In 1932, as the community north of Atlanta began transitioning into something more urban, a group of business owners came together to fund basic services — improved street lighting, trash pickup, and public parking.

Kennedy, Thornton rgb

Thornton Kennedy

At the time, Buckhead was in unincorporated Fulton County — a no man’s land between the cities of Atlanta and Roswell defined by large tracts of open farmland and hunting lodges in thick woods.

There were small retail centers in places like Buckhead with low-slung buildings. In this case, the individuals doing business in those areas under the name the Buckhead 50 Club took care of the day-to-day needs, like lighting, security and streetscapes.

Nearly 90 years later, a group calling itself the Buckhead Exploratory Committee is looking into Buckhead becoming a city. According to a report in our paper, its mission includes “establishing a well-maintained infrastructure … and the ability to participate in quality-of-life improvements.”

They’ll have to come up with a new name. Buckhead, Georgia, is a town of about 171 residents in Morgan County near Lake Oconee.

The north Atlanta community once was known as Irbyville for pioneer settler Henry Irby. On Dec. 13, 1838, the South Carolinian purchased Land Lot 99 — 202.5 acres — from Daniel Johnson for $650 in the heart of today’s Buckhead Village.

Irby operated an eponymous tavern located in the Whole Foods vicinity on West Paces Ferry Road today.

In 1840, the state established an election district “in the area known as Buck Head” in Irby’s home, according to a history written by Buckhead Heritage Society founder Wright Mitchell. It is the first time in the public record the name “Buckhead” is used to describe the community.

A year later, the state Legislature assigned a post office to Irby’s tavern, and the area took on the name Irbyville.

In the 1890s, residents started calling the area Atlanta Heights.

The name Buckhead won out, but it was ill-defined geographically. I tend to think of it as the area around the intersection of the Paces Ferry roads (east and west), Peachtree and Roswell Roads, including the Tuxedo Park and Peachtree Heights neighborhoods.

Several of Atlanta’s business leaders moved out of the city to avoid paying rising property taxes in the early 1900s. That is the reason my great-grandparents gave when they built a house on Andrews Drive in the 1920s.

The automobile and a paved Peachtree Road made it possible for people to live past Palisades Road and have all of the city’s advantages without the tax burden.

By the 1930s, when the Buckhead 50 Club met at North Fulton National Bank to discuss funding city-like services, the idea of incorporating the community into Atlanta had been floated.

Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield made it a priority of his administration. Hartsfield served as Atlanta’s mayor from 1937 to 1941 and from 1942 to 1961.

Red Dorough, the unofficial mayor of Buckhead, was his main opponent. He organized a mock funeral for Hartsfield, in which a mob carried a coffin down Peachtree to signify burying the idea of Buckhead becoming a part of Atlanta.

A 1947 referendum under the benevolent name Plan of Improvement to increase the boundaries of Atlanta to include Buckhead failed.

Undeterred, Hartsfield put the matter to the voters again in 1951. This time, the measure passed. On Jan. 1, 1952, the area known as Buckhead became part of the city of Atlanta.

Our challenges, it seems, remain unchanged. According to the article in this paper, quoting former Atlanta Mayor and ex-Buckhead Coalition President Sam Massell, Buckhead makes up “20% of Atlanta’s land area and population, but it pays into its treasury about 45% of its ad valorem taxes.”

We are highly taxed, the roads are in terrible shape and crime is rising.

Launched last year and backed by 11 organizations including the Buckhead Coalition, the Atlanta Police Foundation and the Atlanta City Council, the Buckhead Security Plan will fund off-duty police officers to complement the Atlanta Police Department’s efforts by patrolling the community’s commercial district.

In 1932, when the Buckhead 50 Club came together to fund basic services, the community went from zero services to some.

Now, we are looking at that “some” and adding more.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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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


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