The Buildings in the Background


Courtesy of Lindsay T

When one travels in the Decatur area there is always an object in their periphery, one that has been there for multiple lifetimes. Often it is unnoticed, serving as set dressing to an all too complex life. Soon, as the site gains a new owner, it’s possible demolition may render it forever unnoticed.There, adjacent to the tracks, lies Pullman Yard. An abandoned railroad repair house left to the passage of time long ago. Having passed by it so many times its existence can be forgotten. But there it is.

When General William T. Sherman made his march through the South over 150 years ago, Atlanta went up in a blaze. As a result, countless old buildings and artifacts from the city’s history were lost to the flames. What was left was covered up as years passed, leaving very few buildings with an age exceeding a few decades. Pullman Yard, now approaching its 113 anniversary, is one of those properties.

Now, as the sale of the ancient site looms, preservationists demand that its historic value be respected. Kirkwood’s Pullman Yard has a long and storied past, a past that some believe embodies Atlanta itself. Here, we take a look at that past.

The extensive history detailed above is a primary reason that conservationists say the site should remain largely untouched in the upcoming sale.

“The historical significance of the Pullman Shops…cannot be understated. [Its] story ties directly into Atlanta’s past as a railroad and industrial center,” said F. Sheffield Hale, President and CEO of the Atlanta History Center.

A main proponent for the conservation of the site is Atlanta Contact Point, a nonprofit organization focused on creating new outdoor recreational areas for families. The organization has developed a plan that would turn Pullman Yard into a neighborhood green space, leaving the structures undisturbed, a vital aspect for Executive Director David Epstein.

“We need to understand what made Atlanta what it is today,” Epstein said. “That is the people and that is the trains.”

Other options for Pullman Yard, including a radio tower and a 20 story building, are disconcerting for Atlanta Contact Point.

“People in the community really want to see these buildings protected,” He said, “They want to preserve their history and create something that’s community oriented.”  

Contact Point organized a petition for the preservation of Pullman Yard in December, which now has several hundred signatures. Also, on   January 10 held a protest to dissuade potential buyers from demolishing the buildings.

The proposed potential for preservation and community building intrigues the Atlanta History Center as well.

“The ability to combine historic preservation with other important uses- like urban agriculture and green space preservation- is a… rare opportunity,” Hale said. “It is a must, for in so many ways this is an Atlanta story.”

In the years that Pullman Yard was abandoned, it became a popular destination for Atlanta’s so-called “urban explorers” and photographers. Courtesy of Zlatkov Unger

For now, Pullman Yard is in a strange ownership limbo. The state is negotiating deals with other companies at the time of this writing, but details and frontrunners remain unknown until a final decision is made.
Pullman Yard’s extensive past and standing in the Atlanta community makes it like a living thing. It has memories and failures, scars and successes. What is unsure now is whether it has a future. Pullman Yard has long been in the background where one may not notice it. Is it a landmark? Perhaps. An old lot ready to be born again? Maybe. But it is there, and, in a way, it always will be.