The National Civic League is excited to announce that the City of Marietta Georgia is this year’s All-America City, Hall of Fame Winner. Marietta originally won the All-America City Award in 2006 and is being recognized for its community engagement surrounding the creation of Elizabeth Porter Park.
Hall of Fame Project Summary
In the 1940s, Marietta citizens raised funds to open Cobb Cooperative Hospital for black residents because medical resources were not readily available to them during segregation. In 1950, Kennestone Hospital opened as an integrated hospital, resulting in the closure of Cobb Cooperative Hospital two years later. The hospital was repurposed into the Montgomery Street Recreation Center and continued to serve the historically black neighborhood known as Baptist Town. Elizabeth Porter served as the center’s first director; Ms. Porter was a giant in the Baptist Town community and influenced an entire generation of young African Americans in Marietta. Elizabeth retired in 1974, at which point the City of Marietta renamed the community center, Elizabeth Porter Recreation Center, in her honor.
Elizabeth Porter Recreation Center continued serving the neighborhood until it began falling into disrepair. Although the cinder block recreation center was deteriorating, the memories within those walls were not lost. The City of Marietta faced an immense challenge. The aging recreation center was functionally obsolete but, at the same time, held historical significance and genuine meaning to the community. The challenge that arose was how to redevelop this property while maintaining the site’s authentic value and historical legacy.
In 2015, the City of Marietta embarked on a 3-year process to meet this challenge. The city sought the assistance of those that held close ties to Elizabeth Porter and the Baptist Town neighborhood, as well as city staff and local historians to determine how to best memorialize and honor its legacy. With that, the Friends of Elizabeth Porter Park was formed and began designing elements of public art that would voice the story of the site’s history and significance. A group of private citizens and the Friends of Elizabeth Porter Park committee set out to raise $40,000 for this public art by selling commemorative bricks to be installed at the park. The group well surpassed their goal and instead raised $97,987 in just under four months.
Because of the efforts of the Friends of Elizabeth Porter Park and generous donors, two hallmarks of the park include a 130-foot mural painted by artist Andrew Reid of Miami, Florida and a life size bronze statue of Elizabeth Porter sculpted by Gareth Curtiss of Shelton, Washington. The mural depicts the history of the site in a timeline format beginning with Reverend L. R. Edwards, the lead organizer for the Cobb Cooperative Hospital’s fundraising efforts and ending with a scene of individuals enjoying the park in its current form. Also depicted on the mural is Elizabeth Porter, Daphne Delk, the first African American student to attend Marietta High School, Hugh Grogan, the City of Marietta’s first African American Council member, a B-29 to represent the Bell Bomber Plant during World War II, and general community scenes. The Friends of Elizabeth Porter Park committee scoured old newspaper articles and photographs but relied heavily on the retelling of stories from individuals of the Baptist Town community to help inform what was depicted on the historical timeline.
The bronze statue of Elizabeth Porter is life size and portrays her surrounded by children, which is the epitome of who she was and what she dedicated her life’s work to doing.
The Elizabeth Porter Park project was also supported by elected officials and residents who passed the 2009 Parks Bond, solidifying funding for the new park and making implementation possible. City staff worked with City Council to finalize the design of the park, while also collaborating with the Friends of Elizabeth Porter Park to continue honoring the legacy of the Baptist Town community, Ms. Porter and the site.
This shared vision between the city and the community allowed the park to be intentionally designed to preserve the neighborhood’s rich legacy and imprint vital history on future generations using public art. In August 2018 the redeveloped Elizabeth Porter Park was opened to the public. Today, the park contains a spray ground, playground, pavilion and walking track, with the history of the site depicted through the mural timeline and statue of Elizabeth Porter.
The park accommodates individuals of all ages from children to adults, is ADA accessible, and the playground contains a Zero G special needs swing and other accessible equipment. The park immediately supports the neighboring community, which was historically African American and today is a diverse mix of Black, White, and Hispanic, but also casts a wider net throughout Marietta and the region as a whole and has become one of the most visited spray grounds in Metro Atlanta.
The purpose of the Elizabeth Porter Park project was to honor and memorialize the significance the original site holds to the African American community, while at the same time, creating an active recreation space for all to enjoy. In its first full season of operation, the Elizabeth Porter Park spray ground saw over 46,000 visitors come through its gates. These visitors not only enjoyed the spray ground but were also edified to the meaningful history of the site.
Marietta will be recognized at this year's All-America City awards event in Denver, CO. For more information about the Hall of Fame award visit: https://www.nationalcivicleague.org/america-city-award/hall-of-fame/