By Bill Bell
Two popular gathering places at Garden Hills are the swimming pool and the neighborhood community house, referred to as the "rec center" by the locals. Here residents introduce, debate and discuss vital affairs of the neighborhood such as taxes, traffic, and schools.
On one of the original plans of Garden Hills laid out in 1925, the site of the swimming pool was designated as "Crystal Lake". The community house was to be a country club and formed the heart of the Country Club Section of Garden Hills extending from Rumson Road east to North Hills Drive. The developer envisioned three sections within Garden Hills - the Peachtree Section from Peachtree Road to Rumson, the Brentwood Section from North Hills Drive to Piedmont Road and the Country Club Section in between.
The developer of Garden Hills came to Atlanta from Henderson, North Carolina in 1909. Of Scottish descent, Phillips Campbell McDuffie was a lawyer by trade and quickly established himself in the business and social circles of Atlanta through memberships in the Piedmont Driving Club and the Capital City Club. P. C. McDuffie's future father-in-law, Mr. Henry Clay Bagley, also belonged to these clubs.
On November 1, 1911, P.C. married the "slender slip of a girl" Helen W. Bagley in a family ceremony in her father's home. P.C.'s father, Rev. Dr. M.V. McDuffie of Asbury Park, New Jersey, performed the ceremony and P.C.'s brother was the best man. Helen's only attendant was her sister Mrs. Marion T. Benson (formerly Sallie May Bagley). The Atlanta newspapers called the "Bagley-McDuffie wedding a beautiful event."
The impressive home appeared in articles in the Atlanta Journal and the City Builder as an example of architecture with "fundamental qualities which give such work as this its lasting merit." The large home allowed their five children ample room to roam, while the parents had their own private apartment at the end of a long hall, which could be shut off entirely from the other rooms. The article portrays Mrs. McDuffie as "a storybook mother. Her children all adore her, and [her] adorable little [daughter] is her very shadow."
By 1925 P.C. McDuffie had established himself as president of the Garden Hills Corporation and the Guaranty Mortgage Company in developing the Garden Hills Subdivision. He retained some of the more prominent local architects to design and build many of the new homes. Garden Hills joined the list of other historic Atlanta neighborhoods established during the roaring twenties including Morningside, Shadowlawn, and Sylvan Hills.
Phillips C. McDuffie continued to be active in Atlanta's business, legal, and civic affairs until his death in 1964 at age 80. In 1932, he represented the R.J. Reynolds family in "the famous Smith Reynolds-Libby Holman murder case."* A member of the Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church, he was named honorary board chairman of the Goodwill industries for his charitable work. For many years the McDuffies held a turkey dinner on Christmas Eve for newsboys. After his death,
Helen remained executive secretary of the Atlanta Music Festival. The McDuffies are interred in Westview Cemetery.
Although many of the older Buckhead subdivisions such as Shadowlawn and Hedgerose Heights have almost disappeared, the dreams of P.C. and Helen McDuffie endure in their house that still graces 7 Cherokee Road. Within Garden Hills, their vision lives on in the sometimes spirited debates in the recreation center, the shaded homes along the winding roads, and the children's laughter at the swimming pool that once was "Crystal Lake."
* In July 1932, Zachary Smith Reynolds, the younger son of North Carolina tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds Sr., was killed by a gunshot to the head. His wife, Broadway torch singer Libby Holman, and his close friend Ab Walker were charged with murder, though they said he committed suicide. The charges were later dropped at the request of the family, reportedly to prevent unpleasant details of Smith Reynolds' life from becoming public.
Bill Bell is a Buckhead neighborhood historian and vice president of the Peachtree Heights East Neighborhood Association.