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Indian territory to early suburbia

The Peachtree Highlands National Historic District, part of the Peachtree Park neighborhood in the fashionable Buckhead section of Atlanta, rose on land that originally belonged to the Creek Indians. The Creeks were a powerful agricultural people and occupied most of what is now Georgia and Alabama.

Standing Peachtree

A Creek village, Standing Peachtree (which many believe took its name from an Indian peach tree or orchard, but which may have been a corruption of pitch tree, referring to a pine) was located near where Peachtree Creek empties into the Chattahoochee River. A network of Indian trails lead to this village, an important trading center. Walter G. Cooper, in his "Official History of Fulton County" (1934) quotes an article by Eugene Mitchell in Bulletin No. 2 of the Atlanta Historical Society (1928):

"To the Standing Peachtree led a network of Indian trails before the white man came. It was the terminus of the Peachtree trail and the Stone Mountain trail and one of the objectives of the Sandtown trail. The Peachtree Trail ran along the top of the Chattahoochee ridge from near Toccoa to Buckhead, where it divided; one branch continuing by way of what is now called the Pace's Ferry and Moore's Mill roads to Standing Peachtree; but the other branch led southward from Buckhead across Peachtree Creek and struck the Sandtown trail at Five Points in what is now Atlanta."

During the War of 1812, the state of Georgia built a series of forts to control the Creeks, who were allied with the British against the United States. These outposts included Fort Peachtree at Standing Peachtree and Fort Daniel at Hog Mountain in what is now Gwinnett County. A road was built connecting these forts and was know as Peachtree Road. Today it is called Old Peachtree Road.

So the name "Peachtree" -- so closely associated with Atlanta that it is almost a municipal trademark -- is actually older than the city itself. And today's Peachtree Road had its beginnings as an important Creek trail.

Indian villages and trails in Fulton County, Ga.
Franklin M. Garrett, "Atlanta and Environs," 1954.

(71K jpg)Indian villages and trails in Fulton County

Cooper quotes the Rev. William Jasper Cotter, who came to the area in 1812 with his father, who was a trader, and described it in his autobiography:

"...all was new -- waters in the creeks and rivers as clear as crystal; rich valleys, hills, and mountains covered with a thick forest; a land of beautiful flowers -- white, pink, yellow, and red honeysuckles, redwood and dogwood blossoms, wild roses and other beauties. There was plenty of wild game -- deer, turkey, and other varieties. When first seen, all was in lovely, beautiful spring, and I was nine years old."

The Creek Indians left no written records of their empire, but evidence of their everyday pursuits is still visible to experts. In the 1950s, Creek meal-grinding pits worn into granite boulders were uncovered during grading for construction of neighboring Lenox Square mall.

In their tragic struggle with encroaching whites, the Creeks were slowly driven from all their ancestral lands. By 1823, they had been forced from the territory that was later to be the site of Atlanta. The area became the property of the state of Georgia, and very soon the home of white settlers.

As the state of Georgia acquired land from the newly dispossessed Indians, it distributed it to white settlers by land lotteries.

An area of farms

Before distribution, Georgia divided the territory into land lots. The 37 acres that later became Peachtree Highlands fall in three land lots in the 17th District of Fulton County. (The 17th District originally was in Henry County. It was placed in DeKalb County in 1822, then was assigned to Fulton County in 1853.) Most of the subdivision is in Land Lot 46. The rear thirds of 22, 26, 32, 34 and 36 Highland Drive are in Land Lot 45 (as is most of Lenox Square). Upper Martina Drive; small parts of the rear lots of 23 and 25 Highland Drive and 3 Park Circle; and 591, 595, 596, 598 and the northwest corner of 597 East Paces Ferry Road are in Land Lot 61.

Land lots 45, 46, 61 including the Peachtree Highlands National Historic District and Peachtree Park.

(130K jpg) Land lots 45, 46, 61 including the Peachtree Highlands National Historic District and  Peachtree Park

Land Lots 45, 46

The earliest grant of Land Lot 46 is dated Dec. 14, 1836, when the state of Georgia granted the entire 202 1/2 acres to Amelia and Lionel Leak or Leah, who are described as orphans: "Granted to said Orphans as the drawers of said lot in the land lottery established for the distribution of the lands acquired from the Creek Nation of Indians by the treaty of 1821."

