Cultural History

An Ever-Evolving History

Prior to 1821, North Buckhead’s residents were the Creek Indians. The Creeks called themselves Muscogees, but English explorers called them Creeks because of their tendency to live near water courses. The Creeks established villages of single-family huts arranged around a central plaza. Creek women farmed the surrounding land and harvested crops such as corn, beans, and squash, while the men hunted deer and small game and fished in nearby rivers. A 1930 history of Fulton County identified the former sites of sixteen Indian villages in the county, including three in the floodplain of Nancy Creek. One village was located where Chastain Park is today, just south of West Wieuca Road. Another was near the intersection of Windsor Parkway and Peachtree-Dunwoody Road.  The Creeks undoubtedly traversed the land in-between. In fact, arrowheads have been found on the Blue Heron property near the creek. In 1821, the Creek Indians ceded their lands, upon which Atlanta and Buckhead would grow, to become part of the state of Georgia.

After the land cession, white settlers continued the Native American practice of farming the land of north Buckhead. In 1877, John W. Williams purchased 250 acres hugging the eastern side of Roswell Road, including land where the Blue Heron Nature Preserve is today, for $2,750, which is equal to almost $60,000 today. The 1880 Agricultural Census reveals a remarkably detailed account of what his land looked like and what his farm produced. Seventy-five acres of his land was tilled and used for growing corn, oats, wheat and cotton. Williams owned six cows, nine pigs and eight chickens. His farm produced 100 lbs. of butter and 200 dozen eggs in 1879. He also had two acres of apple orchards and one acre of peach orchards.

In the early 20th century, a grist mill was established near Roswell Road, changing the landscape along today’s Lakemoore Drive, which at the time was simply a wagon road. In 1901, John Williams sold an 8-acre slice of his land on the south side of Lakemoore Drive to Andrew Dine and George McWilliams, who owned a saloon on Decatur Street in downtown Atlanta. McWilliams and Dine also bought 41 acres adjacent to this land, where Lakemoore Colony is today. Records from 1905 indicate that George McWilliams was a miller. In fact, later maps from the 1920’s show a mill operation on the property. By this point, however, the mill was operated by William Jefferson Eidson, who gave his name to the adjacent wagon road that became known as Eidson Mill Road. It is today’s Lakemoore Drive.

The rock dam south of Lakemoore Drive was built to create a mill pond. A sluice gate at the dam would have controlled the release of water from the pond, which was situated on higher ground than the mill house, located near Lakemoore Drive. Opening the sluice gate would have allowed water to rush down a wooden flume to the mill house and turn a water wheel. The wheel would have been attached to gears that would have turned the millstones which would have ground grain against a stationary bed.  Farmers from around north Buckhead would have brought their grain to this mill to be ground into cornmeal or flour.

 

Blue Heron Wetlands – Eidson Mill

We are in possession of a map dated May 24th, 1927 that shows both ponds, the old Mill building and boundaries: Roswell Rd (once called Boulevard) and Wieuca Rd.

In 1927 some of the Preserve was owned by W.B. Smith. On this map Lakemoore Drive wasn’t named yet and look at Roswell Road, it was also labeled Roosevelt Boulevard! This map shows what we call the Lake Emma Wetlands off Emma Lane as a full 10.65-acre lake, long before that area and road was developed by Wiley Moore as shown on a map from 1946. Also of interest is the location of a mill at the lower pond site #2 where condos are now located on Lakemoore Drive. On another map from 1935, also reflecting ownership by W.B. Smith, Lakemoore Drive is labeled Eidson Mill Road, probably after the family name of the mill owners.

 Also, on the 1935 map is the indication of a possible country store at Turner’s corner, approximately located at the intersection of Emma Lane and Lakemoore Drive. This map also indicates the large stone dam that at one time held the lake and mill waters back at our current wetlands area. If you visit Blue Heron today and drive over our wooden bridge at the building, look to the left and you will see an old stone sluice gate probably used at one time to control the levels of water coming from the mill.

