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This is part of a series of historic structure reports on the historic architecture of Georgia and the Southeast by Tommy H. Jones. It is posted here for educational purposes only and may not be used or reproduced for commercial purposes or without the express permission of the author.

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

The slight rise on which the Tullie Smith house originally sat is still discernible amid the mish-mash of commercial development that marks the course of N. Druid Hills Road through the Smiths’ old farm. Now the site of a branch of Bank of America, it is numbered 2223, although Tullie’s address was always given as 2222 N. Druid Hills Road. The existing bank property, with its young growth of trees around the perimeter, marks the core of the old Smith farm and the single parcel of it that Tullie still owned when she died in 1967.

This parcel was part of the four land lots (152, 153, 156, and 157) that William R. Smith bought, perhaps as early as 1830 and upon which Robert Smith, Sr., settled by 1833. Except for a few wooded acres along the branch at Briarcliff Road in the southwest corner of Land Lot 152, most of the Smith farm has been obliterated by highway construction through the valley of Peachtree Creek, commercial development up and down N. Druid Hills Road, and post-World War II apartments and subdivisions everywhere. Nevertheless, the old Smith farm site can, with some imagination, still be interpreted.

Several maps document the Smith’s farm, including modern highway maps and the U. S. topographical surveys.  Particularly useful is the topographical survey that was done in 1927.  This survey shows the landlot lines, including the irregular way in which what were supposed to be four equally-sized landlots were surveyed.  Land Lot 156, for unknown reasons, was actually surveyed so that it contained 240 acres rather than the 202½ acres that had been specified under state law. 

In addition, plats have also been located for all of the Smiths’ old farm except the northwest quarter of Land Lot 153 and the east half of Land Lot 157; these include a plat that Mary Ella Smith had done of Land Lot 156 in 1926. Although its printed quality is poor, the 1926 plat adds some detail that is not found on the topographical maps.

Finally aerial photographs made by the U. S. Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service in 1960 provide some documentation for the farm and shows how much the surrounding environment had been re-developed by that time.

Figure 1. Map of the four landlots that comprised the bulk of the Smith Farm. (Drawing by author)

 

Historic Roads

All of these documents show, among other things, the historic road pattern through the Smiths’ farm. The most important of those roads was, of course, the old Power’s Ferry Road, now N. Druid Hills Road, running from the southeast to the northwest and crossing all but Land Lot 157 of the old farm. The lower or southern crossing of Peachtree Creek shown on the 1927 topographical survey marks the route of the antebellum road and approximates the route of the modern road. The upper or northern crossing was created just before or just after the Civil War after the old ford was repeatedly flooded by Guess’ mill pond, which was located just down stream.

Briarcliff Road, running from the south to the northeast through Land Lot 153 and 157, marks the route of the antebellum road that the Smiths knew as Williams’ or Durand’s Mill Road in the nineteenth century and  Wallace Mill or Wallace Station Road in the early twentieth century. Only in the 1920s did it become known as Briarcliff Road, after the estate that Asa Candler Jr. built north of his brother’s better-known Callanwolde along the southern reaches of the road in the early twentieth century.

The historic route of the road to Johnston’s mill through Landlots 152 and 157, which was mentioned in the same Inferior Court Minutes in 1833 that provide the earliest documentation for the Smiths’ occupation of the property, is easily traced on the 1927 map. Today the route of that road survives in part in Cliff Valley Way south of I-85, and in Old Briarwood Road and part of Briarwood Road north of I-85.

The 1833 Court Minutes also mention a road crossing Peachtree Creek “at Robert Smith’s” and most have assumed that to be the road that became N. Druid Hills Road. However, as noted in the historical overview, the point of crossings of Peachtree Creek tended to vary a great deal over time and the traces of an old road that are shown running north through the east side of Land Lot 156 on the 1927 topographical survey and the 1926 plat of the property may, in fact, have been that early road.

What is now called Sheridan Road, running due west from Briarcliff in the center of Land Lot 153, was probably in use well before the Civil War. It would have been well-traveled by the Smiths since it would have provided a direct route to Land Lot 50 along Cheshire Bridge Road, property that William R. Smith had given to his brother Robert Hiram Smith in 1843 and that was farmed by James Washington Smith beginning in the 1850s. It was certainly in use by the time Rock Spring Church was founded in 1871. 

