The most peaceful spot in Buckhead is about to be disrupted for a great purpose.
Just south of the front lawn of the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center, an opening in the hillside leads to a series of trails meandering through what is known as the Swan Woods. It is one of my favorite quiet places in Atlanta.
For years, it has been a personal secret sanctuary. While I have some trepidation writing about the trails, the jig is up.
Soon enough, busloads of children from schools across Georgia will be rambling through those woods thanks to a new boardwalk that opened last week. Just below is the Garden for Peace, one of a network of gardens that stretches from Atlanta to Korea championed by Buckhead resident Laura Dorsey. It is a perfect place for reflection.
Above and around the boardwalk is a peaceful native woodland, a preserved secondary-growth forest that expanded out of cotton fields dating back to the late 19th century.
The natural beauty surrounding the center is one of the best-kept secrets in the South. Spanning 33 acres, it has miles of walking trails. Each has surprises. There are secret gardens, works of art, benches, historic carriage stones, hidden playhouses and so much more.
The trails lead to the Swan House, Tullie Smith Farm and the Wood Family Cabin. It is a hike through the history of our region with native trees, plants, flowers, structures, sculptures, works of art, artifacts and meticulously maintained gardens.
For generations, Atlanta’s garden clubs were responsible for certain sections of the grounds. I have been told this was the idea of Louise Allen, who led the Atlanta Historical Society’s campaign to acquire the Swan House in 1966.
It was a cost-effective way to keep the landscaping beautiful. But there was added benefit. Beneath a charming Southern demeanor, garden clubs are competitive endeavors. They were watching and learning from one another.
Great energy, time and talent were poured into the grounds for decades. Those plantings are now 50 to 60 years old.
Think about it. These garden clubs were made up of women who, in today’s world, would be running companies. In the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s in Atlanta, these women, who graduated at the tops of their respective classes and earned degrees from major universities, chose to raise families.
Often, their talent and their intellect and their work ethic went into these clubs. It’s no surprise, then, that the gardens around the center are world-class and full of revelations.
The boardwalk encourages visitors to explore the grounds, something I have been doing for decades, always finding something new.
Before its installation, the path was covered in wood chips. With the locust wood boardwalk climbing through the woods perpendicular to Andrews Drive, the path through the grounds of Atlanta’s most famous house is accessible to everyone, rain or shine, for the first time.
It leads to the 1830s Wood Family Cabin, which sits on a quiet hillside in the woods above a meadow filled with wildflowers. This is one of the most important historic homes in the city. Elias Wood built the cabin near the confluence of the Chattahoochee River and Peachtree Creek, known at the time as Standing Peachtree.
In my opinion, Standing Peachtree is the most historically significant sight in Atlanta. The Wood family scratched out a living there in early Buckhead, hunting and farming. The late Dr. Carl Hartrampf and his wife Pat, descendants of the Wood family, donated the cabin to the center.
I have been to the cabin a few times, but I have never seen it so clearly as walking up beneath it from the boardwalk and seeing the front as it may have been nearly 200 years ago.
It is a sight to behold, which will be experienced by hundreds, if not thousands of Georgia students for decades to come.
It will be a welcome disruption to a tranquil wood.