History of VaHi – Virginia Highland
Virginia–Highland (often nicknamed “VaHi”) is an affluent neighborhood of Atlanta, Georgia, founded in the early 20th century as a streetcar suburb. It is named after the intersection of Virginia Avenue and North Highland Avenue, the heart of a busy commercial district at the center of the neighborhood. The neighborhood is famous for its bungalows and other historic houses from the 1910s to the 1930s. It has become a destination for people across Atlanta with its eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, and shops and for the Summerfest festival, annual Tour of Homes and other events.
In 2011 readers of Creative Loafing voted Virginia–Highland “Best Overall Neighborhood.” In June 2011, Atlanta Magazine designated Virginia Highland “favorite neighborhood overall”. In 2012 readers of Creative Loafing voted VaHi “Best Walkable Neighborhood”.
The Name VaHi
Newspaper articles from the early 1920s refer to the “Virginia Highland” section of Atlanta with regard to the area around the intersection of Virginia and Highland avenues. Later in the 1920s, southeast of this intersection, the “Virginia Highlands” (with an “s”) subdivision was built. However, neither term appeared again in the press until the 1970s.
During the revolt against the construction of the I-485 freeway through Morningside and what is now Virginia–Highland, a pro-highway group called themselves the “Highland–Virginia Civic Association”, claiming to speak for the neighborhood. When Joe Drolet and other residents formed a group to oppose the highway in Fall 1971, they chose the name “Virginia–Highland Civic Association”. With the victory of the anti-highway forces, the Virginia–Highland name stuck and the press started to use it to refer to the entire neighborhood between Amsterdam, Ponce, Piedmont Park and Druid Hills.
Around Atlanta, “Virginia–Highland”, “Virginia Highlands” and “the Highlands” are all commonly heard. However, only “Virginia–Highland” is the official name of the neighborhood. The other terms are included in some business names, but are incorrect. The term VaHi, imitating the New York style of naming neighborhoods (SoHo, TriBeCa), first was used in the Atlanta newspapers in 1998.
The first record of settlement of the area that is now Virginia–Highland was in 1812, when William Zachary bought and built a farm on 202.5 acres (0.819 km2) of land there. In 1822 he sold his farm to Richard Copeland Todd (1792–1850). Todd’s brother-in-law Hardy Ivy settled in 1832 in what is now Downtown Atlanta and the road between their two farms came to be known as Todd Road (a portion of which still exists in VirginiaºHighland).
“Nine Mile Circle”
In the 1880s, Georgia Railroad executive Richard Peters and real estate developer George Washington Adair organized the Atlanta Street Railway Company. Their first project was the Nine Mile Trolley, which started serving the area sometime between 1888 and 1890. At first, patrons used this streetcar line to visit “the countryside” outside the city, and the line stimulated later development in the area. Adair built his home at 964 Rupley Drive (still standing and divided into upscale apartments). The iconic curves in the street at the intersections of Virginia Ave. with N. Highland and Monroe are remnants of the trolley line, which required gentle curves. The Trolley Square Apartments (now “Virginia Highlands [sic] Apartments”) near Virginia and Monroe were built on the site of trolley maintenance facilities.
The first land to be subdivided in what is now Virginia–Highland was Highland Park in the 1890s, located on either side of Ponce de Leon Ave. between today’s Barnett St. and N. Highland Ave. The majority of the houses and streets in Virginia–Highland were constructed between 1909 and 1926. In 1916 the Arc Light Controversy raged between neighbors on Adair Ave. and N. Highland Ave.
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