Ashby St. Trolley Car Barn

National Register listed: 1998

Credits

Renovation Architect: Smith-Dalia Architects

Location: 975 Ashby Street NW

Original Builders: Atlanta Northern Railway Company

Years of original construction: c.1904 and 1927

Years of Renovation: 1998-1999, 16 live-work lofts and Black Bear Brewery

Renovation Developer:

 

For More Information Call 404-885-9933

 

 

1. HISTORICAL NARRATIVE

The background of the Ashby St. Trolley Car Barn can be separated into two time periods. Two different maintenance facilities have occupied the same property location since the establishment of the rail line.

A. ORIGINAL BARN 1904-1926

The original building was constructed circa1904 by the Atlanta Northern Railway Company. It was utilized as both an overnight storage parking facility and a power supply substation. As can be seen in Appendix " J" the cars entered this four bay gable roof structure from the northwest, off Ashby Street. This structure had the same site orientation as the present (1927) structure. Appendix "G" shows this basic relationship of the building on the property.

The trolley barn structure provided and housed the necessary 550-volt DC transformer step down equipment to match the Atlanta's inter-city trolley voltage. Once the interurban trolleys reached the city limits, and to continue on to their final stop at Marietta and Fairlie streets, 550 DC was required. The interurban ran on 3,300 volts AC between Atlanta and Marietta. This 3,300 voltage was apparently considered too dangerous for city use. As can be seen in the 1904 floor plan of the structure, Appendix "F", a portion of the facility (southwest) does not appear to allow storage of trolleys. This may have been where the transformers were located. Appendix "I" is the inventory listing for a transformer room in the barn. Additionally, power poles with their crossbars can be seen running south along the southwest elevation. This may be an indication of the transformer room location as external power could be easily tapped without having to utilize large interior power cabling to transfer current to far reaching locations within the building. The utility poles mentioned exist today, as a comparison of 1904 and 1993 photographs bear out.

Along with the transformer equipment, the Ashby barn housed a trolley that was utilized as an emergency transformer transporter with large capacity transformers which could be physically moved to the site of a damaged trolley or substation. Since the Atlanta Northern Line utilized only a single track, it was imperative that repairs to the system be accomplished quickly to ensure regularity of service.

All substations (Bolton, Gilmore, Smyrna, Fairoaks, and Marietta) including Ashby were constructed with brick with each containing a single 150 kW Westinghouse oil-insulated transformer, coils, switches and fuses. In 1912 this dual voltage power system was abandoned for a 600 volt DC integrated system matching city and interurban power requirements.

This building was apparently razed around 1926 or 1927 as a building permit was applied for in 1926, Appendix "J". This new construction was part of a major system-wide upgrade to improve the interurban's efficiency, as gas powered transport (bus and automobile) were beginning to have an impact on the revenues of the Atlanta Northern Company. Appendix "K" provides pertinent information on this original structure.

B. NEW BARN (1927- PRESENT)

The new Trolley Car Barn (which is currently on the site) was in all probability placed over a portion of the original barn's footprint. Inspection, overlaying and measurements of a 1911 USGA map and the original barns floor plan with current site and building surveys indicate this. This construction overlap may have been done to minimize disruption to track and power cable locations. This limited expansion of the new barn to the southwest. This was the only direction in which to expand, as the storage marshalling yard was to the northeast. The diagonal corner of the structure at the property line (west elevation) seems to verify this. There is no architectural or internal functional reason to warrant such a building configuration.

The new barn was thus larger than the original with a shop area, administrative spaces, storage and maintenance areas. It was constructed during a period of declining revenues but also during an extensive modernization period that was initiated in 1925 to attempt to regain past levels of passengers and revenues. This building then served as the major logistics support facility for the Marietta-Atlanta interurban until service was discontinued in 1946.

2. THE INTERURBAN SYSTEM

In the late 19th and first half of the 20th century, electric powered interurban transport played an important role in the development of the suburb. Without this cheap and reliable form of transport, the growth of the outer city neighborhood would not have occurred until the dawn of the automobile. Interurbans had major impacts on suburban New York, Columbus, Cincinnati and most northeastern and Midwest cities. Even West Coast cities had their own type of interurbans in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. The growth of the suburbs due to interurban systems changed the landscape of America.

