Calling All Virginia-Highland History Buffs!

virginia-highland in the early 20th century

The Virginia-Highland Civic Association Preservation & History Committee formed nearly two years ago and has made great progress.  We’re inviting all lovers of history to play an important role: join our committee for starters, and  become the History Champion of your subdivision.

Virginia-Highland is actually made up of many subdivisions and was primarily developed from the early 1900′s through the late 40′s. The number of named subdivisions varies depending on which history you look at. The  disparity is often a product of incomplete developments being absorbed (or expanding) into larger subdivisions.

The map shown below gives a rough idea of the key historic subdivisions and the approximate dates of their development. We’d love for our Subdivision History Champions to help us uncover as much history as we can, subdivision by subdivision.  We’ve learned a lot, but there is much more to know.

We can advise you on the process, scanning specs and best places to look for historic information. The type of history you collect could depend on your own personal curiosity and where it leads you. Oral histories, images, and documents are productive starting points, as are identifying and protecting landmarks, and investigating subdivsion historic designation. The Preservation & History Committee can advise you in all these processes.

The primary subdivisons noted on the map shown below are:

1.      Todd / Liddell Estate – 1904, 1932

2.      Oak Grove / North Highalnd – 1907

3.      Highland View – 1911

4.      Atkins Park – 1912

5.      Realty Mortgage Development – 1913

6.      Adair Park – 1916

7.      Virginia Avenue Subdivision (Collection) – 1916

8.      Virginia Hills – 1921

9.      North Boulevard Park – 1916

10.   Rosewood Park – 1922

11.   F.A. Ames Property / Virginia Highlands – 1922

12.   Kelly – 1924

13.   Cheshire Estate – 1928

14.   Brookridge Park Subdivision – 1935

Click on the map image above to view a larger version.

To learn more about our committee and see a little of the history we’ve been working on, visit the committee’s page at vahi.orghttp://vahi.org/planning/preservation/

Reach out to us directly at preservation@vahi.org. We’d love to get you involved!

30 Additional Historic Plat Maps Added

Houses once stood on the land that is now John Howell Park, and the Inman School's trailers and playing fields. This plat mapped out the land lots for those houses.

About a year ago, we posted 22 historic plat maps of various subdivisions that are now part of Virginia-Highland — these are the maps on which surveyors originally plotted how the land was subdivided into the lots that, for the most part, still exist today. To explore the maps, you can start by viewing the map of Virginia-Highland (“Map of Maps”), then select your specific area, then click through all available maps for that sector.

Now, the VHCA Preservation and History committee has provided an additional 30 historic plat maps which we have posted. The most enjoyable thing (for history and map geeks, anyway) is to explore from the overall VaHi map. However, if you want to know specifically which maps were added, here is a list:

Before the Plaza Theatre, Patent Medicine Paid for the Druid Apartments

by Brian Gross

It seems that patent medicine paid for quite a bit of local real estate development in the early 1900s. I previously wrote about how Dr. Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic helped build Atkins Park. Now I’ve discovered another promoter of cure-all liquid who financed a beautiful apartment building at the southwest corner of Ponce and N. Highland with his profits.

The site is currently occupied by Briarcliff Plaza, “Atlanta’s first shopping center” (1939) and home to the Plaza Theatre and Majestic Diner. But here in 1917, the Druid Apartments were built. They were financed by George Francis Willis who had made his fortune on sales of Tanlac, a cure for stomach troubles, and Zonite, an antiseptic.

In 1920, Forrest and George Adair brokered a deal whereby Willis sold the apartments for $125,000 to Alex F. Marcus and Charles F. Ursenbach [3] – both brothers-in-law of Leo Frank, who had famously been lynched in 1915.

I haven’t found out if there’s a reason the Druid Apartments were torn down other than a more profitable use of the land.

And following the history trail keeps turning up even more of these patent medicine-financed developments. Mozley Park in west Atlanta, a lovely 1920s neighborhood and an early epicenter of white flight, was founded by Dr. Hiram Mozley, whose lemon elixir promised to relieve heart disease, indigestion, nervous prostration, headache, constipation and neuralgia!