In addition to the historic roads, the map and the plats also show at least some of the structures that were standing on the property in the early twentieth century. While many of these, like the Tuggle house and dairy that stood on Briarcliff just south of North Druid Hills Road until the early 1980s, dated from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, some of them were probably of antebellum origin. If the old trace of a road noted above in Land Lot 156 is the route of the 1833 road, then it is quite possible that one of the structures shown on it in 1927 and marked “tenant house” on the 1926 plat was the antebellum home of Robert Smith Sr.  By the time Robert Hiram Smith built his new house about 1845, what is now N. Druid Hills Road (then known as Power’s Ferry Road) was the main road through the property He picked a prominent location on it on which to build, but close enough that he might have been able to see his father’s house across the fields opposite his new house.

 

The Smith Farm

While Robert H. Smith owned four landlots along the Power’s Ferry Road, Land Lot 156 was always the “home lot,” where he built his house, houses for his slaves, a barn and the other outbuildings that were necessary on any farm. Information is sparse on the buildings on the Smith farmstead and how they were arranged, but the general layout probably followed the typical pattern outlined by Hudson:

Traditional farmsteads had two centers, the house and the barn.  The barn was usually the most distant structure from the house and the other farmstead structures were organized between the two.  The differentiation between the two zones was reinforced by three principal yards:  the front yard, the kitchen yard, and the barnyard. . . [T]he area in front of most farmhouses was a barren, undifferentiated landscape before 1840. . . .The formal front yard was not popularly accepted in the Georgia Piedmont until around 1850. . . . The absence of grass around the farm house was a mark of industry and pride on the part of Southern farmwives; some even sterilized the yard with salt.[1]

 

Figure 2. Recreated plan of Smith Farm as it probably existed in the nineteenth century. (Drawing by author)

 

A few of the historic photographs of the Tullie Smith House show structures in the immediate vicinity of the house, including the well house, part of the men’s outhouse, part of a twentieth century garage, and a glimpse of the scuppernong arbor. Another photograph shows a small log building that was on the property in 1967.  Mrs. Johnson’s comments in the Sparks article “‘Oldest House’ Comes to Town” and a rough sketch of the layout of some of the buildings based upon a telephone conversation with her at a later date also offer some clues as to how the home lot was arranged.

The main road or drive onto the home lot probably always ran as it did in 1969, i.e., passing what is now the south end of the house.  From there, according to the topo map, it meandered in a westerly direction along the pasture behind the house and down the hill to the barn. Along this road were located the slave houses and most of the Smith’s other outbuildings, according to Mrs. Johnson’s recollection.[2] From the barn, the road led to the branch running  through the southwest corner of Land Lot 156 and along it perhaps to Guess' Mill. At one time, too, the road may have continued on to Sheridan Road.

After Tullie’s death, Mrs. Johnson recalled some of the outbuildings, telling a newspaper reporter,  “There was still a big log barn here when I was a child, with logs dovetailed together and fastened with wooden pegs. The place had a chicken house, a shed, a smokehouse, and little cabins which had been built for slaves.”[3] While a log barn would not have been unusual, but if it were in fact constructed with dovetailed joinery, it would have been most unusual, especially in a barn. Half-dovetail joinery was often used for log houses in this part of the Georgia Piedmont, but full dovetail joinery was almost never encountered.

One of the slave cabins, she thought, was still on the site when Tullie died but had since been moved to Stone Mountain. While there was a small log structure on the site that was moved to Stone Mountain, it was impossibly small for living, even for slaves. With a roof gabled front and rear, which was typical for barns and other outbuildings, it may have been the Smiths’ nineteenth century smoke house or a gear house. Once moved, it was found to be unrestorable and has now been lost.