On July 17, 1905, the first run of the Atlanta/Marietta interurban trolley system was initiated. Service was to continue for some forty years, connecting Atlanta, a rebuilt modern city to a small southern town, Marietta. Appendix "L" is a typical example of the trolleys which ran on the line. The Atlanta/Marietta interurban was the largest system in the South, with an average annual passenger load of 800,000 and providing peak year passenger travel of 1,402,503 in 1920 and 2,976,609 in 1945.

1933 INTERURBAN MAP BELOW: Shows the extensive track layout. The yellow in the upper left corner is the location of the Ashby Street Trolley Barn.

The line provided service from within Atlanta, from Walton and Fairlie Streets to Marietta Square in Marietta, Appendix "N". The service line was 18.07 miles with stops at Fair Oaks, Smyrna, Gilmore Bolton, Hills Park and the Bell Bomber assembly Plant in Marietta (1943). Cars could reach speeds of up to 65 MPH, making the Atlanta / Marietta trip, with stops in less than 60 minutes. Various layover and storage loops existed along the route as the system was of single track, however total trackage was 195 miles. The entire right of way was privately held by the company.

The interurban was a significant factor in the lives of the people of Atlanta and Marietta who depended on the service during a time of few automobiles or buses. When the line was established in 1905 no modern major roads existed between the two cities. US 41, then Georgia Route 3, was not opened to major traffic until 1940, when it was vastly improved. Until then this road was not sufficient to carry heavy vehicles or traffic volumes. The interurban filled a need and provided cheap transportation for the general public. Its major contribution was during the two world wars, especially World War II when defense workers utilized the system to near capacity from 1942-1945. Between these years the Atlanta Northern became the major means of transport for construction and production crews working at the Bell plant. Due to wartime gas rationing, many Georgians parked their cars and rode the interurban. The system provided a valued service to the nation and the local community.

In 1946, the line was purchased by the present owner of the barn. J. C. Steinmetz (1903-present) Appendix "N" - Steinmetz was the epitome of an American entrepreneur. From humble beginnings he built a small empire of gas bus systems in the Atlanta metropolitan area from Forest Park to Sandy Springs to Fairburn to Stone Mountain. He had his sights set on the Marietta line as early as 194 1, but could not overcome the political and economic issues of purchase until 1946 when he became owner of the system. The trolleys did continue to operate until February of 1947 as the buses ordered by Steinmetz (to replace the trolleys) were not ready for service. The last interurban car ran on January 31, 1947.

The demise of the system cannot only be attributed to the buses of Steinmetz. Although his purchase was a contributing factor, the writing was on the wall for all to see. The mobility of the gas powered bus, the rise of Greyhound Bus Lines and the automobile manufacturers, along with tire and rubber companies were too strong a lobby for the privately held interurban public systems to overcome. After WW II, the automobile age boomed, war vets were returning, gas rationing was a thing of the past and the pent-up consumer demand for the freedom of the automobile all contributed to the interurban's final demise.

The 1927 Trolley Car Barn is the last vestige of barns that once existed in many locations in and between Atlanta and Marietta. The system it maintained was a significant part of the commerce, economic and transportation system of Atlanta and had a major impact on the communities of both of the cities and citizens it served.

3. STATEMENT OF SIGNIFICANCE

The areas of significance that apply to this property are commerce and transportation. This structure is one of the few remaining vestiges of early twentieth century public transportation as it passed from a tax paying public utility to a government subsidized public transportation system. The change from large metropolitan and interurban transportation systems to more private conveyances had a major impact on the transportation landscape as it is today. The Atlanta Northern Interurban Railway was to a large extent a forerunner to MARTA. Although it did not have a major impact on rural development, it none the less played a significant role in early transportation requirements of what was to become the Atlanta Metropolitan area.

4. NARRATIVE DESCRIPTION OF PROPERTY

A. Location: The property and structure of concern is addressed as 981 Ashby Street NW in the City of Atlanta, Georgia. The location is directly southeast of the intersection of Marietta and Ashby Streets. Prior to 1927, the structure was identified in the City Directories as "Corner of Marietta and Ashby Street".