Follow the history trail and there’s always more than meets the eye.

 

1928 maps now online (and many more)

Historic maps lovers rejoice! A 1928 detailed topographic survey of Atlanta is now available online and includes Virginia-Highland roughly from Inman School on south. Our new Historic Maps page provides you the links. For future reference, the Historic Maps page is linked from our site’s menu under “Planning/Variances” and then “Preservation/History”, as well as from the A-Z index.

The new page also links you to our amazing collection of original plat maps from the era that VaHi’s subdivisions were built; the 1949 aerial survey; and the 1911 and 1920 Sanborn fire maps.

For those with an interest in Atlanta’s history before VaHi existed, an entire 1878 city atlas was also recently made available online. We can also direct you to the full resolution version of the beautiful 1871 “bird’s eye view” illustration of Atlanta.

N. Highland, Asheville, and Dr. Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic

by Brian Gross, Communications Committee

I recently stumbled across a 9-month-old post about a house for sale at 811 N. Highland. Built in 1911, 7 bedrooms, 7 bathrooms and a carriage house. It’s said to have belonged to a St. Louis doctor, Dr. Edwin Wiley Grove. Dr. Grove was a self-made millionaire most famous for “Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic”, which contained quinine but without the bitter taste. Some sources claim that by 1890 more Grove’s tonic was sold than Coca-Cola.

Dr. Grove’s tonic riches enabled him to buy real estate. Here in our ‘hood, in 1912, he developed what is now Atkins Park (the three “Saint” streets east of N. Highland). Originally “St. Louis Park” (Grove lived in St. Louis), he changed it to Atkins Park to honor a family friend and mentor, Col. Atkins – a man who had served both in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as the Confederate Congress.

In northwest Atlanta along what was until recently Bankhead Highway, Grove developed the streetcar suburb of “Fortified Hills”, later renamed Grove Park, where the now hard-scrabble streets are named after Grove’s daughters.

Grove was active in developing hotels in Asheville, North Carolina. You may have been to the beautiful Grove Park Inn, dedicated by Williams Jennings Bryan and where seven presidents have slept. Connecting the historical dots can lead you to some unexpected places!



  

What I learned about VaHi from old Voice newsletters

by Brian Gross, Communications Committee

Voice logos through the years. Click to enlarge image.

I recently helped scan and uploaded more than 60 past issues of the Virginia-Highland Voice, the VHCA’s long-standing paper newsletter, which continues today in electronic form. The issues ranged from the very first Voice in 1972 through 1976, then a large gap, and then other issues dating from 1988-2012.

By scanning headlines I was able to create online tables of contents for each issue. In doing so I read many articles and I thought I’d share with you the most interesting articles I found. Keep in mind I’m a relative newcomer (3 years) – and I know that others might find other topics more interesting than I do. Also, I know there is always more to the story than what I found. I speak for myself here and not for the VHCA. With those disclaimers, here’s what I found interesting:

Neighborhood Empowerment and Fighting I-485

Planned route of I-485 through VaHi

The Voices from the 70s don’t actually give the full background and context of the battle that raged at the time against the building of the I-485 freeway north-south through Virginia-Highland and other neighborhoods.

Nor do they discuss the fact that this was the first time neighborhoods actually had a voice – “the third leg of the stool” in the city, next to business and the black community.

But it is interesting to catch these glimpses of that time, once I was educated on the context and history.

One article also explained the very real problem of redlining at that time – something that until recently I only thought happened in minority areas. (Voices from 19721973197419751976)

Sidewalks

The most intractable problem in VaHi?

Virginia-Highland’s broken sidewalks? “Always and forever” an issue… examples:

Zoning

Almost a 2000-person mega-entertainment complex?

The VHCA battled some projects that would have been disastrous and might have led us to become a second Buckhead village (where violence from partygoers got so bad they tore the place down!):

But, the association lost the battle to save dozens of majestic oak trees at 830 Ponce, the site today of The Carlton on Ponce condominiums.

