100 years ago, the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917 tore through the city

After a fire put an I-85 bridge out of commission for six weeks, Atlanta residents know how debilitating such an event can be for the city.

Imagine how Atlantans must have felt 100 hundred years ago this month, when more than 50 blocks — mostly in the area now known as the Old Fourth Ward — were destroyed by uncontrollable flames. Since dubbed the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917, it lasted from the noon hour until about 10 p.m.

“A path of smoking ruins, six blocks in width and twenty-four in length, extends this morning from Decatur street to Vedado way,” the Atlanta Constitution reported on May 22, 1917, a day after the fire. “Included in the Pompeiian swath are the ashes of humble cottages and those of mansions. The flames first swept over Darktown, where they raged beyond the control of the firemen, where, at Fort and Decatur streets, they had origin.” 

“Darktown” was the black district. 

MORE: Feeling nostalgic? Braves’ first 'new stadium' opened 51 years ago

MORE: 100 years ago, the US entered World War I. See the 1917 front page. 

About 10,000 people were left homeless and the damage was estimated to reach $5 million (more than $100 million today). The exact origin of the 11-hour fire isn’t clear, but it may have started in a building used for storage by Grady Hospital or a Grant Street residence

Then-mayor Asa Candler responded swiftly, but the flames stopped roving only after homes were exploded with dynamite in order to create gulfs the fire couldn’t jump. Amazingly there was only one death, a woman who died of a heart attack as she watched her home burn on Boulevard.

Many churches and homes were destroyed, including Margaret Mitchell’s birthplace. On the other end of the spectrum, the nearly century-old Sweet Auburn Curb Market was created on land cleared by the fire.

In 2015, a street festival was created in remembrance of the fire. The third annual Fire in the Fourth Festival takes place Saturday from 3 to 11 p.m. The event is free, and will include performances, live bands, food, craft beer and, of course, fire. 

Like Atlanta News Now on Facebook | Follow us on Twitter

In 2017 fire-related news:

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Clayton County restaurant inspection scores

Clayton County • 3 Dollar Café, 1189 Southlake Circle, Morrow. 80/B • A Town Wings, 6632 Tara Blvd., Jonesboro. 82/B • Georgia Potato Factory, 10459 Tara Blvd., Jonesboro. 100/A • International House of Pancakes, 1474 Southlake Plaza Drive, Morrow. 82/B • Rocky’s, 8113 Tara Blvd., Jonesboro. 90/A
Gwinnett County restaurant inspection scores

Gwinnett County • Abu Grill Mediterranean Bistro, 5050 Jimmy Carter Blvd., Norcross. 100/A • Asian Chao, 3333 Buford Drive, Buford. 72/C • Chipotle, 1650 Scenic Highway, Snellville. 92/A • My Friend’s Place, 6601 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth. 91/A • Waraku Japanese Restaurant, 3131 Lawrenceville-Suwanee Road, Suwanee. 81/B
Forsyth County restaurant inspection scores

Forsyth County • Branchwater, 5820 S. Vickery St., Cumming. 87/B • Mr. Swiss, 230 Elm St., Cumming. 91/A • Summit’s Wayside Tavern, 525 Lake Center Parkway, Cumming. 96/A • Taco Macho, 2320 Canton Highway, Cumming. 91/A • Waffle House, 599 Atlanta Road, Cumming. 100/A
Gridlock Guy: How employers are already enforcing hands-free rules

The July 1st Hands-Free Georgia Act is right around the bend, and while most of the general public is trying to grasp compliance in their own vehicles, companies that manage fleets have been holding a higher standard for quite a while. First, commercial truck drivers have had very similar hands-free restrictions to what Georgians will soon experience...
Cobb County restaurant inspection scores

Cobb County • L’Thai West, 4500 W. Village Place, Smyrna. 96/A • Macland Wings and More, 4181 Marietta St., Powder Springs. 97/A • Maru Sushi, 4454 S. Cobb Drive, Smyrna. 97/A • Rancho El Molcajete, 499 Veterans Memorial Highway, Mableton. 78/C • Smitty’s Lockdown BBQ, 2900 Canton Road, Marietta. 95/A
More Stories