B. Topography and Site Description: The original building site had relatively flat topography surrounded by pine and hardwood trees, based on 1905 photographs, (Appendices A&B). The current owner has stated that trolleys were once stored on the eastern side of the structure in a marshalling yard. This would seem to be the case as the topography would allow for such storage. Appendix "B" shows tracks for such storage to the northeast. However, the sites original topography has been significantly altered, probably due to the construction of the Marietta Street viaduct. Long soil grade ramps for rail and auto traffic were constructed to the northeast of the site, the location once occupied by the storage tracks. This change to the nearby topography necessitated the construction of a sloped berm extending along the northeastern boundary of the site. This berm can be seen in a circa 1950 photograph, (Appendix "C"). A retaining wall, which varies in height from two to ten feet, runs southeast along the northwest side of Ashby and then continues at a height of approximately five feet to the northeast corner of the barn. This wall was constructed sometime after 1950, presumably to allow better soil control and ease of access for parking on the site. It appears that railroad trackage was utilized as partial structural support as the tips of track are visible above the wall. An original cast iron power cable support pole still exists on site by the retaining wall.

The northwest and southwest grades are currently asphalt paved. No vegetation is present except for scrub located along the southeast and northeast side. All vestiges of the pine and hardwood trees of circa 1905 have been eliminated. A concrete pit loading dock dominates the southwest side of the structure.

A small outbuilding (originally 1034 sq. ft.) is located southwest of the barn. It was constructed in 1918 as an oil house to augment trolley barn maintenance operations. Appendix "D" lists this structures specifications. According to City of Atlanta building permit records, this building was expanded and remodeled by Sears Roebuck and Company as a storage warehouse in 1975. It is now approximately 6,000 square feet, single story, flat roof with brick exterior that replicates the trolley car barn's exterior outward appearance. It does not physically connect to the barn but has the visible impression of doing so by its placement on the site. It is currently utilized as a photographers art studio. No records or original building permits could be located on this structure.

C. Exterior: The current trolley car barn structure, constructed in 1927 is approximately 100 feet wide by 230 feet long, rectangular in shape with a 25-foot diagonal elevation on the northwest/southwest, making the building five-cornered. Ground floor square footage is approximately 22,340 sq. ft. A partial second floor "L" shaped loft is located on the northwest end of the structure. This loft is approximately 5,000 square feet.

From site investigation the foundation is, in all likelihood, a perimeter cast-in- place continuous concrete spread footing, probably heavily reinforced due to the structures building components, load bearing brick and steel trussed roof. The foundation extends from an undetermined depth to approximately 4 feet above grade with an 8" exterior chamfer which tapers back into the structure to meet the exterior brick facade. Face brick is a standard red building grade utilized in the 1920's. It is currently quite porous and has many voids. It has never been painted. The entire structure utilizes a common running bond, a pattern created by laying each vertical course brick joint at the midpoint of the previous course, with 1/2 ceramic glazed brick headers every sixth course. A soldier course runs above each window. Due to the age of the structure it is difficult to determine the exact type of mortar joint that was utilized between brick. A flush or plain cut joint seems most likely due to the time period of construction, however a weathered or struck mortar joint may have been utilized. A more modern raked front split half brick is utilized as a face brick for the newer ground floor storefront elevation. installed circa 1950.

Support to the roof structure is provided by 16" thick brick "rolok" walls. 12" x12" hollow clay masonry units are utilized for infill above and under the reinforced concrete header beam on the NW elevation. The NW elevations' second floor is carried by this 20" x 20" spandrel beam allowing an unencumbered entrance of four trolley cars.

Exterior walls run to a parapet approximately 3' above the roofline. The parapet is capped by an 18" wide concrete coping running the entire perimeter of the structure, except for the northeast elevation where the gable roof extends over the brick exterior wall. All exterior walls are load bearing except for the northwest (front) elevation. An interior brick-bearing wall also carries loads on the southwest side of the structure. D. Roof:

1. ROOF:The structure actually has three separate roofs utilizing two distinct systems.

The flat roof sections which are located above the loft and along the southwesterly side of the building are covered with built-up hot mop asphalt plies, the top ply being gravel impregnated. These plies run vertically up the parapet and are heat fused to the concrete coping. Drainage is provided via scuppers to 6" diameter downspouts via leader heads) with crickets and cant strips providing slope to the scuppers. No internal drains are provided for. Roof structural support is integrated concrete slab and beam construction.

