Atlanta Public Schools long forgotten with names E-J will comprise the subject of this blog post. Though I have been researching forgotten APS schools for well over a four months now, I am still shocked and amazed by the sheer amount of schools I never knew existed. Starting with….
Written By: Kia Guest-Holloway
East Atlanta School (1909 – 1995 ):
The East Atlanta School was erected during a time where the neighborhood of East Atlanta began experiencing an explosion of growth. New subdivisions, public library, and fine stores began to emerge around 1913 and 1914 including the opening of the new school servicing the area. East Atlanta School officially opened its doors September 1, 1915, providing schooling for children up to the seventh grades. East Atlanta school was designed by architects Battle and Burrill, costing the city $15,000. By all accounts, it was considered to be state of the art compared the original APS schools of yesteryear. East Atlanta school would enjoy eight large classrooms, indoor plumbing, and toilets, as well as a steam heating system.
East Atlanta School’s completion came as soon as East Atlanta became annexed into the city Atlanta in 1909; prior to the annex into the city of Atlanta, East Atlanta was a part of Dekalb County. The new elementary school was the only school in East Atlanta during its infancy. However, according to my research, a newer building was erected in 1916 but the school was mentioned in the local papers as early as 1909; this creates a confusing narrative.
Toward the 1930’s, East Atlanta School would be renamed as John B. Gordon, a Civil War brigadier. The hue of the student body would ultimately change during the desegregation of APS schools and subsequently, the school fell into disrepair. It would finally close its doors in 1995 and remained empty for several years. Falling prey to arson, vandalism, and trespassing by curious on-lookers. As a native Atlantan who resided in East Atlanta, my family would often pass by the abandoned relic of a time once forgotten. John B. Gordon would remain abandoned until a devastating fire in 2014 gutted the building. The devastation led to the building being demolished and replaced by swanky apartment homes. Thankfully, the apartment building repurposed salvaged bricks and brilliantly used them in the design and construction of the new apartments that now occupy the space.
Edgewood Elementary School (1892 –
The Edgewood Avenue Elementary School manages to remain in operation 125 years after its initial opening. While it currently operates as housing for Inman Park residents (13 lofts), it is refreshing to see its splendid architecture preserved and enjoyed by over time by several generations of Atlantans.
Edgewood Elementary opened in 1892 just in time for the newly minted Inman Park. It narrowly escaped disaster after a nearby fire from a cottage nearly set the school ablaze in 1900.
More will be added soon…..
White, Susie. 1915. “EAST ATLANTA IS VERY PROUD OF NEW SCHOOL.” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Sep 26.
“LETTERS FROM SCHOOL CHILDREN ABOUT THEIR SCHOOL.” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Nov 05, 1911.
Acheson. “EDGEWOOD AVENUE SCHOOL AND ITS SUCCESSFUL WORK.” The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Mar 03, 1897.
One cannot escape the ugly atrocities of segregation in the public school system. Due to segregation being not only the law, but the norm, the City of Atlanta opened just 2 schools for African-American students. They weren’t separated by age or gender as the white schools were and were often faced with overcrowding and dangerous conditions. For this section, I will discuss the first African-American schools in the Atlanta Public School System.
Summer Hill School ( 1867 – 1980’s):
Despite being declared the city’s oldest school, I found it very challenging to find in-depth articles about the Summerhill School. In 1897, the Atlanta Constitution declared the Summerhill School to be the oldest Negro school in the city. Though it is often erroneously declared as 1872 being it’s official opening date, it has been proven that Summerhill School actually began in 1867 thanks in part to the Freedman’s Bureau. However, it was grouped in with the five white’s only schools that opened in 1872, after the official opening of the Atlanta Public School System.
The neighborhood for which the school was named for, has a rich and interesting history. Summerhill was one of two post-Civil War settlements established in 1865 by William Jennings, whose earliest inhabitants were freed, slaves and Jewish immigrants. Summerhill would soon welcome a game-changing visitor, Massachusetts native Frederick Ayer. After spending most of his early life as a teacher and missionary to the Ojibway Native Americans, Ayer traveled to Atlanta, Georgia to continue his missionary work which included building a school for freed slaves. Ayer’s description of Atlanta in 1865 was a depressing and sad description. Many residents (white and black) were starving, still suffering from the aftermath of the Civil War. Smallpox was rampant, and crime was on the rise. Perhaps the scenes of desperation and despair sparked Ayer’s desire to found a Congregational church. The church would ultimately inspire Ayer to build the first school for African-American’s, located at Richardson and Martin Street. The school would go on to operate for 3 years until the Atlanta Public School system purchased it in 1872, renaming it what we know today as the Summerhill School. Summerhill would soon see another first, naming C.W. Hill as it’s principal. C.W. Hill would become the first African-American principal in Atlanta, GA.
As the city of Atlanta grew, so did the need for schools to house the increasing number of student. African-American students were only afforded the option of attending two schools initially, however, a few more would ultimately open in the 20th century. Despite the new schools, African-American’s were often crowded into one room buildings or dilapidated wooden structures with little to no ventilation. What’s more, African-American students weren’t offered the option to attend grammar school and graduate to high school. Most schools for African-American’s housed all grade levels. The disparities between white and black communities were pretty obvious. As more and more schools for whites were erected, black students were often left out in the cold — both figuratively and literally.
