Auburn Avenue was once the commercial, cultural, and spiritual center of African American life in Atlanta. Extending approximately two miles east from Peachtree Street, the Sweet Auburn neighborhood in the Old Fourth Ward was the heart of the black residential and business community in the first part of the twentieth century, and boasted a concentration of black-owned businesses, entertainment venues, and churches that was unrivaled elsewhere in the South. Its bustling retail trade and wealthy business owners earned the street a national reputation for African American finance and entrepreneurial zeal.
Originally called Wheat Street, the road was renamed in 1893 at the request of white petitioners who believed Auburn Avenue had a more cosmopolitan sound. In 1956, Fortune magazine memorably described Auburn Avenue as "the richest Negro street in the world."
The Old Fourth Ward Water Tower on Auburn Avenue was once the tallest structure in the neighborhood. The tower was built in the early 1900s to hold the 100,000-gallon water tank for a cotton compress factory next door. It is now empty and idle.