In Their Own Words
October 25, 1853
Lumpkin Letter Detailed Selection of Terminus
While on a visit to Atlanta, former Georgia governor Wilson Lumpkin wrote a letter to his daughter, Martha, detailing the selection of the southern terminus of the Western & Atlantic Railroad:
“You doubtless have some recollections of my spending the year 1842, in the days of your childhood, superintending the affairs of our great State Rail Road, known as the Western and Atlantic Railroad. Most of the important incidents attending the labors of my public life I have recorded elsewhere, but there is one particular circumstance connected with that service which I deem especially appropriate that I should communicate to you in a more detailed and particular manner than might be necessary to satisfy the curiosity of all other except yourself. It is an occurrence connected with the terminus of that great road, and the name of the town located at that point, - known by the name of Atlanta.
“That location was made after the most careful examination of the contiguous country, and due consideration of all its advantages. It was entirely selected by Charles F. M. Garnett, then Chief Engineer of the State of Georgia and myself, for the purpose above indicated.
“When selected it was in a perfect state of nature - a wild unmolested forest, not a fence or cabin to be seen anywhere in sight of the location, nor did we even know who was the owner of the land which we had selected for these important purposes and now stands by the largest inland town in Georgia. Upon inquiry, however, we found the place we had selected belonged to Mr. Samuel Mitchell of Pike County, Georgia. I immediately wrote to Mr. Mitchell, and sent by communication by a trustworthy express informing him of our selection and that if he was legal owner of the place I wish to purchase of him a few acres for the purpose of erecting the necessary depot buildings, etc., thereon, and further requesting him to visit me at Marietta, without delay for the purpose of consummating our object… .
“Upon the arrival of Mr. Mitchell at Marietta, my headquarters, I was very much pleased to find him all that could be desired - a sensible, plain, independent, naturalized citizen of Georgia, who had long resided in the State, and by his industry, care and good conduct, had accumulated an ample competence of the good things in this life, - consequently found our business transactions of most pleasant character.
“My anticipation of the vast importance of this spot of ground falling far short of that which has already been realized in regard to population, business and expansion of everything connected with the place, I confess caused me to err greatly in not procuring more land that I did from Mr. Mitchell for public purposes.
“He said from our first interview that he would receive nothing from the State, and claimed as a right and urged that he should have the honor of making the State a donation of all ground that might be necessary for public purposes free of charge, although I urged him to receive a fair compensation.
“Consequently I was forced to take his conveyance free of charge to the State. I therefore took only five acres, which was necessary for present purposes, and I must confess his cleverness and liberality influenced me to take less land that I should have done if he would have suffered me to pay him a fair price for the land… .
“… It was incorporated by the Legislature as the town of Marthasville. A post office was established by the Federal Government and a Post master appointed by the same for the town of Marthasville, - and it would have been that name yet here but for the predominating low voice of envy… .
“Mr. Mitchell was the owner of the land, and he alone had the right to lay out a town upon the same and give it a name to suit himself, nor do I deny the right of the Legislature to alter and change the names of our towns and counties… . They may yet in some paroxysm change or rub out the great city of Atlanta and substitute or reinstate your name. But whether they do it, or not, is a matter of small consequence, since your honored promotion in this matter was acquired without seeking, and was lost without a charge or whisper of lessened merit or worth on your part or your family. And you may always remember that one of the most distinguished towns in Georgia was located by your father, and by its original and first proprietor named in honor of yourself ‘Marthasville.’ The name being stolen from you will never change the facts appertaining to the case.
“I think, however, the legislature had just the same right to change your name as they had the right to change the name of the town called after you, - they would have acted more consistently to have changed your name, as well as your town, to that of Atlanta.”
Source: Franklin M. Garrett, Atlanta and Environs: A Chronicle of Its People and Events (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1969 reprint of 1954 original volume), Vol. I, pp. 185-186, 227.