In 1909, an article in the Atlanta Georgian stated that Summerhill School housed over 800 students! Overcrowding in Atlanta’s schools was an epidemic of mass proportions. In addition to overcrowding, many of Atlanta’s older school houses were falling into ill-repair, Summerhill was one of the many schools condemned due to its poor structure and overcrowding. The Summerhill school didn’t receive plumbing until 1910 until then outdoor, public restroom facilities were utilized and water was derived from a well. A 1915 Atlanta Constitution article exposed the ugly truth behind the deplorable conditions of some Atlanta Public Schools. The article’s author felt that the taxpayers had a right to know how the Board of Education was spending their money. The Summerhill School was described as bursting at the seams, which children crowded into tiny classrooms and even in hallways. These were the children of the domestics who lived in Summerhill and often worked in nearby neighborhoods as servants, maids, and nannies. Summerhill was also home to successfully wealthy African-American’s as well. Collectively, all residents paid taxes and therefore should have adequate schools for their children to attend.
In 1923, Summerhill School was renamed as E.P. Johnson Elementary with principal J.V. Drake presiding. Rev. Edwin Posey Johnson (1849-1929) happened to be one of the most prominent African-American pastors in the city and would be a part of Atlanta University’s first graduating class. Understandably, the school would be renamed in his honor. By 1927, the former Summerhill School was facing the subject of overcrowding once more. African-American’s demanded that board add more schools for black students and add on to the current schools that are operational, with E.P. Johnson on the list. E.P. Johnson would go on to host African-American students until its closure in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, the original E.P. Johnson/Summerhill school was demolished in the 1980’s after being abandoned for over a decade. At the time of its demolishment, the Summerhill area was ladened with crime, poverty and slums areas. Many have credited its downfall with the induction of the highway system and the building of the Fulton County stadium, which displaced many Summerhill residents. The Summerhill area would witness a resurgence in popularity with the 1996 Olympic Games, BeltLine project and new Georgia State University purchase of the Turner Field stadium.
The second school to open African-American’s, after Summerhill School, was Storr’s School. While I found it very challenging to locate in-depth information about the Summerhill School, it was even more challenging to locate enough information on the Storr’s School. As I continue my research and compile more information, it will be added to this post. Until then, the information posted below is what I was able to research so far.
Storrs School (1865 – 1930’s?):
The origins of the Storrs School is just as intriguing as the Summerhill School. Storrs School is difficult to locate on the Sanborn maps mostly because it actually began as somewhat of a private school inside of the First Congregational Church in downtown Atlanta. Originally located at Houston street (which is now named John Wesley Dobbs) until the late 1870’s, Storr’s school operated as a private school for African-American students post-Civil War.
Founded by the American Missionary Association in 1865, the Storrs School got its name from a monetary gift it received from the Storr’s Congregational Church in Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1860’s. Missionaries from both the north and the midwest would ultimately migrate to the Storrs School (located inside the church) to provide educational services to freed slaves. The AMA maintained possession of the Storr’s School until around 1877 when they handed over possession to the newly minted Atlanta Board of Education at the cost $5,000. Interestingly enough, Atlanta University was also founded out of the same church as the Storrs School.
Stories about the acquisition of the Storr’s School by the Board of Education vary. It appears that the school was owned by the AMA, they took possession back, then resold it to the Board of Education. But, a January 1890 Atlanta Constitution article contradicts the story of the acquisition of the Storr’s School. According to this article, the Board of Education voted not to purchase the Storr’s School after white residents protested. The article also mentions that the school had been abandoned at this time because the American Missionary Association no longer considered the education of African-Americans to be missionary work. According to the residents of the ward, having a “negro school” in their white district would be a nuisance, therefore the school would have to find another location. Until a new location was purchased, the Storr’s School remained closed. The AMA informed the Board that if a new location wasn’t purchased in time, they’d have to repurchase the school in order to continue providing educational services to the nearby students. By the 1930’s it is reported that the Storrs School had officially closed with its students scattered about the Atlanta Public School system; some of the former Storrs School students would later enroll into the “Gate City School,” also known as Houston Street School. It was frustrating to see so little information concerning schools for African-American’s in Atlanta. More in-depth research will certainly ensue.
In “Eternally Forgotten Atlanta Public Schools – Pt. 1 – Elementary Schools,” I discussed the early history of the Atlanta Public School system, officially opening its doors in 1872. Once it opened, APS had opened 3 elementary schools and two high schools for Caucasian students. Over time, more high schools would open and ultimately boys and girls high schools would go on to be consolidated into one school by the late 1940’s. This post will focus on the very first boys and girls high schools opened 1872.
