Joel Hurt

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Joel Hurt
Joel Hurt ca. 1900

Joel Hurt (1850–1926) was an important businessman and developer in Atlanta active in the late 19th century through the early 20th century.

Born in Hurtsboro, Alabama (a town named for his father, Joel Hurt, Sr.), he attended Auburn University and graduated from the University of Georgia in 1871.

He began his career in the railroad business, surveying first in the western United States the bed that became the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. He also surveyed a small spur off the Richmond and Danville line to Athens, Georgia.

Hurt moved to Atlanta in 1875 where he organized the Atlanta Building and Loan Association which he ran for thirty-two years. He also co-founded the Trust Company of Georgia - now part of Suntrust - and, starting in 1895, was its president for nine years. In 1882, he organized the East Atlanta Land Company where he designed and developed Inman Park which was connected to the city center by his Atlanta and Edgewood Street Railway Company which opened along Edgewood Ave. in 1886. It was Atlanta's first electric streetcar line, and the first profitable electric line in America. In 1880, he filed what would be US 365258  for an interesting thermal water valve ^ then in 1887, he filed No. 374,188 for a new style of valve cock for faucets handling water under pressure. ^

To anchor the downtown end of his streetcar he built Atlanta's first skyscraper, the Equitable Building which in 1893 became the home of the two year old Trust Company.

His next land deal was to be Druid Hills for which he hired the Olmsted Brothers to design along a linear park around Ponce de Leon Avenue, but he sold the enterprise to Asa Candler for half a million dollars in 1908. He also built Atlanta's first fireproof theater, the Atlanta Theater (also on Edgewood) and his masterpiece, the Hurt Building (which still stands).

The Wall Street Journal's bureau chief Douglas Blackmon's 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winning book Slavery by Another Name revealed the extent to which Joel Hurt's fortune was built on the profitable and exploitative uses of harshly disciplined and cruelly deprived convict labor. Hurt was unrepentant in hearings in 1908 that brought out the shocking abuses in the Hurt family convict labor camps. His callous indifference to evidence that many of his workers had died of abuse and his viciousness in asserting that convict workers could not be beaten enough horrified even contemporary Georgians. These hearings led in large part to the banning of convict leasing in Georgia.

In 1940 land was donated to the city by the Trust Company and a park was dedicated as Hurt Park which lies across Peachtree Center Ave. from the Hurt Building.

The Joel Hurt Cottage still stands near Elizabeth and Euclid Streets in Inman Park.

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Preceded by
Robert Lowry
President of Trust Company of Georgia
1895 – 1904
Succeeded by
Ernest Woodruff