James Dickey is perhaps the most famous person to ever hail from Buckhead.
He wrote the book “Deliverance,” which Hollywood made into an Oscar-nominated movie starring Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight. He won the National Book Award for Poetry for “Buckdancer’s Choice.” He served as the poet laureate of the United States in 1966.
He is, however, not the only noteworthy James Dickey of local lore.
The most critical moment in the evolution of our community, in my humble opinion, occurred in 1903, when businessman James Dickey Sr. purchased the 400-acre farm of James “Whispering” Smith. The property stretched along present-day West Paces Ferry Road from east of Chatham Road to Northside Drive and included all of today’s Tuxedo Park neighborhood.
Dickey died in 1910. His son, James Dickey Jr., the president of Dickey-Mangham Insurance Co., sold much of the remaining property to the Tuxedo Park Co.
He also sold 73 acres to his friend Robert Maddox, a former Atlanta mayor and a prominent banker, who in 1911 built a sprawling Tudor mansion on the property. He called the home Woodhaven. He drew Atlanta’s business elite to the area during the summer months. Soon, other prominent Atlantans built equally impressive homes in the vicinity.
For a frame of reference, the governor’s mansion replaced Woodhaven in 1962 after Maddox sold the house and 18 surrounding acres to the state for $250,000.
In 1917, Dickey Jr. built his grand home across from Woodhaven, the Neel Reid-designed Arden.
Eight two-story white columns front the 10,000-square-foot white clapboard home. It sits on the hill on the corner of West Paces Ferry and Glen Arden Road to this day. For more than a year, a new owner has painstakingly restored it.
People constantly ask me, “Is the author and poet James Dickey related to the Dickeys who built Arden?”
I’ve always assumed so, but something was amiss. James Dickey, the poet, is not listed among the children or grandchildren of James Dickey despite the fact they share the same name. They are all James Lafayette Dickeys — the original, the son and the poet.
That’s not a coincidence.
James L. Dickey Sr. was born in Fannin County in 1847. He became a wealthy man when a company discovered high-quality marble on his farm, Red Hill. Beginning in the 1880s, he received between $1,000 and $5,000 a month in royalties for the quarried marble.
He became a wealthy man as a result.
Early Buckhead settler James Smith died in 1872. He gave two acres to the African-American community for use as a church and a school in his will. Today that land is New Hope African Methodist Episcopal Church on Arden Road.
When Smith’s wife died in 1903, Dickey purchased the property that is today the heart of Buckhead’s neighborhoods.
The 1910 obituary of James Dickey Sr. solved the mystery of the wayward poet and author. Dickey Sr. had three sons: the aforementioned James L. Dickey Jr., Erwin John Dickey and Eugene Dickey.
Eugene Dickey was a successful attorney and a member of the Capital City Club. He was the father of James L. Dickey III, the poet. He attended Boys High School and Georgia Tech, and with his wife Maibelle, lived on West Wesley Road in between Muscogee Avenue and Habersham Road.
Their son, James Dickey III, was born in 1923 and attended North Fulton High School and Clemson University. One of his more famous poems locally is “Looking for the Buckhead Boys.” A group of North Fulton graduates has claimed the name and reads the poem each holiday season at the former high school, which today is Atlanta International School.
Dickey died in 1997 in Columbia, South Carolina, where he served as poet-in-residence at the University of South Carolina for nearly three decades.
The famous author of “Deliverance” is the grandson of the man who purchased the 400-acre Smith farm, kicking off what would become the Buckhead we all know today. He is the nephew of the man who built Arden, the white-columned house across from the governor’s mansion.