Girl’s High School ( Feb. 5, 1872 – 1945?):
Girl’s High School, originally located at 66 Whitehall Street on the corner of Whitehall and Hunter Streets, served as the first and only high school for girls in 1872. Most students who graduated from the first three grammar schools (Ivy Street, Crew Street, and Walker Street) would have enrolled in either Boys or Girls High School. When the school first opened, 171 girls, were enrolled. That number would more than double in later years. At this time, both Boys High and Girls High occupied the same shop building until a permanently constructed schoolhouse was built; the 1878 Atlanta City Directory lists the combined schools as the “Atlanta High School.” In 1873, Girls High was moved to the John Neal Home (the John Neal Home would be later demolished in 1928 to make way for Atlanta City Hall) as it was still without a permanent home located at the corners of Washington and Mitchell Streets. Finally, in a three-story brick building would be erected behind the John Neal Home in 1888, where Girls High would remain until January 1925. Little did the students of Girls High know, this final move would not be their last.
Due to robust growth in Atlanta’s population, the city of Atlanta began to expand which brought on a demand for more land. Also, as a result of the booming population, Girls High began to burst at the seams with student enrollment. Let’s not forget the poor conditions of the school, with it dank, dark and poorly ventilated classrooms Girls High was long overdue for new facilities. Petitions for a larger and more state-of-the-art facility were soon underway. Board of Education President Walter Daley declared in 1912 that the Girls High facility was a “monstrosity,” and “…and embarrassment to the City of Atlanta.”
In 1920, Atlanta’s Major Key deemed the old Girls High building as “unfit,” declaring that a new building is underway with an anticipated opening date of 1922. At an estimated $500,000 (in 1922 of course), the new school promised to afford both students and teachers with every comfort imaginable. Unfortunately, the new school’s grand opening would ultimately be delayed due to funding issues. Unbeknownst to most, the Boys High School (now known as Grady High) was under construction at the same time a Girls High. Since it would be deemed illegal to borrow funds from the Boys High school construction, further building plans for Girls High would be delayed for another year or so. Delayed twice in 1923, the new Girls High couldn’t fully open its doors until January 5, 1925, with 750 pupils enrolled. Girls High School’s new location would officially be listed as 745 Rosalia Street in the Grant Park area.
Serving the Atlanta area as the premier school for high school girls, Girls High enjoyed almost thirty years of operation at its new location. Girls High would even become pretty famous in the 1930’s after a visit from then-Presidental hopeful Franklin D. Roosevelt. Students would be able to enjoy classrooms suited for upwards of 35 students, a grand library with 14,000 books, and more importantly, electricity, indoor plumbing, and heating. The typical curriculum at the time consisted of business management, sewing, cooking, home economics, housekeeping, and music.
By 1947, Girls High would no longer exist as the new co-educational community high school program would go into effect. Schools would no longer be separated by gender, thereby moving the Girls High student body into Boys High. This would lead to the renaming of Boys High as what it is better known as today – Henry W. Grady Highschool. The old Girls High school would later be named as Roosevelt High School. After 75 years, Girls High became a distant memory in the minds of modern Atlantans.
Boys High School (January 1872 – 1947):
Boys High School endured a very unstable past from its inception to the time that it ultimately was converted into a coed facility in the late 1940’s. Before finally settling into a permanent location, Boys High School’s faculty, staff, and students would move a total of eight times by 1924. It’s final chapter, however, became a proud history. I have a personal connection to Boys High that I will discuss later in this post.
Boys High endured a rocky start, similarly to Girls High, as it shared a department store facility with Girls High. Additionally, Boys High was located in the basement of the newly built Girls High, on the corner Washington and Mitchell street before moving into its own building. The first principal of the newly opened Boys High was William F. Slaton (1874 – 1879), who would eventually move on to become the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools in 1879. From the very beginning, Boys High experienced overcrowding and dangerous conditions.
Boys High original wooden structure would be deemed too dangerous to remain open, therefore the city of Atlanta decided to build a more modern, fireproof structure for Boys High. In 1894, Boys High would no longer be located at Washington and Mitchell Streets; the new Boys High would now be located at the corner of Courtland and Gilmer streets, replacing the old Toon house. The Toon house belonged to a confederate soldier named Joshua J. Toon, who moved to Atlanta in 1860 and built the home with confederate money (to the tune of $25,000). After Toon’s death in 1893, the city of Atlanta purchased the land to be utilized as the new location for Boys High School. According to monthly reports in the Atlanta Constitution, Boys High pupils were some of the brightest and most talented students in the state of Georgia. Many would go on to become college graduates, influential businessmen, and local elected officials. Perhaps the school’s curriculum reputation is the reasoning behind the ample amount of school applicants it would receive each school terms. Whatever the reason, one thing is for sure, the school board grossly underestimated the steady growth of Atlanta Public School enrollment, with the total number of students enrolled reaching 20,000 by 1896, the board quickly realized that Boys High could not enroll each student that applied, due to the limited seating. To remedy the issue, talks of building another school for high school boys began to surface.
In 1908, the local newspaper published an article concerning the poor conditions of the old Boys High School. The old wooden structure was plagued with no fire escapes, rickety framework, dilapidated staircases, poor ventilation,, overcrowded classrooms, and infestation of vermin. By all accounts, the school board was justified in its claims of condemnation of Boys High. Journalist Steven Johnston insisted that the board of education should appropriate more funding to provide more adequate curriculum, safe conditions and competitive pay for faculty. Overall, it appears that Boys High was in need of a more than a facelift; it needed a complete overhaul.
