(First of two parts)
There is a great deal of history behind the land where Dunwoody Nature Center is located. This week’s Past Tense tells that history up to the year 1974. That was the year ownership by individuals and families ended and ownership by DeKalb County and later the city of Dunwoody began.
The first record of ownership of the land which is now Dunwoody Nature Center shows that William Akins acquired 202 ½ acres from Stephen Martin in 1853 for $350. William Akins was minister of Providence Baptist Church and donated land for the church, located near today’s KinderCare and Coldwell Banker on Chamblee Dunwoody Road. An 1884 map shows Akins Street adjacent to the church.
According to The Story of Dunwoody: 1821-2001, William Akins and wife Elizabeth Cochran Akins had a two-story home, painted yellow, with stone chimneys on either end. It sat where the DeKalb County Fire Station is located on Roberts Drive.
There was once a grist mill located on Wildcat Creek. Akins seems most likely to have been the owner and operator of the mill, but it is not documented. The grist mill sat above where the dam of the creek is today.
When Akins died, his land was divided into two sections. The larger southern section of the land passed to his wife and then to the Swancy family. The next owners were Gribble, Juby, and Parks. Eleanor Parks sold her land to DeKalb County in January 1964.
The northern section of the land passed from Akins to J. P. Womack, his son-in-law. After a couple of brief ownerships, it was purchased by T. K. Peters in August of 1945. Peters deeded half of the land to his wife, Grace Peters.
The house that is part of the Dunwoody Nature Center today was built by T. K. Peters. Mr. and Mrs. Peters first lived in a smaller house behind there. The chimney that still stands was part of that house, and the rectangular floorplan of the small house extended from the chimney.
T. K. Peters was a fascinating man, working in the early days of the film industry. He made travel films and became an expert in trick photography. He was proud of his work on the 1923 film, “The Ten Commandments,” where he used special effects to create the parting of the Red Sea.
Peters came to Atlanta around 1938 to work with Thornwell Jacobs of Oglethorpe University on the Crypt of Civilization, a time capsule sealed in 1940 and not to be opened until 8113. Peters microfilmed eight hundred text books and placed them in the Crypt. Also included were motion pictures of great men and women and examples of small machines of the time. The Crypt is located under one of the buildings of Oglethorpe University.
Peters wrote up a description of his property when it was offered for sale in 1961, “six acres, fine rich soil, slopes down to a stream with a waterfall, magnificent beech trees. Main residence is constructed of concrete blocks…capable of sustaining six thousand pounds to the square inch.” He also describes a guest house which remained on the property, closer to Roberts Drive.
The property described by Peters was exactly what Marshall Ross Lane was looking for in 1961. Lane came to Atlanta when he was drafted August of 1952, during the Korean War. Already a CPA, he was assigned as an accountant at Peachtree and 8th Street. After being in Atlanta nine years, Lane wanted a home that would remind him of the mountains of his birth place, North Carolina. Mr. Lane, his wife Frances, and their two children, Greg and Loretta, moved to the home in 1962.
Mr. Lane returned to the property recently to share his memories, including the history which Peters told him back in 1962. Peters said the old millstone on the property originally fell off a wagon near the chimney. The unusual convex millstone was moved next to a large tree and remained there until recent years when it was moved to the side for display.
Some of the older residents shared a Civil War story with Peters. They told of three gun emplacements on the land between the house and the creek. The story says that the guns were ready to fire on Union soldiers as they marched down what is now Roberts Drive on their way from Roswell to Atlanta and Decatur in July of 1864. Civil War historians say the story is not plausible due to the distance and downhill location relative to the road. However, the Lanes found a cannon ball in that area of the property.
The Lanes had a third child named India in 1963 and enjoyed their property for 12 years. Mr. Lane remembered fondly the various rooms of the old house, pointing out that the kitchen cabinets and paneling were the same as when they lived there. Many parts of the home and property have changed of course, but he also showed us a large rock on the creek that he remembers as his “thinking rock.”
Mr. Lane recalled neighbors the Swancy family across the road, the Walkers just north of his property and beyond there the Titus family in the old house that remains on Glenrich Drive.
In 1974, with the bicentennial approaching, local governments were looking for parcels of land to obtain for additional parks. It was a great shock to the family when a representative of DeKalb County came to the door in 1974, announcing they were exercising eminent domain and would be buying the home and land from the Lanes.
The Lane family sold their property to DeKalb County and moved to another home nearby. They were sad to leave their home, the creek, and the thinking rock.
The story of the years leading up to today’s Dunwoody Nature Center includes the hard work and dedication of many in the community. That part of the history will be shared in the next Past Tense.
Sources cited include: The Story of Dunwoody, 1821-2001, by Elizabeth L. Davis, Ethel W. Spruill, Joyce Amacher, and Lynne Byrd.