In 1870, Hanniball Kimball purchased a lot near the Union Depot, where the Atlanta Hotel had been before being burned in 1864 during the American Civil War. Through a confusing (and later a scandalous) combination of bonds, mortgages and subscriptions, and employing the architectural skills of William Parkins, he financed and built the first Kimball House there in 1869 and 1870. The hotel opened on October 17, 1870. At that time the structure was complete, but parts of the interior work would take the better part of a decade to be finished. The unusual funding scheme resulted in Kimball filing for bankruptcy and losing control of the building by the next year.
The six-story building was built of brick and painted yellow with brown trim; it had sixteen stores, twenty public rooms and 240 hotel rooms. It was the first building in Atlanta to have elevators and central heating.
In many ways it was the public face of Reconstruction-era Atlanta, housing presidents and railroad executives while hosting political meetings and business meetings. Many important citizens lived their adult bachelorhoods in its rooms.
At 4:30 a.m. on August 12, 1883, a careless cigar-smoking lemon dealer began a fire in the southwest corner of the huge building. The fire spread through the elevator shafts and quickly got out of control. The fire department was unable to do much because of difficulty in reaching the site and poor water pressure from the city cisterns; by 8:00 a.m., the building was destroyed. No lives were lost.
Citing a loss of business and prestige to the city, George Adair, Henry Grady, Richard Peters and others began fund-raising for rebuilding the hotel. They soon called on Kimball to lead the effort, even though he then resided in Chicago and had had no dealings with the property since he left town ten years before.
Built on the same site, but much larger than its predecessor, it had seven floors with thirty-one stores, twenty-two public rooms and 357 hotel rooms. The structure was built to be completely fireproof and officially opened for business on New Years Day, 1885. When owner Hugh T. Inman's daughter married banker John W. Grant in 1893, Inman gave the Kimball as a wedding gift to the couple. It was razed in 1959, the first of many historic buildings demolished in Atlanta during the 1960s and '70s, and replaced by a parking deck which still stands.