New Hope African Methodist Episcopal Church
(the following article is by Wright Mitchell)
New Hope A.M.E. Church at 3012 Arden Road and its cemetery across the street are a valued part of the surrounding neighborhood.
The church dates its beginning to 1869 when large open-air camp meetings were held on the site.
Many original members of the congregation were recently emancipated slaves who continued to work for the families in the area.
Each year on the fourth Sunday in August, the congregation held a celebration that attracted attendees from all over the South. People prepared for the celebration months in advance by setting aside special livestock and chickens to be killed and cooked for the occasion.
Having traveled great distances to reach New Hope, many people camped overnight. During the day, children played in the woods while the adults ate, listened to sermons, sang hymns and engaged in fellowship. Occasionally, the children were called to pray with the adults.
At the close of the camp meetings, worshippers marched around the tabernacle seven times singing “The Year of the Jubilee Has Come, Return Ye Ransomed Sinners Home.” The acting reverend would then blow a horn at each corner of the tabernacle, signifying the end of the meeting.
Upon his death in 1872, James H. “Whispering” Smith, a Buckhead farmer who owned 405 acres there during the Civil War, willed two acres at the present site to the African-Americans who lived and worked in the area to be used for a church and a school. Mr. Smith is buried nearby at historic Harmony Grove Cemetery at the corner of West Paces Ferry and Chatham Roads, which was recently restored by the Buckhead Heritage Society.
As the camp meetings grew, the church became a center for spiritual growth and social contact for the African-Americans in Buckhead and the broader Atlanta community. Around the turn of the century, members built a plank tabernacle to provide shelter and a place to worship for the attendees of the camp meetings.
Although the tabernacle burned in 1927, the New Hope congregation continued to thrive. Shortly after the destruction of the tabernacle, the Rev. R.E. Lee led the congregation in the construction of the basement of the current church. A school also was built on the premises to educate African-American children in the area.
In 1936, the Rev. W.W. Stephens completed the sanctuary of New Hope A.M.E. Church. But this was not an easy task, since few members of the church possessed the financial resources to fund the construction. Two congregation members, Beatrice Bogan and Ana Jones, put up their own property to secure loans to start the construction. A white contractor in the area, Alex Milt, took out a loan to finance the completion of the construction. Other neighbors donated money to assist in the effort.
New Hope’s neighbors also played a significant role in the early years of the church. The first catechisms at New Hope were given by Mary Howell, the wife of a prominent local lawyer, Judge Clark Howell.
As the neighborhood has grown, residents have always felt welcome at New Hope’s services and have sought ways to be involved. Among other projects, neighbors, led by Ed Croft, helped raise funds to repair the church after a tornado in 1975. Over the years they have also donated a lift for elderly and disabled members and assisted in painting and other projects. The church and the Buckhead Heritage Society have participated in joint activities, including a re-consecration of the cemetery. Neighbors always look forward to the church’s Saturday barbeques in the spring and summer.
In New Hope’s written history, prepared by the Rev. Elizabeth Few in 1987, she cites the late poet Langston Hughes: “Hold on to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.” Rev. Few concludes that New Hope has survived for so many decades because its people have always had a “Vision of a New Tomorrow.”
New Hope’s congregation continues to thrive to this day, some 150 years after people began congregating and received Mr. Smith’s gift of land. Since that time, New Hope and the Buckhead community have worked together to ensure that there will always be a new tomorrow for this special church. The church and cemetery were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
Additional information about the church and neighborhood is available at www.buckheadheritage.com.
History of Spotswood Hall and Habersham Park
(adapted from “Spotswood Hall: Statement of Significance,” City of Atlanta Urban Design Commission)
The first house in what is now Habersham Park was constructed in 1913, and is known now as Spotswood Hall. At the time, Spotswood Hall was one of the first houses constructed as suburban development began to transform the old farm land along Peachtree Road, W. Pace’s Ferry Road, and Arden Road (old Howell Mill Road) in the early 1900s. By the 1920s, the area had become what it has remained: Atlanta’s premier residential neighborhood. Formal subdivision began with Peachtree Heights Park in 1910, followed by Tuxedo Park in 1911 but, simultaneously, adjacent landowners were meeting the demand for prime building sites and larger "country estates." The first of these estates, Mayor Robert F. Maddox’s "Woodlawn" (1911), was destroyed in 1967 for the new Governor’s Mansion but "Villa Lamar" (1912), located about a mile west of "Woodlawn," and "Spotswood Hall," less than a mile south, still survive from this first phase of residential development in what is now generally known as "Buckhead."
