Placed high upon a hill overlooking the south side of Ponce De Leon, pictured here we find the intricate and historic Edward C. Peters House, or Ivy Hall as it is popularly known. A superb example of the incredible Queen Anne homes constructed in America during the Victorian Era, this residence was built in 1883 for Edward C. Peters, son of the famous Peters family of early Pennsylvania and early Atlanta. It features both a great account of Atlanta history along with a restoration story all preservation nuts will appreciate.
The Peters family story begins in England in the early 1700’s with Ralph Peters, a lawyer and town clerk. Ralph had two sons William and Richard Peters, who both came to America in 1739 after Richard was involved in a bigamy scandal in Liverpool. They both settled in Philadelphia and they both had success in colonial America. While William Peters became an important lawyer and judge, his brother Richard Peters was wildly prosperous, becoming a celebrity in the colonies, a contemporary of Ben Franklin and a major player in the French and Indian War, serving as a delegate to the Albany Congress. This first Richard Peters died in Philadelphia in 1776.
Here’s where the Peters family story can become confusing. See, William Peters had a son whom he named Richard after his famous brother. Born in 1744, the second Richard Peters was known as Richard Jr. to distinguish him from his powerful uncle. And like his uncle, Richard Peters Jr. was also wildly successful. Basically a Founding Father, this second Richard worked with George Washington and was a representative in the Continental Congress. He eventually became a long-serving United States District Court Judge in Pennsylvania. And if the Peters’ names haven’t confused you enough, Richard Peters Jr. named his son Richard who was also known as Richard Peters Jr. And when this third Richard Peters had a son, guess what he named him? Yep, Richard Peters. While all of the early Richard Peters shaped Pennsylvania history, it was this fourth Richard Peters that would dramatically transform Atlanta history.
The fourth Richard Peters (pictured right) helped bring the Georgia Railroad to Atlanta, then a small backwater town known as Marthasville. Chartered in the 1830’s and built in the 1840’s, the Georgia Railroad was one of several railroads crisscrossing Georgia at the time, and the small town of Marthasville initially attracted attention from a different railroad, the Western and Atlantic Railroad Company. The Georgia Railroad was originally chartered to run between Augusta and Athens, with an extension branch that would run to Madison. Sensing an opportunity created by the Western and Atlantic, the Madison branch was extended to Marthasville. Richard Peters Jr. (the fourth Richard Peters) moved to Marthasville (also known as Terminus) with the Georgia Railroad in the 1840’s. This is extremely early in Atlanta history. This good timing allowed Peters (and others associated with the railroads including his close friend and business associate Lemuel P. Grant) to buy large tracts of land that would later become important neighborhoods within Atlanta for little money, even by the standards of the 1840’s and 1850’s. This acquisition of land would make Peters and his descendants a fortune.
The Atlanta Richard Peters was superintendent of the Georgia Railroad. As the Railroad and Atlanta grew, his success grew. He married into an established Marthasville family, the daughter of Dr. Joseph Thompson, and he seemed to have his fingers in every major business dealing in early Atlanta. For example, Richard Peters also operated a stage coach line and helped build the Atlanta Street Railway Company. He even helped name the town when people complained about Marthasville, and promoted the name Atlanta before it became official.
So back to Ivy Hall. In 1856 Richard Peters built a flour mill which he described as “the largest flour mill in the South”. This flour mill was powered by an 80-horsepower steam engine which ran on fire wood. Needing large amounts of wooded land to power the mill, Richard purchased 405 acres of land bounded on the north by 8th Avenue, the south by North Avenue, the east by Argonne Avenue and the west by Plum Street and Atlantic Drive (Kontz Avenue). This huge tract of land included the hill that holds Ivy Hall, along with a huge portion of Midtown south of Piedmont Park and east of Georgia Tech.
Eventually Richard Peters built a residence on the highest point in this tract of land. And his son Edward C. Peters built Ivy Hall beginning in 1883 (Fulton County online records show it was completed in 1885) on the present site at 179 Ponce De Leon. Designed by a Swedish immigrant named Gottfried Norman, the incredible wrap-around porch, different exterior textures and other design elements provide a pronounced illustration of the American Queen Anne Style. Gottfried would go on to design homes throughout the South.
The Richard Peters that shaped early Atlanta died in 1889. His son Edward C. Peters who built this home began developing and selling his father’s land through the Peters Land Company in 1890. While developing the land they stuck with the pastoral, “Peachtree” theme when naming the streets. Thus today the north/south streets offer names such as Juniper, Myrtle, and other organic-based names, while the east/west streets feature numbers up to 8th street.
Ivy Hall would witness most of the Peters land around it divided up and sold. Fortunately, the structure survived the Great Atlanta Fire of 1917, when many homes in the area were destroyed to prevent the fire from spreading farther north. It remained in the Peters family for nearly a hundred years.
Edward C. Peters died in 1937. His son Wimberly Peters inherited the mansion and when he passed away it was bestowed to his wife Lucille. She lived in the home until her death in 1970. In 1970 it was almost demolished but was saved by a Victorian mansion preservation society. Briefly a drug rehabilitation center, it became The Mansion Restaurant.
In 2000 a fire caused significant damage, and the structure was abandoned by the owners of The Mansion Restaurant. It remained vacant for several years and was invaded by homeless squatters. But a large amount of damage was done by the occasional artifact thief and unscrupulous craftsmen that would invade the home, scavenging architectural details.
A total train wreck and again being considered for demolition, in 2005 the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) stepped in, purchasing Ivy Hall and spearheading an impressive restoration of the building. Many beautiful elements remain, including the smoking room’s wall paneling made of “curly pine”. The restoration was completed by October of 2008. Sitting on an entire city square block since the Peters land was broken up by Edward Peters, a portion of that block was developed into housing between 2005 and 2008. Ivy Hall now serves as the Savannah College of Art and Design Writing Center in Atlanta, providing classes, community events and even a bedroom for a residential artist.
Ivy Hall is available for tours; contact Georgia Lee at 404-253-3206 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you are feeling adventurous, just show up after 11 am on Fridays. And their Facebook page is fascinating, providing pictures of Ivy Hall before and after the restoration. Go Like them on Facebook for updates and information here.
Did You Know? The design of Ivy Hall incorporated many references to the Peters family, such as tiles depicting the Philadelphia Fish and Chowder Society started by the first Richard Peters.
Did You Know? When Ivy Hall was built in 1883 Ponce De Leon was known as Ponce De Leon Circle and was basically a mud pathway. Being the nearest paved roadway, Edward Peters had a massive boardwalk built from Ivy Hall down to Peachtree Street.
Did You Know? The 405 acres of land purchased by Richard Peters in 1856 included land that now holds the Biltmore Hotel, Georgia Tech, the Georgia Terrace Hotel, Fox Theatre and the Ponce De Leon Apartments.