Historic Brookhaven home faces uncertain future

Bounded on the front by busy traffic, in the rear by railroad tracks and flanked by encroaching businesses, it is a mere shadow of its former self.

Known as the Solomon Goodwin House, the property was -- long ago -- a 600-acre farm, originally built sometime in the early 1830s on what was once Creek Indian land.

Today the remains of the property are largely covered by the Brookhaven neighborhood and the house itself sits on a lot slightly larger than 1 acre. A historic marker just outside the gated drive designates the significance of the property. Another sign -- one that says “For Sale” -- indicates the uncertain future of the landmark that has weathered more than 175 years.

“The house has been on the market for two years,” said Lynda Martin, Solomon Goodwin's great-great-great-great-granddaughter. “As a family, we love this place. But we've come together for the realization that we don't have the resources to keep it going.

“The neighborhood is expanding, the taxes are increasing. There's no way to raise the funds. The historical societies don't have the resources to do that. Historical homes, in general, are struggling.”

A number of different scenarios could exist for the future of the house. If the land and home are sold, the new owners could opt to create a development around the house, using it as a central theme piece.

Then there's the option of moving the house to another site. “We would give the home away to someone who was able to pay for the transport fees,” Martin said. “But so far -- and especially with the dip in the economy -- there haven't been any solid takers on that offer."

The last and darkest of the possibilities would see the land purchased by a buyer who was only interested in new development and in all likelihood would raze the structure.

“That's certainly not something we would like to see happen,” Martin said. “But it is a reality that exists and we've come to terms with.”

If walls could talk

Although the house is named after the Goodwin family patriarch, it was actually Solomon's son Harris who built the property. “From the documents we have, we know that Harris occupied the house in 1835,” said 81-year-old Albert Martin Jr., Solomon's great-great-great-grandson.

“When Harris' mother died, Solomon sold property he owned in South Carolina and moved to Georgia.” At that point, Solomon, who was already in his 60s, bought the land surrounding the property and deeded it to his son. Over the next 70 years, the house saw many changes. What today is known as Atlanta was originally called Terminus and later renamed Marthasville.

Despite the onslaught of the Civil War in Atlanta in 1864 and the burning of the city, the house continued to survive. In fact, it became a known rest stop for soldiers seeking food and water.

“It was a destination for Sherman's army,” Martin Jr. said. “They could come here and water and feed their horses. The Goodwins would also provide the men with food and water, as well.

“There were over 100,000 troops that came into the area, and they unintentionally left behind a permanent marking on the house that remains today,” Martin Jr. said. “They chopped out a section of the mantelpiece for kindling in order to make a fire. We thought about repairing it many times over the years, but I guess it's a good thing we didn't.”

Harris Goodwin's family continued to live in the house during the Civil War and beyond. In 1890, he sold off much of the land, which is today bordered by North Druid Hills, Peachtree Road and Colonial Drive. The considerably smaller piece of property that remained contained a family cemetery and the house itself. In 1898, Harris' daughter Lydia sold the house, ending more than 60 years of occupation by Goodwin family members.

This would not last for long, however.

Even though Solomon and Harris' descendants no longer lived at the residence, they continued to visit the place where many of their ancestors were buried to tend the grounds. It was during a picnic on the site in 1906 that Albert Jr.'s grandfather decided to repurchase the home to use as a summer retreat.

“He formed a club and issued stock certificates at $125 apiece to cover the cost of the house,” Martin Jr. said. “So for many years it was owned by multiple family members.

“By the time I came along in 1928, my parents were living in the house full time. I spent my early years growing up there. From 1928 to 1941 that was my home. It was such an incredible place for a young boy to grow up in.

“We had an acre and a half of pine woods and a 100-foot strip between the house and the railroad. This was during the Depression, so for the time it was a lot of land to play in and run around in. I have such vivid memories of playing on the railroad bank and watching the old steam locomotives trying to come up the steep grade to make deliveries to Charlotte. There was a streetcar that passed directly in front of our house, and Peachtree Road was nowhere near the size it is today. So much has changed.”

It was in 1960 when Dr. Elizabeth Martin -- Albert Martin Jr.'s aunt -- became the sole owner.

“She salvaged the house and decided to use it for office and rental space,” Martin Jr. said. “A year or so later she had the house moved from its original location to another area on the same property (an Extended Stay America hotel sits on the home's original location). Eventually, she gave it to my three daughters.”

Martin Jr. agrees with his daughter's assessment that the house needs work and the cost of upkeep is extremely expensive. “It's true. Much of the exterior of the house does need work. Despite that, it's still solid as a rock. It's a wonderful house. The thought of what might happen to it is something I find very difficult to talk about.”

Said Lynda Martin: “Of course we're hoping for the best-case scenario. But who's to say that maybe it's just a place whose time may be over?”

Don Rooney, urban history curator of the Atlanta History Center, shudders at the thought of the house being demolished or even moved.

“I do think it's important to save the house, given its age and its location. It provides insight into the Atlanta area of the time. It provides insight that some of the other homes don't provide. There are so many stories there -- in the landscape, the archaeology. The land can tell a story. The site itself can reveal so much to modern-day Atlanta. It's a place that needs to be preserved.”

More info:

3931 Peachtree Road

Phone: 404-233-2794

Hours of operation: open 1-4 p.m. every third Sunday of the month

http://goodwinhistory.org/

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