In the early 1900s, Atlanta’s residential development was still concentrated in the "streetcar suburbs" that had begun developing around the city in the 1890s. For the elite, development of Ansley Park in 1904 and Druid Hills in 1909 continued and expanded on the concept of the garden suburb that was pioneered by Joel Hurt in Inman Park in 1889. With the rapid expansion of automobile use in the years leading up to World War I, developers were no longer tied to the streetcar lines and could begin catering to those for whom automobiles made possible real escape from the confines of the city. As the death of his brother in 1903 had precipitated the development of Ansley Park, so the death of Wesley Collier in 1906 set the stage for the development of Peachtree Heights Park. In May 1910, Eretus Rivers and Walter P. Andrews, executors of Wesley Collier’s estate, sold Collier’s old farm to the Peachtree Heights Park Company. The sale included 500 acres in three land lots, including over 3,000 feet of frontage along the west side of Peachtree Road north of Peachtree Creek. By the spring of 1911, the company had cut Wesley Avenue through from Peachtree Road to Howell Mill Road and work was underway creating Habersham Road from Peachtree Battle Avenue to Pace’s Ferry Road.
That same year, 1911, Atlanta’s Mayor Robert F. Maddox built "Woodhaven," the first of the great country estates along Pace’s Ferry Road and the Tuxedo Park Company acquired 300 acres of the old Dickey estate along Pace’s Ferry Road to begin their own residential development. "Already," the Atlanta Journal noted in reporting the first auction of lots in May 1911, "the colony along Pace’s Ferry Road is accorded first place in suburban development in Atlanta." Although the area was incorporated into the city in 1954, W. Pace’s Ferry Road and adjacent streets have remained some of the city’s most prestigious addresses.
Intent on capitalizing on the development of Peachtree Heights Park and Tuxedo Park, the North Highland Investment Company bought an option on 97 acres in the north half of Land Lot [LL] 143 from Mrs. Marian L. Dolphyn in January 1913. An Oklahoma resident, Dolphyn had owned the property since the early 1900s and her sale of the property for $34,000 was an example of the rapid increase in property values that attended the new suburban developments in the area. The contract laid out a series of payments to be completed by January 1917 but, as lots were sold in the meantime, Mrs. Dolphyn agreed to transfer title to the company at $350 per acre. As was the case with much of Atlanta’s early twentieth century residential development, the property was sold "with the restriction that no part of the same shall be sold to persons of color within sixty (60) years from this date.”
Until 1913, the only road through LL 143 was a branch of Howell Mill Road that ran in a northeasterly direction, following the routes of what are now Dover Road, Arden Road, and the northern segment of Habersham Road. In order to subdivide the property, a new road was laid out that curved to the west from the recently-completed Habersham Road. The road followed the natural contours of the land, wrapping around the south face of the prominent hill top in the northwest side of LL 143 (the location of Spotswood Hall) before ending at what was then known as Hemphill Road, but is now Arden Road. The new road was named Peachtree Heights Road, but is now Argonne Drive. Even though the North Highland Company’s tract was not a formal part of the Peachtree Heights development, which was designed by the famed New York firm of Carrere and Hastings, the Company’s plans for development of the north half of LL 143 were meant to complement and expand what had begun in Peachtree Heights Park.
One of the ten investors in the North Highland Investment Company was Shelby Smith, Sr. (1871-1943), who had begun the first of two terms on the Fulton County Commission in April 1911, just as development was beginning in Peachtree Heights Park. Smith had moved to Atlanta from northwest Georgia shortly after his marriage to Nell Littlefield in 1899 and established himself here as a road and grading contractor in the early years of the twentieth century. By the time he was elected to the County commission, he was living on Ormewood Avenue in southeast Atlanta but, in 1913, he was elected chairman of the County Commission and set about building his own showplace in the new northwestern suburbs.
