This is the second of four articles about early Atlanta Pioneers Richard and Martha Todd, their family and remnant traces of their early presence in the Atlanta area. The first article is about the Todd Homestead, and the third is about Todd Road, and the fourth is about the Burial Site of Patience Elizabeth (Todd) Armistead.
In the backyard of the residence at 797 Ponce De Leon Terrace in Atlanta, is a little known but historically important burial monument memorializing two of the earliest non-Native American inhabitants of the area, Richard and Martha Todd. The Todds moved to this area in 1822 and were some of the earliest settlers of European descent in what is now the city of Atlanta.
The memorial consists of a low ten by ten foot brick wall, topped by a wrought iron fence, and inside this enclosure is the likeness of a wooden log about five feet long carved in stone. On this stone log is inscribed: “Richard Todd 1792 – 1853” on one side, and “Martha Todd 1802 – 1896” on the opposite side.
The inscriptions in the photographs above, taken by Andrew Wood in 2008, are much clearer than the top lead-in photograph taken by me in 2013. In recent years the monument has become covered in moss and lichen from shade and dampness caused by overhanging and encroaching foliage. The monument was fabricated and put on the property in about 1932, so for about 75 years the monument was apparently clean and dry and free of its current layer of mossy growth.
In just the past five years shaded and damp conditions have hidden or dulled the inscriptions and carving details on the monument with a coating of fungi. Neglect and misuse has also occurred. The following photograph is from December 2013. Among the other misuses, inside and to the right there was a compost bin. This property recently changed hands and the memorial has been cleaned out and is being respectfully maintained by the new owner.
An easement in the deed to this property exists that allows visitors access to the monument by walking up the driveway of 797 Ponce De Leon Terrace to the back of the house. The owner of the house is aware of this easement and simply asks that visitors stay on the driveway to reach the monument, to not disturb him or his guest’s privacy, and to come during daylight hours—all reasonable requests.
The owner prefers that visitors not knock on his door to ask permission to cross his property, but to just walk directly up the driveway, view the monument, and exit out the same way. The following photograph shows the front driveway access to 797 Ponce De Leon Terrace that can be used to walk to the Todd memorial behind the house. This lot and the lot on the right in the photograph, 795 Ponce De Leon Terrace, occupy what was formerly the Todd family cemetery.
The original Todd cemetery was located on high ground 200 yards north and a little west of the old Todd homestead, which was featured in the first article in this series, the Todd Family Homestead. The first known burial was Richard Todd in 1851, who died at the age of 59 (the Todd monument incorrectly shows his life ending in 1853. More on this below,) but it is possible that others were buried there before 1851.
If the first burial in the Todd cemetery was Richard Todd, then it simply qualifies as one of the “older” cemeteries in Atlanta—for example, Oakland Cemetery was established in 1850. The Todd cemetery was an early pioneer graveyard, a type that dotted the countryside in the United States during the early days of exploration and settlement. These early graveyards are defined mostly by what they lack—if the graves were marked at all, it was with a field stone without an inscription.
When the Todd cemetery was explored in the early 20th century, the old field stone headstones were mostly indistinguishable from random scattered rocks. It was just a wooded field with depressions in the earth here and there that may or may not have been a grave. A 1920’s newspaper article quoted by Ann Taylor Boutwell in the September 1995 issue of Intown Atlanta Magazine said, “None of the 36 bodies in the lot [Todd cemetery] is marked.”
After more than 70 years of being a remote, peaceful, and pastoral family cemetery, in 1925 the Todd cemetery came to the attention of the local court system. In that year, Judge John C. Todd, sole male heir of the Todd estate died, and specified in his will his wish to be buried in the Todd cemetery. The Todd cemetery was never a legally recognized cemetery and this request, from a prominent Atlanta citizen, set off a chain of actions to determine whether Judge Todd’s request could be granted.
