ACT NOW: A Jewel In Atlanta’s Crown Faces Destruction

An important part of Atlanta’s history has come up for sale, which means, in Atlanta, imminent destruction.

Woodberry Hall / 

Peachtree Circle Apts of Ansley Park

Peachtree-Circle-Apartments-And-The-Leyden-House-Columns-Ray-Keen-2013

 

Very little remains of Atlanta from before the Civil War.

Indeed, this building is just over 100 years old. But it was designed in memory of the much-loved antebellum Leyden House and even used its actual columns.

The building’s importance goes beyond the Ansley Park site and the columns– the memory of the Leyden House have connections to Civil War generals from both sides, and magnate/philanthropist Asa Candler, business founder of the Coca-Cola company. Finally, they connect on multiple levels with Margaret Mitchell and book Gone with the Wind.

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The Columns

A block off of Peachtree Street in Ansley Park, proudly stand a colonnade of 30′ tall Ionic columns which were hand-carved from old-growth ash or cypress trees before the Civil War. They stood on Peachtree itself from 1858 through the war and until 1914. The fact that the 158 year old columns are still proudly erect today is highly rare in our city which is only 163 years young, but lacking in visual memory.

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Leyden House during the war

The Leyden House

Yet that is only part of their historical importance.  Prior to Atlanta’s cityhood, in 1848, Austin Leyden, originally from Philadelphia, started the town’s first foundry and machine shop, which would later become the Atlanta Machine Works. Ten years later he would marry the daughter of William Herring who built this elaborate Greek Revival Home at 124 Peachtree Street and where his family would reside for generations.  Having moved to down from Massachusetts, Atlanta’s first architect, John Boutell, planned an imposing design was unusual for the prewar railroad town. Most homes were more simple due to the fact that homeowners worked long hours, but the hard work was beginning to pay of as mansions began to march up Peachtree St. In fact, the Georgia Governor’s Mansion was next door to the left of the Leyden House. The home entertained many important early Atlantans including George Washington Collier, who built the first log cabin in the area that would become Atlanta.

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Atlanta’s magnificent Leyden House

The Generals

Probably because the home had a glass room at the top of the roof, from which most of Atlanta could be seen, first, Confederate General Hood, then U.S. Generals George H. Thomas and Wm. Tecumseh Sherman would take the Leyden House over as their headquarters during the several month siege and occupation of the city. It is in this house that Sherman planned his infamous “March to the Sea”, and “to make Georgia Howl” (with enough suffering to end the War). The Leyden House was also used as a hospital for wounded soldiers and was spared most bombing and the fires that most buildings in Atlanta succumbed to.

The Magnate

Almost 50 years after the war, one of Atlanta’s great citizens, the business founder of Coca-Cola , Asa Candler, purchased the home with the intent to raze it for commercial use. By this time, large commercial buildings were taking over the residential areas (today’s Peachtree Center area).  Mr. Candler saved the historic columns for use in the construction of the new Woodberry Hall School for Girls being built in Ansley Park in 1913.

In 1924, the Henry Grady Hotel and the Davisons/Macy’s would be built on the site. Today, The Westin Peachtree Plaza’s 70 stories perch on a portion of the site.

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Peachtree homes

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The interior of the governor’s Mansion in 1895

Atlanta’s Margaret Mitchell

Margaret Mitchell even mentioned the Leyden House in her book, Gone With the Wind:

Finally the business section fell behind and the residences came into view.  Scarlett picked them out as old friends, the Leyden house, dignified and stately; the Bonnells’, with little white columns and green blinds; the close-lipped red-brick Georgian home of the McLure family, behind its low box hedges.

                                                                                    –GWTW, Chapter 8

Margaret Mitchell chose to situate the grand Butler mansion near the Leyden House.

“Before we left Atlanta I was dickering for that big lot on Peachtree, the one near the Leyden house. You know the one I mean?”

                                                                                   –Rhett Butler, GWTW, Chapter 48

Born in 1900, Margaret Mitchell grew up in her family’s house at 1401 Peachtree Street, which was demolished in 1950. Interestingly, Mitchell attended the Woodberry School with the famous columns from the Leyden House. The book features two grand homes in the Greek Revival style, likely from her memories of Leyden House, Woodberry Hall, and old homes still extant, at that time, in the rolling hills surrounding Atlanta.

 

Woodberry Hall School for Girls

Rosa Louise Woodberry founded the Woodberry School for Girls in 1908, upon her move to Atlanta. Previously, she graduated from the Houghton Institute of Augusta and the Lucy Cobb Institute in Athens. She became a professor and Science department head at Lucy Cobb. She was a founding member of the Woman’s Press Club of Georgia in Athens and the Athens Woman’s Club. Her original Woodberry School was downtown at Peachtree & Pine St. She moved the school into the new 50 room building in Ansley Park in 1914. Later, she was the first woman to attend the University of Georgia, awarded a bachelor degree in 1927. She received her masters from Oglethorpe/Emory in 1928. In 1932, the school was closed two years after her death.

One of Woodberry Schools longest residents was Dorothy Alexander who had recovered from an acute bone infection during her childhood. After years of living in a cast, she studied dance in New York, London, and Atlanta  going on to establish the Atlanta Ballet. She had a studio in Woodberry Hall, La Petite Ecole de Dance.

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Woodberry Hall, 1930

The Peachtree Circle Apartments

In 1934, part of the school was remodeled into apartments, eventually the whole building was converted into 39 units, although I understand there may be only 32 today. The brick masonry building was designed by architect A.W. Canton and is around 19-24,000 sf. The Lewis Crook-designed home next door is part of the sale, an esteemed Atlanta architect.

Frequently, visitors or new ATLiens want to see something from old Atlanta, of Gone with the Wind.  The Peachtree Circle Apartments and their old columns are the best we have left from Atlanta history. The columns are magnificent, and Woodberry Hall is the best way to imagine residential Peachtree Street mansions before, during, and after the Civil War.

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Peachtree Circle Apartments
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Peachtree Circle Apartments by Ray Keen

Please help save Woodberry Hall/Peachtree Circle Apts.

As an architect, I know the building and adjacent home could be saved while making a sound investment.

Hopefully, Ansley Park residents and other Atlantans are going to fight any ideas of demolition.

 

 

 

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2 thoughts on “ACT NOW: A Jewel In Atlanta’s Crown Faces Destruction

  1. What is the status of the sale of this lovely structure? I had the pleasure of living in a studio apartment in Woodberry Hall (Peachtree Circle Apartments) when I moved to Atlanta in 2001. I would be devastated if the building were demolished. The building is mentioned in Ansley Park’s National Register of Historic Places registration form from 2015 (here: http://www.ansleypark.org/resources/Documents/NationalRegisterApplication.pdf). Surely the building is off-limits to demolition if it’s part of a historic district?

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