The West End MARTA station is more than just a stop for commuters. It’s a hub of sorts. Located at the bustling intersection of Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard and Lee Street.
The trains that pass by follow almost the exact same route the streetcar once did. Back when West End was one of the city’s first suburbs.
The neighborhood is filled with history and perhaps no one knows it better than Robert Thompson. He leads walking tours through the West End, a neighborhood that’s older than Atlanta itself.
It was settled along a popular trade route at the same intersection where the MARTA station now sits. That’s where Thompson starts his tours, which began as a hobby.
But even when Thompson started charging for tours of the West End, people kept coming. Thompson, who is in his 70s, first moved to the West End 25 years ago.
"It is a neighborhood, that is almost like a little village. And up until very recently, I knew most of the people here. It was literally the kind of neighborhood where you could go next door and ask for cup sugar." — Robert Thompson
Robert Thompson poses for a portrait inside the Hammonds House Museum. (Photo by Evey Wilson)
West Enders have a deep pride for their part of town. Even those who have only been here a couple years, like Joel Apudo.
At the train station, Apudo kicks around a soccer ball on a turf field beneath the tracks. He works for the nonprofit, “Soccer in the Streets.”
Like a lot of things in the neighborhood, Apudo said these soccer practices are really about building community.
"People are so proud to say like, yeah, I live in the West End or yeah I’ve been in the West End for 10, 12, 15 years. And it's almost making me be one of those people like' yeah, I live in West End like this is this is where I'm from. It's cool.' And I hope our kids see that and it’s ingrained in them like yeah, this where we grew up." — Joel Apudo
Kids play pick-up soccer on a field under the Marta tracks in the West End. Soccer in the Streets completed this soccer field last year. (Photo by Evey Wilson)
Thompson highlights that sense of community as he leads groups past Victorian homes. Some of Atlanta’s most elite residents lived here in the 20th century. The lots are large and the porches wide. The neighborhood has the spread out feel of the suburb it once was.
As those early residents began to move to places like Inman Park, which back then the newer suburb, the West End became a mostly black community.
It’s been that way ever since. But development is bringing an influx of new residents here, which could change the demographics. Thompson highlights some of those more recent changes in his tours as well.
“We go down Peeples Street to the Belt Line. I tell people about the history about the Belt Line how I got started,” Thompson said.
The BeltLine trail opened here in 2017. Since then there’s been interest by developers to transform the neighborhood.