At a youthful 180, Buckhead has more than a few significant dates to its name.
It is difficult to parse out which is most important.
On Dec. 13, 1838, for example, Henry Irby purchased Land Lot 99, 202.5 acres, from Daniel Johnson for $650. His “tavern” or general store, became the heart of the Buckhead Village.
Is that date more important than, say, the year 1812, when, in a roundabout way, war resulted in the area’s first white settler?
During the War of 1812, the state commissioned a fort on the Chattahoochee River near the Creek Indian village of Standing Peachtree. In addition to the fort, there was a boatyard, two large blockhouses, six dwellings and a storehouse.
Completed in 1814, its purpose was to allow a young major by the name of James Montgomery to build boats to ship supplies down the river to Columbus during the war.
Montgomery returned to the area, becoming Atlanta’s first white settler, or so a historical marker on Marietta Boulevard claims.
He made his homestead off present-day Bolton Road.
I have long argued the most important byproduct of Fort Peachtree is not the arrival of Montgomery or the area’s role in the War of 1812.
It was, I believe, Peachtree Trail, which connected Fort Peachtree with Fort Daniel on Hog Mountain in Gwinnett County. This was the original Peachtree Road/Peachtree Street. Instead of going to downtown at the intersection with Roswell Road, it went due west along present-day West Paces Ferry Road, and then along present-day Moores Mill Road.
That original thoroughfare is one of the more historical sites in Atlanta, in my humble opinion. Everything that happened after that, from the Zero Mile Post to Irby’s tavern to modern Buckhead, is all precipitated by that most famous path.
The railroad connecting Georgia’s central and southern cities to Chattanooga crossed the river at Montgomery’s home site. So is the year 1812 – more important than, say, 1837, when the railroad terminus created the city of Atlanta?
The Civil War roared through Buckhead on July 20, 1864. Well, the war came through over several months, but that long July day saw a battle along Peachtree Creek, which portended the fall of Atlanta a few months later. The Army of the Cumberland fought under the Union flag with eight divisions and more than 21,600 soldiers. The Army of the Tennessee fought for the Confederacy with 11 divisions and 20,200 men.
After an afternoon of intense fighting along present-day Collier Road and over Atlanta Memorial Park and Tanyard Creek Park, there were more than 4,250 casualties. A significant event to be sure, but it ranks as a footnote.
Had a state legislator by the name Livingston Mims had his way, however, a thousand acres from Piedmont Hospital to the Chattahoochee would have become Atlanta Battlefield Park. That would have significantly impacted the Buckhead we know today, to be sure.
In 1903, Atlanta businessman James L. Dickey, insurance giant and owner of Dickey-Mangham Insurance Co., purchased the farm of James “Whispering” Smith. This proved to be the seminal moment in the evolution of Buckhead. On Smith’s former farm, some of Atlanta’s noteworthy residents erected summer estates along West Paces Ferry, including Robert Maddox, William Kiser, Conky Whitehead and the Dickeys.
Smith died in 1872. He was one of the largest landowners in early Buckhead with more than 400 acres. His home was near the intersection with Arden Road.
He left in his will two acres for an African-American church on Arden Road, which became New Hope African Methodist Episcopal. That, too me, is one of the more fascinating dates in our story.
Smith’s gravesite can be viewed today in the Harmony Grove Cemetery at the corner of West Paces Ferry and Chatham Road.
In 1910, Eretus Rivers and his business partner, Frank Owens, acquired more than 400 acres from the estate of Wesley Gray Collier for $375,000. The local papers deemed it the most significant real estate transaction in Georgia.
Wesley lived on Peachtree, near present-day Muskogee and had hundreds of acres. When he died in 1906, he left instructions to his sons for his land be subdivided and sold. Rivers’ development, Peachtree Heights, defines Buckhead to this day.
None of these dates are more important than the others in reality.
Each represents a moment on paper, a notation in the history books. But each had a lasting impact, several of which reverberate through our history to this day.
It’s a subjective exercise. So I ask you, reader, what are the dates in Buckhead’s history you consider the most important?