In addition to complaints of overcrowding, the cost of operating Boys High began to cause a stir around the city of Atlanta. In an August 27, 1904, Atlanta Constitution article, the school board complained of the soaring costs to operate Boys High due to its dual programs (business, classical, and technological programs) and overcrowded classrooms. To remedy the issue, in 1909, the technological portion of Boys High moved into the then abandoned Marietta grammar school building, while the traditional college preparatory based Boys High, remained in the same location. By moving the technological portion of Boys High, the board managed to remedy soaring operational costs, but it did little to remedy the overcrowding issues. Several articles pleading and urging the board to appropriate funds for a new building were published from 1911 – 1915. Built for a class size of 200, Boys High was now housing over 400 students by 1911. In 1912, Tech High’s new location within the old, ramshackle Marietta grammar school was literally falling apart as well. With the roof caving in, and the building itself threatening to fall down, many urged the city to provide a new location for Tech High as well.
By the 1920’s, the cries and demands for a new building for both Tech and Boys High were answered. Construction for the new school began in the Spring of 1923 which a scheduled grand opening in January of 1925. In order to save costs and remedy the overcrowding concerns, the board voted to house both Tech High and Boys High into one building in 1924. Unfortunately, due to a devastating fire, Boys High would once more find itself in makeshift, temporary housing. Boys High moved into the abandoned Walker Street grammar school building until the fall of 1924. After the Fall of 1924, Boys High would move into its final location on Charles Allen Drive and 10th streets. Citing the successes of merged Hoke High and Commercial High School, APS superintendent H.R. Hunter approved the idea to combine both Tech High and Boys High under one roof. Tech High would occupy seven-eighths of the new building Boys High would occupy just under three-fourths of the new building.
The new school building would be able to accommodate up to 1,500 students, with at least 40 classrooms, a stark difference from the original tiny school house. The size of Boys High School wasn’t the only drastic change. In addition to a large facility, the newly consolidated Tech High and Boys High would now be known as Henry W. Grady High School. Former Tech and Boys High students recall the literal white line drawn on the back of the school to separate both schools. While they were friends with one another, that friendship would be tested when both Tech and Boys High would compete in the annual football tournament. The event was said to draw thousands of onlookers
Over the years, Henry W. Grady High School would go through many changes both physically and internally. Several expensive additions were made to Grady High School including a new auditorium and gymnasium in 1937 ($130,000 price tag; utilizing WPA and bond funds) to accommodate a growing student body. Eight years later in 1945, Henry W. Grady would change internally as well, with the abolishment of separate high schools for boys and girl. The Board of Education voted to convert Henry W. Grady High School into a coeducational institution to accommodate 3,000 students at a cost of $650,000. The merger was finalized in the fall of 1948, marking the official closure of Boys High after a successful seventy-six years in operation. Henry W. Grady High School would go on to become the first high school in Atlanta to integrate (August 29, 1961).
As of 2016, there are a little over 430 alumni remaining. Remaining alumni meet occasionally to reminisce about the olden days before Boys and Tech High became Henry W. Grady High School. Many of the Boys High alumni have gone on to become major movers and shakers of Atlanta and elsewhere. Notable alumni would include S. Truett Cathy, Class of 1939 (Boys High School) Founder of Chik-Fil-A, Eric Roberts (Actor) class of 1974, Yolanda King (daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr), class of 1972, Richard Lenny (CEO of Hershey Corp) class of 1970, and a host of other political and businessmen and women. After the closure of Boys High and merger of Girls High school, Henry W. Grady High would go on to become one of Atlanta’s public school gems. The school would also go on to make history, becoming the first school in Atlanta to desegregate (August 29, 1961). Grady High School is still in operation today as the magnet school for communications.
In the 148 years of the Atlanta Public School system (established in 1869 by the Atlanta City Council), plenty of schools has come and gone. Many have been all but wiped from history books of Atlanta’s early years. With the population growth booming in the city of Atlanta, more and more communities realized that new schools must be erected in to accommodate the city’s ever-growing populace. As the city grew, so did the list of grammar and high schools; however, Atlanta Public Schools would also experience the shuttering of doors in the 21st century due to a decline in enrollment of Atlanta Public Schools. Most of the decline can be attributed to white flight, and the economic downfall stemming from white flight. For the purpose of this blog post, I have conducted extensive research on forgotten APS schools, however, since the list is rather sizable, I’ve only provided detailed information on the first 6 schools erected. For a complete list of forgotten Atlanta Public Schools, please click here: Historical List of APS Schools
Prior to the establishment of public schools, Atlanta (then Marthasville) erected one private school in 1845, a private school located near the Dunnings foundry and the Georiga railroad. Mant Atlantan’s at the time did not hold public schools in high esteem. Feeling that they were too common and lacked the proper educational facilities, private schools were deemed better. That mindset would change and reappear over the years, as Atlantan’s came to love and hate the Atlanta Public School System. The first free school for Atlanta’s white children was called the Holland Free school, opened in 1853. The Holland school was located in the downtown area of Atlanta, between Garnett and Forsyth streets. Built strictly for poor students, parents had to sign an affidavit proving their need for free schooling and lack of resources to pay tuition. As the community grew more favorable of public schools, the Atlanta City Council, spearheaded by Dr. D.C. O”Keefe, voted to create the Atlanta Public School system.
