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The story behind the Donaldson Bannister home and cemetery - Dunwoody Crier: Our Columnists

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Past Tense The story behind the Donaldson Bannister home and cemetery

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Posted: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 10:50 am

Frank and Hortense Smith, along with their children Frank, Jr. and Bonnie moved into an 1870 home at the corner of Vermack Road and Chamblee Dunwoody Road in 1955. Bonnie Smith Nichols walked around the old home and property with me and shared her memories of living there. When the property was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, it became known as the Donaldson Bannister Home and Cemetery.

The style of the original home was Plantation Plain, but it was remodeled in the 1930’s by Lois Bannister, changing the style to Greek Revival. Mrs. Bannister installed a boxwood garden, complete with a decorative brick wall, fountain, brick paths, peonies, and boxwoods. This garden was enjoyed by the Smith family, along with some muscadine vines along an arbor and a large pear tree next to the boxwood garden. This garden was located where the empty pool sits today.

The property included 28 acres when the Smiths lived there, extending through the adjoining neighborhood and past the location of Vermack Swim and Tennis Club. Today, the home and cemetery are on 2.8 acres. Bonnie recalls that Lois Bannister had built a pool area on the creek where they could take a swim in the chilly water. Vermack was a narrow, dirt road and there was an old rock quarry down near the creek. Stones from the quarry were used for some of the gravestones in the cemetery, as well as for stone walls and steps around the property.

Bonnie’s father, Frank Smith, owned and operated a nursery business in Atlanta. When they lived in Dunwoody, the business was located on Roswell Road, where Pike Nursery is today. They kept the growing operation at the home on Chamblee Dunwoody Road, including six 150-foot greenhouses and one outdoor greenhouse.

The DeKalb Master Gardeners have the back left corner of the property planted with several varieties of flowers and vegetables today. When Bonnie lived there, the chicken houses and the pigs lived just behind this area. Along Vermack Road, where there are houses today, there was a red barn and a caretaker’s house.

Just down the road lived Fletcher Donaldson, who drove the school bus at the time for Dunwoody Elementary. Other nearby families included the Womacks, Goldens, Mannings and Gillespies.

Behind the house was the guest house, and to the left of the guest house was a wash house. There was an old cast iron pot that sat out near the wash house in a fire ring. The buildings past the guest house were used as a tool shed and woodshed. Then, the small building with wooden stairs was sometimes used as an incubator for the farm animals and other times set up as a place to play with the family train set.

The family had horses, cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, guineas, and rheas. In the barn was a milking room, stalls for the horses, and a work room for her dad to use his table saw. Around the barn were pastures, a turkey yard, and a riding ring.

Bonnie recalls that one day her mother decided to take a sledge hammer to a kitchen wall. It began when Mrs. Smith began thinking about the fireplace in the bedroom just above the kitchen and how that kitchen wall was warm when there was a fire above. She decided there must be a fireplace behind the wall and began pounding away with the sledge hammer successfully revealing a kitchen fireplace in the end. The kitchen has been rearranged and remodeled since the Smiths lived there.

The adjoining dining room still has the original chandelier and a button in the floor, probably installed by Lois Bannister. The button could be pressed with one’s foot when the kitchen help was needed. The Smith children had fun playing with this button.

Hortense Smith was leader of the Dunwoody Girls Scouts for Bonnie and her friends. On one occasion, the Girl Scouts were going to camp out on the property, when rain forced them to move inside. They slept in a loft area above the carport that is accessible by a wooden ladder.

It must have been a wonderful childhood, as Bonnie Smith Nichols was feeling quite sentimental about the old home and enjoyed showed her husband Norman where she grew up. She still stays connected with friends from the Dunwoody Elementary School, sharing memories and old photographs.

Email Valerie at pasttensedunwoody@gmail.com.

© 2015 Dunwoody Crier. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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