Earlier this year we moved into the Parkwood subdivision. Located partly in unincorporated DeKalb County, Georgia, and partly in the City of Decatur, Parkwood is one of the last subdivisions developed in Druid Hills, the Garden City vision initially designed by Frederick Law Olmsted for Atlanta. Shortly after we arrived I asked myself, “How could I possibly live in an Olmsted suburb and not go rooting around in its history?”
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First illustrated in the Kirkwood Land Company’s 1905 Plan of Druid Hills, the area remained mostly undeveloped until the 1950s. Streets first were laid out in the 1920s and a detailed plat was drawn up in 1930; only a few homes, however, were built in the 1930s and 1940s.
In 1948, the subdivision’s owner, Asa G. Candler, Inc., undertook a massive sales effort that led to the sale of most of the subdivision’s 114 lots and the construction of many of the neighborhood’s iconic ranch houses. By 1960 much of the build out had been completed and the Parkwood community had developed a distinct identity with the formation of a garden club and involvement in landscaping efforts to beautify its entrances and the gateway to the City of Decatur.
Although part of the original Druid Hills plan, Parkwood was omitted from the National Register of Historic Places historic district listed in 1979. The Druid Hills Civic Association included the portion of Parkwood located in unincorporated DeKalb County in its 1990s nomination to the DeKalb County Historic Preservation Commission for the creation of a local historic district, paired with the remainder of Druid Hills in neighboring Atlanta (Fulton County). And, in 2009, the City of Decatur released a historic properties survey that recommended the creation of yet another National Register of Historic Places district and a city historic district.
This post presents an overview of Parkwood’s history. It looks at how Parkwood grew from that initial 1905 plan to a fully developed suburban community. It is by no means a complete history of Parkwood but it does lay a foundation for the completion of a more comprehensive historic context that may be used by historic preservation planners. A second post later this summer will explore the history of historic preservation in Parkwood and will offer some recommendations for future directions in preserving the character of this important twentieth century subdivision
Early maps of DeKalb County show the approximately 80 acres where Parkwood developed as voids bounded by emerging rail and road transportation infrastructure. It is bounded on the west by the Seaboard Air Line Railroad (now CSX) and on the south by East Lake Road. Ponce de Leon Avenue forms the subdivision’s northern boundary.
The area that became Parkwood is set in a rolling landscape dissected by Peavine Creek, a stream that flows through the subdivision from south to north. Elevations in Parkwood range from approximately 1,060 feet above mean sea level on the ridges east of East Parkwood Road and north of East Lake Road to approximately 960 feet at the bottom of the narrow Peavine Creek valley.
The ridges that define Parkwood provided early planners with opportunities to layout roads through the subdivision. According to the 1905 plan, one road linking Ponce de Leon to what later became East Lake Road was proposed to follow the natural contours of the ridge on which the Seaboard railroad was located. Called “Ridgedale Road” in the plan, it appears to have provided the basis for much of the alignment of West Parkwood Road. A second road in the area that became Parkwood was a cul de sac named Spurwood Road that extended north from an alignment of East Lake Road that never was built.
During the first part of the twentieth century, the Druid Hills Company owned all of the area now known as Parkwood. The Druid Hills Company was the successor to the Kirkwood Land Company, the entity that originally planned to develop the Druid Hills suburb. Outlines of the Druid Hills Company history and its successors may be found at the Druid Hills Civic Association Website.
Little development appears to have taken place in the easternmost portion of Druid Hills prior to the 1930s. Maps and land records show that the earliest homes built in Parkwood were constructed in the late 1920s and early 1930s along East Lake Road between the Seaboard Airline Railroad and the entrance to Parkwood. These include period revival homes and bungalows.
The earliest references to the roads that actually were built in Parkwood appear in deeds executed in 1927: West Parkwood Road and East Parkwood Road. A United States Geological Survey quadrangle surveyed in 1928 shows East and West Parkwood roads and Upland Road as partly improved. Parkwood Lane did not appear in the 1928 map but by 1930 it had been laid out and lots were being sold along it.
The Druid Hills Company, in the 1920s and 1930s, sold individual unimproved lots to new owners in Parkwood. The earliest lots sold in Parkwood’s interior were bought by John H. Candler in July 1930. Candler bought two adjacent lots on Parkwood Lane — 109 and 115 — where he built two homes.
Although little development occurred in Parkwood between c. 1920 and 1948, some notable events occurred during that time. In 1923 Southern Bell and Telegraph Company was granted easements in the subdivision to build and maintain telecommunications infrastructure and in January 1930 a plat was prepared by Kauffman Brothers & Sons depicting the lots and circulation network.
Parkwood’s earliest homes reflect popular house types and styles common during the first half of the twentieth century. They include period revivals like the neighboring Tudor and Dutch Colonial built on Candler’s lots on Parkwood Lane.
No additional houses were built in Parkwood until 1940. It appears that the Druid Hills sales efforts were interrupted by the economic doldrums of the Depression. Like real estate and housing markets in other cities, by 1939 it appears that Druid Hills was again ready to sell lots.
