Downtown Decatur is the charming core of this city. Its main thoroughfare, Ponce de Leon Avenue, boasts a variety of unique shops and excellent restaurants at street level. Above these, lovely four and five-story condominium buildings give residents here an easy way to live and play in the same neighborhood.
The streets radiating out from Ponce are also packed with great boutiques, coffee shops, the Decatur Library, and the Decatur Recreation Center. Downtown Decatur is incredibly pedestrian-friendly, and most locals here are able to shop for groceries, run errands, and meet up with friends either on bike or foot.
The focal point of downtown is the lovingly restored Courthouse. This regal edifice is surrounded by green-space, historic placards, and public art. Local favorites include the bronze statues of Thomas Jefferson and “Valentine”, which depicts a loving older couple leaning toward one another as they rest on a bench.
In 1823 Decatur was founded at the intersection of two Native American trails. The town was named for naval hero Stephen Decatur. In the 1830s, the Western and Atlantic Railroad wanted to make Decatur the southernmost stop on its railroad. The citizens of Decatur did not want the noise, pollution and growth that would come with such a major terminal, so they rejected the proposal. In response, the railroad founded a new city to the west-southwest of Decatur for the terminal. This town would later become known as Atlanta, Georgia.
During the American Civil War, Decatur became a strategic site in Sherman’s campaign against Atlanta. In July of 1864 Union general James B. McPherson occupied Decatur to cut off the Confederate’s supply line from Augusta, Georgia. During the Battle of Atlanta on July 22, Confederate cavalry under Major General Joseph Wheeler attacked McPherson’s supply wagons and the Union troops left to defend the wagons. A marker at the Decatur courthouse marks the site of this skirmish.
In the last half of the twentieth century, metropolitan area of Atlanta expanded into unincorporated DeKalb County, eventually surrounding on all sides the incorporated town of Decatur. Concurrently, the racial politics of ‘white flight’ motivated many well-to-do and middle class white people to flee the area to more distant suburbs. The 1960s and 1970s witnessed dramatic drops in property values. However, in recent times, the city has regained economic vigor.
To prepare for the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, the downtown area of Decatur underwent a major renovation, with a particular focus on the courthouse square area. In subsequent years, the environs of downtown Decatur have become trendy, serving as a small mixed use district with easy transit to downtown Atlanta.
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