By Henry Bryant
In 1870 there was a report of a meeting with interesting possibilities. Atlanta’s city fathers had already sewn up a deal to bring Oglethorpe University to the city from the town of Midway, south of Macon. Now the trustees and committees of Mercer University and the City of Atlanta met in the lecture room of Atlanta’s First Baptist Church to select a site for Mercer University, originally founded in 1833 in Penfield, Georgia.
There was competition for the new university location, though the cities of Macon and Atlanta both decided not to seek any help from their city governments. Colonel Richard Peters offered the trustees and committees certain valuable blocks or squares between Marietta and Peachtree streets, as well as $5,000 in cash, provided the university was located in Atlanta. (Peters would eventually build a mansion, Ivy Hall, at the corner of Piedmont and Ponce de Leon in Midtown.) Colonel L.P. Grant had also offered ten acres of land situated near his residence that was located a half-mile within the corporate limits of Atlanta and in full view of the Georgia railroad for three-quarters of a mile. According to newspapers of the day, the location was “convenient and accessible to boarding houses and society and…equivalent to a cash donation of $7,000.”
Both Peters and Grant were engineers who were brought south to build the railroads. Part of the land holdings owned by Richard Peters became home to a university famous for its engineering program: Georgia Tech. His Ivy Hall mansion, built in 1883, was rescued from demolition by another college, Savannah College of Art and Design. The L.P. Grant mansion, once situated in the middle of Grant’s plantation in southeast Atlanta, is now headquarters for the Atlanta Preservation Center. Another part of Grant’s property, donated to the city in 1882, became Atlanta’s Grant Park, which includes Zoo Atlanta and until recently was also the site for the Cyclorama.
On August 7, 1870, the Mercer University transfer was finally settled. Atlanta had made a only half-hearted attempt to attract the institution, and a Macon councilman had filed an injunction against a move to that city. After that injunction was lifted, the trustees voted, per the Atlanta Constitution, and “determined to remove Mercer University to Macon. Macon received 19 votes, Griffin 7, Atlanta 3, and Forsyth 1.”