The Atlanta History Center is one of the largest urban and suburban history museums in the country. It is located in Buckhead, Atlanta's most upscale residential, shopping and business district, on the grounds of an old estate. The museum is accessible from Georgia Highway 400. It is about ten minutes from the exclusive hotels and shopping malls that make up the heart of Buckhead, including Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza.
The History Center was started in 1926 as the Atlanta Historical Society, but it did not have a permanent location until 1993, when its present building opened on 33 acres of the former Inman estate in Buckhead. The Inman home, known as the Swan House, was built in 1928 and designed by Philip Trammell Schutze, one of Atlanta's most prominent early-20th-century architects. The Swan House is the visual centerpiece of the History Center, but a new, 83,000-square-foot building was built on the property to house the permanent and rotating exhibits offered by the museum.
The History Center has two historic properties on its Buckhead site and an additional property in Midtown Atlanta. Tours of the properties come with admission to the museum. They are:
The Swan House, a 1928 Renaissance Revival mansion once owned by one of the wealthiest families in Atlanta. The Atlanta Historical Society has owned the Swan House since 1966. The house is one of the grandest in the city and shows upper-class life as it was just before the Great Depression.
The Tullie Smith farm, a circa-1840 farmhouse that was moved to the site to be a part of the History Center. The house and its grounds are a working farm, an example of the "yeoman,'' or small landowner, farm life in Georgia in the mid-19th century.
The Margaret Mitchell House, the apartment building where Margaret Mitchell wrote Gone With the Wind. The building houses exhibits related to the book and movie and hosts literary lectures, readings and classes.
The Atlanta History Center has six permanent exhibits and an ongoing slate of rotating and traveling exhibits. Among the permanent exhibits are:
Turning Point: The American Civil War, which, with over 1,500 artifacts, is, according to the museum's website, "one of the nation's largest and most complete Civil War exhibitions.''
Metropolitan Frontiers, which chronicles Atlanta's history from 1835 to the present.
The Centennial Olympic Games Museum, a record not only of Atlanta's Games, but of the modern Olympic movement.
The 33-acre grounds of the Atlanta History Center also include several historically significant gardens, including the:
Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden, a three-acre collection of plants that were native to Georgia before it was settled by Europeans.
Tullie Smith Farm Gardens, a working garden of vegetables and herbs that provided food, income and pleasure in pre-Civil War Georgia.
Swan House Gardens and Grounds, an elaborate garden area based on the formal European gardens of the 18th century.
The Atlanta History Center has much more to offer - educational programs, a renowned research center, corporate and social event space, annual festivals and summer camps. The Swan House is one of the most popular wedding spots in Atlanta. The Swan Coach House offers an elegant cafy and gift shop. The museum is very popular among its visitors. Reviewers on well-known travel websites have almost unanimously high opinions. A common thread is that the center inevitably needs more time than has been allotted for the visit. The wide variety of exhibits, gardens and historical properties is also a hit. This reviewer, however, sums up the experience, saying, "I've been to a lot of museums in my day - but none as captivating and thorough as this.''