The gable roof section composes the majority of weather protection for the entire building, constituting approximately 75% of the roof area. Roof pitch is approximately 4 in 12. At the top of the gable is a double-sided clearstory vault (monitor) with its own gable roof, with 4 in 12 pitch. Water proofing is provided via a urethane spray coating over corrugated metal on structural steel beams and bracing. The original roofing material is difficult to determine without a cut test, however it would appear from examination of the underside of the structure. which is exposed, that corrugated sheet metal was utilized as the original weather protection. This is born out by a circa 1950 photograph showing the exposed sheet metal corrugated roofing on both clearstory and gable portion of the structure.

Roof structural support is provided via steel trusses built-up from riveted steel channel. The truss type appears to be a modified Belgian design, probably "Belgian Pitched" with a clearstory modification. Tension rods and compression members tie the twelve large trusses which run perpendicular to the structure together to limit lateral cord movement. Additionally, three of the major trusses have corrugated sheet metal curtains attached to them to form a solid truss. This may be for structural reasons but in all likelihood is for fire control. This feature does appear to be original. Roof truss loads are transferred to the aforementioned brick walls giving a maintenance bay clear span of approximately 75'. The shop area roof, approximately 200' in length on the southwest is supported at the interior via steel trusses to H columns carrying the load to presumably spread footings. The gable roof shares this support system for approximately one-third of it length. Fire coatings on the expose steel are nonexistent, however, it does appear that they have been painted. A 1927 Sanborn Insurance map refers to "Unpainted Steel Posts".

2. Exterior Amenities: This building is a typical 1920's design for an Industrial purpose. It has limited architectural ornamentation. The only noteworthy amenity that provides some architectural mention are the few copper leaders which still remain. These do show some craftsmanship but provide little if any significance to the architectural merit of the building.

D. INTERIOR SPACES: The overall impression of the interior is one of an open warehouse. The existing 1927 structure is subdivided into three parts; maintenance bay, shops and administrative. The maintenance bay is an open clear span area, extending from the northwest to southeast elevations. This was where the majority of repair work was accomplished and the trolley cars stored. The floor appears to have a thin top coating over a presumably thicker concrete structural slab. A relatively thick slab would be required due to the estimated weight (60,000 lbs.) of the trolley cars. Some imaging of the old trolley rails can be seen through some portions of the topping. One rail is totally exposed on the southwest and one in the center of the barn.

The northeast interior corner of the building has been modified with small administrative office space. No modification other than the brick infill of the barns front facade is noted due to this office construction.

Vestiges of the wooden trolley power cable guide boxes still exist, as do some power cable hangers and insulators. The boxes run for approximately half the length of the structure, the remaining half having been removed. These boxes are inverted U-shaped fixtures hung from the roof trusses via metal threaded rod. No power cables are found within them. A large circular tank for the storage of de-icing salt or breaking/ traction sand is still located on the southeast interior wall. It is resting on the lower cords of a roof's truss. All walls are exposed brick with pilasters to carry the roof loads from the trusses above.

The shop area runs along the southwesterly elevation. This area of the building is offset from the gable truss roof maintenance area, making the shop area's working height approximately one half that of the open bay. The shop area itself is subdivided into three smaller shop areas with brick walls between. Access to the three smaller shops located to the north is by single passage door or original industrial sliding (weighted closed) doors. Configuration of the rooms remain in their original state except for one which in now utilized as an its original function was that of a boiler room.

Administrative spaces were located in the "L" shaped loft on the second floor. Access to the second floor is via both exterior and interior single passage doors at the northwest corner of the building. A stairwell rises to the underside of the cast in place concrete slab and beam roof. The original steel riveted staircase remains, consisting of a winder and straight section leading to a short second floor hallway that splits north south to two large open bay rooms. Both rooms are rectangular with high ceilings (20 feet) of slab and beam exposed concrete. Walls are load bearing exposed brick except for the northwest elevation which is brick/block infill over a structural steel truss. The southeast elevation in one room has been plastered during renovation (1993). Floors in both rooms are cast in place concrete ' smooth steel troweled and finished with what appears to be a concrete sealer or wax.

