The Cherokee Town Club on West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead was once the estate of a leading Atlanta family that was connected not only to railroads, real estate and banks but was also among the founders of an engineering school that is spurring much of Atlanta’s growth to this day.
The owner of the house, which serves as the town clubhouse for one of the most prestigious private clubs in the city, was a gentleman named John W. Grant. One biography describes him as a “capitalist,” but he was much more.
His grandfather was John T. Grant, who hailed from Greene County. The senior Grant is best known for founding the engineering firm Fannin, Grant and Co. with his brother James and Lemuel P. Grant. The business built railroads in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
L.P. Grant should be familiar to most readers, as he is the “Grant” of Grant Park, the intown Atlanta neighborhood developed on his substantial land. His 1856 home sits in the heart of his namesake neighborhood. It is the headquarters of the Atlanta Preservation Center, which maintains the historic structure.
Lemuel P. Grant and the Grant brothers were not related, however.
John T. Grant acquired real estate along with building railroads, amassing a fortune. One biography stated the Civil War destroyed that wealth, but that he still owned 60,000 acres in Texas.
John W. Grant, his grandson, managed the family’s real estate holdings, which included the Grant building downtown. He was president of the Gate City Loan, Saving and Bank Co. He later served as a director of Third National Bank, the Southern Railway Trust Co. of Georgia and Southern Mutual Insurance Co. He was also elected to the Atlanta City Council and headed its finance committee.
He married Hugh Inman’s daughter, Annie. The Inmans were among Atlanta’s most successful families, having created a fortune through cotton and steel. Hugh Inman gave the couple the Kimball House Hotel in downtown Atlanta as a wedding gift, to give you a sense of their wealth’s scale. Annie’s brother and sister-in-law, Edward and Emily Inman, had the Swan House in Buckhead built as their home.
John W. Grant was an early champion, along with Henry Grady, of an engineering school to be located in Atlanta, which would become the Georgia Institute of Technology. He served on the board of trustees and gave the first $15,000 in 1913 to build permanent stands on the football field.
The school named the field in honor of his son, Hugh Inman Grant, who died at 11. The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets play on Grant Field to this day.
Renowned architect Walter T. Downing designed John W. Grant’s home at 155 W. Paces Ferry Road. Completed in 1917, he called it Craigellachie for a small village in northeast Scotland. The 1920 National Encyclopedia of American Biography noted his parents’ historic Scotch ancestry, something of which he must have been proud.
Downing was a prolific Atlanta architect. He designed the Fine Arts Building for the Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895, First Presbyterian Church in 1919 and with the firm Morgan and Bruce, the Healey Building in 1913.
John W. Grant died in 1938. Annie Inman Grant died in 1955. Both are interred in the Grant mausoleum in Oakland Cemetery.
It so happened in 1955, a group of Buckhead residents started discussing the need for a new private club for north Atlanta.
Patricia and James Williams led the effort. According to Patricia Williams’ obituary, which I am certain is tongue in cheek, they couldn’t fit a pool in their backyard, so they founded a club with the prerequisite swimming hole. With 21 founding members, they set about finding a suitable site for the new Cherokee Town Club.
The group leased the Grant home, with an option to purchase the property for $200,000 in 1956. A church and the YMCA purchased the remainder of the Grant estate.
The members held their first official event in October 1956 — a brunch before the Georgia Tech-Louisiana State University football game.
Tech beat LSU that day, 39-7, on Grant Field.
In another coincidence, John W. Grant belonged to both the Piedmont Driving Club and the Capital City Club, serving as the president of the latter.