Former Brookhaven Mayor Rebecca Chase Williams returned to the City Council chambers Sept. 5 to showcase the newly published “Images of America” book recounting the history of the city.
Arcadia Publishing, renowned for its “Images of America” books, recently published the Brookhaven history, which has been in the works for about two years. As mayor in 2015, Williams used $3,500 of her discretionary funds to commission local historian Valerie Mathis Biggerstaff to compile and research the city’s history. Biggerstaff previously put together an “Images of America” book on the history of Dunwoody.
The Brookhaven book is 126 pages but does not read in a traditional narrative format. Instead, the book contains numerous historical photos with lengthy, explanatory captions, Williams told the mayor and council.
Chapters of the book are: “The Early Years,” “Impact of the Civil War,” “The Rebirth of Oglethorpe University,” “Historic Homes and Neighborhood Landmarks,” “Camp Gordon and Military Hospitals,” “Schools,” “Churches,” “Parks,” and “Brookhaven Becomes a City.”
The cover of the book is a photograph of Thornwell Jacobs, president of Oglethorpe University, as he shovels the first dirt during the ground-breaking ceremony of the construction of Lupton Hall in 1919.
“When I was mayor I thought it was important to start gathering Brookhaven’s very special history, within our boundaries,” Williams said in an interview. “I thought it was important to claim our own history … because for so long we were just a part of unincorporated DeKalb County.”
Williams and Biggerstaff worked with Georgia State University, the Atlanta History Center, the DeKalb History Center and Oglethorpe University to gather stories and photos for the book. They also visited each of the schools in the city and all the churches to learn of their past.
Williams noted that although Brookhaven did not play a key role in the Civil War because no battles were fought in the area, the city did play host to Union Gen. William T. Sherman. Sherman sent a military dispatch to Gen. J.B. McPherson on July 18, 1864, from the home of Samuel House near Cross Keys, at what is now the Johnson Ferry Road and Ashford-Dunwoody Road intersection.
Another highlight for Williams is finding a photograph and learning the history of the first Brookhaven School, which opened in 1924 on North Druid Hills Road. The school was founded by Z.W. Jones and his wife, Margaret, who moved to the area and found there was no school for their daughters to attend. The couple started by teaching in their home before they built a school to accommodate all the students.
“Finding the first Brookhaven School was one of our great finds,” Williams said. “I was not aware of it and had never seen anything about it. This was before public schools and is truly one of the earliest schools in the area.”
There are celebrity sightings in the book as well, including of a photo of Margaret Mitchell sitting on the dam at Silver Lake and Bing Crosby and Bill Cosby playing golf at the Capital City Club.
The book ends with the city’s incorporation, including pictures from its first City Council meeting on Dec. 16, 2012. The book costs $21.99 and is for sale on Amazon.com.
Now finished with the book, Williams said she hopes to put the history out into the places where it happened. For example, she told the council, she envisions putting historical photographs into kiosks in parks so people walking through a park can stop and read the story of people who used to live there or what the area once looked like or how the park came to be.
The Brookhaven “Images of America” book follows the recent publication of “The Storied Houses of Historic Brookhaven” coffee-table book that features 90 houses in the historic neighborhood that straddles Brookhaven and Buckhead. The limited-edition book is the product of several years of work by a committee of the Historic Brookhaven Neighborhood Association.