Nestled amid apartment complexes on Seventeenth Street, the seven-story, 100-foot Millennium Gate is hard to miss but easy to whiz by. Many Atlantans assume the Roman-inspired arch, erected in 2008, is just another decorative element of Atlantic Station, the mini-city built on the site of an old steel mill. But the monumental structure houses a 12,000-square-foot museum that pays tribute to Georgia history and Atlanta’s founding families.
The arch is the pet project of Rodney Mims Cook Jr., whose local pedigree extends back to the 1830s—before Atlanta’s founding as a railway terminus. The museum (open weekdays; adult admission $10) exhibits sixteenth-century artifacts from Spanish colonies in South Georgia and Florida, as well as treasures such as the original contents of a parlor in historic Rhodes Hall. Chapters of state history—the founding of Savannah, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement, for instance—are depicted on tapestries. The final exhibit is a panoramic layout of Atlanta. Created in collaboration with Georgia Tech’s interactive media department, the display uses gaming sensors to let visitors toggle between more than 5,000 “then and now” images.
Cook asserts the museum is intended to provide an aspirational message. “We keep saying we’re a young city,” Cook says, “but we’re not.”
This article originally appeared in our January 2014 issue under the headline “Monumental Aspirations.”