Mathew Brady is known as one of America’s first photographers. It was Brady who personally financed and oversaw the effort to photographically document the Civil War. At his own expense, he hired a team of photographers who traveled with various Union armies and together those photographers produced over 10,000 plates; a body of work which today represents an invaluable trove of research material on America’s most bloody war.
One of the photographers that Brady hired and equipped was George Norman Barnard. Barnard was the photographer who entered Atlanta on the heels of William Sherman, creating most, if not all, of the Civil War-torn Atlanta photography that we know today.
One of his photographs was taken from the cupola atop the Atlanta Female Seminary, a building that stood roughly on the location of the current day Sheraton Atlanta hotel on Courtland Street. The photograph was actually a series of photographs that when “stitched” together presented what may be the first panoramic view of the City of Atlanta. It is a fascinating study on what life in 1860s Atlanta was like.
The scene is mostly reminiscent of a small rural community: houses, fences, wagons, garden plots and dirt roads. But a closer examination reveals, off in the distance, much larger, more substantial structures…buildings that had been built adjacent to Peachtree Street. Among those buildings was the white columned house of Austin Leyden, owner of what became the Atlanta Machine Works. It was Leyden’s house and the grand Ionic columns that lined its facade that captured our imagination and led to this week’s Stories of Atlanta.