Stone Mountain Historic Society
Newsletter April 2014
We have the honor of having Hugh Jordan, shown above with his wife Betty having dinner at the Palmer House in Chicago in 1949, as our feature writer in our Growing Up in Stone Mountain
series. Mr. Jordan wrote the first story the week of Valentine's Day allowing us the pleasure of "Meeting Betty Jordan" through the eyes of the young suitor. The story gives a whole new dimension to polka dots! He also penned an important piece on our Rock Gym, reminding us of its historic significance and how central a building can be to a town's identity.
We are equally indebted to Earl McDonald, a former occupant of the Wells Brown House, who visited this winter and brought photographs of the house in the 1960s. We scanned the photographs and Earl was kind enough to provide a narrative about his time in Stone Mountain which is presented below.
We have an exciting roster of 175th anniversary events so please mark your calendars. Consider putting history on Main Street by sponsoring a Granite Sentinel banner, make plans to tour the City Cemetery, poke your head in at Archaeology Field Day, get your lawn chair out for the community concert and children's festival, and learn about the Masons and their history. We have a lot going on!
Meeting Betty Jordan
By Hugh Jordan
The year was 1940. Stone Mountain High School was holding its graduation service in our beloved rock gym. Three years out of high school, I had decided to go to graduation services. When the seniors and sophomore sisters started marching to their seats, low and behold, I saw a beautiful blond sophomore sister in a white organdy dress with red polka dots.
I said to myself, “I have to meet this girl.” I found out that the girl’s name was Betty Haynie. SO to meet the red polka dot dress, I went to her house on Mountain Street, unannounced, to knock on her door, but THERE SHE WAS, sitting on the porch waiting.
We dated until I left for a job in Chicago. We corresponded, but WWII caught me, and I joined the Navy US Air Force. Navy regulations forbade an officer candidate from getting married until he was commissioned. I was commissioned and received my wings on December 1, 1943. Then on December 9, 1943, Miss Polka Dot Dress became Mrs. Hugh Jordan.
That great day was 70 years ago!
Daddy and the Gymnasium
In 1936, while attending a high school chemistry class, I happened to look out of the window and spotted my father, Dan Jordan, sighting through a transit to a point where the new rock gym was to be built. That night I said, “Dad, what were you doing today when I saw you out of my school window?” Dad said that he was establishing a foundation for the four corners of what was to be the new gymnasium.
Remembering this day, I have always been proud of the fact that my father took such an important part in the gym’s construction. Further, what makes that gym so important to all of us “old-timers” is the fact that our fathers, brothers, and cousins ALL played an important part in its construction. Every stone in this beautiful edifice was precision cut by their hands making it a large part of Stone Mountain history.
Rock Gym Event
The February Rock Gym event was a real hometown treat. The Gym always dresses up well, the smell of Varsity onion rings added zest, and Frank Luton filled the place with great music. Special thanks to Jack Sartain for providing us with music for the Stone Mountain Echo Waltz which started the dancing. A host of folks including Rusty and Ann Hamby, Averil Bonsall, Susan Coletti, Pat Miller, Kathryn Wright, Jo Ann Florence, Joe Joseph and Theresa Hamby helped to pull this off. For all of us at the Society, this annual event is a classic that we all enjoy.
The Wades cutting a rug!
Life at the Wells Brown House
By Earl McDonald
All my life, having been raised on tales of moonlight and magnolias, I dreamed of living in an antebellum house: white with beautiful columns on the front porch. Therefore, I was beside myself when a friend, knowing my tastes, having visited Stone Mountain, accidently made a wrong turn en route back to Atlanta. He traveled down a street in the township named Ridge and could not believe his eyes. There was the house of my dreams with a small “for sale” sign out front. He found his way back to town, hurried over and he gave me directions to return there. My best friend, with whom I lived, and I immediately got in the car and headed out to see for ourselves.
