When I talk about the evolution of modern Buckhead, it is through the prism of one family — my own.
That should surprise no one.
I divide Buckhead history into three phases. There is the Native American period, which stretches back tens of thousands of years when Buckhead straddled the Cherokee and Muscogee nations. The pioneer/settler period — the time of James McConnell Montgomery, Henry Irby and Hardy Pace — is from roughly 1821 to the early 1900s. The modern period extends from then to today, when Buckhead emerged from farmland and woods outside of Atlanta to one of the South’s best-known residential enclaves.
Beginning in 1915, the children and grandchildren of Francina and Alfred Austell began building homes in Buckhead, all of which remain to this day. In fact, the impetus for this column is a for-sale flyer — or more accurately a “quietly listed” flyer — that began making the rounds last week.
Alfred Austell helped the city of Atlanta recover from the Civil War through his bank, First National. He was also a cotton broker, an owner of early downtown real estate and a railroad builder. He had four surviving children: William, Jane, Leila and Alfred Jr.
Alfred Austell Sr. died in 1881. He was my great-great-great-grandfather by way of his daughter Leila, who married Albert Thornton.
The real estate flyer from Beacham & Co., Realtors is for “Uncle Willy’s” house, as my father Alfred Kennedy called him. Built in 1915 and designed by the New York firm Carrère and Hastings, 8 W. Andrews Drive was the home of Austell’s eldest son. It is a perfectly balanced pink house with white trim and intricate circular dormers on a red tile roof.
Carrère and Hastings designed several iconic New York buildings, including the New York Public Library, the Standard Oil Building and the Henry Clay Frick House, home to the Frick Collection.
You may not know the Buckhead Austell house, but chances are you have driven by the driveway on West Andrews. That driveway is now Austell Way, which dead-ends into the house on West Andrews. There was no West Andrews when the house was built.
Around the corner, William Austell’s nephew, Albert Thornton, and his wife, Edna McCandless, hired noted architect Philip T. Shutze to design the home at 205 W. Paces Ferry Road.
The Regency-Revival style home was completed in 1938 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I’m not quite sure why that one is on the register and William Austell’s home is not.
It is known as the Albert E. Thornton House, which is unfair to Edna. It was really her house and more importantly, it was built with her money.
The couple had been living with Albert Thornton’s widowed mother, Leila Austell Thornton, in her substantial house downtown. Edna told her husband she had some money and wanted to build a house, to which her husband replied he was perfectly happy living in his mother’s house. Edna said that was fine and he could stay there, but that she would be moving to her new house.
Her husband got the message.
Alfred Austell’s granddaughter, Jane Thornton, and her husband, Alfred Kennedy, commissioned Pringle and Smith to design their home at 2868 Andrews Drive just up the street from “Uncle Willy.” It dates to 1926 and is where my grandfather, Alfred Kennedy, and the man for whom I am named, my great uncle, Thornton Kennedy, were raised.
Not to get too far afield, but there is technically one more. Another Alfred Austell grandson, Alfred Thornton, married Bob Venable, whose family owned Stone Mountain. Alfred died in his 30s of tuberculosis, and his wife built the home at 2655 Habersham Road, on the southeastern corner of the intersection of West Wesley Road. According to the public record, the English Tudor house was completed in 1938.
We claim it on the Sunday Kennedy car tour.
Through the houses of the heirs of Francina and Alfred Austell, both of whom are interred in the Austell mausoleum in Historic Oakland Cemetery east of downtown Atlanta, we can trace the emergence of the Buckhead we know today.