This treasure trove of information came from the engineering office of Tom Boswick in Roswell, who has collected and saved maps and surveys from the 1900s. He has been most generous to let Nancy Jones, Blue Heron’s founding executive director, and Gordon Certain, the North Buckhead Civic Association president, spend many hours poring through his collection. And we are thrilled to announce that he has donated the three maps mentioned to the Preserve to be framed and displayed at the building.

We love to hear from our Facebook friends, North Buckhead neighbors and anyone else if they have any information about the old mill, the Eidson Family name, Turner’s corner, W.B. Smith or Wiley Moore. Please contact us!

History is alive, as you can see by this old map. Historical discoveries are important beacons to help guide the future as we look to restoration.

 

Modern Development

By the 1920s, these remote reaches of Fulton County also began to attract residents from the city. After John W. Williams died in 1918, the rest of his property along Roswell Road was subdivided and buyers swooped up the lots on which to build new homes. Affluent Atlantans also established larger country estates in the area. Wiley L. Moore, a prominent businessman who had served on the Atlanta City Council from 1925 to 1930, realized the value of the land in this outlying area and started buying up parcels beginning in the late 1930s. He amassed about 200 acres in the area and built a stately Neoclassical Revival home on Emma Lane, named for his wife. He also built a clubhouse that perched over one of the former mill ponds, which was now his private lake. An Atlanta Constitution article from the period reported that Moore built the clubhouse as a “good-will gesture” to the community and that it “became one of the show places and entertainment centers of the city.” Oral histories reveal that attendance was by invitation only and that slot machines were one of the attractions there. The clubhouse burned in the 1940s, but the foundation is still visible today.

In the post-WWII era, a population boom in Atlanta encouraged land subdivision in pastoral areas removed from the city center. Popular mid-century ranches and multi-family apartments sprang up along Lakemoore and Haverhill drives, and the northern reaches of Buckhead began to look more like the landscape we recognize today. Lakemoore Colony was developed in 1952 and features asymmetrical facades, flat roofs, metal casement windows and cantilevered ledges projecting over entrances and windows—all elements of the cutting edge international architectural style of the period.

In 1979, the architectural firm of Thompson, Hancock, Witte & Associates, now known as THW Design, built the Beech Building, which is the current home of the Blue Heron Nature Preserve, the Atlanta Audubon Society and the Da Vinci International School. Tommy Thompson, a graduate of the Georgia Tech College of Architecture, started the firm in Buckhead in 1957. Per THW Design, the Beech Building reflects the firm’s “philosophy of integrating architecture and interior design in the natural aspects of the site.” The split-level building of cypress and fieldstone was built without disturbing trees or the surrounding wetland and takes full advantage of the natural terrain, with a conference room overlooking the lake. The architectural firm called the building home for almost 30 years. The Beech Building became home to the Blue Heron Nature Preserve in 2007.

 

Time Traveler

Have you ever re-visited a special place in your life after a period of many years? Robert Bruce did just that when he came to visit Blue Heron.

In the ‘40s and ‘50s Robert lived on Midvale Drive, when he was about 8 years old. His parents gave him lots of freedom to roam in nature and Nancy Creek was his playground. Imagine his surprise when he came back to visit this special place from his childhood in 2014 and it was still here, protected as Blue Heron Nature Preserve!

He reached out to Nancy Jones and they happened to connect at his old stomping ground, and now the Blue Heron office.  He regaled the education committee with his stories of the creek and how this area used to look. He had great fun collecting turtles and fishing at the pond by our building before the building was here. Once he even found an alligator living in Nancy Creek that someone had released!

Stories like Robert’s remind us how important those early connections to nature are; all these years later he still remembers the joy of those experiences. Hopefully, in our ever-busy world full of technology, we can still find time to have those meaningful experiences and give children a chance to connect with nature.