The city of Atlanta scheduled the opening day of the Atlanta Public School System for Tuesday, January 30, 1872, with inaugural opening beginning with the first erected school, Ivy Street School. The Atlanta Public School system, in accordance with the Atlanta City Council, would go to establish three grammar schools and two high schools in 1872. These schools were free and open to only the city’s white residents. The Freedman’s Bureau opened two schools for African-American student’s in 1866. Thereby bringing the total of educational facilities in Atlanta, to seven. For the purpose of this research project, I will post a series of blog posts about the first APS schools, beginning with Elementary schools.
Crew Street Grammar School – (Feb. 14, 1872 – Oct. 1957):
Crew Street grammar school opened in 1872, which also happened to be the end of Reconstruction in Georgia. The original structure was located at 97 Crew Street between Washington Street and Capital Avenue, it was the first of the three schools to be built. Upon opening its doors, Crew Street elementary had 429 students enrolled on the first day. Out of the area’s 2000 students, having 429 students enrolled made Crew Street overcrowded from day one. The first Crew Street school was built of wood, for around $2,500, which would amount to about $48,118.92 in 2017 costs. Little did the students of Crew Street School know, the school itself would ultimately occupy several different buildings. In February of 1885, the original Crew Street school building burned to the ground. Unfortunately, the building could not be salvaged, however, thanks to the building being insured the old wooden structure was replaced by another wooden structure worth about $131, 391 in today’s dollars.
In 1907, a series of articles published by The Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Georgian featured horror stories about the unsanitary and unsafe conditions of Atlanta’s first public schools. By 1910, more professionals stepped up to denounce the unsanitary conditions of the local schools; plumbers condemned almost every school erected. Though all of the schools for African-American students were condemned as unsanitary, poorly ventilated and lacking modern plumbing. After much uproar, the Board of Education agreed to allocate funding for a newer, more sanitary and state of the art building for the first Atlanta school buildings. Additionally, the board agreed to build more schools to resolve the overcrowding issues in the city.
By 1911, newly constructed Crew Street school was scheduled to reopen. The new school structure would be erected in the same area as the old Crew Street structure. According to a 1912 Atlanta Constitution article, the original Crew Street School structure was the oldest in the city. The original school bell would be repurposed in the new structure as the student preferred the old school bell to the new “rapid fire” school gong. The old Crew Street building would serve as a temporary home to the new Commerical High School, until it’s new facilities were completed.
By 1957, the old Crew Street school would be demolished to make way for the new highway system. At this time, the 85-year-old school was still operating functionally but would be one of the nearly 500 buildings to be demolished in favor of the new I-20 expressway. Would Crew Street school be in operation today if it weren’t for the highway construction? It’s hard to tell, but it would have been nice to retain its original structure.
Below, you will see a current view of Crew Street. Capital Avenue is no longer in existence, it was renamed as Hank Aaron Drive (black arrow). Washington Street is to the far right (red arrow), while Crew Street is located right in between both streets. The highway is located further to the left, off the site of the picture below.
Ivy Street School – (Jan. 31, 1872 – 1961?):
The second school to be erected in 1872 was the Ivy Street school which opened January 31, 1872, one month before the Crew Street School which opened February 14, 1872. Upon the officially opening of its door, Ivy Street grammar school boasted a robust 479 pupils. Located at 195 Ivy Street (in 1923), the Ivy Street grammar school inaugural exercises were held Janaruay 30, 1872. The picture below was taken from an 1886 Sanborn Fire Map. In 1886 the address for the Ivy Street school was possibly 173 Ivy Street; note the large gardens in the back of the school.
In 1905, the city of Atlanta began to reassign students to new school zones in hopes 0f evening out attendance and reduce the overcrowding issues. The new school district is described below:
Information regarding the future location of the Ivy Street school seemed to be nonexistent. Though it appears that Ivy Street grammar school changed its name and grade level toward the beginning of the twenty-first century, now listed as Marist College from 1901 – 1961. Due to the rapid expansion of the city of Atlanta, Marist was forced to relocate to the Ashford-Dunwoody area in 1961. Here it would be renamed as Marist School, functioning as a Catholic based military school for boys until 1976. Due to low enrollment in military courses, Marist School switched its curriculum and became what we know of today; a co-ed, Catholic, private college preparatory school.
