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Apartment #1

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This is part of a series of historic structure reports on the historic architecture of Georgia and the Southeast by Tommy H. Jones. It is posted here for educational purposes only and may not be used or reproduced for commercial purposes or without the express permission of the author.

 

 

 

Nearly destroyed by fire on two occasions, the historic Crescent Apartments, now known as the Margaret Mitchell House, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places for its associations with Margaret Mitchell (1900-1949), who lived in Apartment #1 with her husband John Marsh from July 1925 until the fall of 1932. During that period, she wrote most of her Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel Gone With the Wind. The book, first published in 1936 and adapted for the cinema in 1938, quickly became a landmark in publishing, literature, and Hollywood film-making, and its birthplace was the Crescent Apartments.

Figure 1. View east of restored Crescent Apartments, June 2009. (photo by author)

 

Figure 2. View of north and east sides of the restored Sheehan House/Crescent Apartments, June 2009. (photo by author)

 

Figure 3. View northwest of Margaret Mitchell House Museum, upper right, and the surrounding area, including the building, right center, built in 1924 for an A&P grocery store. The tile-roofed Phelan Apartments (1915), facing Peachtree Street, and the adjacent Palmer House (1907), facing Peachtree Place, were considered luxury apartments when Mitchell lived in the Crescent Apartments.

 

Figure 4. Google Earth map of Midtown Atlanta, annotated with an arrow to indicate location of Crescent Apartments.

Locally, for Atlanta, the building is significant as a rare reminder of the time when many of the city’s wealthy white citizens built great houses on Peachtree Street north of downtown, making it one of the city's premier residential thoroughfares. Constructed in 1899 for Cornelius J. Sheehan (1867-1944), scion of one of the city's early Catholic families, the building was originally a single-family residence with an address of 806 Peachtree Street. Designed by a previously unrecognized local architect known only by his last name, Dunning, the house is one of only a handful of historic residences that has survived the commercialization and reconstruction of the entire Peachtree corridor from downtown to the city limits at Brookhaven.

In 1906, when Cornelius Sheehan sold his house, the commercialization of Peachtree Street around its intersection with Tenth Street was well underway. As early as the 1890s, the intersection was already a focus of commercial development; by the 1910s, it was expanding to accommodate a variety of businesses that were springing up to serve the growing suburban development that was emerging all across “North Atlanta.” By the 1920s, commercial development had transformed these blocks of Peachtree into one of the city's most important shopping districts outside of downtown. In 1913, the Sheehan property was subdivided and the house moved onto a new foundation on the rear half of the old lot and given a new address: 17 Crescent Avenue. In 1919, the house, which until then had remained a single-family residence, was remodeled and converted into the historic Crescent Apartments.

By the 1980s, the Windsor Apartments, as they were called at that time, were abandoned, and they deteriorated throughout that decade. In 1994, the house was nearly gutted by fire, but Apartment #1 escaped damage, and by then Mary Rose Taylor had begun her ultimately successful campaign to preserve and restore the house. In spite of another disastrous fire just as restoration was nearing completion, the house finally opened to the public as the Margaret Mitchell House Museum in 1997. Ten years later, ownership of the house and surrounding property, which included a large lot on the west side of Crescent Avenue, was conveyed to the Atlanta History Center.

Born in 1900 on Jackson Street in the Old Fourth Ward east of downtown Atlanta, Mitchell moved with her family into a new house at 1149 Peachtree Street, just north of Seventeenth Street, in 1912. For the rest of her life, she lived within a few blocks of that house. Though an apartment dweller all her adult life, Mitchell had a strong sense of place, much of it gained from summers with elderly relatives at her great-grandfather Philip Fitzgerald’s old plantation in Clayton County. Her father, Eugene Mitchell, who was a member of the Young Men's Library Association and had been instrumental in the founding of the Carnegie Library, was also a charter member of the Atlanta Historical Society when it was organized in 1927. Margaret herself joined as Mrs. John R. Marsh in 1931, and her interest in local history gave her many of the details that she worked into her novel of the Old South.

This history of the Margaret Mitchell House is the result of several years of research and documentation of the site that began in 1989 and preparation of a successful nomination of the building as a city landmark. When restoration got underway in 1994, I expanded that initial research into a somewhat more thorough history of the house and the surrounding neighborhood. This was followed by physical investigation and historical documentation to support restoration of Apartment #1, which was virtually the only part of the building that was not destroyed in the two fires. The final phase was additional research and development of a plan to recreate the apartment's historic interiors, which was completed for the museum's opening in 1997. The present history is a revision of that earlier work and incorporates new information and insights.

Tommy H. Jones

June 2009