Atlanta’s historic homes tell a story

The Estate, which once was the restaurant, is an event space in Buckhead. It was built in 1797 in Wilkes County and moved to Buckhead. 
Courtesy of The Estate
The Estate, which once was the restaurant, is an event space in Buckhead. It was built in 1797 in Wilkes County and moved to Buckhead. Courtesy of The Estate

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Historic homes are repurposed hidden gems that add charm, history and authenticity

They could be beauty salons, restaurants or offices, and sometimes, even a museum, but scattered around metro Atlanta are historical houses that have been saved from the bulldozer and found a second — or third or fourth — life.

“The historical preservation movement has gone through several stages ever since Mount Vernon, George Washington’s house, became a museum,” says Mark McDonald, executive director of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. “And you see many versions of that paradigm in Atlanta with the Wren’s Nest, the Hearndon House, Tuttle Smith and Swan House at the Atlanta History Center, and the MLK birthplace. But it’s economically challenged and a difficult business model to sustain.”

Today the restored Root House welcomes visitors. 
Courtesy of the Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society
Today the restored Root House welcomes visitors. Courtesy of the Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The next stage, encouraged by federal and sometimes local tax credits, is converting buildings to economically sustainable uses. Some houses, however, aren’t so lucky. One loss that stands out, McDonald says, is historic Glenridge Hall, a 1929 Tudor Revival mansion, that was razed to make way for the Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Sandy Springs. “Well, at least we have Callanwolde that is that same Tudor Revival style,” he says. What is now the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center was originally the home of Charles Howard Candler, president of the Coca-Cola Co., and is a Gothic-Tudor style mansion that was built between 1917 and 1921.

A historic house is defined as being at least 50 years old, has architecturally important designs and was the site where an historic event may have occurred or is associated with a famous person. Bulloch Hall in Roswell checks all three boxes. It is an 1839 Greek Revival mansion that was the home of Martha Bulloch, mother of Theodore Roosevelt.

“These houses are part of our history. They were here when there wasn’t much in Gwinnett County. It helps people think about what it was like back then when it was wilderness and not strip center shopping malls,” said Bobbie Wilson Tkacik, cemetery preservation chair and a volunteer are the Gwinnett Historical Society. “Children need to understand that life wasn’t always the way it is now; milk didn’t always come from the grocery store.”

One of the historical houses in Gwinnett is the Elisha Winn House that was built around 1812. Much of the planning to form Gwinnett County took place there as well as many other government functions. On the property was a barn where the first county jail was built and where “justice” was served. Executions took place; a person enslaved by Elisa Winn, was tried and hung there. The house, located in Dacula, recently underwent renovations and is occasionally open to the public.

Another historic Gwinnett County house that received a $286,748 renovation grant is the Hudson-Nash House, which was moved from one side of Five Forks Trickum Road to the other. The house, built in 1840, gives the “feel of an old plantation,” she says.

Not yet opened to the general public but can be visited during special events is the Power Family Cabin, believed to have been built by George Abner Power around 1843.

Over in Cobb County, several houses were converted into museums including the Mable House, which was constructed in the 1840s and was a field hospital for federal troops during the Civil War; the Hiram Butler House, which dates back to the 1880s; and Brumby Hall and Gardens, which was constructed in 1851 and is the only building at the Georgia Military Institute campus to survive the Civil War. The Hyde Farm Park houses a renovated 1830s log cabin while there is a Civil War-era house in the 111-acre Green Meadows Preserve.

The Hyde Farmhouse in Cobb County is a renovated 1830s log cabin and located in the Green Meadows Preserve. 
Courtesy of the Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society
The Hyde Farmhouse in Cobb County is a renovated 1830s log cabin and located in the Green Meadows Preserve. Courtesy of the Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“We have a couple of houses that people may not know about,” says Marissa Howard, membership and program coordinator for the DeKalb History Center. “There is the Lyon Farm on Arabia Mountain, the Donaldson-Bannister Farmhouse in Dunwoody and Stone Mountain has the Wells-Brown House. Here in Decatur, we have the Swanton House. They all give a real snapshot into family history, and there are so many historic houses that are constantly threatened. Brookhaven is a great example of historic homes being torn down.”

It is almost too obvious to note that many historic houses are often turned into the offices of historic societies. The East Point Historical Society is housed in the 1913 Morgan House; the offices of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation are in what was Rhodes Hall, built by Amos Giles Rhodes, proprietor of Rhodes Furniture. The Romanesque Revival mansion was completed in 1904 for $500,000. The Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society’s offices are in the 1830 Manning Family cabin that was relocated and is now on the property next to the 1850′s William Root House in Marietta.

