It represents the Atlanta Fire Department with their commitment to timely duty along with the history of the charming neighborhood it serves. It is the oldest operating fire station in the city of Atlanta, helping the residents of Virginia-Highland since the 1920’s. But now Atlanta Fire Station No. 19 needs our help. Before we talk about the history, let’s talk about the plans to restore and preserve this piece of Atlanta history.
The firemen are seeking help through donations. A plan is in place to restore the arched truck bay door, update the living quarters, fix water damage and return the outside to its original bungalow design. You can help by starting at the Restore Atlanta Fire Station No. 19 website. The architectural plans are by Kronberg Wall; the renovation pictured to the right is estimated to cost $400,000. The firemen at the station are (not surprisingly) quite organized in their efforts to have the station restored. Help them in their efforts, particularly if you live in Virginia-Highland. They are selling hats, t-shirts and other swag or you could Donate Online Here.
Now about the history. The land on which Fire Station No. 19 occupies was either neutral territory jointly held by the Creek and Cherokee or solely Creek lands before the Georgia and Federal governments swindled the land through a series of deals and treaties obtained under both accommodating American-friendly chiefs and the pressure of war and tribal eradication starting in the early 1800’s. Many use various versions of the former sentence to quickly explain the conflict. But it’s more complicated than that.
To simply say the land was swindled or stolen and European-Americans were only out to eradicate Native American nations trivializes the era, the people and the many different forces at work. It was an extremely dysfunctional time in Georgia history. An example of the confusion can be found in Chief William McIntosh of the Creek Nation who (along with other minority Creek leaders) sold much of what would become Atlanta to the state of Georgia by signing self-benefiting treaties in 1821 and 1825. We discussed Chief William McIntosh and his 1825 gangster-like demise in our story Help Sylvester Cemetery in East Atlanta Village. Check it out.
The first European-American settler in what would become Virginia-Highland was war veteran William Zachary who obtained 202.5 acres sometime after the War of 1812. Zachary received the land most likely through one of the many land lotteries held in Georgia, a method used by the state as early as 1805 to release the obtained Native American lands to white settlers. While veterans of both the American Revolution and the War of 1812 were granted tracts of land for their service, the 202.5 acres suggests it most likely a land lottery.
In 1822 Zachary sold his 202.5 acres (Land Lot 17 in the 14th District) to South Carolina transplant Richard Copeland Todd (1792-1853). Todd built a farm on the land between Ponce De Leon Place and Greenwood; his sister would marry Hardy Ivy, the first European settler of downtown Atlanta. The Todd family would witness every piece of Atlanta history from their front porch at 816 Greenwood Avenue until the 1960’s (the original homestead burned down in 1910, but the Todd family rebuilt). And the Todd family cemetery still exists, creepily located behind a home in the area. We plan on doing a story about it soon.
Another family that shaped the early history of Virginia-Highland were the Cheshires, led by Hezekiah Cheshire (1786-1870) who built a homestead in 1850 between Highland Terrace and Amsterdam. When the Civil War came to Atlanta the Cheshire home was used as a military hospital and the family returned after the war to the graves of dead combatants in their front yard.
But Hezekiah Cheshire rebounded after the war and thrived, purchasing an additional 40 acres to add to his farm in 1866. This new parcel of land he purchased from the Todd family included the land that now holds Atlanta Fire Station No. 19. It was a rural, pastoral area, occupied by farmers, deer and wild boar. And it remained this way until the famous 9-Mile Circle brought streetcars to the intersection of Virginia and Highland in 1889, forever changing this area of Atlanta.
Virginia-Highland owes much of its early history to Green B. Adair, the cotton pimp and real estate raja who purchased 16 acres on the southwest corner of Virginia and Highland in 1892. His country estate, then known as Wood Cliff, still resides at 964 Rupley Drive (it is currently apartments). According to Lola Carlisle, Vice President of the Virginia-Highland Civic Association, the Adair Mansion was originally built on spec to be the governor’s mansion but the other spec mansion was chosen instead.
I call Adair a real estate raja because it was in the family. It was Adair’s cousin George Adair and Richard Peters who were the two principle sources behind the 9-Mile Circle. This loop was first used by the general white public as a country escape from the city, but then was used to develop suburban neighborhoods on lands conveniently owned by the Peters and Adair families (among others).
By the time Green B. Adair died in 1914 the land surrounding the intersection of Virginia and Highland was experiencing a development boom. People swarmed to live in these new and clean neighborhoods that were within walking distance of streetcars that could take them all over the city. After his death in 1914 Adair’s Wood Cliff estate was supposed to be turned into a country club (Wood Cliff was going to be the clubhouse) and the 16 acres were sliced up by new roads around land lots that were developed for individual family homes. It reflected the trend in the area, as rich estates were divided and sold in pieces to middle and upper middle class families who moved into the new bungalows that would come to epitomize the Virginia-Highland.
