If someone doesn’t know there is a relic from a bygone era on Mitchell Road, they’re not likely to see it.
If a proposed development moves into the space, no one will ever have a chance see it again.
At least one local historian says the building isn’t quite as old as its owners claim.
Since 1974, the building has operated as St. James Anglican Church, but the church officials have put what they describe as a Civil War-era shelter up for sale. The 2.4 acre property is listed for $1 million. A group called Arrowhead Real Estate Partners wants to buy it and develop it into 15 single family homes. The company revised its earlier plans for 19 town homes after neighbors complained. The partners in Arrowhead Real Estate are also part of The Columns Group, one of the original developers of the Town Brookhaven project, according to the Atlanta Business Chronicle archives.
“The church wants to sell the property. The church has closed,” Columns Group President Curtis Hicks told neighbors at an April 26 meeting at Sandy Springs City Hall. “They’ve lost their membership.”
Residents around the property at 5975 Mitchell Road don’t have much faith the developers will turn the old church into something they’d want in their backyards. The history of the site – assuming it is truly historic – was a secondary concern at the meeting. The audience pounced on the developers for not having information they wanted about trees and traffic, saying the revised plans still create problems.
Residents would like to keep most of the tree canopy and avoid creating a cacophony of horns and engines on the cut-through between Hammond and Long Island drives.
The building is surrounded by towering trees and the property abuts much newer homes and residential buildings.
“If we can save some of the tree canopy, everyone benefits,” said Nina Cramer, president of Trees Sandy Springs.
But what is known about the building itself, now an empty church sitting quietly as a nun in prayer at the bottom of a hill?
Officially, there’s nothing significant about it. It doesn’t appear on the state or federal registries of historic places. It was a farmhouse built in the 1860s, according to the church’s website. A dusty red barn standing beside it more recently served as the St. James Montessori school.
Clarke Otten, president of the Sandy Springs Historic Preservation Society, said the farm house was not pre-Civil War, saying he believes it was constructed between 1920 and 1930.
“It seems to have been one of the Spruell family homes and farms,” Otten said. “It was possibly on part of the previous Mitchell land dating back to the War, but that is also uncertain as the Spreull’s were also in the same area before the war. But a ‘pre-war’ appellation can be made of all the land in Georgia that saw any (Civil War) activity.”
Kimberly Brigance, Director of Historic Resources & Programs for Heritage Sandy Springs, disagrees.
“This is not a 1920-30 style home,” Brigance said. “It is a mid-late 1800s style. Until we have some solid research, we won’t know the facts of the property.”
The decay holds an eerie beauty for the right spectator, but the church building looks kind enough to forgive those who only see a pile of rotting wood and crumbling rocks.
The property has what residents call an old “wishing well.”
If it the old farm house could make a wish, it might ask for someone to clear away the tall grass and ivy that has grown around it since the church stopped regular worship services there. Residents wish the developers would scale back their plans.
Sandy Sweeny, who lives in Cameron Manor on the eastern side of the proposed development, said less homes would mean more breathing room for the neighborhood.
“By reducing the density, you might be able to have a more aesthetically pleasing subdivision,” she said.
The Ridgemere neighborhood to the south of the church has the same beef with the development.
Jerry Erbesfield, president of the Ridgemere home owners association, said developers are trying to cram more homes into a tiny space to maximize profit. He estimated the potential profit would be $2.6 million to $4.9 million. The developers laughed at his figures, and said they wish the homes will be that profitable.
The development team said the plans will be reevaluated to take in the latest feedback. The proposal will go back to the planning commission on May 17 and then to the City Council on June 19.
“We’ve heard the issues …,” Hicks said. “We understand where y’all are coming from. We understand everything y’all have raised.”
Erbesfield said the neighbors accept the property will be developed. He personally welcomes it.
And with the church’s owners willing to sell, this apparently insignificant piece of history will likely vanish, becoming another top-dollar development on an otherwise unremarkable stretch of road.
In this video: On April 26, 2012, homeowners around 5975 Mitchell Road met with representatives Arrowhead Real Estate Partners at Sandy Springs City Hall to voice their concerns about a proposed development there. The property contains a church and a barn that some of the residents say dates back to the 1860s. They are also concerned about the density of homes on the 2.4 acre lot. After a meeting three weeks ago, developers revised their plans from 19 town homes to 15 detached homes. Residents think there should be less homes on the property.