I may have made an egregious error in this paper a few months ago when I wrote a column about the oldest home in Buckhead, a topic I return to with some frequency.
According to some astute readers, the oldest home in Buckhead is not the one on Lindbergh Road I referenced in that column. Nor is it the Andrews-Dunn house behind the Cathedral of St. Philip on Andrews Drive. It’s not the old mill turned into a house on the bank of Peachtree Creek on Howell Mill Road.
There are several homes older than those, which readers like to point out whenever I refer to something as “the oldest.” In my mind, they don’t count because someone moved them here from somewhere else.
I’m a bit of a stickler about what is and what is not “Buckhead.”
The most mature of these upstarts is The Estate on Piedmont Road. Originally built by slaves in Washington, Georgia, engineer and restauranteur Dayton Smith had the 1797 mansion moved and reconstructed, brick by brick, board by board, to Buckhead in 1967.
He opened Justine’s, named in honor of his wife, which later became Anthony’s Restaurant. With a glass-enclosed porch across the front of the second floor, the house sits on three verdant acres with gardens and magnolia trees in the middle of the chaos that is Buckhead.
The house spans 14,000 square feet and has seven fireplaces, hardwood floors and a grand staircase at its heart. Legendary Events operates it as an event space.
The “oldest home in Buckhead,” according to numerous newspaper articles, is on West Wesley Road, though it is a good three decades younger than The Estate. A gentleman named Joseph Walker had an 1830s home moved from Resaca, Georgia, to Buckhead in the 1950s. He happened upon a crew preparing to demolish it, and he bought it on the spot.
Then there’s the old girl at the Atlanta History Center, where several generations of schoolchildren learned first hand about pioneer life in Georgia. Elizabeth and Robert Smith built their farm house in the 1840s. The family passed it down for generations until it came to their great-great-granddaughter, Tullie.
Thus it is forever and always the Tullie Smith House.
The ever-expanding growth of metro Atlanta — in this case, North Druid Hills — threatened the historic home in the 1960s. The Atlanta Historical Society raised funds to have it moved to its burgeoning campus, where it remains today.
The Atlanta History Center is in the process of having the house recognized as a landmark by the city of Atlanta, which would protect it in perpetuity.
There is a family myth somewhat connected to the Tullie Smith house, with a not-so-happy ending. My great-great-aunt Edna Thornton rescued the Redmond Thornton house, which had been in Union Point, Georgia.
Thornton built the house in the 1790s.
She had the home moved to the grounds of the original High Museum of Art. The Atlanta Arts Association used it as a place to sell sandwiches, Cokes and souvenirs to support the museum. When the Atlanta Arts Alliance planned the Memorial Arts Center, there was no place for the Thornton house.
According to family lore, at the request of my great-great-aunt, the arts association offered to donate it to the Atlanta Historical Society. The society accepted, with the caveat the arts association raise the funds to have it moved.
She was so furious she turned around and had the Thornton house donated to Stone Mountain, where it sits today.
The dates check out. The now-Woodruff Arts Center, which took several years to build, opened in 1968, the same year the Thornton house moved to Stone Mountain. The Tullie Smith House arrived on the grounds of the Swan House in 1969.
Whether that’s true or not, I haven’t clue. I’m sure I’ll get a few notes on the true story, but the family version is too good not to include.
The bottom-line is by my standards, these houses and ones like them do not meet the rigorous criteria.
The indisputable reality, however, is they are in Buckhead now, and my opinion is of no consequence.