Ponce de Leon Avenue

In 1990 a “Ponce Taskforce” was formed, and the Fall 1990 issue was dedicated to Ponce, inventorying the help organizations there, the transient hotels, and the problems. In 1992 there was a spirited letter to the editor against a potential expansion of Grady Hospital onto Ponce.

Ponce has improved substantially since then I am sure, but is still a problem. I feel that as a  community we “face” north, west and east, but turn our back to Ponce. Is the community too exhausted to try and improve it?

Summerfest and Tour of Homes

Summerfest is present in nearly every issue, Tour of Homes almost as often, and every year the plans were announced and the ever-greater successes described. Some articles that stood out:

Safety

Of course, John Wolfinger’s Safety Reports are legendary, but were not included in the hard copy Voice because of John’s desire to have the reports distributed by street captains, thereby strengthening that program.

As the person who drove the 2010 expansion of FBAC (member supported security patrol) to cover the entire neighborhood, I found it interesting to read about a spirited, but unsuccessful effort to do so in 1994, as well as to track how FBAC came to be.

Parks and Trees

John Howell Park 1988 original plan

Some standout articles:

His work was to grace VaHi

The tireless efforts of Stephanie Coffin to save trees and plant more are a red thread throughout almost all Voice issues.

Retail

Superior Foods closes, 1994

  • In 1994, residents were shocked by the sudden closing of Superior Foods grocery, where CVS is today on N. Highland.
  • Recently a friend from Vinings asked me if I enjoyed all the galleries in VaHi. I was baffled – what galleries? Now I understand – she hadn’t been to VaHi for a long time! In 1993, VaHi was famous for art galleries – I enjoyed this overview of them.
  • In 1994 VaHi was coffee and dessert-obsessed – I enjoyed the comparison of seven locations. Why are there no dedicated dessert places today!?

People

Portraits of exceptional neighborhood volunteers and organizers:

And honorable mention to indefatigable columnists:

  • Nan Hunter’s recycling columns in the 1990s when recycling was a new idea
  • The Highland Ho-er (gardening tips by today’s safety guru John Wolfinger)
  • Colonel Mustard (restaurant reviews)

PS – Some of the ads were very entertaining too, such as this 1990 Murphy’s ad:

Ad for Murphy's, Virginia-Highland Voice, August 1990

More Voice past issues available online

We have scanned more past issues of the Virginia-Highland Voice — the following additional issues are available online.

See also the full archive at vahi.org/voice-print.

News (and movies) from VHCA Annual Meeting and 40th Anniversary Celebration

The Board of Directors for the 2012 (October) through 2013 (September) period has been elected.

Minutes of the meeting are forthcoming; however you can watch videos of the meeting, including the many special events such as:

  • SPARK choir performing (watch video)
  • Joe Drolet‘s educational address about the formation of the VHCA to fight construction of an interstate highway through our neighborhood (watch video)
  • Addresses by Pat Gardner, Ceasar Mitchell and Alex Wan (watch video)
  • Remembrance of Warren Bruno and and address by his wife Sandra (watch video)
  • Recognition of former and exiting Board members (watch video)
  • Discussion and voting on amendments to the VHCA by-laws (watch video)
  • Grants to community organizations (watch video)

See a slideshow of the achievements of VHCA and its volunteers below. You can also download it as a PDF file.

Finally, here is the new history video which premiered at the meeting, based upon the book Images of America: Virginia-Highland by Karri Hobson-Pape and Lola Carlisle. It was first shown at the 40th anniversary celebration (2012 annual meeting) of the VHCA. You can watch it full-screen by clicking the square icon in the bottom right of the video.