While the 17th District was in DeKalb County, the DeKalb Courthouse burned in 1842 and nearly all records were destroyed. This may account for the fact that there is no deed from Amelia and Lionel Leak or Leah to anyone, nor any deed from anyone to James O'Nale, who next appears as owner of Land Lot 46. It is said that O'Nale got the land from someone named Kirkpatrick, but there is no official record.

In 1852, O'Nale sold the northeast one-quarter (50 acres) of the land lot to William M. Carter. This 50 acres probably included a small portion of lower Martina.

In 1854, he sold the northwest one-quarter (50 acres) to Elbert Douglas. This included all of the rest of what would become Peachtree Highlands that falls in Land Lot 46.

In 1858, Douglas sold this 50 acres to Gustin E. Goodwin, whose estate conveyed it to Jane Picklesimer in 1862.

Jane Picklesimer sold the 50 acres to W.R. Rowell in 1862. Rowell is described in 1897 records as "the owner of a farm on Peachtree Road ... containing about 90 to 115 acres in Land Lots 45 and 46 adjoining Peachtree Park ... and fronting about 600 feet on Peachtree Road and extending back along irregular lines to Southern Ry., on which it fronts about 500 feet." So, by this time, Rowell also had acquired the northeast quarter of Land Lot 46, which O'Nale had sold to William Carter, and his farm included almost all of the land that later became Peachtree Highlands, as well as much of the area that became Lenox Square (Land Lot 45).

An early hand-drawn map of tracts that later became the Peachtree Highlands National Historic District, Peachtree Park and Lenox Square
- Atlanta History Center

(46K jpg) An early hand-drawn map of tracts that later became the Peachtree Highlands National Historic District, Peachtree Park and Lenox Square

The name Peachtree Park was being used by this time to describe the area south of the creek that forms the rear property lines of homes on the south side of Martina Drive, east of Plaster Bridge Road (According to Atlanta historian Franklin M. Garrett, Plaster Bridge Road was named for Benjamin Plaster, one of the earliest settlers in the area. Today Plaster Bridge Road is known as Piedmont Road.) and west of the Southern Railway line. It was owned by the Peachtree Park Co.

Rowell apparently borrowed on his land and, after a series of transactions and at least one lawsuit, it became the "country" property of banker John K. Ottley.

Ottley kept part of the land and sold the rest in parcels to the McKenzie Trust Co., which developed Peachtree Highlands, in 1913 and 1916.

Land Lot 61

Land Lot 61, containing 202 1/2 acres, was granted by the state of Georgia to Robert M. McGough of the Cabaniss district of Jones County, Ga., on March 17, 1825. "Grants to the said McGough as the fortunate drawer thereof in the land lottery provided by Act of the General Assembly approved May 20, 1821, lot of land No. 61 in the 17th District of Henry County. ... These lands were acquired from the Creek Nation of Indians by the United States for the use of the State of Georgia, by a treaty at Indian Springs January 8, 1821, and were distributed by a lottery."

In 1850, McGough sold the entire land lot to Birch Jett. In 1860, Jett sold it to Lemuel A. McAfee of Gwinnett County and he, in turn, sold it to James M. Collier. Collier, in 1862, sold it to Alfred B. McAfee. In 1866, Alfred McAfee sold it to Elias Holcombe, who sold it to James L. Mathieson in 1897. Mathieson's name is preserved as the name of a Buckhead street.

In 1877 and 1879, Mathieson sold tracts that included what now is upper Highland Drive to Fulton County, which, in 1891 sold it to Elisha A. Robertson and George M. Hope. In 1902, Robertson and Hope acquired more land in the northeast quarter of Land Lot 61 from the Mathieson family and sold the combined tracts to Martin F. Amorous. Amorous sold the property to Lena S. Huntley.

In 1907, Huntley sold an easement through the property to John Ottley, who wanted an outlet to Peachtree Road from his property in Land Lot 46. The easement granted him: "A perpetual right of way (with a uniform width of 50 feet) from Peachtree Road to the property ... situated in Land Lot 46." This right of way now is Highland Drive, approximately to its intersection with Park Circle.

In 1911, Huntley sold the remainder of her property to T.C. Holmes, E.L. Verner and E.T. Luckie, who later sold it to Ottley. The real estate firm of Holmes, Verner & Luckie meanwhile had acquired the areas of Land Lot 61 that would be developed later as upper Martina Drive and upper East Paces Ferry.