Walker Street School (Feb. 21, 1872 – Jan. 1983):
Note: Walker Street is now Centennial Olympic Drive (from North Avenue south to around Mitchell Street)
Walker Street School was the third of the first wooden grammar schools to be included in the newly formed Atlanta Public School system. Walker street opened its doors one week following the opening of Crew Street School. Built to accommodate 400 students (similarly to Crew and Ivy Street schools), Walker Street was also deemed overcrowded upon opening its doors. Walker Street school comprised of students in the Fourth and Sixth wards of the city and was originally located at the intersection of Walker, Haynes and Nelson streets. Its first principal was Professor W.R. Rockwell, and until 1896 Walker Street School was the largest public school in Atlanta (it would later lose its crown to Fraser Street school in 1896). At the time, the Walker School cost the city of Atlanta a little over $10,000 to build; which would total $192,476 in today’s figures. Quite possibly a steep price tag for a city still recovering from the effect of the Civil War.
Walker Street School would go on to have a very interesting history. In a 1909 article written in the Atlanta Constitution, some 37 years after it’s grand opening, the Walker Street School was listed as one of Atlanta’s oldest schools. The article goes on to mention that the fate of the old wooden structure was unclear due to a new political and financial changes to the city of Atlanta. In 1895 new additions were added to the original wooden structure to accommodate the rising enrollment of nearby students. Contracts decided not to destroy the original building as it would ruin its historical integrity. Local citizens rallied in support of repairing the school, while some argued that it should be moved a bigger lot. In 1911, it appears the local citizens finally got their wish as the grand announcement of the new Walker Street School was announce in March of 1911, during a grand Masonic celebration. Many former students were attendance and displeased to learn that the original Walker Street School would be destroyed. Flash forward to 1916, the Walker Street School remained as a grammar school, receiving high marks from visiting superintendents.
However, by 1923 the school’s student body had drastically changed. In a 1923 Atlanta Constitution article, Walker Street School was not listed among the 29 Kindergarten schools operating in the city. Perhaps it had been abandoned at this point, which is plausible considering a 1924 article mentions that Walker Street School would be converted into a school administrative building. After Atlanta Public Schools became integrated, and more schools were needed to accommodate the growing number of African-American students enrolled in APS schools, the Walker Street School was converted into an elementary school for African-American students. At the ripe old age of 61 years of age, one can only imagine how poorly maintained the school had become.
Walker Street School’s glory days were long over by the 1960’s, as many of Atlanta Public Schools were described as falling apart, depressing, and in ill-repair. By 1972, the school board voted 5-3 to close Walker Street School, as well as two others (West Haven and Haygood). After shutting its doors as an elementary school, the Walker Street School would operate as the Downtown Learning Center, an alternative school for high school students (165 Walker Street) from 1973 – 1980. Many alumni of Walker Street School hoped for a restoration and repurposing of the old building perhaps as art studios, apartments or lofts. Unfortunately, restoration of Walker Street School would never come to fruition, as a large fire gutted the building in 1983. Prior to the fire, the school had been abandoned by the school system. After the fire, many deemed it unworthy of saving, and the old building was demolished. An unfortunate ending to a school rich with Atlanta history.
While the majority of my blog mostly focuses on abandoned historical Atlanta relics, I thought it would be interesting to make a post about a huge gentrification project in the city that drastically changed the landscape of the city. Most transplants wouldn’t know that housing of this nature existed, mostly because the areas have been completely transformed and cleared of ant remnants of what once existed. The huge gentrification project I am referring to was the large scale, housing project demolition spearheaded by the Atlanta Housing Authority. The project began in the late 1990’s (demolishing Techwood Homes and East Lake Meadows), was finally completed in the 2010’s with the demolition of Bankhead Courts. For a complete list of former housing projects in Atlanta, visit Demolished Atlanta Housing Projects. After researching George W. Adair in the book “Atlanta and Environs, Volume III,” I ran across a chapter concerning the Atlanta Housing and Authority and major developer who was credited with building the first set of projects in Atlanta in the 1030’s. This article piqued my interest in completing a little bit of research on the housing projects that I could find.
After researching George W. Adair in the book “Atlanta and Environs, Volume III,” I ran across a chapter concerning the Atlanta Housing and Authority and major developer who was credited with building the first set of projects in Atlanta in the 1030’s. This article piqued my interest in completing a little bit of research on the housing projects that I could find.
Current views of the city of Atlanta show no traces of housing projects. The housing projects of Atlanta are all but wiped from the landscape of Atlanta. Most natives (who are hard to find in Atlanta these days) vividly remember the housing projects of Atlanta. What we have been told throughout history is housing projects were constructed in hopes of erasing slums, increasing affordable housing options for the city’s poor all while improving the landscape of Atlanta; which ultimately evolved into areas blighted with concentrated poverty. However, Harold Martin’s “Atlanta and Environs” reveals an alternate truth behind the implementation of housing projects in Atlanta.
The very first housing projects constructed (federal subsidized housing) in the United States happened to be Techwood homes. Built in 1936, Techwood homes consisted of 1,230 housing units. Prior to the construction of Techwood-Caldwell Homes, the area was home to some of the worst areas of concentrated poverty in the city of Atlanta, named Techwood Flats. Techwood Flats consisted of inexpensive, inadequate rental properties that dated back to the late 1880’s. The Atlanta City Directory revealed that most residents of the area were employed in low-paying service jobs in warehouses or industrial plants in the city. The most common occupations were cooks, dressmakers or washerwomen.
