Feb 8, 2024 - History

The Atlanta freeway revolt cemented Virginia-Highland's name

Remember when... Virginia-Highland got its name?

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Sure, the neighborhood we officially know as Virginia-Highland is named after the intersection of its two main streets. But why?

Why it matters: Atlantans are serious about neighborhood names, and none get mangled quite as much as Virginia-Highland.

  • Woe is they who refers to the area boxed in by Ponce, Amsterdam, Briarcliff and the Beltline as "The Highlands."

Zoom in: Around the turn of the 20th century, the expansion of Atlanta's far-reaching streetcar system sparked subdivisions in those communities.

  • Their names played off North Highland and Virginia avenues, like "Highland Park," "Virginia Highlands," "Virginia Hills" and more, according to two rich histories of the neighborhood's origins and activist efforts.

Details: In 1972, a barely active community group called the "Highland-Virginia Neighborhood Association" claimed support for a state freeway proposal that would have blasted through the area — a stance not shared by many neighbors.

  • In response, residents opposed to the freeway created the "Virginia-Highland Civic Association" and, in cooperation with other nearby communities, outlined the present-day boundaries.

Of note: The dash in the name represents the intersection, the VHCA says.

Catch up quick: Much of the area considered Virginia-Highland was developed on land ceded by the Creek Nation. The land was awarded via lottery in 1821 to families who resold the property or created farms and homesteads.

  • One of the original settler families, the Todds, built their homestead near Greenwood Avenue and Barnett Street. Some nearby streets are named after prominent families like the Cheshires and Johnsons.

Intrigue: The Nine-Mile Circle streetcar line serving the community required some intersections, like Virginia and North Highland avenues, to feature wide sweeping turns to accommodate the trolleys.

The bottom line: It's not The Highlands.

Go deeper: Explore the VHCA's deep archive of historic maps, and podcasters like Archive Atlanta and Dead Atlanta have episodes about the area.

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