We turned off Memorial Drive onto Ridge Avenue and, lo and behold, there “IT” was! I got so excited I could not speak. I grabbed a pad and copied the information from the ”For Sale” sign. We raced back home, called the number, spoke to the real estate agent, and made an appointment to meet her the next day. With stars in our eyes we took in its glories. So enthralled were we that we did not notice that there was no central heating system. Instead, each room downstairs had a charming fireplace and for a while after we moved in, we found these to be quite satisfactory -- very efficient as a matter of fact. Later, during a cold winter and reality settling in, we were required to install a state of the art central heating system, quite a story in itself, but I digress. Yes, this was my “dream home.” We couldn’t move in quick enough.
We made our offer and waited patiently, or as patiently as my euphoria allowed, to receive her call. She called the next day and told us the owner had accepted our offer. We could hardly believe our good luck. Being young and excited, my response was to start packing immediately. My friend Joe, more controlled than I, told me that we could wait at least a few hours before we packed everything in the house.
Moving day was November 23, 1962, the day that President Kennedy was assassinated. The day therefore proved to be the most important in my life for two reasons. The weather was gloomy and rainy. Settling in, soon it was dinnertime. My partner (a gourmet cook) prepared supper in the kitchen. I worked on setting up the bedrooms and closets. The room behind the music room was large and had a gas space heater. It was warm. I set up the bed and put clothes into the closet. Once I figured everything was okay, I turned my attention to one window in the room that was cloudy and dusty. I sprayed it with window cleaner that left white foam on the surface of the panes. When it dried, I took a soft cloth and wiped it off. I was listening to the television about the assassination while I worked, feeling vulnerable and sad. As I wiped off the white film I nearly fainted when a message appeared on the windowpane as if by magic: the name of one Dr. Wells and the date he had completed his medical degree at Emory. I ran into the kitchen, grabbed Joe, showed him the apparition and only later realized it was not a supernatural but rather an historical message about Dr. Wells.
I discovered from our real estate lady and a couple of the neighbors that the house had once belonged to a Dr. Wells, who had his practice there, and that the room where the name appeared was where patients entered the house. A door opened onto the outside so patients would not come into the living space. On the back of this room, there was another door; leading into what we thought was a closet. We were told he kept his medical equipment and medicines here.
I was immediately excited about getting everything arranged and to see what else we needed to make the historic house much as it might have been before -- when Dr. Wells lived there. For starters, we took a week’s vacation from our jobs. The house boasted a living room, a music room, a large dining room behind the living room, a kitchen and pantry behind that, a master bedroom behind the music room, and three bedrooms upstairs. There was also a small room off one of the bedrooms, which had been referred to as the “birthing room,” since one of the original occupants of the house had delivered there, during the time that women were not expected to be seen in public during pregnancy. Furnishing the house would be quite a daunting task.
We took pains to decorate, giving it an antebellum flavor. As one entered the house there was a full length Baroque mirror in an elaborate frame. Underneath was a Victorian drop-leaf table. The bedroom downstairs contained a large canopied bed. In the music room, we placed a Sheridan Sofa, bookcase and grand piano. Joe was a classically trained musician, an organist at Baptist Tabernacle downtown and later Martha Brown Methodist, where he was also choir director. When we couldn’t find what we needed locally, furniture-wise or accessory-wise, we made trips to New York to purchase appropriate oriental carpets, tapestries, and so forth. We had chandeliers made according to order. These still are to be found in the house.
We were delighted with the house, the village and its citizens. The neighbors were wonderful as well as curious as to who had moved in the house. Some brought food, introduced themselves and made us feel at home in the community. One of them, we learned later, was Tug Tuggle’s aunt. The Tuggles were an old Stone Mountain family. I did not know Tug at the time but later on I went to work at Massey Business College, where Tug was a stockholder in the company that owned the school. Hired as Tug’s Assistant, later I was promoted to Director of the College with Tug as an advisor. He was quite a personality and later we became friends. Stone Mountain was quite a bond.
