Decatur is the second oldest municipality in the Atlanta metropolitan area. It adjoins Atlanta's city limits six miles east of Atlanta's central business district, and it is four square miles in size. According to the 2010 U.S. census, it has a population of 19,335. Decatur elects a
The Old Courthouse, designed by architect J. W. Golucke, on the square in downtown Decatur stands on the rise of land where two Indian trails once crossed. Historically, the courthouse square served as the community gathering place. Today it continues to be the focus of festivals and special events and serves as the heart of the community. The Old Courthouse on the square houses a museum covering DeKalb County history and featuring Civil War (1861-65) memorabilia. A time capsule created by the DeKalb Historical Society is held in the courthouse; it is to be opened in 2022.
The coming of the railroad in the 1840s proved to be a major turning point for Decatur. It is said that residents rejected a proposal by the Western and Atlantic Railroad to make Decatur a major stop on its new line because citizens did not want the noise, smoke, dirt, and confusion. The railroad thus moved seven miles west to a small settlement named Terminus, which became Marthasville, and then Atlanta. The decision for the location of this railroad hub probably had more to do with topography, but the popularity of the anecdote persists.
Decatur founded its own independent school system in 1901 and today is one of only a few municipalities in the metropolitan Atlanta area that have their own schools. The system—with its neighborhood elementary schools, a middle school, and Decatur High School—is a focal point of pride in the community.
Two prominent institutions of higher learning are located in Decatur: Agnes Scott College and Columbia Theological Seminary. Agnes Scott College, an independent national liberal arts college for women founded in 1889, has a 100-acre campus in a residential neighborhood that has been designated a national historic district. Columbia Theological Seminary, founded in 1828, moved from Columbia, South Carolina, to Decatur in 1925. Construction of a new 57-acre campus began in 1926, and classes were first held there in 1927. Both institutions, nurtured by the Presbyterian Church, have contributed greatly over the years to the leadership and stability of Decatur.
In the early 1970s the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, or MARTA, came to Decatur. The Church Street station just off the courthouse square was designed by the firm Stevens and Wilkinson, and it features a colorful mural by artist Larry Connatser. Like the railroad in the 1840s, the introduction of rapid transit was not without controversy, but it has helped spur a tremendous rejuvenation in downtown Decatur, which is now a bustling center of activity
The restaurant chain Huddle House was founded in Decatur in the mid-1960s. The Georgia Center for the Book, the state affiliate of the Center for the Book at the Library of Congress, is located at the DeKalb County Public Library in Decatur.
Notable residents have included writer Roy Blount Jr.; poets Edgar Bowers, Turner Cassity, and Thomas Holley Chivers; actress Julia Roberts; musicians Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls and Andre Benjamin of OutKast; Olympian and track runner Gwen Torrence; Congressman and founder of the Georgia Conservancy James Mackay; social activist Frances Pauley; and fugitive slave John Brown.
Downtown Decatur is surrounded by beautiful historic neighborhoods reflecting a variety of architectural styles, including Craftsman bungalows, Victorian homes, townhouses, and new homes. The tree-lined streets and a strong sense of community continue to draw young families to the city of Decatur. New office buildings, built by developers sensitive to Decatur's vision of maintaining its small-town character, surround the retail center and the Old Courthouse Square, which provides a link to the city's history.
Caroline McKinney Clarke, The Story of Decatur, 1823-1899 (Decatur, Ga.: n.p., 1973).
Walt Drake, Decatur
Linda Harris, Decatur
A project of the Georgia Humanities Council, in partnership with the University of Georgia Press, the University System of Georgia/GALILEO, and the Office of the Governor.