History

A conversation with a neighborhood historian in 2007.

 


I have lived in Woodland Hills almost thirty years. I learned quite a bit about it from doing my own title search (I'm an attorney) and talking to a few older people in the neighborhood. Any additional information would be welcome.

Our area was actually cottonfields in the 1800's - far enough outside Atlanta to be outside the fortifications which were built to protect the city from the Yankees. Wink I have some maps of Atlanta in the 1860's and it's hard to find our neighborhood. Both LaVista Road and Briarcliff followed Native American trails and are very hard to indentify on the maps I have. I do know that LaVista Road used to end at the Peachtree Baptist Church and in the early 1900's it was extended down to Cheshire Bridge (there are two different historical markers about Cheshire Bridge, which I believe give different locations for the actual bridge - but it was probably somewhere close to where I-85 is now). We were lucky to have a bridge - most places had ferrys or people crossed near mills (which gave their names to a LOT of roads in Atlanta). The closest battlefield, I believe, was at Peachtree Battle. The land was farmland until the 1950's (DeKalb County's largest industry was dairy farming until the 1960's).

When LaVista was extended down to Cheshire Bridge they had to raise the road to prevent the road from washing out - you can still see the mounds on both sides of LaVista near the Cheshire Square Shopping Center. When Lindberg crossed the Atlantic, the Georgia Legislature changed all of LaVista Road to Lindberg, but the good and mostly Republican citizens of DeKalb changed the name back to LaVista at the county line.

The Woodland Hills neighborhood was built by Shepard Construction Company whose headquarters still exist on Shepard's Lane. All of our homes were built in the 1950's - mainly for the veterans coming back from World War II with new families. The sale price for the average home in Woodland Hills was $10,000.00. When I bought my house an elderly lady in the neighborhood told me that "If you paid a dime more than $10,000 you got ripped off". I guess I got ripped off because in 1978 I paid $25,000 for my house on Ralph Road.

I have lived in DeKalb County since 1965 - and at the time DeKalb was a "dry" county - no alcohol sold at all. So all the bars and liquor stores located (for the good citizens of DeKalb) right on the Cheshire Bridge. Green's Liquor store on Buford Highway was built there just to be inside the county line.

I went to Emory University 1970-1974 at, at the time, the only thing I knew about Woodland Hills was Shepard's Lane - the quickest cut-through from Clifton to Cheshire Bridge - and Lenox Square.

As many people know, Emory University owned almost all of the Druid Hills Neighborhood until the depression - and they sold off a LOT of land on which a lot of neighborhoods now stand. If anyone wants to see how things USED to be in the 1900's - check out Lullwater Park off Clifton.

Lindberg Plaza (which I still call Broadview Plaza in one of my "senior" moments) was built six months before Lenox Square opened - it was Atlanta's first "suburban" shopping center. It was actually built as a very modern strip-shopping center (now completely remodeled), but it went bankrupt six months later when Lenox Square opened up. There used to be a "swimming hole" (a small lake) near where the Morosgo Post Office (our post office) was located - in the late 1800's people used to skinny dip there. The owners of Lindberg decided that they couldn't compete with Lenox Square "head to head" so they deliberately brought in multi-national stores - some of the first Russian, Chinese and Spanish restaurants were located in Broadview Shopping Center. LONG before any Spanish-speaking people lived in the area. I remember being part of the "peanut brigade" for Jimmy Carter and going door to door asking for people to vote for Jimmy - and being surprised that there were actually people in Atlanta who didn't speak English.

The first job I ever had was at Arlen's Foods in 1967 - which was a K-Mart like store with a grocery store attached - and it was torn down to build Lindberg Marta Station.

I've rambled some here, sorry about that. I do know a lot more, but I am always interested in hearing more about our history.

John

 


So cool! Very interesting info and history. Thanks so much for posting

 


Thanks, jamador for the positive feedback.

As a long time resident I have personally observed changes to our neighborhood and the surrounding neighborhood (I think it's interesting that people are complaining about the new plans for Emory Village - but the Emory Village today is not the Emory Village I remember - after I went to Emory (70-74) the Village burned down and was rebuilt quite differently and smaller. A lot was lost when it burned, I think it needs to be restored - but I'm not sure if I want it "super-sized"). I also remember when the interchange under I-85 was much more dangerous.

And I also know things about our neighborhood's history from other residents (some who have died, some moved away) and a few (very few) books. I have a few books about the history of DeKalb County, Georgia and remember articles in the AJC about the history of Lenox Square (natives NEVER call it a "mall").