In November 1913, Smith paid the North Highland Investment Company $4,000 for a 6.14 acre parcel that encompassed the entire hill top on the north side of Peachtree Heights Road at Hemphill Road (i.e. Argonne at Arden). With a magnificent view to the city on the south, the lot presented one of the most prominent building sites in the entire area. Development of Peachtree Heights and adjacent areas was slowed by the outbreak of World War I and, throughout the war years, Smith’s house remained relatively isolated. Smith sold the house and its 6.4 acre lot in 1918 and moved to an as-yet-unidentified Peachtree Heights Road address where he resided until 1921.
The new owner of the house was Lucian Lamar Knight (1868-1933), a noted editor and historian. In November 1918, Knight bought the old Smith house, which was rechristened "Spotswood Hall," reportedly in honor of one of Knight’s ancestral homes. By the time Knight retired, Peachtree Heights Road had been renamed Argonne Drive, in memory of one of the greatest battles of World War I, and other houses were being built along the street. Spotswood Hall was featured in Annie Hornady Howard’s Georgia Homes and Landmarks in 1929 but the Knight’s comfortable retirement was interrupted by the stock market crash in October of that year. Within a year, Knight saw much of his wealth wiped out and, in November 1930, he was forced to sell Spotswood Hall. "Regarded as one of the feature residential transactions of the season," according to a contemporary newspaper account, the sale was reported to have garnered Knight $50,000. The new owner of Spotswood Hall was Walter Clay Hill, Sr. (1880-1962), who is noted chiefly for his life-long career helping build the Retail Credit Company into a major international corporation (now known as Equifax). The Hills and their three children had resided on Peachtree Circle in Ansley Park prior to moving to Argonne Drive in 1931. Well known in Atlanta, Hill was a member of the First Presbyterian Church as well as the Piedmont Driving Club, the Capital City Club, and the Commerce Club. He had begun a long tenure as a trustee of the Atlanta Art Association in 1928 and, later, would serve terms as its vice-president, president and chairman of the board. The Walter C. Hill, Jr., Auditorium at the Woodruff Arts Center is named in honor of his long support of the Atlanta Art Association. He was also a member of the Atlanta Historical Society and listed his hobbies as painting and jewelry-making. A small painting that he made of the house now hangs in the living room of Spotswood Hall.
The house on Argonne was nearly twenty years old by then and, although the Neo-Classical exterior remained as handsome as ever, the house was not particularly large and the interior was, by then, somewhat less than fashionable. So, by the spring of 1933, Hill had engaged the services of Atlanta’s premier architectural firm, Hentz, Adler & Shutze to enlarge the house and redesign its interior. Philip Trammell Shutze (1890-1982) had firmly established his reputation in the 1920s with a variety of spectacular designs that culminated, perhaps, in his magnificent design for Edward Inman’s "Swan House," in 1928. In the end, Shutze’s remodeling of the house, which was completed in 1934, insured that Spotswood Hall would remain one of the city’s great architectural landmarks.
The growth of Atlanta’s northwestern suburbs was slowed by the Depression and World War II, but by the time most of the area was annexed into the city in 1954, demand for building sites in northwest Atlanta had already increased dramatically. In the 1950s and 1960s, a number of the old estates and large lots were subdivided for construction of another generation of up-scale residential development. In 1952, Hill, too, began subdividing his 6.4-acre lot, selling two lots that year, a third in 1954, and a fourth in 1961. However, they appear to have made few changes to the house itself. Hill died in October 1962 but his widow continued to occupy the house until her death in 1967.
In July 1968, Hill’s estate sold Spotswood Hall to John W. Callahan. At the same time, development of Arden at Argonne had begun on the northern part of Hill’s old estate, including the sites of the estate’s garage, stable and servant’s house, all of which had been renovated by Shutze in the 1930s. https://www.atlantaga.gov/government/departments/city-planning/office-of-design/urban-design-commission/spotswood-hall .