The Todd family suffered tragic loss during the Civil War. Of the five Todd children, four were sons and three of them were killed in that deadly conflict. One source reports that the sons killed in the Civil War were buried in the Todd cemetery, but this is not confirmed.
Judge John C. Todd was the only surviving son—he was three years old when his father died in 1851, and just 15 years old when the Civil War ended in 1865—too young to serve in the Confederate Army. Note—Richard Todd died on December 2, 1851. The date of his death on the Todd monument, 1853, is incorrect. This discrepancy was discovered by the well-known Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett who found the correct date in official records.
While his request to be buried in the family cemetery worked its way through the court system, Judge Todd was temporarily, it was thought, buried in the Sardis Methodist Church cemetery in Atlanta. The court ruled against Judge Todd’s wish, however and decided that no more burials could take place in the Todd cemetery. Judge Todd’s grave remains in the Sardis Methodist Church cemetery and is visible when driving by on Powers Ferry Road.
Buried with him in the Sardis Methodist Church cemetery are his wife who predeceased him by three years, and his son, John Heyward, known as “Hadie” Todd. Hadie Todd never married and died at age 50 (another source says 47) with no children or heirs.
Judge Todd’s only other child, a daughter named Emma May Todd, went on to have children who had her husband’s surname, Liddell, but the Todd surname, descended from the Richard and Martha Todd branch of the family, ends here. Richard and Martha Todd’s property and homestead became part of the Liddell estate—another old and respected Atlanta family. There are photographs of John C. Todd and several of his family members as well as more information on the family members in the excellent book Virginia-Highland by Karri Hobson-Pape and Lola Carlisle from Arcadia Publishing.
In his will, Judge Todd also specified “that an appropriate monument to my wife and myself and another to my Mother and Father are placed there.” Bending to the circumstances, his trustees had his monument erected in the Sardis cemetery, and had the stone log memorial for Richard and Martha Todd fabricated and placed in the Todd cemetery—the only monument of any type there. Thus, the Todd monument dates from the late 1920’s or early 1930’s.
Judge Todd’s son, Hadie Todd, died in 1928 and so it fell to the Judge’s daughter, Emma May Todd Liddell, to decide what to do with the Todd cemetery. In 1932 Mrs. Liddell gave the Todd cemetery to the City of Atlanta to be used as a public park called Todd Park. The parcel was 1/14 of an acre, the size of two residential lots on that street, Ponce De Leon Terrace. The following map from 1940 and aerial photograph taken in 1949 clearly show Todd Park.
In the aerial photograph you will see on the left (western side) of the second Todd house is the faint trace of a trail going north to the Todd cemetery. This was the main access path to the Todd cemetery until the 1990’s, when new infill housing construction blocked and eliminated this path.
Today, the only access to the remaining Todd memorial is south from Ponce De Leon Terrace, a street that did not even exist for many decades after the Todd cemetery was established. For years after it became a city park, Todd Park was neglected by the city of Atlanta and became an overgrown and trash-filled eyesore. It was yet another example of the City of Atlanta ignoring basic maintenance of an historic site that was in its care.
Then, in 1949, the City of Atlanta gave the park back to Mrs. Liddell, even though she protested that she did not want it. From 1949 until 1989, Todd Park changed hands several times, was further ignored, and appeared to be a worthless, problematic piece of property to own (the fate of many historic properties).
One previous owner received permission to remove the approximate 36 graves on the property, but moving graves is expensive and it is not clear that the graves were ever moved. In the early 1980’s title to the Todd cemetery passed to Sam G. Dickson, a young Atlanta attorney with the perseverance and legal skills needed to maneuver through legal restrictions preventing conventional development of the property.
In the eyes of some, however, his solution—leave a small memorial to the Todds but develop most of the property into residential housing—was not acceptable. I was able to speak with Sam Dickson recently. He is now in his sixties and is still a practicing attorney in Atlanta.
