When it comes to Buckhead streets, none are as beautiful — or it turns out, as complicated — as Peachtree Battle Avenue.
I’m talking about the street itself, though the homes on either side add to its majesty. In my mind, it is the bucolic entrance to Buckhead, with two one-way roads divided by a wide strip of greenspace. There are stone bridges and benches in the median, magnolia and pine trees and a monument to the Battle of Peachtree Creek beneath two towering Ginkgos.
It took several landowners, a commitment from the Governor of Indiana, Federal appropriations and Fulton County to make it happen. Yet, despite that broad coalition, what we see today is but a fraction of what they intended it to be — a grand boulevard 100 feet wide connecting Peachtree Road and Howell Mill Road.
In early maps of the area, Peachtree Battle Avenue carried the name Franklin Avenue. It was a simple country road that led to the estate of Wesley Gray Collier. Collier’s father, Meredith Collier, came to the area in 1823 and acquired “extensive” land along Peachtree Creek, according to Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett in “Atlanta and Environs.”
His children inherited these vast landholdings. Edwin Ansley developed Ansley Park on Wesley Collier’s brother George Washington Collier’s property beginning in 1904. When Wesley Collier died in 1906, he instructed his children to divide his estate and sell it as they saw fit.
One of the results was the sale in 1910 of 483 acres to a syndicate of businessmen led by Eretus Rivers and Walter Andrews for $375,000. They would build Peachtree Heights on this property.
Before the sale, state and national leaders were exploring ways to commemorate the Battle of Peachtree Creek, which raged through the area July 20, 1864. One of the proposals — a popular one it seems — was to create a boulevard lined with monuments connecting Peachtree and Howell Mill roads.
Rivers threw his weight behind this idea and convinced other landowners like Eugene Haynes to contribute 100 feet along the route to the county. He brought commission members out to the site to inspect the route.
Former U.S. military leaders who served in the Atlanta campaign lobbied the federal government for funds for the project. Georgia Representative William Schley Howard notably championed the boulevard. The Governor of Indiana Samuel M. Ralston said his state would contribute a monument. Soldiers from the state fought in the battle.
In 1915, the county formally accepted property from the private landowners led by Rivers to construct Peachtree Battle Avenue.
According to an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time, property owners along Peachtree Battle avenue “gave over deeds to land along the thoroughfare which will make it 100 feet in width, permitting an imposing parkway in the center and tiled ten-foot sidewalks on each side.”
By this time, Rivers and his partners had engaged the New York architecture firm Carrère and Hastings to layout the Peachtree Heights neighborhood, complete with linear parks and a lake on the other side of Peachtree Battle Avenue near present-day Nacoochee Drive.
However, the county struggled to complete the thoroughfare. Rivers stepped up, working with the county to transform the first stretch of the roadway from Peachtree to Woodward Way into a boulevard with an expansive park in its center.
The AJC took note of issues facing the project, writing “…the board of county commissioners asked for donations of a 100-foot right of way from Peachtree Road to the Howell Mill Road, and later accepted deeds to what is now known as Peachtree Battle Avenue, which goes through or overlooks every inch of that historic battlefield. How important it is, therefore, that actual work should begin while Governor Ralston” is in office, and able to contribute a monument.
The paper later acknowledged the appeal of such a boulevard in a Jan. 7, 1916 article.
“The importance of this movement can be understood when it is known that the little town of Gettysburg is visited every twelve months by 250,000 people from all parts of the world who do no leave less than $5 each for the purpose of looking over the battlefield of Gettysburg, with its monuments and beautiful driveways. More men were slain in battle in and around Atlanta than at Gettysburg,” the AJC claimed at the time.
The pleas fell on deaf ears, as delay followed delay, which eventually led to the county returning the deeded property to the people who donated it, including Eugene Haynes, who developed Hayne Manor. Today, the linear parks through Peachtree Battle extend to the start of Haynes Manor, which I doubt is a coincidence.
The grand, 100-foot wide boulevard connecting Peachtree to Howell Mill was not to be, but there remains a glimmer of what could have been along Peachtree Battle from Peachtree to Woodward Way.