The Smiths probably had three slave houses. The handwriting for Robert H. Smith's data in the slave census of 1850 is difficult to decipher but indicates that he had two or three slave cabins. Since the 1926 plat shows three other structures, probably houses, on the property and Tullie’s niece, when interviewed in the 1970s, remembered three slave cabins along the drive down the hill from the house, that is probably the correct number. The nature of their construction is not known but they may have been wood-framed.[4]

No description of the Smiths’ barn has been located, except for Mrs. Johnson’s recollection that it was of log construction. A single uncatalogued photograph in the Tullie Smith House files shows an unidentified man on horseback that may have been taken in front of the Smith’s barn. If so, it appears to have been a double-crib, log structure with a wood-framed roof, similar in size but not configuration to the existing barn which was moved to the site in 1972.[5]

One of the historic photographs (AHC #822) provides the best view of the drive and the yard. It is significant because it shows the site before the grade of N. Druid Hills Road was radically changed in the 1930s. Off to one side is the well house, a simple open structure with a pyramidal metal roof set on four round, whitewashed, log posts. The existing well house, which was constructed with new materials in 1971, is a somewhat more refined version of the well house shown in the photograph.

Behind the well house, the chicken house is visible. It was probably wood-framed, had a shed roof and was finished with board-and-batten siding. It was probably a late nineteenth or early twentieth century replacement for chicken houses that Robert H. Smith might have had.[6]

 

Figure 3. View south of Tullie Smith House on its original site. (Atlanta History Center, #GOR337)

 

A notable omission from the existing Tullie Smith Farm complex is a privy of any kind.  “We were a pretty rich family, I guess,” Tullie’s niece also recalled in 1969, “because there were two outhouses, both two-holers. Hollyhocks were planted on the path to the girls’ and fig bushes on the path to the boys.”[7] These, too, were probably wood-frame buildings, perhaps 4' by 6', and finished with board-and-batten siding.[8]

The only other documentation for the outbuildings at the site is a group of small snapshots in the History Center's collection, probably taken in the 1930s. These show more of the historic landscape than any of the other photographs. In addition to the scuppernong arbor off what is now the north end of the house, these photographs show what appears to be a twentieth-century garage along the driveway beyond the well house and privy.

Figure 4. View southeast of site of Tullie Smith House in 1996.

The sketch in Figure 2 is an attempt to reconstruct the layout of Robert Hiram Smith’s farm based upon existing, rather limited information. The area encompassed in the sketched area was probably only about three or four acres. Typical of Georgia farmhouses, the house and outbuildings probably sat in a small grove of trees surrounded by fields and orchard. More fields probably existed across the road from the house and north toward the creek.  Smith’s “wood lot,” if he had such, was probably to the east and south toward Williams’ Mill Road.

Smith may have had additional buildings on the site but no documentation for them has been located. A “gear house” for storage of saddles, bridles, and other equipment was a typical farm building as was a corn crib.  The small log building photographed on the original site could have been a corn crib, since it is similar to several shown in Hudson’s thesis. Also usually present were a variety of wood sheds, tool sheds, and probably a wash house. There may have been a dairy at the Smith farm, too, although Vlach notes that these were more typically found in the richer plantations where they were seen as a sort of status symbol. Although Smith did produce some 400 pounds of butter in 1850, he probably had little need for a special “dairy” building since either of his two cellars could have served much the same purpose.  If he had one, it was probably just a simple wood-framed structure over a brick or stone-lined pit in the earth located somewhere near the kitchen.

 

 

Notes 

 

1. Karen Elaine Hudson. "The Historic Farmstead Architecture of Oglethorpe County: A Preliminary Step Toward the Development of a Standard Typology and Nomenclature for Piedmont Georgia." Unpublished masters thesis, University of Georgia, 1988.

2. Note that the direction of the route of the drive in the sketch map is not correct.  When adjusted to match the topo map, however, the remainder of what she says makes sense.

3. Sparks, “‘Oldest House’ Comes to Town,” p. 22.

4. See John Michael Vlach, Back of the Big House:  The Architecture of Plantation Slavery (University of North Carolina, 1993), pp. 18-32.  Particularly interesting relative to Tullie Smith are the small houses illustrated on the frontispiece of this book.

5. Hudson, p. 28.

6. Hudson, p. 89.

7. Sparks, p. 22.

8. Hudson, pp. 99-100.

 

 

 

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