At The Sweet Auburn Curb Market, The Past Is Present
During a weekday dinner hour, a vast industrial warehouse at the intersection of Edgewood Avenue and Jesse Hill Jr. Drive is buzzing. Live jazz bounces off the walls, and the smell of pralines mixes with Panbury’s Double Crust Pies, wafting between closed retail spaces and merchant booths.
People are mingling at the Sweet Auburn Curb Market during Party with the Past, an Atlanta History Center event that introduces visitors to historic sites in the city.
Guests wander the aisles, sampling food from eateries, including Grindhouse Killer Burgers and Three Cities Pizza, which have stayed open after hours. Craft beer and wine are served to event-goers amid conversations about the market—mostly its history, but also how long some attendees have lived in Atlanta without knowing it was here.
The story of the Sweet Auburn Curb Market began in flames on the afternoon of May 21, 1917.
The Great Atlanta Fire, kindled by stacked mattresses, slowly raged through the Skinner Storage Company building on Decatur Street, then grew out of control. In consuming most of what is now the Old Fourth Ward, the fire killed one person, left nearly 5,000 homeless and burned an estimated 2,000 buildings to the ground. The New York Times reported that the destroyed structures included “the city’s finest homes and hundreds of Negro houses.”
A year after the fire, farmers began flocking to the city, gathering under tents on the scorched land of Edgewood Avenue to sell their goods. The makeshift outdoor market was an immediate success, giving city residents direct access to fresh meats and produce for the first time.
“Prior to the 1920s, there wasn’t really an inexpensive local market in Atlanta,” said Atlanta Food Walks founder Akila McConnell, a curb market customer and a guest speaker at the Party with the Past event.
“Everybody either had to shop at the more expensive Produce Row, or they were planting their own gardens,” she said. “There wasn’t this concept of local Georgia farmers coming into the city and selling their own produce.”
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