Voice – Summer 2012

Last edition of the Voice (print edition) published!
Download PDF (6.1 MB)

- It’s festival time! Summerfest 2012
- New Highland Park construction to begin soon
- Reflections on redistricting, by Nicole Foerschler-Horn
- Dr. Leila Denmark, by Lola Carlisle, Karri Hobson Pape and Judy Potter
- Graffiti in Virginia-Highland
- Planning for the 2012 VaHi Tour of Homes is underway, by Jack White and Lola Carlisle
- A walking community, by Peggy Berg
- Goin’ Coastal, a great catch, by Brent Schnee
- How to choose a contractor, by Phillip Pettis

Voice — April 2012 — Dr. Leila Denmark — 114 years of memories

Pediatrician to Virginia-Highland’s “Little Angels”
by Lola Carlisle, Vice-President

Dr. Leila Denmark passed away on Sunday, April 1st. Born in Portal, Georgia in 1898, she was 114 years old and believed to be the world’s fourth oldest person at her death. And what a person!

The Atlanta Journal Constitution obituary recounted a remarkable life in medicine: the third woman to graduate from the Medical College of Georgia (1928), the first intern at Henrietta Egleston Hospital on the Emory campus and the first to admit a sick baby there, the state’s first female pediatrician, and a significant role in the research that led to the development of the pertussis vaccine and the modern day DPT vaccine.

Dr. Denmark was married to John Eustace Denmark for more than 60 years, until his death in 1991. In 1931, the Denmarks had a daughter, Mary Denmark Hutcherson; Dr. Denmark then started her own practice at home so she could raise Mary. Her first home office was in the breakfast room of their home on Kentucky Avenue; the family later moved to 1051 Hudson Drive, where the living room served as a waiting room and a bedroom as the exam room. Dr. Denmark practiced medicine in Virginia-Highland until 1949. When Karri Hobson-Pape and I researched our book about the neighborhood (Images of America: Virginia-Highland), we spoke to a number of long-term residents who remembered residents and neighbors taking their kids to Dr. Denmark.

1051 Hudson Drive – c. 1940 Mary Denmark. c. 1940. Ann Tinkler, Mary Denmark, Bootsie Holzman – 1051 Hudson backyard, 1936 Mary Denmark in the waiting room at 1051 Hudson Drive
Photos courtesy of Mary Denmark Hutcherson

Dr. Denmark’s daughter, Mary Denmark Hutcherson, had fond and vivid memories of growing up in the area. She played in the waiting room of her mother’s office and recalls her mother peeking out of the exam room to call in her “next little angel.” And she remembers a charming and happy childhood in Virginia-Highland.

Virginia-Highland was Mary’s playground. She had a great group of friends who biked and roller-skated all over the area, often chasing – or trying to chase – the fire trucks going on calls from Station # 19. Mary and her friend Ann Tinkler (whose father was the minister of the Associate Reform Presbyterian Church, now the YWCA) frequently played at Orme Park, which they called “The Little Park.” They recall the old Highland Bakery horse and buggy coming through and the strong sweet smell of the fresh bread. Mary thought the horse was very pretty – she remembers that he was white and had a big blocky head. (Some of the old Highland Bakery delivery routes are on display in the building behind the current Highland Bakery at 655 Highland Ave.) Mary described many stores at the corner of Highland and Virginia; Mrs. Georgia’s Dairy was a favorite – who can resist a milkshake!

When it came to schooling, Mary remembers every detail and there were many. Redistricting and changes in school routes and destinations are not a new concept here. Mary can tell you every bus, trolley, and transfer she made on her path to acquiring an excellent education – an education she took seriously in spite of the constant temptation to dawdle at Rich’s downtown on her route home. She attended Inman (from K–6), O’Keefe Jr. High (now part of the Georgia Tech campus), Atlanta Girls High in Grant Park (two years), and graduated from Grady as a member of that school’s first co-ed class in 1948. She found herself well-prepared when she got to UGA; she recalls her freshman year there to be largely a review of material she already knew.

These great stories about the Denmark family, including these wonderful tales of the daily life of a child in Virginia-Highland in the 30’s and 40’s, make me feel grounded. This neighborhood has a rich and vibrant history; it citizens and its buildings are full of varied and rich stories. We Virginia-Highlanders are fortunate people.

