Ansley's Columns 1

A
nsley Park is known for its eclectic mix of architectural styles—from neoclassical revival, to arts and crafts, to modern—but who would have thought that this historical mingling also includes an antebellum touch. The most distinctive feature of 149 Peachtree Circle—an imposing white structure perched high on a hill at Peachtree Circle and 17th Street—is the twelve Ionic columns that ring its stately veranda. Although the building was constructed in 1914, the columns themselves date back to 1858. In Atlanta, little significant architecture survived the Civil War. These columns are likely the oldest and most historically noteworthy structural details in Ansley Park, and perhaps among the oldest in the city.

The columns were originally part of the Leyden House, a Greek Revival-style home built in 1858 by Austin Leyden, who started the foundry that would become the Atlanta Machine Works. The Leyden House, with a portico featuring magnificent columns of hand-carved ash or cypress, was located downtown next door to the Governor’s Mansion, on the site that would later be occupied by Macy’s. During the Civil War, the Leyden House served as a hospital for a time, and Confederate Commanding General John Bell Hood also stayed there. During the Union occupation of Atlanta, it was headquarters for Major General George Thomas, commander of the Union Army of the Cumberland, which probably explains why it survived. A 1944 article claims that the hollow columns had secret openings at the base, which may have been used for hiding valuables during the war.

In 1913, Coca-Cola founder Asa Candler purchased the house, which he demolished to make way for commercial development. He rescued the columns, however, and presented them to Miss Rosa Woodberry who, in 1914, built 149 Peachtree Circle in the new neighborhood of Ansley Park to house the Woodberry Hall School for Girls. Woodberry, a distinguished educator, was the first woman to attend the University of Georgia, and her boarding and day school offered young ladies classical, science, and general diplomas as well as a certificate in English.

One of the Woodberry School’s students was Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind. She was quite possibly aware that the columns that graced her school had come from the Leyden House, which she mentions twice in her novel. Rhett Butler refers to the house in Chapter 48, and in Chapter 8, Mitchell wrote:

“Finally the business section fell behind and the residences came into view. Scarlett picked them out as old friends, the Leyden house, dignified and stately; the Bonnells’, with little white columns and green blinds; the close-lipped red-brick Georgian home of the McLure family, behind its low box hedges.”

Woodberry died in 1930, and two years later her school closed. In 1934, the building was converted into apartments, and over the years it fell into disrepair. When the property was put up for sale, the preservation community worried that it might be demolished. Manhattan Peachtree Circle, LLC, recently purchased the property, and they clearly appreciate its historical importance. They plan to improve the property, while continuing to rent it as apartments. The noted disrepair turned out to be cosmetic, not structural, and exterior improvements, such as painting and lighting, are currently underway. Individual units will be renovated as they’re vacated. In a further nod to history, the lobby will soon feature early photos celebrating the building’s rich past.

So for a glimpse of old Atlanta that touches on antebellum architecture, Civil War history, Coca Cola, Gone with the Wind, and women’s education, 149 Peachtree Circle has it all.