By Rachel Allocco
Some communities overlook historic places to make room for the latest shopping center or trendy new townhome development.
But in Dunwoody, a small group of residents battled for years to save the Donaldson-Bannister House, a farm complex that ties the community to its past.
“This was a cluster of land that easily would’ve become new homes, and we would’ve lost that important piece of history,” Dunwoody City Councilman Danny Ross said.
The house and cemetery, also known as the Donaldson-Chesnut Farm, is the second oldest home in Dunwoody. Built in 1867, it suggests the pastoral heritage of the region.
The former plantation, which once spanned from Dunwoody to Chamblee, now includes the grounds, a main house, a farm house, the Donaldson Family cemetery, a rose garden and a sweeping pasture.
Its rustic beauty belies the years-long struggle to keep the house preserved on some of the city’s prime real estate, located at Chamblee-Dunwoody and Vermack roads.
It survived that battle as it has weathered the years.
Since 2009, it has enjoyed recognition on the National Register of Historic Places, virtually ensuring the long-standing Dunwoody fixture will remain intact.
The listing, of course, didn’t happen by itself. Danny Ross, and his wife Queenie Ross, were instrumental in preserving the old house while it was in the middle of a battle for its future.
Danny Ross negotiated a tax-preferable deal in 2007 that opened the door for DeKalb County to purchase the farm from David and Linda Chesnut at $1.2 million. At the time, prior to Dunwoody’s incorporation, Danny and Queenie Ross were serving as co-presidents of Dunwoody Preservation Trust.
The owners of the property wanted to save it from development, Danny Ross said. So did the community at large, he added. The Chesnuts agreed to sell the property to DeKalb County for much less than its commercial value, Danny Ross said.
Shortly after the purchase, the Dunwoody Preservation Trust negotiated a deal with the county to lease and manage the farm, with plans to operate a living farm-life museum and an events site. By 2008, the deal had not been approved, and Danny Ross heard that the county was considering moving the house from its current location to south DeKalb County.
He said at the time that this was unfair to the local community and rallied Dunwoody residents who were then unincorporated.
“I think that the house will serve as a defining moment in the community’s decision to become a city,” Danny Ross said.
The house was acquired by Dunwoody from DeKalb County in 2010.
“The house will pull people together,” said Queenie Ross. “People want to be a part of the house.”
This is exactly what Brent Walker, Dunwoody’s parks and recreation manager is hoping for.
Walker, who joined the city parks in June 2010, said that the property is an important part of a proud community’s history. Residents have been very vocal about what they hope to see happen with the property.
Dunwoody is working on a master plan for the house and other properties, providing residents with an opportunity to answer survey questions, on the city’s website, about the future of all the parks. The master plan will wrap up in February and the city will be able to move forward with procuring funding to restore the Donaldson-Bannister Farm and other parks around Dunwoody.
“Consultants will ultimately determine the appropriate uses for the house from a historical perspective, and from what the community needs and wants,” Walker said.
Echoing the Danny and Queenie Ross, Walker said he hopes to see the farm become a period museum and events center that will hold weddings, bridal showers, and corporate events once the house and other buildings have been restored. Walker also hopes to turn the property into a park that Dunwoody residents and visitors can enjoy at their leisure.
“I love this old house,” Walker said. “You can decompress when you’re walking around here. It’s impossible to be mad when you’re out here.”