Karri Hobson-Pape, Judy Potter and Jack White also contributed to this article

Voice – Fall 2011

Download PDF here (2.0 MB)

- Summerfest success
- President’s corner: volunteer for the board!
- Safety update: street captains, graffiti removal
- New Highland Park brick purchases
- 2011 Gold List of neighborhood businesses
- Street tree do’s and don’ts
- Patrols expand in VaHi and Old Fourth Ward
- VaHi history book published
- Parks update: Orme and New Highland
- Bella Cucina
- Repairs coming near Chevron and The Cavern
- Garrison Afterschool expands

Voice – Summer 2011

Download PDF here (7.5 MB)

- Summerfest
- Recent accomplishments of VHCA
- Maintaining curb appeal
- Funding received to benefit Orme and New Highland parks
- Rosedale Dr./N. Virginia intersection improvements made
- New businesses (Catalyst, Genki)
- History Part XI

Voice – Winter 2010-11

Published late November 2010
Download PDF (1.8 MB)

- Get ready to do the tour (Tour of Homes)
- President’s corner by Aly Higgins
- Group works to rid VaHi of graffiti, by Victoria Hathcox and Laura Voisinet
- Planning continues for construction of New Highland Park, improvements to Orme Park: Both projects could see groundbreaking in early 2010, by Pamela Papner
- Green Dream fundraising
- VHCA wants Atlanta Gas Light to repave streets adversely impacted by recent line work: Gas company meets some, not all, of neighborhood’s cleanup requests
- Spotlight on public safety: keep your dollars at home! by John Wolfinger
- History of Virginia-Highland, Part IX
- Restaurant review: Goin’ Coastal
- New burger joint opens in VaHi

Voice – Fall 2010

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- Summerfest success
- President’s Corner: VHCA achievements of past 12 months
- Historic designation interest survey results to be presented
- Atlanta’s oldest fire station seeks funds for renovation
- Green Dream – New Highland Park fundraising
- Osteria 832
- Gas main replacement project nears completion
- History part VIII
- Public safety update: city codes and code violators
- Java Jive
- 2010 Tour of Homes with Design Forum
- Membership

Voice – Spring 2010

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- Triangle island renovation nears completion
- Home Tour recap
- Local Haiti relief efforts continue
- President’s Corner: Callanwolde silent auction results
- SPARK students introduced to debate
- Spotlight on Grady High School
- Grow fruit in your garden
- Streetscape update
- Green Dream silent auction a success
- Safety update: Reed administration and the APD
- Orme Park Phase One improvements
- How healthy are your trees?
- History part VI
- Col. Mustard reviews Rosebud

Voice – Summer 2009

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- Summerfest
- Neighborhood preservation committee update
- Planning for 2009 Tour of Homes
- Historic Fourth Ward Park under construction
- President’s Corner: fundraising for new park
- News from MES and Inman
- SPARK gets name and principal
- Join New Highland Park Conservancy
- New businesses: Glamour Paws, D.B.A. Barbeque, Silverstein, Thomas & Carter
- VHCA wants you!
- Rufus Henry Stansell (1929-2009) neighborhood folk artist
- Col. Mustard reviews Belly General Store
- History of Virginia Highland Part III

Voice – Winter 2008-9

Download PDF here
Published November 2008

- 14th annual Tour of Homes
- President’s Corner
- Safety Update
- The Bus Stop, news from schools
- VHCA attemps to purchase former library lots, by Pamela Papner
- More delays for Phase II of VaHi streetscape improvements, by John Becker
- New elementary school to open in August 2009
- Neighborhood commercial (NC) zoning initiative gains momentum by John Peak and Pamela Papner
- VHCA 2008-2009 membership Q&A
- Street smart by Drew Baughman
- History of Virginia-Highland, Part I
- Buy a brick in the new VaHi park

Voice – Spring 2005


Download as PDF (5.4 MB)