Though we have been told that housing communities were created as a method to provide the poor with affordable and hospitable housing, many developers jumped on the project to earn a quick living. Building sustainable, affordable and safe housing was not a part of the initial plan in their eyes. Touted as a “slum clearance pioneer” by Harold Martin, Atlanta real estate developer Charles F. Palmer initially jumped on the large scale housing project as a way to make quick cash. Charles F. Palmer also happened to be the very first chairman of the board of the newly formed Atlanta Housing Authority in 1938.
Charles F. Palmer (courtesy of Library of Congress). First Chairman of the Board of Atlanta Housing Authority. The Atlanta Housing Authority was formed in 1938.
Initially, Charles F. Palmer admitted that he took on the slum clearance project out of an interest in earning money through the removal of slum areas. After all, this was in 1933 as the economy wasn’t at it’s strongest due to remnants of the Great Depression. Banks were closed and nearly 15millions Americans were unemployed (only 1 in 16 were employed). In order to stimulate the economy, President Roosevelt introduced legislation that would provide federal funding for employers who created jobs tearing down and rebuilding some of the nation’s worse slum areas. Palmer jumped at the chance, seeing as he owned office buildings in areas near the slums. Palmer initially assumed that by clearing the slums, property values in his area would increase, thereby making his properties more valuable.
It wasn’t until he began to meet with Dr. John Hope (John Hope homes would carry his name), a prominent African-American educator and civil right leader, and his wife did Palmer have a change of heart toward the slums. Palmer’s wife seemed to question his motivation and asked him if he’d ever visited the slums and understand the people who currently reside there. Palmer recalled:
“Here were sagging shacks built generations ago. Designed to wring the last cent from their use, for fifty years they had taken all and given nothing. In the rear were stagnant pools of water near an open privy serving several families. People were everywhere. It was the same block after block. Soon I’d had enough. “
Palmer soon switched his focus from earning income by razing the slums, to fighting the slum owners who were taking advantage of the city’s poorest residents. Palmer took his concerns to Washington D.C. and managed to convince President Roosevelt to fund the development of two housing projects in Atlanta; in October of 1933, his efforts were awarded. Construction of the first housing projects community in the United States was underway and completed in 1936. Techwood Clark Howell Homes (designed by architects Burge and Stevens) were built in the former slum areas of Techwood Flats. By 1944, six additional housing projects (all were segregated, unfortunately) were completed. Those communities are as follows: University Homes (1938), Capitol Homes (1940), Grady Homes (1942), John Hope homes (1940), Herndon Homes (1940) to name a few. By the 1940’s these six housing communities housed 20,000 people in a total of 4,000 apartment homes. The government ultimately invested $21 million dollars into improving housing for the poor in Atlanta. Techwood Clark Howell homes and John Hope homes were aptly named for the two men who were instrumental in the implementation of Charles F. Palmer’s vision of affordable, clean housing for Atlanta’s poorer residents. As a result of Palmer’s vision, Roosevelt passed the Housing Act of 1937, which allowed for local housing authorities in many major and rural cities. Palmer would ultimately resign from his position at the Atlanta Housing Authority to take on a new role as U.S. Coordinator of Defense Housing in 1938 (pgs 35-37).
Library of Congress, Techwood Homes Housing Design (initial construction began in 1935)
One cannot ignore the ugly facts about the housing projects of Atlanta. The housing communities were obviously segregated and quite possibly built with many different standards. As white flight encroached, white housing communities racial makeup drastically changed. Techwood Homes remained an all-white housing project until 1968. Withing 6 years of integration, Techwood Homes was more than 50% African-American. By the early 1970’s local businessmen and politicians began suggesting the demolition of Techwood Homes, replacing it with. If this isn’t an obvious sign of racially motivated politics, I don’t know what it is. Techwood Flats were mostly comprised of low-income, underemployed African-American’s in the 1930’s before being demolished and replaced with the all-white Techwood Homes. It appeared that Atlanta was on track to repeating history, however, the idea of demolishing Techwood Homes in the 1970’s was halted by then mayor, Maynard Jackson.
Unfortunately, federal spending wasn’t designated over the years regarding the upkeep of housing communities, yet Atlanta continued to build low-income housing. Many of the housing communities were built in cramped areas, containing very little room for upward mobility as a job in these areas were still hard to come by. As a result, crime crept it’s way back in, and once again the pre-housing community slums had returned. What’s more, the Atlanta Housing Authority had become increasingly corrupt and poorly managed. By the 1990’s, The Department of Housing and Urban Development deemed the AHA to be one of the worst housing authorities in the nation. Ouch!
Atlanta continued to build more and more housing communities, even as late as the 1970’s despite the failure of creation a “Model City.” Was the new purpose of building housing communities to keep African-American’s concentrated in Atlanta and out of Atlanta’s growing suburbs? Why continue to build substandard housing in areas that already contained concentrations of poverty? Wouldn’t the availability of well-paying jobs and equal rights assist with the reduction of concentrated poverty? I suppose only time will tell…..
