Newnan was a surprisingly prosperous town in the late 1800s. The same railroads that made Newnan a logical choice for a hospital town during the Civil War supported bustling industries in textile production and manufacturing. Fire insurance maps from the 1880s to 1911 show that Newnan’s downtown was the location of beautiful homes, cotton warehouses, and steel manufacturing, as well as venues for entertainment and a wide variety of available goods and services. Although some of Newnan’s historically significant architecture built during this era has been lost through the years, much of it can be seen in the present day.
The 1868 Virginia House Hotel is one of the oldest surviving structures in Newnan’s downtown. The foundation of this hotel was the former Golden Star Hotel, and dates to the mid-19th century. This structure operated as a hotel for over 90 years and is now used for commercial offices. It is rumored that several famous individuals including Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, once visited this hotel.
Built in 1895, the Murray Warehouse Block is a rectangular, red brick building that once served as a cotton warehouse. The building features white trimmed dentil molding, granite belt courses, brick piers, and cast-iron storefronts. During the late 19th century the Murray Warehouse Block conducted cotton trading business as well as printing business. The building currently stands in its original location the corner of Brown and West Washington Streets. Although it is not used for its original purpose, it serves as a reminder of Newnan’s roots in the cotton industry.
Today, the Confederate Memorial statue can be found on the east side of the Coweta County Courthouse, however, that is not its original location. It once stood in the middle of the street on the intersection of Jefferson and Washington. Due to increased automobile traffic during the 1920s, the statue was moved from the center of Jefferson Street by sliding it along with logs, then placed on a block of ice so that as it melted, it lowered the statue into place in it's current spot!
Alongside these commercial buildings, Newnan built several beautiful historic churches in the late 1800s and first decade of the 20th century, three of which are still used today. These structures share some common architectural trends for downtown churches built in Georgia during this period. Congregations that had previously worshipped in log cabins in the town’s early years prospered and built larger, more permanent sanctuaries for their growing congregations.
Newnan’s First Baptist Church was founded in 1828 by seven pioneers to the area. Construction began on the church’s previous historic sanctuary in 1845, and was later used as a hospital during the Civil War. By 1884 First Baptist outgrew the old, wood-frame church and built the historic sanctuary seen today. Construction was finished in time for First Baptist to host the Georgia Baptist Convention in April of 1886.
Another one of downtown Newnan’s historic churches, Central Baptist Church, on the corner of Broad Street and Brown, was built in 1898. This beautiful church features similar elements of late gothic revival architecture as other historic Newnan churches including masonry construction, square corner towers, and stained glass.
The Mount Vernon First Baptist Church is credited as being the first African American, Baptist congregation in Newnan. The beautiful, brick, gothic revival church located on Pinson Street was built in 1899, 36 years after the congregation’s founding.
With the Male Academy and secondary school for women, known as College Temple, education was not overlooked in Newnan. Newnan’s Carnegie Library was the first Carnegie Library in Georgia, and is the only one in the United States that has returned to its original use. Built in 1903, the Carnegie Library features a reading room, meeting space, and hosts a number of events for all ages. This building has not undergone any significant changes to it’s exterior since it’s construction and therefore looks very much like it did over a hundred years ago. Some of the original hexagonal pavers and granite curbing can still be seen in the sidewalk outside the Carnegie.
The Reese Opera House, which opened in early 1883 welcomed comedians, singers, and other performers to Newnan, but also housed retail such as a jewelry store, dry goods, a tobacco store, and a grocer over the decades, and later was the location for the Southern School of Telegraphy.
The Gem Theater was once located a few doors down from the Alamo’s current location. The theater opened during the era of silent films, and can be seen on a 1911 map labeled “moving pictures”. The movie theater featured one screen and 241 seats.
A few doors down, the space that now houses The Alamo Theater at 19 West Court Square was built in 1880 as a commercial building, home to a harness shop, general store, and a butcher through the decades. A blacksmith, and later a barbeque stand once occupied the alley space behind. The building was converted into a movie theater with one screen and 551 seats in 1928.
Downtown Newnan continues to be a thriving commercial area when many small town squares in Georgia are struggling to adapt to changes in the American lifestyle since their heyday. Newnan’s historic commercial district is home to restaurants, shopping, and a wide array of businesses much like it was from 1880-1920 while meeting the needs of a growing and changing population.
The historic Newnan Hospital, built in 1925 will soon be the latest location for the University of West Georgia in Newnan. This practice of adaptive reuse ensures that historic structures are preserved for future generations by being converted to meet the needs of the community.
The buildings built in Newnan’s historic court square during the late 1800s stand today as a reminder of the town’s unique history and bear the markings of many changes and trends of the decades in between. Perhaps most importantly, Newnan’s historic downtown provides current citizens, old families and newcomers alike, with a tangible link to the past through its physical structures. Newnan’s historic districts give our community a distinct character and foster a sense of place for those who are visiting as well as those who are lucky enough to live among such rich history.
Content created by Anna Williams, 2014.