Camila Knowles, with daughter Lola-Cooper at their home on Lee Circle. The area is “tucked away, but right in the middle of everything,” says Knowles.
Camila Knowles, with daughter Lola-Cooper at their home on Lee Circle. The area is “tucked away, but right in the middle of everything,” says Knowles.

It’s certainly not your typical city street.

Lee Circle sits in the heart of Buckhead, just a six-minute drive from Lenox Square Mall. But this little residential byway tucked away in the middle of the Pine Hills neighborhood isn’t like its neighbors. It’s only a lane wide. And it’s paved with gravel.

That’s right, gravel. People who live on Lee Circle call their street a little touch of country in the heart of the city. And it may just be Buckhead’s last real gravel road, according to city officials.

“It’s tucked away, but right in the middle of everything,” resident Camila Knowles said. “I love it. I grew up in south Georgia, where there were dirt roads everywhere. …. It reminds me of home. It’s just quaint.”

Lee Circle surprises people. Some drivers who come upon it seem to think that because it’s gravel, it must be someone’s driveway, so they just keep going, resident Cindy Lawless said. People who live there say it sometimes can prove difficult to give directions to their homes when they get to the part where they say “turn onto a gravel road.” “People don’t believe you,” Knowles said.

That’s part of the little street’s appeal, some residents say. “We like it the way it is,” said Lawless, who grew up on Lee Circle and now watches her grandchildren play there. “It sort of keeps us hidden. … It’s a little hidden treasure back here.”

But Lee Circle could get a bit more attention soon. If Atlanta voters approve a $250 million infrastructure bond issue next year, the bonds could provide money to pave the city’s remaining gravel roads. That, in turn, could revive the long-standing debate over whether Lee Circle should be paved.

That question has divided Lee Circle residents in the past. Atlanta City Councilman Howard Shook said paving the road originally was proposed as part of a 2000 bond issue, but the street remained unpaved because “of a lack of consensus among the residents to pave it or leave it gravel.”

“Those who were reluctant to have it paved had different concerns. Some simply liked the rural nature of the gravel road; some feared overflow parking from the swim meets at the nearby Roxboro Pool; some on the lowest portion of the road worried about additional storm water run-off; some worried about tree loss as the paved road would be wider; some worried about whether a new sanitary sewer line would be extended, thus forcing folks now on septic systems to pay our exorbitant water/sewer rates,” Shook wrote in an email.

“If this item remains on the current [bond-financed improvements] list, I will do as before: leave it to them and go with the consensus (if one emerges).”

Lee Circle’s residents still sound divided on whether their street should retain its gravel.

“Just get it paved,” said Rudell Dixon, who has lived on Lee Circle since 1974.

Dixon’s home, one of only about 10 on Lee Circle, stands near the bottom of a steep hill on which the gravel road descends. She says when it rains, the street floods. In the dry, hot summer, it sheds dust. “The neighbors are great,” she said. “I guess that’s why we’ve stayed here. But, as far as I’m concerned, [the gravel street] is a drawback.”

But the Lawlesses, who live just a couple of doors away, want to see Lee Circle stay just as it is. To pave the road, they said, city engineers would have to widen it. And that would require removal of a towering magnolia that her parents planted when she was born. “We want to keep that there,” Cindy Lawless said.

Paving the street would mean “it would have be double [its current width],” Cindy Lawless said. “That would take a lot of people’s front yards.”

Besides, her husband said, there are advantages to a gravel road. “You can hear cars coming,” he said.

And, like Knowles, they like living on a gravel road.

“It just feels like you’re in the country,” Cindy Lawless said.

Lee Circle is perhaps the last remaining gravel road in Buckhead.

Joe Earle

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.

2 replies on “Country road, take me home… to Buckhead?”

  1. When I was campaigning across District 54, I found a number of charming out-of-the-way streets like Lee Circle. Joe, thanks for your article. These little corners of Buckhead are what make the area interesting. Keep exploring!

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