After years of failed revitalization and high crimes/poverty rates in Atlanta’s local housing communities, as well as the impending hosting of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games, demolishment of the Atlanta housing communities were underway. Additionally, housing project communities had become the subject of a major research project which resulted in Congress establishing a 1989 Commission on Severely Distressed Areas. Flash forward to 1992, concerned with the increasing crime and poverty in America’s inner-cities, congressional leaders voted to allocate $5 billion dollars toward the revitalization of America’s 86,000 housing project communities (enactment of the HOPE VI program). I’m a bit skeptical of the intentions behind this program, therefore further research will soon follow.
The first to be demolished was Techwood /Clark Howell Homes in favor a newer, more hospitable housing complex titled Centennial Place. After 60 years of use, Techwood would be replaced with a mixed-income housing community with only a tiny portion set aside for former housing project residents. Many former residents weren’t able to return despite being promised a voucher or ticket to rent in the new construction. From 1996 to 2011, the AHA replaced 12 housing project communities, demolished 15, and remodeled the remaining 10 converting them into low-income housing or leaving them available for potential developers. By 2011, Atlanta became one of the only major cities to completely do away with public housing. This move came with much controversy as the AHA was accused of violating the Fair Housing Act (an accusation I truly believe is true) after it was determined that the AHA
Currently, affordable housing in Atlanta is hard to come by. Luxury apartments, homes and condos now stand in areas once occupied by outdated, uninhabitable housing communities. While the housing projects were obviously a colossal failure, the city of Atlanta should not forget that the city is desperately in need of affordable housing for residents who cannot afford the newly constructed condos, apartments, and single-family homes. I doubt that anyone would agree with bringing back housing project communities, but the city should at least offer a larger percentage of affordable housing units so that all residents, from all walks of life, can enjoy the metropolis that Atlanta has blossomed into. After all, it takes all kinds of characters, economic backgrounds, races, genders, and ages to create this amazingly diverse city we all call home. Why exclude certain residents because of their economic status? Is that a reputation a city “Too Busy to Hate” would like associated with its name? I think not…..
Atlanta History Center – Atlanta Housing Authority Photograph collection
George W. Adair Elementary School, located in the historic Adair Pair neighborhood, sits abandoned yet still maintains it’s architectural glory. Upon further inspection, onlookers are treated beautiful architectural design by one of Atlanta’s leading architects of the time, Edward Dougherty. In addition to Adair Elementary, Mr. Dougherty went on to design other notable structures in Atlanta such as Druid Hills Baptist Church on Ponce de Leon, Druid Hills Golf Club, Imperial Hotel in 1911 and the Highland School which has now been converted to luxury lofts. November 18, 1911, the Mackle – Crawford Construction Company was awarded the contract to build the new George W. Adair School in the “tenth ward” for a $34,000; this total would equal at least $843,191.55 in today’s inflation rate. The George W. Adair School officially opened its doors on September 9, 1912.
George W. Adair school was named for slave dealer turned real estate tycoon Col. George W. Adair. As of 2017, there has been a lot of controversies surrounding the rehabilitation of the Adair School since it now located in a prominently African-American neighborhood. Adair’s ties with the Ku Klux Klan has made some argue that the school should not reopen with the same name, as its namesake wasn’t exactly a part of a business that was deemed friendly to African American’s.
George W. Adair Elementary and the neighborhood that holds the same name wasn’t always a welcoming or friendly place for African-American’s to live and attend school. Compared to other established Atlanta suburbs, Adair Park was mediocre at best. The neighborhood housed thin land lots and modest homes. Residents were typically working class with a sprinkling of middle-class residents. According to the book “White Flight” by Kevin M. Kruse residents complained of the loud, crass behaviors of their neighbors, adding that they can’t enjoy a fresh breeze on their front lawn without the “fighting across the street….and the police running over there two or three times a week” (pg 94).
The school itself has an interesting past. Students gardened, held athletic events (field day), and even hosted a Chinese missionary in 1918. In 1914, two basketball courts were built for boys and girls who attended Adair elementary school. Students helped plant trees and were regularly featured in The Atlanta Constitution for perfect attendance and excellent grades.
March of 1937, Adair Elementary’s celebrated its 25th anniversary by adding an annex to its existing building; the school’s student body remained mostly white as well. Due to an increase in the residents of the area, the elementary school enjoyed an expansion to accommodate the student body growth, costing a total of $40,000, roughly $689,805.71 in today’s dollars.
With the desegregation of public schools across the country picking up steam, African-American residents began to slowly move into Adair Park around the mid-1950’s. This drastically changed the demographics of George W. Adair elementary school as white residents refused to participate in school desegregation as well as refusal to sell their homes to potential homeowners of color. By the late 1950’s, racial tensions had reached a boiling point. White residents proudly protested the newly found diversity of Adair Pair, proclaiming that they’d wish for Adair Park to remain for whites only. Some residents even threatened to burn the houses of black residents to the ground ( White Flight, pg 96). By the 1960’s Adair Park elementary and the surrounding neighborhood had transitioned to a mostly all-African American community. Noticeably absent in the local newspapers is the constant write ups of the Adair Elementary school. One can’t help but wonder if the changing hue of the student body affected the interest of local journalists.