A community develops

The name Peachtree Highlands is partly historical, partly geographic. The subdivision is part of a larger area known as Peachtree Park, shown on an 1893 map of Fulton County as extending from Edwardsville (the junction of Piedmont Road and the Southern Railway line) to Goodwin's (in the vicinity of what is today Brookhaven) on the east side of Peachtree Road. This larger area retained the Peachtree Park designation in the Atlanta City Directory well into the 1930s.

Thus the "Peachtree" in Peachtree Highlands is taken both from the larger geographical designation and the subdivision's location adjacent to Peachtree Road. The "Highlands" refers to the area's rolling terrain as well as to one of the subdivision's major streets.

A trolley car neighborhood

The Peachtree Highlands subdivision was made possible by improved public and private transportation. Atlanta had only one automobile in 1900; by 1910, there were 1,500. By 1907, a trolley car line had arrived in Buckhead. In 1917, the year America entered World War I, a major military training center, Camp Gordon, was hurriedly built near Chamblee. In October 1917, trolley service was extended north from Buckhead along Peachtree Road to serve the booming camp. The trolleys operated on 20-minute schedules.

A 1913 plat of Peachtree Highlands shows the trolley line on Peachtree Road

(105K jpg)A 1913 plat of Peachtree Highlands shows the trolley line on Peachtree Road

This extension of public transportation, together with the increase in private automobiles, encouraged the development of suburbs along Peachtree Road after World War I.

The years between the two world wars were boom times for Atlanta and its suburbs. Returning servicemen and their families were eager for homes. In 1900, Atlanta's population was 89,872. In 1910, it was 154,839. By 1920, it had grown to 200,616, and by 1930, to 270,035.

The 1920s saw intensive nationwide advertising of Atlanta's climate, labor supply and natural resources. From 1926 to 1929, Atlanta attracted 760 new businesses, employing more than 20,000 people and paying more than $34 million in annual wages. The city was coming into its own as a distribution center and "branch office" town.

Downtown residential areas were being swallowed by commerce. Block by block, the old houses fell to make way for new commercial buildings. Residential development moved out in all directions:

1907: Ansley Park was developed to the north.
1910: Brookhaven sprang up to the north and Capital View to the south.
1911: Tuxedo Park was developed along West Paces Ferry Road.
1913: An annex was built to Ansley Park.
1913-15: Peachtree Highlands' development began.
1914: Boulevard Park grew up on the east.
1923: Morningside Park and Brookwood Hills construction began.
1924: Avondale Estates development began.
1925: Garden Hills was developed to the north.

Development up Plaster Road (now Piedmont Road) in 1924 from Ansley Park past Peachtree Park

(47K jpg) Development up Plaster Road (now Piedmont Road) in 1924 from Ansley Park past Peachtree Park

The McKenzie Trust

In 1913 and 1916, the land on which Peachtree Highlands would be build was purchased from banker John K. Ottley by Atlanta entrepreneur W.M. McKenzie.

William M. McKenzie, born in Macon County, Ga., in 1858, moved to Cobb County at age 21. By 1908, he was living in Atlanta and was president of the Marietta Guano Co. and the Atlanta Oil and Fertilizer Co. The McKenzie Trust, a family-held corporation, was formed in 1912. Among its holdings was the land that was to become Peachtree Highlands. In addition, the trust included property downtown at Peachtree and Walton streets, the McKenzie Building at Peachtree and James streets and the Francis Apartments at Peachtree and Ivy streets. In 1914, the trust's officers were W.M. McKenzie, president; G.M. McKenzie, vice president; M.C. McKenzie, treasurer; and H.C. McKenzie, secretary.

The earliest McKenzie Trust plats of Peachtree Highlands are dated 1913 and 1915. They show the streets and lots laid out just as they are today.

But in 1914, before actual building in Peachtree Highlands could begin, William McKenzie died. His two sons, Harold and Marshall, served in the Army in World War I, and the trust languished.

After the war, Harold McKenzie resumed development of Peachtree Highlands. A 1921 newspaper advertisement offers:

Peachtree Highlands Lots

Choice lots for sale in this beautiful subdivision with city improvements, prewar prices, easy terms. Price $860.00 to $1,360.00. If you ever intend to buy real estate in Atlanta, now is the time.
-The Atlanta Journal, April 17, 1921

'Watch Peachtree Highlands grow'

Unlike developments such as Ansley Park, Brookhaven, Tuxedo Park and Brookwood Hills, which were its near contemporaries, Peachtree Highlands was designed to appeal to less affluent, working-class families. The average house was constructed for approximately $7,000. Financing terms were easy.