Interior ornamentation is nonexistent) however, craftsmanship of the steel trusses and stairway is noteworthy, compared to today's bolted or welded construction. Rivets are symmetrically placed and set with precision. Although standard construction for 1927, they do present themselves well.

E. FENESTRATION: Natural light is provided via two sources. (1) The clearstory vault has steel framed single pane wire opaque windows running its entire length. These can be opened for ventilation via a hand driven chain drive system, which is currently in operation. Few of the original windowpanes have been replaced. (2) Exterior window placement is elevationally symmetrical with large steel-framed sash utilized except for the southeast elevation, which is windowless. The shop area has the largest of all sashes. All windows are standard industrial steel frame, "L" or "T" sections welded together to form individual lites. The majority of units have operable projecting sash. Many panes have been replaced as evidenced by the different glazing utilized with wire mesh being the most prevalent.

Northwest elevation fenestration is symmetrical on the second floor utilizing the same (original) windows as the southeast elevation except size is reduced. The first floor storefront windows installed circa 1950 are standard aluminum frame fixed pane.

Two roll-up industrial wood doors located on the northwest wall contain individual lites providing some interior illumination when closed. These doors appear original and their location does align with the aforementioned power cable guide boxes. A third roll-up door is located on the southwest elevation, but contains no provisions for natural light. It is a modern steel door not original to the structure.

Stairwell illumination is provided via an original sash. Exterior access to the stairwell is via a recently installed aluminum frame glass storefront door. The original transom of steel sash has been replaced with glass block during the recent renovation (1993).

All original steel frames have been painted numerous times, the most recent color a pale green, approximating the standard original green oxide that most such industrial windows of the period employed. Most original window units are intact with a few being compromised with vents for interior ventilation purposes. All window openings are supported via steel "L" shaped lintels to carry structural loads. Limited settling and cracking does appear around these openings; however, all windows and access points appear structurally sound.

F. BATH FACILITIES: Nothing remains of the original bath fixtures but the original facility locations remain, that being on the ground level southeast portion of the building and in the loft area. I. Heat: From visible inspection it seems heat was originally supplied with large ceiling hung space heaters. Vestiges of gas piping and exhaust stacks that penetrate the roof structure remain. Gas piping was black iron and the heaters themselves gas fired fan units. Approximately twelve units were employed, but due to their removal an exact count is difficult. Pressurized gas entered the building on the southwest side.

G. WATER: Water is supplied via pressurized main. A hot water boiler, probably gas fired, existed on the southwest elevation near one of the shop areas. There is an access cover in the foundation on the southwest elevation for possible coal or oil entry to the building. The access is bricked closed and the interior space has been heavily remodeled, so nothing of the original system exists, except for the exposed brick chimney. Internal water distribution piping can be found in various locations throughout the building, this being galvanized threaded steel. Recent upgrades of copper piping were also identified.

K. POWER: The external overhead power supply is from the southeast side via weather head to the main panel. The original power distribution panel and portions of the system still remain intact. Ancillary systems, mostly in the new administrative spaces, have been updated and added to the system over the years. Some interior wiring has been updated mostly in the newly renovated sections of the building but most of the original system is still intact.

L. FIRE PROTECTION: According to a 1927 Sanborn map, the structure was listed as "unpainted steel", however the building currently has a pressurized wet fire protection sprinkler system. This system, in all likelihood is not original to the structure due to the technology employed. The only evidence of some type of original fire protection is the aforementioned steel curtains attached to the roof trusses.

M. TELEPHONE: Based on records found in the "Atlanta City Directory" the first telephone to the building was installed in 1938. This may be correct as what appear to be abandoned junction boxes are manufactured from Bakelite, a common telephone/electrical insulation material first used in 1920's and 1930's. Telephone wire clips and conduits rise to the loft area where the administrative functions of the barn were carried out. An updated system is utilized in the newer office spaces and newly renovated second floor loft.

N. LIGHTING: Incandescent single bulb steel pan light fixtures provided the original interior electrical lighting system. Power to these fixtures was provided via electric metallic tubing placed on walls and roof trusses. Power for the fixtures was supplied from the electrical supply panels on the southwest interior wall. Lighting fixtures appear to have been spaced every twenty-five feet and hung from the lower cords of the roof trusses. The administrative space and shop area utilized the same type of fixtures.

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