By Tova Fruchtman
Nestled amidst the hustle and bustle of GA 400, office parks, traffic and strip malls, a person could drive by the historical gem every day and never know it.
But when Joseph Mayson and his 20-year-old daughter Caroline head home, they turn down the driveway, follow it through a natural wooded landscape of seasoned trees and arrive at Glenridge Hall—a home that is full of history and full of life.
Glenridge Hall was built by Thomas K. Glenn and his second wife, Elizabeth in 1929 on a farm that Glenn had purchased in 1915.
Glenn played a major role in Atlanta’s history, holding leadership positions at Georgia Power, Trust Company of Georgia and Atlantic Steel among his many accomplishments. The family kidded that Glenridge Hall was built to rival Glenn’s brother and sister-in-law’s home: Callanwolde, which is now the Callanwolde Fine Arts Center. But after Glenn died the family moved from the home and it began to fall into disrepair.
It was Mayson’s wife Frances —Glenn’s first grandchild — who dreamed of renovating the home that Mayson and his daughter — Glen’s great-granddaughter – continue to live in nearly 80 years after it was built.
The Maysons began exploring the idea of renovating Glenridge Hall in the late 1970s. They traveled around England, visiting restored homes that were open to the public to decide how to best revitalize Glenridge Hall.
“The ones that we enjoyed the most were the ones that were still lived in. The ones that were museums were nice, but you could tell the minute you walked in the door the clocks had all stopped and the house was frozen in time,” said Mayson while sitting in a bright living room at Glenridge Hall that once served as a lumber storage room. “This house is not frozen in time.”
On Derby Day in 1980 the Maysons moved into the home and began a renovation process that continues to this day. For seven years the couple worked to establish Glenridge Hall as a home, a historical site to honor the memory of Frances’s grandfather and father, and an asset to the community of Sandy Springs.
Unfortunately, in 1987 Frances died unexpectedly during childbirth; but Mayson continued to renovate the house, now in her memory and honor, as well.
“I was able to learn in seven years exactly what she wanted to do and how she wanted to do it, so that when she died it was never a question of whether or not I would continue,” Mayson said.
With that in mind he not only continued towards his wife’s goal of completing the house, but also of welcoming the community.
“It was my late wife’s intention that the house serve the community and not just be a home, but also be an asset to the community,” he said. That’s why — in the home where he and his daughter continue to live — Mayson hosts about 70 events a year for the benefit of Sandy Springs and Atlanta at no charge.
That means hosting large parties in the tradition of Glenn who had among his entertaining amenities on the property — that was at one time much larger — a barbeque pit that sat 300 people. Atlantans would join Glenn at his invitation and take the trek to what at that time was farmland north of the city for a day or two of relaxation.
“My wife’s goal was to make the visitor feel that this was what it was like in 1930,” Mayson said. “And although we didn’t care for large parties we felt that it would be — if you will — immoral to restore a house like this and not share it.”
Hosting those large parties at no cost means that organizations take home more money. Many raise between $50,000 and $100,000 at events at Glenridge Hall.
The Community Action Center in Sandy Springs — an organization that supports families in times of crisis — will have their fifth annual “A Vintage Affair” fundraiser at Glenridge Hall on Sept. 29. Of the five Vintage Affairs, four have been at Glenridge Hall.
Tamara Carrera, executive director of the CAC, said having the facility donated makes a huge difference in the amount of money they can raise for the organization.
“It’s actually wonderful to have a venue where we don’t have to pay for the facility,” Carrera said. “If we had to rent a facility or we had to do it at a hotel the cost of the event would be much higher and therefore the donation to CAC would be much lower.”
Last year at “A Vintage Affair” CAC brought in more than $50,000 to help families in need, she said.
Glenridge Hall has also become a meeting place for many Sandy Springs organizations. Sandy Springs resident D.J. DeLong, who is active in many city organizations, said it’s a great asset to the community – not just because of the uniqueness of the home and the grounds that “add a sense that you have driven to another place or age,” but because of Mayson’s involvement in and commitment to the community.
“It is not so much Glenridge Hall that adds to the community as it is the many contributions that Joey Mayson has made,” DeLong said. “He is a visionary about what can and should be done to make Sandy Springs a better place to live. He has started (or has been part of the founding group for) many community organizations that are contributing to the betterment of the city. He uses his hospitality and the attraction of Glenridge Hall to bring many people together to discuss and plan for the city.”
Besides serving as a venue for community organizations, Glenridge Hall has also served as a setting for a variety of films, television series and commercials — most notably serving as the Roosevelt’s’ Hyde Park home in the HBO film Warm Springs, and the New York hotel room and Commerce Club in Driving Miss Daisy.
And four times a year Mayson will rent the home out for events, usually weddings.
But even when none of this is going on, the property around the home seems to be constantly bubbling with life.
Amy Smith, the full-time gardener — who has lived in a staff house on the property for five years — works daily with her team to replant and maintain the gardens surrounding the home.
“It’s one of the hardest but most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” Smith said. “In the five years that I’ve been here so much has been done. It’s very fulfilling to do this as a job… because you get to see rewards every year.”
Renovations also continue on another staff house that the estate manager Mike Rabelais and his wife will move into once it is complete.
Mayson’s two dogs wander the property, and occasionally, he said, people who think his home is open to the public (it is not) drive up wondering when the tour starts.
“It’s very important to me that people understand that this is a living house… it’s not a museum and hopefully never will be a museum,” he said.
But even as Glenridge Hall continues to be imbued with life, the connection with history remains.
Glenn’s original trapeze hangs above modern exercise equipment, the staff dining room now houses a television watching room for a young woman and her friends, a new refrigerator shares a room with the home’s original, a stuffed gorilla plays an electrically restored piano, and even though it’s just a short way off Abernathy Road there are trees as far as the eye can see.
“We’ve tried to preserve the illusion —at least when the leaves were out — of what it was like to be in the country when Sandy Springs was country,” Mayson said, adding that Sandy Springs was country as recently as 1970.
Mayson said he imagines his daughter and future generations continuing to live in and take care of Glenridge Hall.
“I would like to know that if one came back here in 100 years it would look pretty much the same,” he said.
For more information, visit www.glenridgehall.com