By the 1920’s the parcel of land on which Fire Station No. 19 had fallen out of ownership by the Cheshires. It was now the centerpiece in the vast real estate holdings of Frederick A. Ames (1865-1925), who was one of the largest buggy manufacturers in the history of America. He was also an early automobile manufacturer, producing roadsters from 1910 until the early 1920’s.
Ames operated a massive plant in Owensboro, Kentucky dedicated almost entirely to making carriages for horses. He had established the firm in 1891 and it was known by many names including the Carriage Woodstock Company, F.A. Ames Corporation, Ames Body Corporation and the F.A. Ames Company while producing carriages, automobiles, automobile body parts and eventually furniture (starting in 1922).
Ames Body is mostly remembered for their relationship to Ford. For around ten years until Ames’ death in 1925 they produced aftermarket body parts for the Model T, allowing owners to customize their Ford into a truck or replace damaged body parts. They also produced several different types of Ames vehicles (roadsters, touring cars, etc.) as the automobile became more and more popular. It was a natural fit for a firm that had always concentrated on horse-drawn buggies. Some sources I came across indicated Ames was never fully happy producing the new automobiles.
As long as Ames was alive his firm produced horse-drawn buggies. A catalog from between 1922-1924 lists 59 available buggy models including Ames Grade, Owensboro Grade and the Niagara Line. And the catalog doesn’t even mention Ames Automobiles or their Ford body parts.
So back to the land in Atlanta owned by Ames. The year 1922 brought simultaneous success and tragedy to the transportation kingpin. While his company soared, selling more vehicles than any year before, Ames suffered a massive breakdown, perhaps even a stroke or other medical event. As he recovered in a Michigan sanitarium his niece’s husband R.S. Triplett took control of the firm. Ames would come back in 1923 but he was never the same (he suffered another breakdown or medical event in late 1923).
Whether it was Triplett or Ames, the breakdown in 1922 caused someone to decide that the land owned by Ames in Atlanta should be developed and sold. And that’s what happened starting in 1922, with the execution of the “Ames Property” development (view the Ames Property Map from 1922 here) mirroring the neighboring “Virginia Highlands” development directly to the south of the Ames property. This other development was brought about by developer L.W. Rogers Realty in 1924. The plans for the Ames property were even drafted by the same city engineer that drafted the “Virginia Highlands”, O.F. Kauffman. (Again check out his plans by viewing the old Ames Property Map from 1922 here. You can move right or left through old Virginia-Highland property maps. It’s fun.)
It wasn’t until 1924 when the sale of the Ames Atlanta properties started. Despite his serious health issues Ames himself was interviewed by the local press while in Atlanta overseeing the opening sales campaign in late November 1924. In the paper he talks about the coming peaceful times after World War I and what this means for the development of the South, Atlanta’s strategic proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and the Panama Canal and more economic gobbledy gook from a hundred years ago. But it’s clear he’s trying to sell his land.
And one of the buyers was the city of Atlanta which had been on the lookout for the site of a new firehouse. The $30,000 needed for Fire Station No. 19 was secured by the city in the months leading up to Ames’ visit to Atlanta in November 1924. And the drafting of the new firehouse would come from a familiar name, none other than city engineer O.F. Kauffman.
Fire Station No. 19 opened June 1st, 1925 on an Ames lot located on the corner of Highland and Los Angeles to service the sprawling subdivisions that had been exploding in the area since the 9-Mile Circle came to Virginia and Highland. Kauffman’s design matches the bungalows of the neighborhood perfectly. And through the closings of other fire stations, Fire Station No. 19 is now the oldest operating station in the city.
Next time you’re in the area take a stroll by this historic building and say hello to the firemen and their bulldog mascot. And don’t forget to help the fire station by visiting the Restore Atlanta Fire Station No. 19 website. A special thanks goes out to the friendly firemen of Station No. 19, the Virginia-Highland Civic Association and Linda Merrill’s History of Virginia-Highland for providing the breadcrumbs behind the history of the Virginia-Highland.
Did You Know? The Owensboro plant owned by F.A. Ames manufactured a record (for the company) 30,000 vehicles in 1922.
Did You Know? The F.A. Ames Corporation operated many years after Frederick’s death in 1925, declaring bankruptcy in 1941 before being absorbed into another Owensboro furniture company.
Did You Know? The Ames Building located at 401 West 3rd Street in the downtown business district of Owensboro was the only remnant of the company left in Kentucky until it was torn down in 1987 after it was damaged by a fire.
Did You Know? The fingerprints of city engineer O.F. Kauffman can be found throughout Atlanta. In addition to designing Fire Station No. 19, the “Virginia Highlands” subdivision and the “Ames Property” subdivision, Kauffman also designed the Park Drive Bridge in Piedmont Park.