Our main link to the past and present Stone Mountain was our next-door neighbors. The lot to the left facing the house had been vacant when we moved in. One day, work began on a grand brick house. We were curious who would live there. The finished house was the residence of the McCurdy Sisters, four elderly, wonderful women. The house was divided into three parts…. the center of the house contained a living room, dining room and kitchen. Off these were two wings, which were divided into two parts…one for each sister. Each wing contained a sitting room, a bedroom and a small kitchenette, which gave everything they needed.
They said they were “set” in their ways and sometimes wanted to be alone. When that happened, one could go to her privacy in her part of the house. They and we immediately rhymed and got on famously. The sisters were the epitome of the ideal Southern Women and the kind of neighbors everyone should have: intelligent, charming, who laughed at a joke, and told more than a few of them. Most of the stories they shared were connected with their past and the city.
One day I looked out the window and saw one sister hastily walking out onto the street and toward Memorial Drive. She returned with a kid who didn’t seem too happy to have been “fetched.” I wondered what was going on…when I heard a lawn mower running and saw the kid cutting the grass it all became clear.
Another great source of information was a former maid who had worked in the house. One day the doorbell rang. I opened the door and the woman on the porch identified herself as having worked for the Wells. She wanted to look over the house in its present state. I invited her in, gave her a tour, and she provided me with much of the information I’ve mentioned, for example, the birthing room and the doctor’s office. She was a wealth of facts and anecdotes. She always gave “Miss Janie” her morning breakfast of bananas. I invited her to return, but she never did.
Joe and I worked in Atlanta. Returning home one day, one of the McCurdy sisters asked us if we worked downtown. We replied yes. “How can you stand going down there with all those dirt floored shacks?” she inquired. We wondered what she meant. We later found out that she was talking about the temporary workers who built the railroad when the city was founded. .
As Opera Lovers Joe and I attended every performance the Metropolitan Opera offered during their annual tour. It was an important part of the social season in Atlanta and the region. The “Met” stayed more than a week and the singers and staff were “feted” to the gills. There were parties for the singers, orchestra and staff. Atlanta and the area were famous for their love of the Opera and the Metropolitan. Then came the horrible day when management reviewed its expenditures for travel and found that they were loosing money. They decided to quit traveling. Atlanta received notice, sadly, and wondered what would happen in the city with no Metropolitan.
The Southeastern Opera Association was formed as a response. Chastain Park had a history of hiring singers from the Metropolitan and other companies to perform for their summer series.
Blanche Thebom was an integral part of these performances. A mezzo-soprano, she sang the roles of Aida, Carmen, and others. After much “suffering” on the part of the Atlanta area with no Opera, a committee was set up to form a local Opera Company. They asked Ms. Thebom if she would establish a company, perform and manage it. She accepted the offer. Many Atlanta ‘grand dames” and others were not happy as they still harbored hopes for a returning Met, but learned to live with it. Blanche moved down, brought an entourage of four fans and friends and began forming the company. She hired singers, and decided what operas would be on the roster. They performed in the Auditorium of the High Museum.
Joe and I became a part of her entourage and worked with her. I did the publicity while he played for rehearsals. About two months later, it was decided that we needed to raise money to keep the company afloat. The fundraiser would take place in downtown Atlanta and would be followed by a reception at Stone Mountain. Blanche called her friends to come assist and “come” they did: Renata Tebaldi, Licia Albanese, Zinca Milanov, Eleanor Steber, other singers, her friends from New York as well as non-singers as well including Tony Randall, a great lover opera. It was a gala affair, both in Atlanta and Stone Mountain. Everyone was fascinated with the house and Stone Mountain. The party went on almost all night. It was definitely a high point for the house and us.
Earl McDonald (Center) at Wells Brown House during 2014 visit.
Another significant event that happened in Stone Mountain during this time was the completion of the figures of significant Civil War heroes carved on the mountain. When completed after many years, the park became the center of interest from all over the South. My boss, L. D. Strom, Director of FSS in the Southeast, along with other dignitaries, was invited to attend the opening. His cousin, Senator Strom Thurmond, was also invited. An interesting story about the two of them is that Senator Strom Thurmond’s mother died when he was quite young and he was raised by L.D. Strom’s mother and family. Later, he changed his name from “Robert Thurmond,” to Strom Thurmond in honor of his foster parents.