And, as an attorney, I get exposed to a lot of our neighborhood's history when I'm at the courthouse. Most people don't know how much Atlanta's history was influenced by the railroads - and how many average people in Atlanta (in the 1800's and early 1900's) used to "ride the rails" just to get from one part of Atlanta to another. If you look at the records books (criminal) from the 1910-1930 you'll find the second most common crime was "riding the rails" - the first most common crime was "fornication" - with most of the people charged (usually by their girlfriend or her parents) having their charges dropped - marked "CURED BY MARRIAGE". Shotgun marriages were very common back then - but the shotgun was held by the Sheriff. Wink

I also know a little about Atlanta's "hidden" history. How Atlanta's large Gay and African-American community had an impact on every day life. I went to Chamblee High School when there were NO African-American students (and only a few - very few - Cuban-American students), even though there was/is an almost exclusively African-American neighorhood within walking distance of Chamblee - they were bused to Decatur High.

Atlanta's Gay community has been very large since the beginning. It was well known in the 1800's that "tight-squeeze" was not only a "dangerous place", it was also a very Gay place. There was a time when female prostitutes were on one side of the "Peachtree Ridge" - Juniper Street - and male prostitutes were on the other side - Cypress Street. In the early 1900's young male prostitutes would wear a red tie to identify their profession. And there was a time when Atlanta had more "drag bars" than any other city in the world. Several on Cheshire Bridge - including Sweet Gum Head and Hollywood Hots - were nationally known.

John

 


John, this is amazing. You really know a lot about the history of our neighborhood and surrounding areas. I would love to eventually incorporate this type of information into a web page where visitors would be able to read about this outside the forum, accessed from the main page.
If you have any pictures, I could scan them in and include them into the web page (assuming their not in digital format already.)
Several of our surrounding neighborhoods have already implemented a history page about their neighborhood, here are some examples:
http://www.merryhills.com/History.htm
http://www.druidhills.org/overview/index.htm
http://www.mlpa.org/more/index.cfm?Fuseaction=History&section=more_3829

 


Thanks, Jesse, for the compliment.

I've actually been thinking of other things about the history of Woodland Hills to post about here. Sometimes I realize that I wrote something out of order or left something important out.

Like the fact that Woodland Avenue turns into Woodland Hills Avenue at the county line - and the fact that Ralph, Jane and Arnold worked for Shepard Construction Company (I used to know their full names) and how the Shepard Construction Company moved from residential homes to building (and repairing) highways in the 1970's - and there were (I believe) some scandals involving the company and kick-backs to various D.O.T. officials..

And I've been wanting - for a while - to get a small group together to walk the railroad tracts from the Emory campus to Cheshire Bridge Road. It's not a long walk but it's one that I have only had glimpses of during my lifetime. Of course, we would avoid the "railroad overpass" near Clifton where several young boys have died - only a few years ago.

It's amazing how much more you can see when you're walking - as opposed to driving. There is a small park on Piedmont Avenue - just above Ansley Square and across the street from Piedmont Park - that most people have never seen. I'd like to take my camera and get some good ditigal pictures to upload.

I used to work on Piedmont Road (1977-1982) in a small office building that hides part of a stream that used to flow under Piedmont, near that old church. It's got a complicated history to itself.

And a few years ago Emory did a "water flow" study of the campus which showed how many buildings wind up daming the natural water flow (most of them) - even one that contained Emory's main electrical junction - which could and probably will flood in the near future.

Anyway, before I wrote anything "official" I would like to do so more research. The courthouse is a good source of information. I need to take the time to do it right. Plus - even though I've lived in the county since 1965 and have spent at least one day a week at the new courthouse for the last thirty years, I've never been in the Old Courthouse on Ponce de Leon. I know they sell some history books there, I need to get one.

Most people don't know that Atlanta had an extensive trolley system until the early 1970's - I remember vaguely when trolley tracts ran on Peachtree and Ponce de Leon. The automobile and oil companies bribed legislators to get the tracts torn up all over the U.S. - but Atlanta was one of the worst affected cities since the trolleys ran almost from Jonesboro to Marietta and all places in between - for a VERY reasonable price.

There was a lot of racism involved with getting rid of the trolleys - rich whites living in the suburbs did not care what happened to "inner city" blacks and they certainly didn't want them to be able to reach the suburbs easily - which was a major problem (years later) with building a Marta stop at Lenox Square.

The Klu Klux Klan had its national headquarters on LaVista Road in the 1960's - and had annual cross burnings on Stone Mountain. I remember when DeKalb was the ONLY Republican county in the state - it had a great affect on judicial elections - before the posts were deemed "non-partisan".

Anyway, I'll start thinking about organizing all this.

John

 


Jesse - I read those history pages and it wouldn't be difficult to come up with the history of Woodland Hills - I'd actually like to go back to Jurassic times Wink. Most people don't know that Stone Mountain used to have a quarry - and that Stone Mountain granite actually stretches under our homes all the way to the "Peachtree ridge". It is on that granite that most Atlanta skyscapers rest their footings.

