One block off of Peachtree Street in Atlanta is a row of white columns that date back to before the Civil War. They are the 12 Ionic columns that are arrayed in front of the Peachtree Circle Apartments at 149 Peachtree Circle, in the Ansley Park neighborhood. Little remains of Atlanta from before the Civil War, and in addition to being rare artifacts, these columns also have connections to Margaret Mitchell and Gone with the Wind, Civil War generals from both sides of the conflict and Asa Candler, business founder of Coca-Cola.
According to Ms. Kathleen Disney, a member of the family that owns the Peachtree Circle Apartments, the columns were originally part of the Leyden House, a prominent residence on Peachtree Street that was demolished in 1913. The home was designed by John Boutell, and it was built in 1858. Ms. Disney provided me with an Atlanta Journal article from February 23rd, 1913, page 8-C, that describes the Leyden House, saying that it was located in the middle of the block between Ellis and Cain Streets [Cain is now Andrew Young International Boulevard]. The columns were part of the original structure of the Leyden home built in 1858, as stated in an article by Belle K. Abbott on historic homes in the January 1892 issue of The Old Homestead. That makes the columns 155 years old as of 2013 — quite an age for the relatively young city of Atlanta.
Another Atlanta Journal article from Ms. Disney dated July 9th, 1944, makes a connection to the business founder of Coca-Cola, Asa G. Candler. It states that the Leyden House columns were secured for Woodberry Hall by Mr. Candler. Mr. Candler bought the Leyden House late in its history and demolished it in 1913 to make way for commercial real estate development.
Today’s Peachtree Circle Apartments were originally built as the Woodberry Hall School for Girls in 1914 by noted educator Miss Rosa Woodberry. Miss Woodberry was the first female to graduate from the University of Georgia in 1927. She went on to receive a masters degree from Oglethorpe University in 1928. The dates quoted here are from the 1944 newspaper article cited in the previous paragraph, so it appears that Miss Woodberry completed her education after she founded the Woodberry School.
Below is part of a photograph taken by George Barnard in September of 1864 during the Union occupation of Atlanta in the Civil War. [Thanks to Ken Denney for providing the original photograph from which this clip was taken.] The two houses on the horizon are facing Peachtree Street and on the left edge of the photograph is Ellis Street. From the same vantage point today this view is entirely blocked by the skyscrapers of Peachtree Center, but where the Leyden House stands highlighted in the tinted circle in the photograph is about at the current northern end of 200 Peachtree Street, which was the old Davison’s/Macy’s department store building. The Leyden House columns are clearly visible in this photograph. The 1944 article previously mentioned says that the columns were “hand carved” of “solid ash.” The term “solid ash” should be interpreted as “all ash” since the article goes on to describe the columns as “hollow,” as would be expected.
Confederate Commanding General John B. Hood stayed in the Leyden House for a short time before being forced to evacuate Atlanta, and Major General George Thomas, commander of the Union Army of the Cumberland, commandeered the Leyden House for his personal quarters during the Union occupation of Atlanta. Ms. Disney speculated that it is quite possible General Sherman leaned against the Leyden House columns with General Thomas, the leader of the largest of Sherman’s three armies.
Margaret Mitchell mentioned several fictional homes in Gone with the Wind and one home that existed — the Leyden House. Here is a quote from chapter eight:
“Finally the business section fell behind and the residences came into view. Scarlett picked them out as old friends, the Leyden house, dignified and stately; the Bonnells’, with little white columns and green blinds; the close-lipped red-brick Georgian home of the McLure family, behind its low box hedges.”
And it was near the Leyden House that Margaret Mitchell chose to situate the grand Butler mansion. Here is what Rhett said in the famous honeymoon-nightmare scene, chapter forty eight:
“Before we left Atlanta I was dickering for that big lot on Peachtree, the one near the Leyden house. You know the one I mean?”
Margaret Mitchell was born in 1900 and grew up in her father’s house where 1401 Peachtree Street is today. A historical marker commemorates the Mitchell house which was demolished in 1950. In an article about Mitchell by Jane Thomas in the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Ms. Thomas states that Mitchell attended the Woodberry School.
Did Margaret Mitchell know that the columns in front of her school came from the Leyden House? It seems likely. As a child, Ms. Mitchell would have certainly passed by the impressive Leyden House traveling with her parents from their home down Peachtree Street to shop in downtown Atlanta. She was 13 years old when the Leyden House was demolished, and 14 years old when the Woodberry School for Girls was built — both years of awareness and she was living only a few blocks from the Woodberry School. As a student at the Woodberry School, it seems likely that she would know the provenance of the columns. It is only conjecture at this point but it seems reasonable to contend that Margaret Mitchell was familiar with the prominent columns and their relocation to the Peachtree Circle Apartments.
The Leyden House was a large and imposing structure, and its columns matched its scale. The image above of the Leyden House and neighboring structures was taken from the top of the Hotel Aragon, which was owned by Atlanta pioneer George W. Collier. Standing on the porch of the Leyden House and looking at Peachtree Street, the Richard’s home is on the right, and the Governor’s Mansion on the left. Joseph N. Moody, an Atlanta banker, stayed in the Leyden House when it was a boarding house and recalls evenings when Alexander H. Stevens, then governor of Georgia and former Vice President of the Confederacy would come over for a game of Whist. Moody would return the courtesy by calling at the executive mansion.
Below is a photograph of the promenade that Scarlett and Rhett strolled along in Gone with the Wind to the fictional Butler mansion north of the Leyden House. This is decades later in 1907, but the antebellum Leyden House is still there — to be demolished six years later. A bit of all four structures on this block at the time are visible in this photograph. The porch on the left is the Capital City Club; next is the Richard’s home, then the Leyden House with its distinctive columns, and finally just a bit of the Governor’s Mansion is visible above the flat top of the Leyden House. The artillery shell in the foreground was on display from the Spanish American War. The steeple on the right is the First Baptist Church where today a busy Hooter’s bar/restaurant now operates.
So, when a friend from out of town wants to see something from old Atlanta, of Gone with the Wind, you can drive them by the Peachtree Circle Apartments and tell them about the old columns. If they are underwhelmed, you may have to explain this is the best we have left from Atlanta history. In my opinion, however, the columns are magnificent.
Did You Know? The Leyden House was completed in 1858 for Austin Leyden and his family. Austin Leyden started A. Leyden & Company in 1848 with Robert Findlay; it was Atlanta’s first metal fabrication company and foundry. The pair sold the company in 1853 and it became the Atlanta Machine Works, a pivotal player in the Civil War.
Did You Know? Miss Woodberry, who started the Woodberry School for Girls that is now the Peachtree Circle Apartments, attended Oglethorpe University in 1928 with thrill killers “Dapper Dick” Gallogly and George Harsh [read about “Dapper Dick Gallogly and George Harsh here].
Did You Know? The former site of the Leyden House is now 200 Peachtree Center. Even though they are technically in the same building, 200 Peachtree Center, the wedding reception and events space, is separate from 180 Peachtree Street, a commercial office space. 180 Peachtree Street holds one of the largest data centers in the world and sold in 2012 for $94.7 million.
Did You Know? The plaque pictured below commemorates the historic homes that once occupied the block where the Leyden House stood. It is mounted on the exterior of the 200 Peachtree building, formerly the Davison’s/Macy’s department store, facing Peachtree Street.