By Kimberly Brigance, Clarke Otten and Michael Hitt

By the 1950s and 1960s, Valentine’s Day was one of the most popular days in the school calendar. Little boys and girls prepared paper mailboxes to receive their valentines and spent many hours picking out just the right sentiment for their crush. This valentine was given to a student at Hammond School, which was located at the present site of Mount Vernon Towers.

Each generation thinks it invents love and romance. Surely those stern faces peering back at us from faded, old photographs could never know the soaring highs or crushing lows of emotion we imagine ourselves to feel.

How wrong. Even in its earliest days, Sandy Springs was a hotbed of passion. Here, just in time for Valentine’s Day, are a few love stories from Sandy Springs’ past.

Before Atlanta, there was Oak Grove. Most citizens in this sparsely populated area could receive mail at a little settlement called Irbyville, later to become Buckhead. It was the only post office between here and Decatur.

In the 1830s, a young local man named James Sentell was too shy to tell a lovely young woman named Louvisa of his love and admiration for her, he did however manage to write her a letter and send it to the little post office in the woods. He begins:

Preeminent and Highly Esteemed Madam,

…I fear that you are only trying to deceive me or else use admiration to flatter me though surely not. You surely cannot have the heart to flatter me when I love you so well. You know that I love you, but I fear that it is love lost.

…but I shall say to you that there is no other girl that I esteemed as well as you.

His letter must have done the trick, as the couple was wed soon after and made their home near present day Fountain Oaks on Roswell Road.

James would join the Confederate Army a few years later and write to his beloved wife and children from the battlefield. James died in 1899 and Louvisa in 1902. They are buried beside one another in Sardis Methodist Churchyard.

During the Civil War, James McMurtrey, a Confederate soldier closed a letter to his wife with a poem.

Dear Wife

There is one thing more I have not told – my love is like a ring of gold. It is firm, it is pure, it has not end. So is my love for you my friend

James returned from the war and lived many more years with his wife Lucinda near present day Morgan Falls.

While his love may have been without end, an earthly memorial to his life was not as enduring. In the 1930s, Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett noted that between the Chattahoochee River and Brandon Mill Road, a short distance north of Johnson Ferry Road lies the McMurtrey Family cemetery. The grave of James and Lucinda was believed to be marked by large field stones without an inscription.

This photograph was taken at the wedding of Bertha Burdette at the Benjamin Franklin Burdette home on Mount Vernon Highway. The bride is to the far right. The home was the site of many lavish social events. Mrs. W.F. Winecoff, of the Winecoff Hotel family, bought the property in 1916. The property changed hands many times before it was demolished to make way for Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church.

Like many of Sandy Springs’ family cemeteries, this one has been lost to careless development and neglect. The only testament to their earthly romance is a collection of fading letters.

In June 1918, the Atlanta Constitution reported on the scandalous ways of love in Sandy Springs.

The headline read: WHEN MOTHER BARS MARRIAGE DAUGHTER OF 51 YEARS ELOPES

The article reported that,

…On account of serious objection said to be held by the mother of the bride, Mrs. Abernathy, Ms. Cates packed her suitcase and quietly slipped away, presumably to attend church. After the wedding, Mr., and Mrs. Sawyer came to the city , but are planning an early return to the home of the bride mother to ask forgiveness, which will no doubt be granted.

The couple was married by W.W West. He says that if there are any more citizens who have the love of romance in their bosoms and who are of mature age, that now is a might good time to secure his services.

Kimberly Brigance is the curator of the Heritage Sandy Springs Museum, 6075 Sandy Springs Circle. This article is based, in part, on materials from the museum’s collection. To contact her, e-mail kbrigance@heritagesandysprings.org.

Clarke Otten, a resident of Sandy Springs since 1953, is writing a book on the history of Sandy Springs.

Michael Hitt, a Roswell police officer, serves as historian for the Roswell Preservation Commission and has published several local history books and articles.