I invited the Director and his wife to the house after the ceremony. The Senator and his entourage, Director Strom and his wife and others were present as well. They expressed their delight in being invited and we had a wonderful afternoon. They left, after about three hours. What fun and excitement!
My life at the house in Stone Mountain represented some of the best years of my life. I had the privilege of living a way of life I had dreamed of since childhood, the life of legends, the life I had read about in stories. It was all I could have asked for. The house, the people, the community, the history, the parties, it was a glorious decade. Though I have lived in other houses, and other places, which I have loved as well, I believe that Stone Mountain will always be my favorite place.
History on Main Street - Sponsor a Granite Sentinel!
The Society is working in partnership with the 175th committee on a Main Street banner program, The Granite Sentinels, that honors individuals and organizations that have helped shape the city’s history and its development. We welcome nominations that show history both big and small and that reflect the richness of our past. Each 24" by 36" banner is sponsored and will be displayed on Main Street's lamp posts for a two-month period (see example). Money garnered from this program will help to fund the relocation of the quarry workers sculpture and will fund Main Street projects. The first set of 16 is sold out and they will go on exhibit from May through June. If you are interested in sponsoring a banner or have questions, please contact Kim Cumbie (by phone 678-234-3263 or by email email@example.com).
Explore the Village!
We invite you to join us at the City of Stone Mountain’s historic cemetery at the intersection of Main Street and Ponce de Leon Avenue for a guided tour on Saturday May 3rd from 10:00am – 12:00pm. The tour will begin at the granite entry gate. A special highlight of this tour will be the presence of members of families whose ancestors are interred in the cemetery who will talk about their family and their times in Stone Mountain.
This event is followed by a book signing of The Granite Sentinel by Dr. George Coletti at the Basket Bakery at noon. A lunch will be available at the Village Corner after the tour.
Archaeology Field Day will be held at 6150 East Ponce de Leon Avenue at New South Associates on Saturday May 3rd from 10:00am to 2:00pm. The public is invited to this free outdoor event which will feature Abby the Archaeobus, prehistoric pottery making, stone tool production, a mock excavation, and archaeological exhibits.
Third Thursday, April 17, 7:00 pm Dr. George Coletti and Chris Kaveney on the History of the Masons. Wells Brown House, refreshments served.
Spring Cleaning at the Wells Brown House, Saturday April 26th, 9:00 AM.
Cemetery Tour (10-12), Book Signing (12:00) and Archaeology Field Day (10-2), Saturday, May 3. See above for details!
Pancake Breakfast, Saturday, May 10th, Wells Brown House, 9-11. Rusty is cooking!
Historic Preservation Tools for Historic House Owners, Carole Moore with Georgia’s Historic Preservation Division, SMHS Quarterly Meeting, May 29th at 7:00 pm, A.R.T. Station.
175th Concert and Children’s Festival Celebrating our 175th! June 28th. Details forthcoming please mark your calendars!
Spring Cleaning at the Wells Brown House
If springtime is the land awakening, then March winds are its morning yawn. Let’s stretch out our old, cold bones and get ready to do some spring cleaning at the Wells Brown House. We need lots of people to do heavy cleaning in the house was well as to work outside. The date is April 26, 2014. We will start at 9:00 am. Those who wish to arrive early may share in strong coffee and Hot KK Donuts. Let’s get this work done before it gets too hot! Please call and let Rusty Hamby know it you plan to make it for breakfast.
It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade. ~ Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Bob Bohanon got our year of programs off to a great start in January. Everybody who attended left better educated and intrigued about presidential "stuff." In February, the Society sponsored a showing of a documentary and talk with Dr. Matt Matternes on the Avondale Burial Place which was also well received. March brought us a talk by Claus and Hilde Friese about establishing roots in our city. Their excellent presentation was spiked with anecdotes that really showed Claus' great sense of humor and the family's historical narrative on creating a very special "village corner."