The Muscogee/Creek Nation hunted and fished in this area for almost a thousand years, bounded on the north by the “Chuttuhoochee” (“River of Painted Rocks”) and the hostile Cherokee on its far banks. They were gone by 1825, sold out by their half-Scottish chief to the Indian Territory in the West.
Solomon Goodwin came to the new land. He established a farm in 1831 at what would be the intersection of Peachtree and North Druid Hills roads. The farmhouse, originally right at the roads’ edge, and the family cemetery remain nearby.
The Atlanta campaign in 1864 saw a Union officer ride south from the still-standing House Plantation mansion to Solomon Goodwin’s front porch, only to be gunned down by his own troops. One year later, peace came, then change.
The early 1900s brought the beautiful homes, Silver Lake and Oglethorpe University that still grace the area. Then my family came, shortly after my father’s death.
One of my earliest recollections of the 1950s was the televised inauguration of a grim-faced President Eisenhower in 1953. Within the next year we moved across the street from the brand-new Our Lady of the Assumption church and school. Everything was in one building: the convent, the rectory, the school, the Catholic church. We could close off the altar at one end for dances and movies (“Ivanhoe” was a favorite).
Our house, still across the street, was then on the edge of woods, deep valleys, creeks, waterfalls and swamps that went for miles. School, religion, sports, pre-dawn hiking, camping, hunting and fishing filled my days. We would shoot mistletoe out of a tree for Christmas decorations. There was a boy in our class from a strange place that only he knew about; he called it “Norcross.”
“Brookhaven” was at least a place that we could visit. We traveled there by car or by trolley, with electric sparks shooting from the trolley lines. Solomon Goodwin’s farmhouse still stood at its original location. Northward stretched a cluster of small businesses, some joined together while others stood separately.
The Neeson Law Building — actually a small, one-story, green frame house and a local joke — glared at us from the sidewalk. Mr. Neeson, the owner and our neighbor, claimed Southern ancestry back to people who knew the priest who baptized Pocahontas.
The bar, jukebox blazing, was where the feared “hoods” hung out. One pulled a schoolmate’s own knife on us, then dropped the weapon and walked away.
The barbershop offered both haircuts and shoe shines. The Brookhaven Theatre, about the size of a ranch house, was where we watched “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” while a little man with a flashlight kept running down the aisles, keeping us quiet.
The drugstore, with its temptingly sinister men’s magazines, and the grocery store next door were both where the MARTA station now stands. The F.W. Woolworth store was there, long before the sports bars, where a comic book cost 10 cents and a really big weekend-long comic book cost 25 cents.
There was Kinsland’s Flower Shop at the current Waffle House site; the VA Hospital at the intersection of Osborne Road; the wooden frame grocery store across from the VA, the size of a small closet and operated by one solitary woman, where I never saw a customer; and the nameless, solitary, silent man who roamed the streets all day. Life went on.
Very late in the decade, a just-built Cross Keys High School furthered my education. Oglethorpe University continued to broaden my world but also showed me the end of an era.
The “calendar 1950s” ended, of course, in 1959. The era itself ended Friday, Nov. 22, 1963. I was walking home from class when my mother rushed out of our house shouting, “Someone’s shot Kennedy!”
Everyone in my generation remembers what they were doing that day. Our world would never be the same again.
Tom Reilly is a 50-plus-year resident of Brookhaven and a member of the Ashford Alliance Community Association board of directors.