In 1917, James Dickey Jr. completed Arden, the white-columned manse across from the governor’s mansion on West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead, Peachtree Heights School welcomed its first students and Jacobs’ Pharmacy on the Buckhead Village triangle opened.

I stumbled upon these coincidences while researching the Spanish flu outbreak of 1918 and 1919. There isn’t much in the public record when it comes to Buckhead and the pandemic from that time, except one mention in a newspaper article dated Oct. 22, 1918.

Under the headline “Influenza showing decrease in state” is the following: “Monday, 89 cases of Spanish influenza, outside of Atlanta, were reported to Lieutenant Lockhart, county health officer. This makes the total of the county cases reach 863. Of these new cases reported, 75 are in East Point, College Park Hapeville and Eagan, and 14 in Buckhead.”

That’s all I could find in more than a month of research. It turns out, the community north of the city was in the early stages of a seismic shift.

With an investment of $6,000 in 1903, James Dickey Sr. purchased 400 acres from F.M. Powers. This real estate transaction represents a seminal moment in the history of Buckhead.

The president of Dickey-Mangham Insurance Co. sold 73 of those acres to his friend, former Atlanta Mayor Robert Maddox, a banker who in 1912 built a grand Tudor estate on the property, which he called Woodhaven.

Dickey’s son, James Dickey Jr., sold much the remaining property to the developers of Tuxedo Park but kept for himself the prime lot across from Woodhaven, which is today the site of the governor’s mansion. He commissioned noted Atlanta architect Neel Reid to design the house at 456 W. Paces Ferry Road, named Arden, which was completed in 1917.

In 1910, Eretus Rivers and his business partner, Walter P. Andrews, acquired more than 400 acres from the Wesley Gray Collier estate for $375,000. One paper at the time called it the most significant real estate transaction in Georgia.

Through the Peachtree Heights Co., they developed Peachtree Heights West on the property, originally called Peachtree Heights Park.

In 1917, a two-grade schoolhouse opened on land donated by Rivers. The school was renamed E. Rivers Elementary School in 1926.

Joseph Jacobs sold the first Coca-Cola in his namesake store on May 8, 1886. In fact, Jacobs was a part-owner of the Coca-Cola Co. but sold his interest to a fellow pharmacist named Asa Candler.

From the original at Five Points, Jacobs expanded his drug stores, including one in the Buckhead Village in 1917. It was a popular gathering place at the intersection of Peachtree, Roswell and West/East Paces Ferry roads. By 1944, a huge Coca-Cola sign with a clock sat on its roof.

I find it remarkable these three milestones occurred in the same year.

What has always made “Buckhead” Buckhead is simple. It’s not Lenox Square or the glass and steel skyscrapers. It’s not the myriad hotels and crowded restaurants and bars — well, partially the bars. It’s certainly not the traffic.

What defines Buckhead more than anything else are the schools, the grand homes and the now-gone small-town feel.

In 1917, as the country declared war and sent hundreds of thousands of young men to fight a continent away, Buckhead began showing the early buds of what she would grow into in a few decades. The war shut much of the development down, but the area experienced a major resurgence in the 1920s.

The soda shop, the grand mansion on West Paces Ferry and the elementary school on Peachtree Battle were harbingers of how the community would evolve from farms and dirt roads to Georgia’s most exceptional address.

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Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is the president of PR South and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at tkennedy@prsouth.net.

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