Rhodes Hall is a 1904 Romanesque Revival mansion built for Amos Giles Rhodes of Rhodes Furniture. Today it is the home of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. 
Courtesy of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.
Rhodes Hall is a 1904 Romanesque Revival mansion built for Amos Giles Rhodes of Rhodes Furniture. Today it is the home of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. Courtesy of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

The William Root House was built in the 1850s and was badly in need of renovation. 
Courtesy of the Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society
The William Root House was built in the 1850s and was badly in need of renovation. Courtesy of the Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Today the restored Root House welcomes visitors. 
Courtesy of the Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society
Today the restored Root House welcomes visitors. Courtesy of the Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“There are a lot of houses that have been preserved in Marietta and some are getting local historic designations, which is the only one that protects the home,” says Trevor Beemon, executive director of the Cobb society. “Getting named a national historic site designation doesn’t do anything; it’s honorary. I don’t think people know that. It’s disconcerting because you saw all these Philip Trammell Shutze and Need Reid houses being torn down in Buckhead, and it’s starting to get that way in Cobb. Property values are getting too high.”

One way to save a historic property is to repurpose it. The former Peter House, which was designed in 1883, was once a restaurant known as The Mansion on Ponce de Leon. The former Queen Anne-style home is now Ivy Hall and part of SCAD.

Many former homes turn up as charming restaurants, such the Wrecking Bar Brewpub, which is housed in a late Victorian building in Inman Park that was once a home, a church, dance studio and architectural salvage store.

“The Georgia Restaurant Association is a longtime supporter of restaurants being part of the modern revitalization and preservation of Georgia’s historic homes and buildings,” says Karen Bremer, president and CEO of the Georgia Restaurant Association. “From personal experience as a former operator, both my downtown Atlanta restaurants were located in restored buildings — Dailey’s in the former Regenstein’s department store and City Grill in the historic Hurt Building, formerly the Federal Reserve Bank in the early 1900s.”

The Skelton-Teasley House is an 1856 Greek-Revival-style house that is known as the oldest building in Roswell. Once the home of Dr. Oliver P. Skelton, it is now Ginger House, a coffee and tea cafe. The Dr. William P. Nicholson Home, built in 1892, is now the Shellmont Inn in Ansley Park, and the Estate, formerly Anthony’s restaurant, now is an event venue that was built in 1797 in Wilkes County and moved to Piedmont Road. The Cowan House, an 1850 home in Acworth that was saved by the Georgia Trust, is now home to an environmental engineering firm.

Today the Cowan Home is owned by the Acworth Society for Historic Preservation.
Courtesy of Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society
Today the Cowan Home is owned by the Acworth Society for Historic Preservation. Courtesy of Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

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The 1854 Cowan Home before it was restored. Courtesy of Cobb Landmarks and Historical Society

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

“There are so many houses and buildings that should be preserved but developers want to buy old houses on small lots and put bigger luxury houses on them,” says McDonald. “Let’s face it; you can’t beat the developers, who in this town are king.”

The trust keeps a list of endangered houses and buildings, and he is concerned about Ansley Park, one of the city’s historic residential gems. “There is a new effort to help preserve that neighborhood,” he says. “It’s at the tipping point. Only 54 percent of the houses there are original. If you lose them and other historic homes and buildings, we become more generic and less distinctive every day. It leads to a loss of quality of life and enjoyment. These homes and places are in peril. Go see them while you can.”

The Ginger Room is now a charming coffee and tea cafe in Alpharetta but was built in 1856 by Dr. Oliver P. Skelton. 
Courtesy of The Ginger Room.
The Ginger Room is now a charming coffee and tea cafe in Alpharetta but was built in 1856 by Dr. Oliver P. Skelton. Courtesy of The Ginger Room.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

DISCOVER MORE

Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation. 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Monday-Friday; closed Saturday-Sunday. 1516 Peachtree St. NW, Atlanta. 404-881-9980, georgiatrust.org

Cobb Landmarks & Historical Society. 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday; closed Sunday-Tuesday. 80 North Marietta Parkway, Marietta 770-426-4982, cobblandmarks.com

Gwinnett County Historical. 10:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.: Monday, Wednesday, Friday; closed Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday. 185 W. Crogan St. Lawrenceville. 770-822-5174, gwinnetths.org

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