Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore
Atlanta might never have become the vaunted “City in a Forest” if not for Druid Hills. In 1890, Joel Hurt, who had already built Inman Park, hired famed landscape designer Frederick Law Olmsted to transform 1,400 acres of farmland into “an ideal residential community.” In well-documented correspondence, the Olmsted firm convinced Hurt that setting aside wide expanses of greenspace would ultimately enhance quality of life and increase property values. The firm’s vision included a string of six linear parks down a central avenue. Curving streets, deep setbacks, and many acres-long lots laid the foundation for a verdant canopy of towering oaks, beeches, and elms—a pattern that later influenced the design of Ansley Park, Morningside, West Paces Ferry, and other sylvan streetscapes.
Financial difficulties forced Hurt to sell his project to a conglomerate headed by Coca-Cola owner Asa Candler (for a “cool half million,” as the Atlanta Journal reported) before construction actually began in 1908. Over the next two decades, the city’s most prominent architects, including Neel Reid, Philip Shutze, and Leila Ross Wilburn, created stately homes for the likes of the Candlers, Woodruffs, and Riches.
In the 1980s, the grand Tudor, Georgian, and Italian Renaissance mansions were jeopardized by a Department of Transportation proposal to run a highway through Shadyside Park, but residents rallied to help defeat the so-called Presidential Parkway—sparking a wave of neighborhood activism and preservation that has continued to benefit Druid Hills, which encompasses both national and local historic districts.
The area’s 4,000-plus households stay in touch through the Druid Hills Civic Association. Garden clubs, a half dozen or so book clubs, a parents network, and various other organizations help both long-standing and new neighbors connect. Annual traditions include a Fourth of July parade, perennially led by the “Lesser Druid Hills Marching Band,” and a November festival called Druid Hills Day. Sidewalks and public spaces—especially the Olmsted Linear Parks, currently undergoing a $9.5 million renovation by their namesake nonprofit association—encourage informal interaction among walkers and joggers. Narrow, hidden alleys, called “maids’ walks” until rechristened the more politically correct “bywalks,” provide cozy shortcuts between major streets.
Public elementary schools include DeKalb County’s Fernbank and Atlanta’s Mary Lin and the new Springdale Park, located in the building formerly occupied by the private Howard School. A new International Baccalaureate Programme at DeKalb’s Shamrock Middle School means IB curriculum is now available from kindergarten through Druid Hills High School’s twelfth grade. City residents attend Inman Middle School and Grady High School, known for its strong journalism magnet. The independent Paideia School is also located here.
Dine & Do
Walking tours by the Atlanta Preservation Center feature sights such as the “Coca-Cola mansions” and filming locations for Alfred Uhry’s Driving Miss Daisy. The only commercial area is the quaint Emory Village opposite the university’s main entrance. However, Druid Hills encompasses the Fernbank museums, Emory University, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, and Druid Hills Golf Club. Additional public greenspaces include Lullwater House and Preserve (home to Emory’s president), the majestic Fernbank Forest, and the lesser-known “Little Lullwater,” the six-plus-acre Lullwater Conservation Garden.
Annual Home & Garden Tour: The annual home tour, artists market, and native plant sale is April 16 to 18. This year’s event will feature six houses on Oakdale Road (one tour stops shown above). Call 404-524-8687 or visit druidhillstour.org.
This article originally appeared in our April 2010 issue.