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A History of Druid Hills


By Gail King

 Mac and Melanie Platt's home at 1092 Springdale Rd. will be on this year's Druid Hills Home Tour. (Drawing by Rod Pittam)

The gently rolling countryside is dotted with white dogwoods and redbuds in bloom. Mountain laurel promises to blossom along the creeks and streams and the sweet smell of banana shrub hangs about in the warm spring air.The virgin hardwood forests, filled with oaks, beech, sycamores, poplars, hickory, hollies, and sourwood are beginning to show signs of new life. The time is 1800. The place is an area that is home to the Middle Creek Indians, a place that 100 years later would be known as "Druid Hills."

THE INDIANS were forced away when the white settlers came. Their wigwams were replaced with log cabins, and their moccasin-worn paths became roads for horse-pulled wagons.

In 1821 this land was ceded to the Georgia government by the Indians. It was surveyed into land lots of 202 _ acres, and by lottery, Georgia citizens could draw for these land lots. In 1825 Nancy Cosby drew the first land lot from this area. It was bought in 1851 for $910 and sold in 1863 to John Gerdine Johnson for $5,925. Johnson eventually acquired most of the land bordered by streets now known as Ponce de Leon, Briarcliff, North Decatur, and Lullwater. Once they were old Indian paths. After Johnsonís death, his widow and son sold all the land, except ten acres around the homeplace (still on Oakdale Road) to Joel Hurtís Kirkwood Land Company in 1890 for $63,000.

Hurt had founded the East Atlanta Land Company which had designed Inman Park in 1887. In 1890 he chartered the Kirkwood Land Company and began to acquire tracts of land that would later become Druid Hills. He bought land from the Paden family (Druid Hills Golf Club area), the Harrison family (Fernbank area), and several others until, by 1893, he had assembled over 1,400 acres for his dream of a suburban park-like residential area.

IN THIS SAME year, 1890 Hurt invited Frederick Law Olmsted to visit the Druid Hills site and discuss the possibility of designing the property. Olmsted was interested in designing a major residential suburb in the South that would be the "ideal residential park" which would provide "healthful living in a country setting, yet not far from the city," and he felt this site would be ideal.

Letters filed in the Library of Congress indicate Frederick Law Olmsted and the Olmsted Brothers completed preliminary plans in 1892 for the development of the 1482 acres of Druid Hills. Olmsted Sr. made numerous trips to Atlanta between 1890 and 1894 to talk with Joel Hurt about these designs. In 1893 Olmsted submitted a preliminary general plan for Druid Hills including roads, lakes and building sites. Perhaps the most important feature of the plan was the gently curving Ponce de Leon with its graceful string of parks. Adjacent to the Ponce de Leon Boulevard he included a trolley line.

OLMSTED BELIEVED that in order to have the ideal suburb, it was essential to have "good roads and walks, sewer, water and gas pipes, and sufficiently cheap, rapid, comfortable transportation to the center of the city." Streets and roads should follow the natural contours of the land to help create the "natural and informal setting." His designs were in tune with nature. Residential streets were landscaped on both sides like parkways, and front yards of the spacious lots were landscaped in a natural manner that flowed down into the street-side landscaping, so as to create the feeling of a continuous park. He believed homes should be built into the sites, rather than on them, and that the size of the sites should be large enough to provide privacy and relaxation but not isolation from neighbors. Of tremendous importance were the covenant restrictions included in his plans, to protect Druid Hills from future commercial development and to uphold the high standards proposed for this suburban residential work. Olmsted and his sons continued to work on these designs for Druid Hills, but the depression in 1893 forced Joel Hurt to temporarily abandon his project of 18 years.

IN 1895 OLMSTED SR. retired, and his sons took over the firm. In 1896 The Atlanta Constitution printed an East Atlanta Land Company real estate map which showed Olmstedís detailed plans for Druid Hills.

In 1903 Olmsted died and young John Olmsted, who had made a trip to Druid Hills the year before, continued developing the 1893 plans.

Hurt had begun to rally financially and began working with young Olmsted to implement the 1893 plans, and letters between John C. Olmsted and Hurt indicate that these plans continued to be the basis of their work.

Hurt continued to collect hundreds of thousands of plants for his nursery on Williams Mill Road (now Briarcliff) that was constantly providing plant material for the new subdivision. He had imported boxcar loads of plants from England, France, Greece, Japan and China. (Olmsted Sr. added numerous shrubs and trees from the nursery at the Biltmore House in Asheville.) More than 300,000 shrubs and trees from this nursery were planted in the parks along Ponce de Leon and on the residential sites.

IN 1903 THE NAME "Druid Hills" was actually given to this new development by the Olmsted firm, and many of the streets were named there.

