building.