On the eve of the Second World War, Druid Hills transferred the title to all of its DeKalb County real estate holdings to Asa G. Candler, Inc. The deeds filed in DeKalb County provide valuable insights into the Druid Hills company’s intentions for the property, including Parkwood. According to one of the instruments filed December 30, 1939, Asa G. Candler, Inc. owned all of the Druid Hills company stock:
It being the intention of the parties here to liquidate Druid Hills, this deed is made for the purpose of vesting title to all property, both real and personal, now owned by Druid Hills in Asa F. Candler, Incorporated.
The Candler company subsequently sold a few lots on Upland and West Parkwood before suspending sales for the duration of World War II. After the war ended, a few lots were sold in 1947. In the summer of 1948, Asa G. Candler, Inc., had Parkwood resurveyed and individual lot sales continued for the next two years.
Before September of 1948, all of the lots sold in Parkwood were subject to six restrictive covenants governing land use, minimum house costs, and building setbacks. The early covenants restricted new owners to the construction of single-family homes costing no less than $7,500. The new owners were not allowed to subdivide their lots nor were they allowed to build privies. Setbacks were determined by each lot’s location and detailed in individual deeds.
In September 1948, Asa G. Candler, Inc. recorded a covenant document with DeKalb County. New restrictive covenants memorialized the setbacks established in the 1948 plat and they limited owners to building single-family homes with “no less than 1350 sq. ft. of floor space.” All deeds for lots sold after the covenants were filed contained clauses binding the new owners to the Candler company covenants.
After a little more than a year of brisk sales in Parkwood, Asa G. Candler, Inc., on September 23, 1949, transferred all of its assets to Emory University, the company’s sole shareholder. Emory continued to sell the lots and by the end of 1950 most of Parkwood was sold out.
Homes built on the lots Candler and Emory sold were mainly ranch houses. Historic preservationists surveying DeKalb County have identified several of Parkwood’s ranch houses as some of the earliest in Georgia.
Several of the Parkwood’s homes are shown in reports documenting the development of mid-century single-family housing in DeKalb County and in Georgia Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Division reports on ranch houses. One particular house on East Parkwood is similar to a house that was illustrated in a 1948 architectural pattern book and dubbed a “semi-modern beauty.”
Even after most of the real estate was sold, Emory continued to manage the public spaces and maintained the unsold parcels. In 1951, the university transferred the title to a triangular piece of land at the intersection of Scott Boulevard and Ponce de Leon Avenue to DeKalb County “to be used as a park only.” Emory held onto the 3.5-acre valley between East and West Parkwood roads through which Peavine Creek flows and it maintained the parcel into the 1960s.
Building a Community
As Emory faded from the scene as a steward for Parkwood’s properties, the new subdivision’s residents began forming social networks among themselves. In February 1952 a group of Parkwood’s women formed the Parkwood Garden Club. The club was open to all Parkwood residents “actively interested in gardening.” Its members were devoted to the “Beautification of the Parkwood Garden Club Area, Growing and Arranging of Flowers for our homes,” read one 1964 club document.
The Parkwood Garden Club’s early years were devoted to flower shows and to the aesthetics of members’ properties. From the outset, members were planting and maintaining islands in the entrance to Parkwood from East Lake Road and they were buying custom metal street signs. “The garden club had the triangle at E. and W. Parkwood – East Lake Road planted with a low holly bush and pansies,” wrote one member in the club’s scrapbook in the Spring of 1953.
Also in the early 1950s the garden club collaborated with the Scott Valley Garden Club to maintain the triangular parcel of open space at the intersection of Scott Boulevard and Ponce de Leon that Emory had given to DeKalb County.
By the early 1960s the Parkwood Garden Club also focused on the creek valley that residents called the “ravine.” Photographs taken in 1962 and preserved in the club’s scrapbooks show a low brick wall between the Ponce de Leon sidewalk and the creek valley that members built to beautify the subdivision’s prominent gateway.
In the 1960s, the Parkwood Garden Club moved beyond flower shows and community beautification projects. It allied itself with civic groups engaged in efforts to preserve DeKalb County’s distinctive character. The group and neighborhood became active opponents to the proposed Stone Mountain Freeway and the scrapbooks show an interest in the arrival of MARTA and its impacts on Decatur.
Efforts to preserve Parkwood’s character included an unsuccessful attempt in 1968 to get DeKalb County to close the East Lake entrance to the subdivision to reduce cut-through traffic. Two years lalter, when developers went before DeKalb County leaders to subdivide lots off East Parkwood to create Wimberly Court, Parkwood residents vigorously and unsuccessfully lobbied against the proposal.
The Parkwood Garden Club’s greatest achievement occurred in March of 1971 when Emory University transferred title to the area long called “the ravine” to the club for “the purpose of being used for a non-commercial park … as a means of preserving and beautifying the area in which it is located.” Only three months before that transaction, the Parkwood Garden Club had received its corporate charter from the State of Georgia to do business as Parkwood Garden Club, Inc.
Much of Parkwood’s history remains unwritten. Additional research would refine the outline presented in this post and would contribute to the development of a historic context that may be used in future historic preservation decisions involving the community.
Stay tuned for Part II in this series: Preserving Parkwood.
© 2011 David S. Rotenstein