- President’s Address, by Keving Cronin: preparing for Summerfest
- Summerfest 2005 needs you!
- Volunteer in our green spaces, by John Wolfinger
- Our survey says, by Chip Gallagher (results of community survey)
- Summer sizzles at Zoo Atlanta, by Helen Grebe
- Summerfest twenty years ago, by Tinka Green
- Strong academics and achievements at Inman Middle School
- 2005 state legislative actions
- Visit Piedmont Park for two new activities (Saturday safari for kids, Historic tours)
- Gear up for National Bike Month, by Mike Goodman
- Home Tour builds on 2004 success
- The Green Market at Piedmont Park returns
- School rezoning in our future? by Chip Gallagher
- If you love ‘em, leash ‘em by Officer W.J. Butcher
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Voice – Spring 2004

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President’s Address, by Kevin Cronin
- City council honors Aaron Gross for his leadership
- City council passed sewage and water bill
- Sidewalk reimbursement program
- Grand opening of Cunard Memorial Playground March 28, 2004

Parking and transportation are major issues for the business community, by Tinka Green, VHBA president
- permit parking may be introduced in Atkins Park

- What’s happening at Inman Middle School (renovation), by Liz Coyle
- Virginia-Highland Tour of Homes planned
- Remember to recycle, by Nan Hunter

Why cities don’t matter and why Virginia-Highland does, by Chip Gallagher
- Cities are losing out to suburbs in political power
- VaHi and intown neighborhoods will weather the fiscal storm due to social organization

- Atkins Park Garden Club celebrated 75th anniversary, by Tinka Green
- The Southeastern Flower Show provides great landscaping ideas, by John Wolfinger
- Anatomy of a property tax assessment challenge
- Cunard Memorial Playground park cleanup and grand opening
- How can I remove graffiti?

Voice – Winter 1992

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- VHCA amends its bylaws
- Parking survey opinion
- Planning Summerfest ’93
- Get “street smart” about safe bicycling
- Officially speaking: Handgun control, by Mayor Maynard Jackson
- Recycle today: save your “waste”, by Nan Hunter
- Home sweet Virginia-Highland home: portrait of longtime residents, by Jeni Evans
- John Howell Park renovation plans still under review, by Jerry Bright
- Col. Mustard reviews Neighbors Pub
- You can HELP! (fight crime), by Joyce Gross
- Neighborhood profile: Inman Middle School, by Betty Wells and Joan Walters
- Neighbors join to protect our streets: how to get off-duty police patrol coverage for your block, by Yvette Weatherly
- Crime statistics
- Personal safety tips from Pro-Tech Security Systems
- Learn about composting
- Traffic islands get make-over by Kathy Couch
- Parking survey

Voice – Spring 1992


Download PDF (2.5 MB)

- Atkins Park traces its past, by Tinka Green
- Murphy’s Law #92: more parking. Finding parking for Murphy’s new location at Virginia and Todd. By Jeni Evans
- Rep rap: Easy access to guns is killing us, by David Scott, State Senator
- Heart Strings: volunteers needed for Atlanta’s largest AIDS fundraiser
- A tale of two neighbors and a wild boar, Wild Boar beer at George’s, by Yvette Weatherly
- Making music in VaHi, a profile of Michael Moore (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra) and Paula Peace-Moore by Alison Nelson
- The zoning and variance review process, by Ed Neal and Nyna Gentry
- Finally, Virginia-Highlanders can build snowmen (photos)
- Ponce Task Force update
- Many residents perturbed over parking, by Vicky Favorite
- Schools update
- Recycling: we need more VaHi curbside recyclers in ’92, by Nan Hunter

Voice – Winter 1990

Download PDF (3.1 MB)

- Neighbor profile: Foot patrolman Officer Chris Clark, by Beth Marks
- Ponce de Leon task force to speak at December meeting
- Historic preservation presentation update, by Burn Sears
- Front porch living, by Yvette Weatherly
- Holiday entertaining like a pro, by Shelley Pedersen, director of catering at Murphy’s
- Historic designation – what is means to you
- John Howell Park update (by Jerry Bright) and events (by the L.A.M.P. project)
- Historic designation survey form
- Outline of City zoning preservation ordinance
- Council of Intown Neighborhoods and Schools (CINS), by Barbara Van Dyke
- Grady students to author VOICE articles
- Morningside Elementary volunteers
- Inman needs tutors too
- Recycling, it’s habit forming, by Nan Hunter
- The road that was almost built (Georgia 400/I-485), by Warren Pritchard with Charles Longley
- Building permits, by Steve Jagger
- Ponce de Leon Task Force gains momentum in reaching for a consensus
- Interview with Chief Eldrin Bell, by V. Evans
- Personal safety (reprinted from ProTech Security Systems newsletter)

