Athens City Directory

“We feel confident that the citizens of Athens will appreciate, and be proud of this edition of the Athens City Directory. Its appearance indicate an enterprising, prosperous city, and the contents of the volume will amply prove that appearances in this instance are not deceitful,” reported M.C. Pope & Company in July 1889. At the time, Athens had 8,109 residents: 3,924 were white and 4,185 were black. In the pages which follow, residents were enumerated in alphabetical order. Each adult -- regardless of race or gender -- was named and noted, alongside their occupational and residential address. But they were not noted equally. In some editions, women were only known as "Mrs." Black Athenians had a “c” listed behind their names; for example: “Bunkley Lou, c, laundress, res 1120 East Broad.” “Bullock George, carp, res 22 Rock Row,” meanwhile, was white. [1]

Even in death, Athenians were segregated by race. The 1889 City Directory recorded two cemeteries: “The City Cemetery is located at foot of Cemetery street,” with Andrew Ross serving as Sexton, and “The Colored Cemetery is located in East Athens.” The “colored cemetery” had a name: Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery. Sadly, skin color mattered in America, and in Athens racial segregation -- even of the dead -- was the norm during the nineteenth and twenty centuries. Racism, segregation, and inequality still persist today. [2]

Despite replicating and revealing pervasive inequality, city directories provide a snapshot of place forever suspended in time. In 1894, Athens had twenty-five lawyers, two undertakers, one gunsmith, nine general stores, four railroads, six newspapers, and four barbers. Burrowing deeper into the data, we realize that one of those barbers was Sam McQueen: an upwardly mobile, African-American man who, despite Jim Crow restrictions and segregation, operated a successful and prosperous local business. Likewise, the “Ki, Chinese Laundry,” located on the corner of Carton and Jackson Streets, indicates the presence of minority immigrants. [3]

The 1904 City Directory offers a vivid portrait of the town: “The city of Athens, situated within forty miles of the Blue Ridge mountains, is eight hundred feet above the sea level and has a climate so equable and salubrious that all four seasons of the year are equally delightful." According to the census, Athens had a population of 13,163, but “since that time there have been many additions to the population of the city by the moving in of large numbers of families for the purpose of educating their children, as well as for the business opportunities that the city affords.” The health and wellness of the community was equally good. “The death rate for many years has been less than one per cent, of the population and the greater number of deaths each year are among the young children or among the people who have passed middle age,” boasted the directory, “Youth and vigorous manhood and womanhood enjoy almost an immunity from death in this community.” This, of course, was not true for everyone -- black men and women were dying at an alarming rate. The 1904 City Directory, however, deliberately choose to ignore racism and white supremacy. Rather than discussing premature death or racialized violence, it instead delineated business growth and the economic benefits available to white Athenians. “No city in the state is making as rapid strides in a business and industrial way as Athens. The future of the city is one of assured success, and to the home seeker and investor there is no other city in the state that affords so inviting a field,” concluded the directory. [4]

During the Great Depression, Athens had over 20,000 residents. According to the 1937 City Directory, 65% of those residents were white “and over 99% American-born.” The other 45% percent of the population was not mentioned. Along with “churches of every denomination,” white residents and visitors had access to five railroad, five hotels, three modern hospitals, and an airport. The updated Y.M.C.A. had a “well-equipped building and outside athletic field, and a mountain camp of several hundred acres, with buildings, grounds and lakes where all outdoor summer games are indulged in, all under trained and experienced personnel.” The textile industry was the largest employer, and labor was “ample for all purposes and . . . of a highly intelligent and energetic character.” Living conditions, likewise, were good; “on account of the mild climate, free from extremes in either winter or summer, housing can be supplied very economically, and with a low domestic electric rate, all modern household conveniences can be had. Cost of living is very low, due to productive soil and climatic conditions assuring a long period of truck production, poultry-raising, pork and beef and dairy products.” Once again, race relations and poverty were never factored into city directory’s narratives, even in 1937. [5]

Phonebooks and, now, Google have made city directories obsolete. But for over three centuries, it provided essential information to American town folks, new residents, and visitors alike. These simple, short pamphlets told the story of our town: who did the washing and who did the teaching; who married who; and who lived beside who. City directories captured the meaningful, fleeting aspects of daily life. But these everyday moments, while so often forgot, are and were essential to the lived, human experience. [6]

Local Directories

Existing in the centuries before telephones and telephone books, city directories are valuable sources for historical research. Advertisements -- for tailors, painters, printers, grocers, and haberdasheries -- line the pages, indicating local businesses and noting their proprietors. And, of course, directories list most (never all) of the town’s residents. [7] They also contain “miscellaneous information, consisting of lists of city and county officers, church directory, secret and benevolent societies, schools, State government, post-office information, the police and fire departments, and many other useful items.” These are ‘useful items’ for researchers as well. We know that in 1889, 350 African-American children attended the segregated Baxter Street School. Their teachers were Mattie Iverson, Elizabeth Davis, O. A. Combs, Minnie Young, Sarah Maxwell, and A. J. Gary. An advertisement for The Athens Clipper, “The only Colored Paper Published in North-East Georgia. In Politics Republican. Devoted to the Advancement of the Colored Race,” boasted a weekly circulation of 700. Unlike many historic documents, city directories name each person as an individual (or household head, in some volumes), with a family, a career, and an address, which provides a glimpse into individuals' personal experiences. Extrapolating from the individual or household level or to the societal level, we can better understand Athens: how the town used to be, and how it's evolved into what we know today. [8]

A collections of Athens City Directories from the late nineteenth and early twenty centuries has been digitized by The Digital Library of Georgia. To facilitate historical and genealogical research, the full collection is linked below:

1889 City Directory | 1894 City Directory | 1897-1898 City Directory | 1904 City Directory | 1909 City Directory | 1912-1913 City Directory | 1914-1915 City Directory | 1916-1917 City Directory | 1920-1921 City Directory | 1923-1924 City Directory | 1926-1927 City Directory | 1928-1929 City Directory | 1931 City Directory | 1935 City Directory | 1937 City Directory | 1938 City Directory | 1940 City Directory | 1942 City Directory | 1947 City Directory | 1949 City Directory | 1952 City Directory | 1954 City Directory | 1956 City Directory | 1958 City Directory

NEXT: Historic Street Address


1. M.C. Pope & Company, Athens City Directory, 1889 (1889), 74.

2. Ibid.

3. Valentine W. Skiff, Athens Almanac, Directory, and Business Advertiser, 1894 (Athens Banner Press, 1894), 50, 77-88.

4. Athens City Directory, 1904 (Athens Banner Publishers, 1904), f-h.

5. R. L. Polk, Polk's Athens (Clarke County, Ga.) City Directory (1937), 11-13.

6. Thornton Wilder, Our Town: A Play in Three Acts (New York: Coward-McCann Inc., 1965), 83.

7. This information was onerous to obtain. According to the 1894 City Directory, “the materials for the list of names were obtained by personal application at ever house and shop; and great care has been taken to render accurate the information it furnishes, both as it relates to the names of the citizens, and their places of residence, though from the constant change of residences among us, it will no doubt be found that it contains some errors.” Valentine W. Skiff, Athens Almanac, Directory, and Business Advertiser, 1894 (Athens Banner Press, 1894), 26.

8. M.C. Pope & Company, Athens City Directory, 1889 (1889), 16, 28.

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