Despite this, Peachtree Highlands included many of the amenities, though on a smaller scale, of the more affluent developments west of Peachtree. The land had the same natural, rolling terrain, and the McKenzie Trust developers were sensitive to this. Engineers laid out relatively wide, gently curving chert-paved streets with concrete curbing and sidewalks on each side. The existing forest not only was little disturbed, it was enhanced with planting of curbside trees.

Atlanta historian Franklin M. Garrett recalls: "The Peachtree Highlands area was right-much in the woods around 1914. I can remember it back as far as World War I, and it was mostly rural or uninhabited. ... I do not recall that the area was ever logged."

Builders sited houses so as to disturb the terrain as little as possible. Grading on individual lots was done only to locate the house, driveway and garage. Few houses in the subdivision are on truly level lots. Back yards in Peachtree Highlands today often drop steeply, following the original contures of the land.

A standard setback provided that houses be no closer to the street than 30 feet. A few houses on very deep lots sit well behind this setback. Side lot lines are 5 feet from the house on one side and 10 feet from the house on the driveway side, evenly spacing the houses along the street. Many corner houses face diagonally. Lots vary from 50 feet to 130 feet in width and from 100 feet to more than 300 feet in depth.

The subdivision's highest point is the intersection of Peachtree Road and Highland Drive. From there, the land drops away in all directions to the lowest point, at the intersection of Highland Drive and Martina Drive. Few streets are level for more than a few lot widths. The streets have broad intersections and are mostly 34 feet wide, with 8-foot rights of way on each side. Upper Martina Drive, which was added to the subdivision later, is 50 feet wide because it was built through a 50-foot vacant lot.

A 1926 map shows the Martina Drive-Park Circle intersection before Martina was extended through a vacant lot to Piedmont Road

(65K jpg)A 1926 map shows the Martina Drive-Park Circle intersection before Martina was extended through a vacant lot to Piedmont Road

A stream in the wooded valley between Martina Drive and East Paces Ferry Road serves as the rear property line for lower Martina Drive lots and on the early plats was designated as a "branch parkway."

Public alleyways along rear lot lines provided access for trash removal. These alleys have since been closed and added to the properties they abut.

Three distinct developments

Chronologically, the subdivision develped in three phases:

  • Highland Drive, Park Circle, Arc Way, Martina Drive from Park Circle to Highland Drive.
  • Upper Martina Drive from Park Circle to Piedmont Road.
  • East Paces Ferry Road from Park Circle to Piedmont Road.

A museum of styles

These sections can best be distinguished by the architectural style or styles predominating in each: Craftsman in the original development, Tudor Revival on upper Martina Drive, and a mixture of Tudor Revival and Minimal Traditional on East Paces Ferry Road from Park Circle to Piedmont Road.

Phase I: In the first phase of building, the earliest house of record is 701 Martina Drive, which was built in 1921-22. Architects and engineers involved in laying out Peachtree Highlands included civil engineer R.B. Bailey, who did the original surveys.

Builders and contractors who worked in the area included Robert B. Turnipseed, who built 7 Park Circle and several other homes; Edwin A. Hauser, who built 66 and 68 Park Circle; and the Minter-Melton Corp., which built the prefabricated homes at 4, 6, 8 and 10 Park Circle and 4 and 6 Arc Way.

Many houses in Peachtree Highlands are believed to have been plan book homes. An example is 74 Highland Drive. It is a reverse of "The Eagle," a 1926 Colorkeed home plan.

701 Martina Drive, the oldest house in Peachtree Highlands
- Atlanta History Center

(23K jpg) 701 Martina Drive, the oldest house in Peachtree Highlands

Martina Drive looking across Park Circle toward Piedmont Road circa 1937
- Atlanta History Center

(26K jpg) Martina Drive looking across Park Circle toward Piedmont Road circa 1937

Phase II: In the second phase of building, the earliest upper Martina Drive plat is dated Jan. 14, 1927. A revision is dated July 1928. The property at that time was owned by Holmes, Vernier & Luckie, a real estate company, which also owned the upper block of East Paces Ferry.

This area followed the same general plan as earlier development in Peachtree Highlands, although the street was 50 feet wide because its junction with lower Martina was through a 50-foot wide Park Circle lot. This upper Martina block did not have a name. It was simply a subdivision of property owned by Holmes, Vernier & Luckie. Most houses in this extension are Tudor Revival in style and were built between 1930 and 1932.The W.J. Nalley Engineering Co. laid out upper Martina Drive.

