Residents hope to see history highlighted in the development of a new park in North Buckhead. Plans include hiring an archaeologist to determine who and how many people are buried in a historic cemetery on the site that dates to 1852.
Officials said they need a study of the cemetery, one of the oldest in the city, to be done before doing more specific planning for the park. Livable Buckhead Executive Director Denise Starling said her organization plans to put up some of the estimated $8,000 cost.
“That’s going to be really the first step before we know what we can do,” said Andrew White, a landscape architect at Park Pride, during a June 12 public input meeting. Park Pride selected the park for its program that provides free planning services, White said.
The 1.5-acre park is nestled next to the Loridans Drive bridge over Ga. 400 and is planned to connect to the 5.2-mile multi-use trail PATH400.
Starling said Livable Buckhead, which oversees PATH400 construction, wants to see the park “totally” connected to the path. That segment of the path is expected to be built out in 2022, she said.
The land, which was also the site of the former D.F. McClatchey Elementary School, was purchased by the city in 2016 for about $220,000, according to an ordinance.
Residents want to see more of the cemetery’s history uncovered, specifically possible connections to African-American slaves. According to famed Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett, who visited the site at least twice in 1930 and 1989, the first burial was for James Lowery, Jr., who was killed in an disagreement over the sale of a slave.
The names of only three other people buried there are known: James Lowery, Sr., M.C. Stevens and W.H. Stevens. Garrett notes that he could identify at least 25 other graves, “many obviously children.”
“Unfortunately, their names and their stories are lost to time,” White said.
White said signs of the burials could still be seen on recent visits with a consulting archaeologist. Although no formal headstones remain, some field stones and ground depressions, typically indicative of burials, can be seen, he said.
Only two formal headstones were known to exist to Garrett. On his 1930 visit, he found one for each of the Stevens, but both headstones were victims of vandalism or theft. One was recovered in a nearby yard and one is still missing. The headstone recovered is now housed at the Atlanta History Center to protect it from other possible damage or theft.
Some residents, including North Buckhead Civic Association President Gordon Certain, asked if the headstone could be reinstalled in the cemetery during park development, but others said putting in a replica would be a safer option.
Many residents noted they are concerned about sight lines in the park and the possible mischievous actions people could get away with because of the lack of visibility. The lot slopes down significantly from the road.
Because of that, some want to see rod iron or other similar material fence constructed around the graves to make sure they are respected, but others noted that would block off a significant portion of the small park.
The park is heavily-wooded with trees and some would have to be taken out to develop the park. The resident said they want more plantings along the Ga. 400 sound wall to prevent an increase in noise. The park needs tree plantings along the border with seven single-family houses to provide a visual buffer as well, residents said.
“I don’t want use to lose our canopy just so we can say we have green space,” a resident said.
Residents debated adding a parking lot to the site due to concerns park visitors could crowd the surrounding streets. Others said that they don’t want to see parking taking away from the already small park and most visitors would likely be neighbors or PATH400 users.
Most residents did agree on adding a sidewalk on the side of Loridans Drive closest to the park to provide more pedestrian access.
A crosswalk is already planned for outside the future entrance to the park as part of PATH400 construction.
Starling suggested the planners look into having a shared parking arrangement with the nearby by Sarah Smith Elementary School since the peak use times would not be during school hours.
One idea that most excited residents at the meeting is encouraging Sarah Smith teachers to bring their students to park to learn about the history of the area.
“That would truly provide something we don’t have in the area,” one resident said.
Other than the cemetery, residents want the park to provide more history on other notable happenings in the area, including the development of Ga. 400, its former use as farmland and for the McClatchey School, and the installation of an anti-aircraft gun during World War II. The area also has ties to the history of Native Americans, as does much of Buckhead.
Interpretative history displays designed by the Buckhead Heritage Society, a preservation advocacy group that has restored Harmony Grove cemetery, may be used in the park. The displays were originally conceptualized in the groups 2014 “master interpretive plan.”
One display possibility included in a park survey is adding human-scale frames of figures that would represent people from the past. Another would add signs that would provide wayfinding and historical information.
Other recommendations included common park amenities, such as benches, water fountains, playground and picnic space. Other more unique suggestions included a viewing tower to see the skyline, water features and an open air classroom.
Park Pride plans to host a meeting July 12 that will include planning workshops. A later meeting on Sept. 11 is planned to present design concepts. Both meetings are set for 6:30 p.m. at St. James United Methodist Church, 4400 Peachtree-Dunwoody Road. To take an online survey about the park, click here.