After determining that he was the same Sam Dickson who built the two houses on the former Todd cemetery property, he spent a few minutes describing to me what he recalled happened there 25 to 30 years ago. For much of the 1980’s Mr. Dickson promoted his idea for the Todd cemetery property, but found that there was vocal and active neighborhood opposition to building houses there.
Dickson even went door to door in the neighborhood to reason with people about what he considered the best way to deal with this derelict property. At the center of this controversy was the question of whether the graves in the Todd cemetery were ever moved.
Mr. Dickson told me that in about 1984, he hired the Atlanta Vault Service to probe the Todd cemetery in a manner known to reveal the presence of graves. They told Mr. Dickson that they found approximately eleven spots which could possibly be graves. Mr. Dickson went on to say that Georgia soil has an acid quality that dissolves old style graves back to soil over a period of decades, and some of the Todd graves were well over a century old at that time. In essence, he told me there was nothing there to move.
Gail Novak has lived close to the Todd cemetery property for more than forty years. Ms. Novak was “positive” that the Todd graves were never moved, because she works at home and saw the Todd cemetery every day and there was never any digging on the property. She conferred with other neighbors and they agreed with her on this point.
Novak also said that Franklin Garrett, the Atlanta historian mentioned earlier, prevailed upon the Sexton of Oakland Cemetery to come to the site in the mid-1980’s with a team and go over it with metal detectors. The Oakland team located 34 to 42 historic graves by detecting coffin nails, metal buckles, and the like.
Ms. Novak also pointed out that there was a row of African American residences along a dirt road in the area called Rooster Foot Alley, and that both blacks and whites were buried in the Todd cemetery predating the later practice of segregating cemeteries. The Rooster Foot Alley community of small neat homes survived until the 1920’s when new housing development bulldozed it into oblivion.
Despite the opposition, Mr. Dickson was ultimately successful and in 1989 and 1993 two upscale homes were built on the former Todd Cemetery property, at the new addresses of 797 and 795 Ponce De Leon Terrace. On the face of it then, Mr. Dickson must have presented adequate evidence of removal of the Todd Cemetery graves in order to get the building permits for the houses built there.
At this point, in 2014, there is no reason to hold onto ideas of preserving or restoring the old Todd cemetery. Sam Dickson’s vision of turning, “an abandoned jungle and dumping ground” into properly landscaped yards with two high-quality houses on the new lots is long complete, legal, and for all practical purposes, irreversible. Although preservation-minded people and organizations in Atlanta are achieving more success in preventing the destruction of historic sites and structures, some things, like the Todd cemetery are irretrievably lost.
We are, however, left with the Todd memorial. A ten foot square remnant of the much larger cemetery that should be remembered, visited, and maintained. While nothing above ground at the memorial dates back further than the 1930’s, beneath the ground are the remains of at least two Atlanta pioneers in graves of great age. Today’s stewards of historic sites in Atlanta should maintain this memorial and preserve it, so that future generations can appreciate it in years to come.
One last point on the grave removal; in legal documents from the 1980’s, the Todd graves were said to have been moved to Eastview Cemetery in Atlanta in 1952. I contacted Eastview Cemetery and asked if they had records showing reburials from the Todd cemetery. “I have checked and according to our records these were not reburials,” responded Alice Snipes of the Eastview Cemetery Association, regarding the three Todd burials at Eastview.
Sources: “Atlanta and Environs” by Franklin Garrett, © 1954. “Virginia-Highland” by Karri Hobson-Page and Lola Carlisle, © 2011. “Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Avenue” by Sharon Foster Jones, © 2012. Articles in the July-August and September 1995 issues of “Atlanta Intown Magazine” by Ann Taylor Boutwell. Special thanks to Carla Ledgerwood, Researcher at the Atlanta History Center, Sam G. Dickson, Gail Novak, Ramona Liddell, Rick Liddell, Andrew Wood, and Lola Carlisle for their contributions.