Voice – Spring 1990

- Preservationists Karin Huebner (Urban Design Atlanta) and Ann Farrisee (Atlanta Preservation Center) to speak March 7th
- Profile of Nyna Gentry, chairman VHCA Preservation Committee and St. Charles Greenwood rep
- The VOICE says “Preservation”
- VaHi: Atlanta’s bungalow neighborhood, by Tim Crimmins
- More of everything at the new VaHi library, by Kathy Couch
- Support your neighborhood schools – CINS, by Barbara Van Dyke
- John Howell Park, by Jerry Bright: sidewalk replacement
- VaHi’s annual St. Patrick’s Day 5K Road Race
- Things are picking up (recycling), by Nan Hunter
- Volleyball, heads up!
- A letter from Rep. Jim Martin (on privacy, abortion, state budget)
- No parking? By Burn Sears
- Crime stats for VaHi (beat 610)

Download PDF (2.1 MB)

Shearith Israel Renovates “All Southern” Lanier University (1981)

by Craig Strain
Virginia-Highland Voice January 1981

At the fork of University Drive and Spring Valley Lane stands a yellow, stately replica of the Custis-Lee home. Presently a part of the Congregation Shearith Israel complex, it is a physical reminder of what was once Lanier University.

Lanier University, established in 1917 and named for Sidney H. Lanier, was founded by its first president, Charles Lewis Fowler, a Baptist educator-minister. Fowler believed that Atlanta and the South needed an “All Southern” Baptist University. It was because of this conviction that Fowler resigned his presidential position at Cox College, a women’s school in College Park, Georgia, to devote his efforts to his convictions.

In developing the new college, Fowler hoped to secure financial support from his personal acquaintance with the Coca-Cola baron, Asa G. Candler. An alternative for financial security was the Georgia Baptist Association. However, Fowler had to convince the Baptists and the general public that the school filled a need and its mission differed significantly from other Baptist colleges in the state. This matter was resolved when it was established that Lanier would become the state’s only co-educational Baptist institution. The Christian Index on June 28, 1917, reported however, that Lanier University would be “recognized as a Baptist Institution” but was not “organically” connected.

The reality of Lanier University came closer when Fowler gained the legal recognition of the state through the usual articles of incorporation. However, the Fulton County Court in Atlanta issued a very unusual, liberal charter. The charter not only recognized the college’s request that the Board of Trustees be composed of members of Missionary Baptist Churches, it granted Fowler and his associates the unusual privilege to conduct public bond sales and to secure the bonds with college property. Preparations began for opening the school in the fall of 1917, and since property had not been secured, space was rented on Peachtree Street.

Lanier gained the enthusiasm of the local press, Atlanta’s elite, and the Baptist establishment. When the doors opened in the fall of 1917, enrollment totaled over 140. This figure was impressive when compared to the older established Atlanta colleges whose enrollments were rarely more than several hundred. The academic year 1917-18 proved to be eventful: degrees were conferred on its first 16 graduates; 176 students had registered; 56 acres had been donated and $1 million would be spent on a new campus, connected to Atlanta’s other colleges by a new highway, University Drive.

Atlanta architect, A. Ten Eyck Brown, did a conceptualization of the campus. The sketch indicated the campus built along a crescent, stretching across the Druid Hills property that had been donated. The buildings were to be replicas of famous southern edifices (Mt. Vernon, Monticello, Tooms Hall). At the tip of the crescent, the entrance to the campus, would be the replica of the Custis-Lee home. This structure, still standing, was completed in 1919 and was named Arlington Hall.