In 1905 the Golf Club was planned.

In 1907 the Kirkwood Land Company began developing Druid Hills. Ponce de Leon was graded, its string of parks landscaped and building lots in the western section of Druid Hills laid out.

May 19, 1908, The Atlanta Journal reported "Joel Hurt property, Druid Hills, sold for $500,000, the largest sale ever recorded here," to the Druid Hills Company.

Asa G. Chandler, Coca Cola millionaire, Forrest and George Adair, Realtors, and Preston Arkwright, Ga. Railway and Power executive, major stockholders, can be credited with the development of Ponce de Leon and the residential area of Druid Hills as envisioned by Joel Hurt and designed by Frederick Law Olmsted.

In June, a charter for the "Druid Hills" Corporation was granted by DeKalb Superior Court. Included in the charter were the following restrictive covenants (written by the Olmsted firm in 1893):

40 year covenant period.

Minimum lot size requirement of ļ acre.

Minimum house cost.

Restriction for single family residences with no lot subdivision.

Barring and elimination of nuisances.

A building limit or set back lines from street.

Restriction against manufacture or commerce.

WITH THESE restrictive covenants, the Druid Hills Company promised to carry out the plans of Hurt and Olmsted in spirit and design.

In 1912 the Druid Hills Golf Club was formed.

The trolley line was built adjacent to Ponce de Leon in 1913, ending at Clifton Road.

Between 1908 and 1935 the Druid Hills Company made a showplace of Olmstedís trademarks: residential areas laid out in park-like settings, wide scenic parkways, smaller roadways following the gently rolling contours of the land and a profusion of native and exotic plantings. Druid Hills became the home of many of Atlantaís wealthy leaders.

The first home was built in 1909, at the northeast corner of Briarcliff and Ponce, a huge brick structure on four and a half acres, by John S. Candler, brother of Asa G. Candler.

In 1915 Asa Candler gave Emory 75 acres and $500,000 to begin development.

IN 1917, A BRIDGE was built over Ponce at Lullwater, making it easier to get to Decatur during periods of heavy rain.

Magnificent homes, designed by leading architects of the time Philip Shutze, Neel Reid and Walter Downing, were being built on large land lots, using the finest materials and craftsmen available.

Asa Candler, Jr., built an impressive home on 42 acres on Briarcliff, now the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Center. It included a golf course, two swimming pools (one open to the public for 25 a person), and a private zoo, which was home to six elephants (among them, one pair named Coca and Cola and another pair named Refreshing and Delicious), a Bengal tiger, four lions, a black leopard, a gorilla and numerous baboons.

Some neighbors charged in a law suit that they "lived in fear" of the odiferous and hazardous collection. In a case that went to the Georgia Supreme Court, one woman on Briarcliff sued Candler and was awarded $25,000, after she opened her car door to find a baboon sitting in the driverís seat, where upon the baboon filched her purse and in the struggle the woman fell and broke her leg!

After a succession of hair-raising events, Candler gave most of the animals to the Grant Park Zoo.

WALTER CANDLER, third son of Asa G. Candler, built Lullwater Farms on 185 acres on Clifton Road. It boasted a 25 acre lake, tennis courts, swimming pool, stables, hunting lodge and a half-mile private race tract. Candler sold Lullwater Farms to Emory in 1958. The manor house became home to Emoryís President and 20 acres became an outdoor biology lab for Emory. A large portion was sold to the federal government where the VA Hospital now stands.

In 1924, the Emory Village had its beginnings with the building of a service station. The area north of North Decatur Road and west of Emory, Lullwater Subdivision, was developed on land lots of 75 to 100 feet.

In the Spring of 1933, Mae West was in court in Atlanta fighting for permission to show her latest film, "She Done Him Wrong," at the Paramount, but way out Ponce de Leon Atlantans by the thousands were flocking to Druid Hills to see the flowering dogwoods on the grounds of the splendid estates.

Olmsted, the man who created Central Park in New York, had created a garden paradise in Atlanta that had become the place to live.

Emory University had expanded by 15 acres thanks to another gift from Candler.

AT THIS TIME, late 30ís and early 40ís, Druid Hills had its own water system (piped from a spring near what is now DeKalb Tennis Center), school district (Emory had set up a school for children of faculty and staff that became Druid Hills School) and fire hall and police station (located near the Kroger Store in the Village). After World War II all these services became part of the DeKalb County system.

Editorís Note: Gail King, co-editor of the Druid Hills Civic Association Newsletter in 1984 and 1985, wrote this history of Druid Hills for the publication before the 1984 Druid Hills Tour of Homes. For tickets and information for the 2008 Centennial Tour of Homes, visit www.druidhillstour.org.