On the first train entering Atlanta over the Georgia Railroad in 1845, the conductor who pulled the bell rope was none other than Col. Adair, whose name in the near future was destined to be linked with many of the public enterprises of the young metropolis. Adair was born of Scots-Irish parentage in rural Morgan County, Georgia. John F. Adair, his father, was a wheelwright by trade, and in 1825, shortly after the birth of the George, the family moved to DeKalb County, settling about five miles from Decatur.
Young George remained here, enjoying such meagre educational advantages as the sparsely settled country district afforded, until 1835, when his mother died and his father sent him to Decatur to enter the employ of Green B. Butler as a store clerk. Being possessed of more than usual brightness of intellect, he speedily acquired an intimate knowledge of the business and also gained the good opinion of this employer because of his industrious habits and his proven fidelity to the interest of the establishment. But this wonderful aptitude was likewise apparent to others. Such men as James Calhoun, William H. Dabney, Charles Murphy and Dr. Ephraim M. Poole became interested in the youthful clerk and together they furnished him with the means for pursuing a course of study at the Decatur Academy. On leaving this institution after two years, he immediately took up the study of law in Covington, Georgia, and after devoting two years of faithful study to his preparations he was admitted to the bar.
Finding his professional revenues too meager to satisfy his debts which he was anxious to liquidate, he accepted a position as conductor on the Georgia Railroad, the place being tendered him by J. Edgar Thomson, chief engineer of the line, and in this capacity he made his first appearance upon the local stage in the early pioneer days of Atlanta. He was a conductor for four years.
From then until his death, there were comparatively few real estate transactions of any consequence with which the name of Col George W. Adair was not associated, and few enterprises for building up the city in which he had not taken an active and important part, and he lived to see Atlanta grow from an obscure village of less than 2,000 souls into an enterprising metropolis numbering six figures. After giving up his place with the Georgia Railroad, he spent some time at Covington, going from there to Charleston to work in a wholesale house, but being attracted by the growing fame of the future Gate City of the South, he came to Atlanta in 1854 at the age of 31 and there established his permanent home.
Under the firm name of Adair and Ezzard, he embarked in the mercantile business, but after an experience of two years, in which he was not entirely successful, he launched into the general trading, auctioning and real estate business, which continued to engross his activities throughout the remainder of his career. On account of the rapid growth of the city, Col. Adair reaped handsome profits from his business, and at the outbreak of the war was beginning to accumulate an independent fortune. Though bitterly opposed to secession, Col. Adair loyally espoused the cause of his State when the ordinance of secession was adopted, and throughout the was an ardent supporter and champion of the Confederate cause.
During the war, he was a newspaperman who also speculated in cotton. He already owned the Gate City Guardian newspaper when in 1861 he bought the Atlanta Southern Confederacy and merged the two keeping the name of the latter. There, assisted by J. Henly Smith, he was the editor and participated in all of the live discussions evoked by the turbulent era of hostilities, and undertook to give accurate news from the front as the war advanced. Finally the paper went under, but not until the section was literally overrun with the hordes of the enemy and further publication became impossible. During the last year of the war Col. Adair became an aide on the staff of Gen. N.B. Forrest, serving the cause of the South in this capacity until the close of hostilities in 1865.
He returned to Atlanta while the ashes still smoldered and applied himself with renewed zeal to his old business, and though real estate transactions were few and far between at first, they soon became more numerous as the city began to pick up and the signs of prosperity commenced to appear. During this time he began a political career which included city council and various committee boards. After co-founding the Atlanta Street Railway Company with Richard Peters in 1871 he began to develop areas at the same time they ran new streetcar lines to serve them: including West End and Adair Park.
When the panic of 1873 came on he was compelled to make an assignment of all his property, but he faced the situation with characteristic fortitude and bravely made the surrender. And in 1878, he sold his portion of the streetcar business to Peters. Starting up again, he soon made it apparent that his spirits were not subdued, and as an evidence of his enterprising activity, it is only necessary to say that he has been connected with the Atlanta Cotton Factory (on the site of the current CNN Center), the Atlanta Cotton Exposition, director of the Kimball House Company, president of the Georgia Western Railway, and director of the Piedmont Exposition.
In the 1880s, property began to boom again and with his sons, he established Adair and Company to develop suburban properties. With John W. Grant, in 1881 he developed what would become Stockbridge, Georgia. He also helped raise funds for the rebuilding of the Kimball House after it burned down and was instrumental in convincing H.I. Kimball to return to Atlanta to lead the effort. Later projects with Kimball failed: the subdivision of Peters Park in 1887 and the establishment of Kimball, Tennessee in 1890 both of which he auctioneered.
He died at the age of 76, leaving a wife, whose maiden name was Mary Jane Perry, and six children: Jack, Forrest, George, Sallie, Annie and Mary. He was also first cousin to Green B. Adair, another Atlanta real estate developer. Forrest and George (the son) developed neighborhoods throughout Atlanta including Adair Park, West End Park (now known as Westview), and, in conjunction with Asa Candler, Druid Hills.
- This article incorporates text from the public domain 1902 book, Atlanta And Its Builders by Thomas H. Martin
Today's descendant David Patrick Adair, Former U.S. Navy and Former U.S. Marine Corps 2001 to 2009
- New Men, New Cities, New South: Atlanta, Nashville, Charleston, Mobile, 1860-1910 (1990), Don Doyle, University of North Carolina Press, p. 99