In 1920, the financial stability of the university became questionable. The special privilege in Lanier’s charter was exercised, and public bond sales were made to raise $50,000. The bonds were secured by three acres of college property, including Arlington Hall, the mortgages of two other structures yet to be built on the campus, and a life insurance policy on Fowler. As time passed, all of the announcements of land gifts and bequests of the preceding three years were now questionable; Lanier University did not own a 56-acre campus, only 3 acres. Lanier University, hit by the recession and a declining enrollment, began to collapse financially. In 1921, it was announced that Lanier would be unable to continue without outside financial relief.

Lanier University as it was planned. Only the rightmost building, Arlington Hall, was built

It was announced on September 10, 1921 that the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan had acquired Lanier University. According to the Klan, Lanier would henceforth be devoted to the teaching of the principles of “100% Americanism”, and that “Colonel” William J. Simmons, founder and Imperial Wizard of the revived organization, would become president of the university. The secretary and business manager would be Nathan Bedford Forrest, grandson of the founder of the original Klan. The purchase agreement had three conditions: a new election of trustees; the college would be nonsectarian; Colonel Simmons would be elected president. Simmons had been a special lecturer in Southern history at Lanier prior to the Klan’s purchase.

There were little significant changes after the sale, the only being the composition of the Board of Trustees. That body now included the hierarchy of the national Klan. Lanier would enroll sons and daughters of non-Klan members so long as they were “real Americans,” and only two courses were mandatory: one dealing with the Constitution and another with the Bible. Preparations to build a lake were stated, and various construction projects began on campus, including an athletic field. However, a damper was placed on expectations when fewer than 25 students arrived for registration.

The financial burden the school placed on the Klan caused it to abandon its idea of a Klan college in Atlanta. In August 1922, bankruptcy proceedings commenced. This marked the end to William Simmons’ dream of a “real American” college, and Charles Lewis Fowler’s dream of an “All Southern” university.

Lanier University was developed from a real romance of the Old South. Its most outstanding aspect was the enthusiastic response and support that middle- and upper-class Atlantans gave this “All Southern” college. Although there were individuals who expressed reservations about the school and its Klan affiliations, no public discussions ever occurred. Lanier University proved at the time that the enthusiasm for the principles of 100% Americanism extended well beyond the walls of the Klan.

Congregation Shearith Israel, who was to become the new owner of the Lanier University property, was located on Washington St. several blocks south of where the Atlanta/Fulton Co. Stadium is now. Because so many of their members were moving to the Morningside area to escape the construction of I-75/85, it was desirable to acquire a building in this area. In 1949 the Lanier University property was purchased from the estate of Walter E. King and the building was used for religious services for the Morningside area members. The building had been used for residential purposes and was in very poor condition. It was necessary to make extensive repairs in order to have a suitable auditorium on the 2nd floor for religious services and the 1st floor for classrooms. It was several years before Shearith Israel sold their Washington St. property and the University property became the only home for the congregation. As more Jewish residents moved into the surrounding area, the congregation outgrew the small building and in 1957 a new, larger building was completed behind the old building.

The Atlanta Hebrew Academy renovated the building and used it for a “Day School” until 1961. Shearith Israel now had the space to move their own educational classes back into the Lanier University building.

The building had been maintained over the years but it had become apparent that a major renovation was due. That is exactly what happened and the lovely, old building has taken on a clean face inside and out and an exciting new addition at the rear. Another of our local historical buildings has been saved and Shearith Israel plans dedication ceremonies in August.

See also: “Lanier University” on Wikipedia

The Great Arc Light Controversy of 1916

VHCA has received the following reports from the Atlanta Constitution about a great controversy raging over an arc light which was hung from the intersection of Highland Avenue and Adair Avenue. The McDaniels at 18 Adair (now 1015 Adair) and the Jones at 988 N. Highland (now 936 N. Highland), were at each other’s throats. Not to mention the Rev. J.C. Atkinson, who came to the defense of the honor of his daughter, Mrs. McDaniels!









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