I had a teacher at Emory who used to talk about the "fall line" and how people in Atlanta spoke with two different southern accents - depending on whether they were above or below the fall line.

I could actually add to those histories. The AJC recently wrote about how Druid Hills got its name from a "Druid Hill" community in England. And they don't mention Emory's connection to Druid Hills and that Emory paid to have Druid Hills High School built (and still subsidizes the high school to this day).

Toco Hills Shopping Center has the second largest single screen theater in Atlanta - after the Fox - but it is now closed. It was previously owned by George Lefont and charged low price admission, but it's expensive to cool and heat because of its size.

Just some random thoughts.

John

 


Mea culpa. I keep misspelling Shepherds Lane - and the Shepherd Construction Company. I started tonight doing some research on the company on the Internet. I did not know that Shepherd Construction is one of the largest privately owned construction companies in Georgia. Nor did I know that the Shepherd family started the Shepherd Spinal Center when James Sheperd suffered a severe spinal injury in 1973 (and the family was upset with the inability of local hospitals to treat their son). James' father, Harold, started Shepherd Constuction Company in 1949 and the Shepherd family still owns the company.

As I said earlier, they started in home construction but moved to road construction a long time ago. I haven't found their web page yet, but I have seen quite a few articles on the company.

John

 


Ihave spent part of this day doing some research on the Internet - with some very interesting results. A particularly cool webside is http://roadsidegeorgia.com/county/dekalb.html which mentions the "Woodland Indians" who had villages in DeKalb County, Georgia from approximately 1000 B.C.. Most of what would become DeKalb County was "ceded" from the Creek Indians ("The Treaty of Indian Springs") on January 8, 1821, there was a lottery for the land and you could claim a lot (of approximately 202 acres) for $19.00. The land was originally organized as Henry County, but in December of 1821 it became "DeKalb" county (named after Hans Kalb, a hero of the American revolution who died in 1780).

I'm getting information from a lot of different sources, but I intend to pull it together and write a summary for everyone.

 


I'm hoping to do some research at the DeKalb County Courthouse this week - I have a meeting with Judge Scott and some time to kill in the afternoon before the meeting.

I have pretty much the history of our neighborhood from ancient times to when the neighborhood was built in the 1950's. I'm hoping to get the exact purchase records after then. It's clear that our homes were designed as "starter" homes for returning vets. Cheaper than those in Toco Hills and certainly cheaper than those built before it in Virginia Highlands.

What I'm really looking for are the plans for the neighborhood and any photographs of the neighborhood during the building or shortly afterwards.

John

 


One other thing - that I have been telling my clients for a long time. Hans Kalb (or Hans Kolb) was a hero of the revoluntary war. At some point in his life he adopted the name of a friend, Jean de Kalb, who lived in Paris (a story I'd like to research), so then he called himself "Johan de Kalb", but that didn't sound good enough - so he started calling himself "Baron Johan de Kalb", at some point it became "Baron Johan Von de Kalb" - then he was shot. If he had lived he would have probably become king Wink

Obviously, our county is named after a man with high ambition but little regard for the truth. Wink

 

I'm sorry I haven't been able to post more about our neighborhood's history recently - just haven't had the time, but I hope to have some more information soon.

First, I may have been wrong about Hans Kalb - the DeKalb Bar Association has been advertising a luncheon they will be hosting shortly - with a historian who has done a lot of research on Kalb - it appears he was really a brave individual who assisted LaFayette in the fight for American freedom. I can't attend the luncheon, but I plan to do more research on Hans Kalb shortly.

I did some research today at the DeKalb County courthouse. The Fulton County side of Woodland Hills dates from around July of 1920 - although there are few houses left in that development (most of the houses were torn down to build the apartments (and a few condos) which are now lining Woodland Avenue). The interesting thing about looking at the 1920 plat - is that it shows all the streets that make up our neighborhood - even though none of OUR houses were built then. When I post the plat - examine it and tell me if I'm right.

Our neighborhood of "Woodland Hills" was developed by W.H. Smith beginning in 1950. I found the plats and I plan to get them printed out Thursday or Friday - and then I'll digitize them and upload them somewhere here. There are six plats, developed in two units. All subject to the restrictions that all buyers be of the "Caucasian Race" - at least until 1980 - and that no houses sell for less than $10,000.00. It's all on the plats, for everyone to see.

I still don't know the connection between W.H. Smith and Sheperd Construction - nor do I know who owned the property before W.H. Smith, but I'm working on it.

I have also run into a few other "Woodland Avenues" in DeKalb County, but I'm not sure if there's a connection to the "Woodland" AmerIndians (who must have been a subgroup of the Creeks (Ocmulgees), because this was Ocmulgee land).

John

 

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