Three years after it was taken apart piece by piece for redevelopment, DeKalb County’s oldest house is sitting in storage somewhere mysterious, awaiting a new home.
The 1830s Goodwin House has been replaced with a 3-story medical building under construction on Peachtree Road in Brookhaven. The historical marker erected at the house in 1954 as part of a state’s commemoration of the Civil War apparently was removed during construction. And a former owner worries another piece of local history is being forgotten.
“It’s been a few years and I am still really sorry I couldn’t preserve it for the next seven generations, but that’s not how Atlanta rolls,” said Lynda Martin, the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Solomon Goodwin, an early owner of the house.
Goodwin purchased 600 acres of farmland and the house on Peachtree Road for his family in 1838 in the area known then as Cross Keys. Martin said her family never determined who built the house.
The house was first located at 3967 Peachtree Road, where the Extended Stay America-Atlanta-Buckhead hotel is today, and was later moved a short distance via crane and truck to 3931 Peachtree, where the medical building is rising.
When it was located on the top of the hill where the hotel now stands, the house became a popular rest stop for people taking the wagon trail that is now Peachtree Road, Martin said. Three springs were on the property so people could water their horses, and many camped overnight. The kindness of the family was well-known, too, as they greeted tired travelers with food and drink.
“That hospitality was a strong element of the place,” she said.
In 2006, Martin and her sisters, who inherited the house in 1996, made the difficult decision to sell the land for $3.5 million after the house became too expensive and difficult to maintain. Martin said she spent the next decade trying to find the Goodwin House a new home and is still on the lookout.
Brookhaven Park was one spot where she hoped the house could be located. Oglethorpe University was another, because students could learn history. Neither place worked out.
As property taxes continued to rise with the development around the historic house, attempts were made first to try to assemble several properties to build a mixed-use development that somehow incorporated the house into its plans, Martin said. The plan went nowhere.
Attempts to get tax breaks from the city of Brookhaven after its 2012 incorporation were made also due to increasing property taxes, Martin said. The family sought financial backing from historic preservation groups to help cover growing expenses for the aging house and its infrastructure, such as the broken furnace. One estimate to update the house came in at $100,000. But those ideas didn’t pan out either. There wasn’t community interest, Martin said, to save the house.
“I have become reconciled to the fact that history gets lost,” she said. “And maybe that’s what is necessary to create the way for the new.”
In a last-ditch attempt to save the house, Martin said, she gave it to the family of Laurenthia Mesh, owner of Golden Triangle Holdings, the company that operates the Old Five Points Shopping Center at Ashford-Dunwoody and Johnson Ferry roads.
Mesh is owner of the “a: Times News,” a newspaper that criticizes city policies, including a special issue last year about the $40 million parks bond referendum. Mesh has also tangled with the city in court, fighting the City Council’s vote to take a small piece of the Corner Pizza property she owns for a planned Ashford-Dunwoody Road intersection improvement.
“The house was given to someone who gave us the gift of taking it apart and numbering and doing it architecturally correct[ly],” Martin said.
“They want to rebuild it somewhere and probably what they will do is rebuild the log cabin to be focal point on how most of our ancestors lived.”
Martin said Mesh has family members who regularly disassemble old and historic houses and then look for places to rebuild them.
Mesh could not be reached for comment. Martin said Mesh did not want to talk about the house but she also hopes the house can be rebuilt in the city.
“We had talked about doing this over the years. One [of the family] had a ranch in Middle Georgia and was collecting old houses,” Martin said. “They know what they are doing. We wouldn’t have given it to them if we didn’t trust them.”
In November 2016, a crew took apart the Goodwin House piece by piece. As the siding and additions added over the years to create a white 2-story Plantation Plain-style home fell away, the original log cabin Solomon Goodwin lived in with his family emerged.
“Once they had stripped the siding off, you have this log cabin sitting there. There was chinking in the wood, bark still on some of the logs,” Martin said.
“It was very moving to see that log cabin sitting back there in the woods,” she said. “It was like a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ moment.”
The logs were labeled as they were removed to ensure they would be put back in the same order if it is ever rebuilt, Martin said. Her wish is it could be rebuilt near the original site to remind people of the history of the people who lived in the area nearly 200 years ago.
“There’s just something about your feet on land that your ancestors farmed,” she said. “This is how most of us live … and I find it inspiring.
Mark McDonald, president and CEO of the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, said saving historic houses is done all the time. He recalled reaching out the Martin family about a decade ago to ask about saving the house, but they told him they wanted to sell the land, he said.
“The land underneath the building is worth more and certainly that’s the case in Atlanta,” he said.
Taking apart a historic house is the “preservation solution of last resort,” he said.
“This house will probably not have its architectural integrity,” he said of the Goodwin House now that it has been taken apart. “It would not be a historic house once it is rebuilt.”
The loss of another historic house and another piece of history in metro Atlanta is, unfortunately, not surprising, McDonald said.
“Atlanta is losing its character every day,” he said.
In the 1950s, the Georgia Historical Commission erected hundreds of historical markers across the state to commemorate the Civil War sites. One of those markers was erected in front of the Goodwin House.
The marker said that the house was the site of “Federal military operations” in the summer of 1864.
The operations included Brigadier General Milo Hascall commanding a brigade as it marched from Old Cross Keys to camp at Johnston’s Mill on the North Fork Peachtree Creek before marching to Decatur.
The marker can’t be seen currently at the medical office construction site. The contractor and developer could not be reached for comment.
Elyse Butler, marker manager for the Georgia Historical Society, said she remembered seeing the marker in October but was unaware the sign was now removed. The agency relies on the public to report missing or damaged markers, she said, and she is now trying to track the marker down.
Martin, who at one time had an office for her consulting business in the Goodwin House and now lives in Chamblee, still regularly drives by the new development. She says it’s still hard to not see the house tucked in a wooded and grassy area, away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
“It was a little oasis of nature in the middle of Brookhaven that was really lovely; it was magical,” she said.
“I’ve always considered the Goodwin House to be a very healing place … and I do find some comfort that fact it’s a medical facility now,” she said.
“And I hope the practitioners and the patients will experience something of the strength and feeling I experienced there,” she said. “Even if they don’t know the history … I hope they will feel that.”