The following account was written by Wm. L. Bass in consultation with Dale Jackson, local historian in 1977. Dale Jackson (now deceased) was the town’s historian for many years. The accompanying photos and minor corrections were provided by the family of George Davis and Kitty (Lucas) Davis.
In Tracing the history of the community back to its origins, we are led to the person of Gen. Michael Sheil, who was born in Ireland in 1793. Before settling in this area Gen. Sheil had served in the wars in the eastern section of our nation. He and his wife, Bridget, settled here in 1834. Sheil is known as the Father of the town of Atlanta for his land included the existing town boundaries, plus 160 acres (a half mile) west. At that time there were very few settlers in the area, so the main commercial transactions were with the Miami Indians. Sheil built his trading post in 1836 on the western part of his land, and laid out a town called Sheilville. The trading post, built of logs, served the few white settlers in the area and the Miami Indians. There are some in the community today who can still remember this log building. Sheilville obtained a post office, and Gen. Sheil became the first post master.
There must have been a lot of competition and expectations to be found in those times, for around 1835 Caleb Sparger came to the area to settle. His land adjoined that of Sheil on the west. He also built a trading post out of logs, and laid out plots for a town which he named after himself, Spargersville; however, he did not stay long and soon left the area.
In 1846 Andrew Tucker bought land from Sheil east of Sheilville, and laid out a town which was named Buena Vista. As was often the case in those days, survival of communities depended upon the coming of the railroad. The IP&C Railroad (Indianapolis Peru and Chicago Railroad) came through Buena Vista, thus guaranteeing the survival of that community. This led to a decline in Sheilville.
The Indianapolis Peru and Chicago tracks were laid in 1854 "mostly by early Swedes that lived in cabins along the tracks. “Their offspring are still around here — their names were Teal, Nelson, Johnson, Samuels. The Teal family is still here and the Samuel family can be found in Tipton county," according to Dale Jackson.
Buena Vista was renamed to Atlanta in 1885. Some say that this was done due to the beauty of the southern city by the same name and the influence of the men returning from the War between the States. It appears that the change had more practical roots for there was already a larger community in Indiana by that name (Buena Vista) which had a post office. Therefore, in order to acquire a post office the town had to be renamed. All indications are that the selection of the name was based on the Civil War story, but only after a change was already indicated. Whatever the case, Buena Vista became the community now known as Atlanta. The town was incorporated in 1900.
Late 1800's - Early 1900's
Atlanta was quite a boom town in the late 1800's and the early 1900's. In 1876 A. G. Walton and Neidhamer built the Kitchen Queen Flour and Grist Mill. During gas era (discovered in mid 1880's) there were two tin-plate factories here. Some idea of the commerce taking place in this small community can be seen by the number of different enterprises which were operating. There was the ice plant, washing machine factory, tar mill, brick yard, three livery barns, tomato canning factory, two saw mills, six saloons, bakeries, groceries, hotels, a bank, a wooden barrel factory for Standard Oil, moving picture house, stage show, and an undertaking establishment. These businesses employed close to 2000 employees by the turn of the century. The gas boom began soon after with 10 to 12 wells active within three miles of Atlanta, Jackson recalls. "I can remember when Atlanta furnished more work than anywhere in Hamilton County."
These give the indication of a prospering community, which Atlanta was, but other indication of growth and prosperity are to be seen in the establishment and continuation of education and religion in the community. The first school building was built of logs in 1864. A second school was built of bricks in 1876, while a third and larger building was built in 1898 between John Street and Walnut Street at the intersection of Kauffman Street and John Street and was also brick. The last school building was built in 1916 and was used until 1979 when the school grades were consolidated with Hamilton Heights School System. This building was finally torn down and was replaced with houses in 1986. As early as 1867 Methodists were meeting regularly in the town; their edifice was completed by 1877. In 1876 the Christian Church was organized with their frame building dedicated in 1875. Wesleyan and Nazarene groups later also served and witnessed in their time. Presently only the Christian and Wesleyan remain in the town boundaries.
In the 1930's the gas pocket went dry, and the boom was over. “Those were the days when 1,800 people lived in the town”. "There was a house on every lot in those days," but then the wells failed and it was cheaper for the factories to move west than to use different fuel. Atlanta slid even further when the "railroads went out too in the "30s," Jackson says. "I lost my job. I had railroaded for a good many years." Since then he had been a carpenter and worked for the Hamilton County High-way Department before he retired to devote full time to collecting and genealogy.
Atlanta suffered a noted decline in activity, population, business, and employment opportunities. This decline was gradual, and continued for a number of years till only the brick buildings of the business district and the grand ole homes reflected the glories of the past. Sociological studies show that there was a movement of rural areas to urban areas. To this tendency Atlanta was no exception.