Phase III: In the third phase, the earliest upper East Paces Ferry Road plat is included in an April 1937 Haas & Dodd plat of the Peachtree Park subdivision, which began to be developed immediately south of Peachtree Highlands. However, since some of the houses in the upper East Paces Ferry block were built prior to 1937, they are believed to be a spillover from the Hedgerose heights subdivision along East Paces Ferry Road west of Piedmont. This area was subdivided beginning in 1913 by the Holmes/Luckie Realty Co., which later became Holmes, Vernier & Luckie.

An early plat of the Peachtree Park subdivision, which developed immediately south of Peachtree Highlands
- Atlanta History Center

(49K jpg) An early plat of the Peachtree Park subdivision, which developed immediately south of Peachtree Highlands

By 1930, the boundaries of the Peachtree Highlands district were firmly established. Of the 149 lots in the district, three have never been built on. Of the remaining 146, 112 had houses on them by 1935. Between 1935 and 1940, 27 more houses were built. From 1941 to 1980, seven more houses were constructed to fill in all the buildable empty lots.

Early residents

Among those who first bought homes in Peachtree Highlands were:

  • R.T. Toole, a clerk with the Atlanta & West Point Railroad
  • A.E. McKeithan, a compiler for the Southeastern Passenger Association
  • C.M. Stodghill, a manufacturing chemist
  • A.A. McCurry, a teller for the Atlanta Trust Co.
  • J.W. Stafford, a traveling salesman
  • H.F. Lawson, an automobile mechanic
  • Frank Wheeler, a postal clerk
  • Samuel Donaldson, an electrical contractor
  • J.E. Ragsdale, a printer
  • J.W. LeCraw, a lawyer
  • G.A. Faust, a shoemaker
  • P.O. Wellborn, a plumber
  • L.A. Wilhoit, the city editor of The Atlanta Constitution
  • R.M. Sager, a metal worker (who built 701 Martina Drive, the area's oldest home)
  • T.N. Bussy, a pharmacist

Conditions of sale

A 1921 sales contract for a house lot from the McKenzie Trust put certain conditions on the property "which shall apply for a period of 20 years from this date." Those conditions, some of which would be offensive and even illegal today, included:

  • Same is not to be sold, rented or otherwise disposed of to persons of African descent.
  • No liquor or ardent spirits are to be sold on the property.
  • No house shall be built to cost less than $5,000, but any person may use two or more lots, placing one residence there.
  • No building shall be erected nearer the street than the building line shown on said plat, which is 20 feet from the street.
  • No use shall be made of the lot, or any part thereof which would constitute a nuisance or injure the value of any of the neighboring lots and said lots shall never be used for cemetery purposes.
  • The layout of lots as shown on said plat shall be adhered to and no scheme of facing lots in any other direction than that shown on the plat shall be permitted.
  • McKenzie Trust Co. reserves the right to lay and place or authorize the laying and placing of electric or other street car tracks, sewer, gas and water pipes, electric conduits or pipes, telegraph, telephone and electric light poles or any other work or instruments of public utility on or in any of the streets of said subdivision without compensation to any lot owner.

A unique collection

Architecturally, Peachtree Highlands is important because it provides in a small space good examples of three periods of American architectural history: Craftsman, Tudor Revival and Minimal Traditional, along with a number of architectural sub-styles such as Dutch Colonial, Cape Cod, Foursquare and more recent Ranch and Split-level.

Other early subdivisions in Atlanta, such as Morningside, have huge concentrations of Tudor Revival homes, but little else. The same can be said of other neighborhoods that may be all Craftsman or all Minimal Traditional. Peachtree Highlands was built near the end of the Craftsman period, the height of the Tudor Revival period and the beginning of the Minimal Traditional period and, as such, is a living architectural museum, the differences in housing types being genuine, not invented by a developer.

Additionally, the houses are generally in or near their original condition, particularly as far as facades are concerned.

In Peachtree Highlands, community planning and landscape architecture go hand in hand, because the developer's street locations and landscaping were part of the community plan. The effect is park-like. Gently curving streets draw the eye of driver and pedestrian ever ahead. Sidewalks make for a truly community atmosphere, providing a sort of outdoor living room where residents walk and visit with neighbors - just as the original residents did.

Peachtree Highlands is the last intact working-class neighborhood in Buckhead. And it remains a desirable residential area.

Peachtree Highlands National Historic District

[ Peachtree Highlands ]

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