Located at 394 Sinclair Avenue NE, the Kurtz-Cummings House was built in the spring and summer of 1912 in what was then Copenhill, one of Atlanta's early suburban developments. The subdivision was surveyed and platted before 1890 on land that had been part of the antebellum plantations of the Hurts and the Joneses. In July 1864, the Battle of Atlanta was fought along the railroad less than a half mile to the southeast, and General Sherman's headquarters were at Mary's brother's house less than a quarter mile to the north.

The first occupants were Wilbur G. Kurtz, his wife Annie Laurie Fuller, and their first child, Wilbur Jr., who was barely two months old when the family moved into the new house on Sinclair Avenue. Kurtz would later gain fame as historian for the filming of Gone With the Wind and for his numerous paintings of early Atlanta landmarks.

From 1916 until 1939, the house was home to William B. Cummings, his wife Eva Esther Woodward, and their son Harold and his family. The elder Cummings had recently retired from a decade as chief of the Atlanta Fire Department when he bought the house, and the Cummings family continued to occupy the residence until 1939 when they sold it and moved to Chattanooga.

The new residents at 394 Sinclair Avenue were James Felix Edens, his wife Louise, and their daughter Caroline. An engraver and civil engineer, Felix Edens sold the house in 1950. Much like the rest of the neighborhood, the house entered a long period of decline after that. The property changed hands three times in the early 1950s and was remodeled as an owner-occupied rooming house around 1960. By the 1970s, the old Kurtz-Cummings house was poorly maintained rental property. The yard was a sad mix of unkempt shrubberies, including massively overgrown privet hedges, and its handsome architecture was obscured by asbestos siding, aluminum awnings, and generally bad remodeling.

Beginning in December 1977, four friends began restoring the house, part of a first wave of restoration and gentrification in Inman Park. It remained my home until December 2005.

Tommy Jones, 2016



Figure 1. Google Earth view of the neighborhood, annotated with an arrow to locate 394 Sinclair Avenue. The Carter Center is at upper left, the old Bass High School at lower center, and Little Five Points business district at upper right.


Hurt-Jones Plantations

The house is located in Land Lot 15, 14th District, of what was originally Henry County, now Fulton County, Georgia. First surveyed as part of the Creek cession in 1821, the area was part of the antebellum plantation of James Vickers Jones (1812-1879) and his wife Mary Elizabeth Hurt (1824-1882), who were early pioneers in what was then DeKalb County. Married in 1843, they had two children, Joel Hurt Jones (1846-1909) and Henry Phillip (1849-1909), before moving to Atlanta in the late 1840s. There they bought Land Lot 15, just north of the Georgia Railroad two miles east of downtown. Containing 202½ acres, the property encompassed the sites of today's Carter Center, the northern half of Inman Park, and the west side of the Little Five Points business district. In 1852, they bought the portion of adjoining Land Lot 14 that lay north of the railroad. In addition to the railroad, three other early roads crossed the Jones property: the Decatur Road, now DeKalb Avenue; the Turnpike Road, now parts of Euclid and Austin avenues; and Williams Mill Road, most of which is now known as Briarcliff Road.


Figure 2. Detail from Pittman's 1872 map of Fulton County, depicting the area around the Hurt-Jones plantations.

In 1854, the Joneses sold most of their property in Land Lot 14 to her brother George Troup Hurt (1825-1901). Two years later, their brother Augustus Fletcher Hurt (1830-1921) bought all of Land Lot 15, "being the place of farm upon which the said James V. and Mary E. Jones now reside." Exactly where their house was located has not been documented, but they may very well have built the wood-framed house that stood at the highest point in the land lot and was used as General Sherman's headquarters during the Battle of Atlanta. Probably around that time, the Joneses returned to Birdsville, his family home in Burke County, where the 1860 federal census showed him with over $50,000 in real estate and nearly $60,000 in personal wealth, much of that sum in enslaved African Americans. The reason for their move is not known.

On 22 July 1864, the Hurt and Jones farms were the site of some of the fiercest fighting during what became known as the Battle of Atlanta, which was one in a series of battles leading up to the city's surrender on 1 September 1864. Several historical markers in the neighborhood, including one in Springvale Park and one in Delta Park, outline some of the details of that terrible afternoon, and the entire district is included in the Cyclorama's depiction of the battle. In 1885, the German artists who created the painting sketched the landscape from atop a forty-foot tower at the southeast corner of Moreland Avenue and the railroad. Many natural features, such as the ravine that became Springvale Park, still exist and some of the country lanes in the painting are now city streets.

General Sherman used Augustus Hurt's house as his headquarters that day, and it was subsequently destroyed for fire wood and to build shanties for the troops. Troup Hurt's brick house, the focal point of the Cyclorama, stood unfinished facing the Decatur Road near present-day Degress Avenue. Heavily damaged in the fighting, it was gutted by fire five days later.


Figure 3. The focal point of the Cyclorama, showing the fierce fighting along the Georgia Railroad. The red-brick house of Troup Hurt House is at left., and the Augustus Hurt House, partially visible behind the trees at upper right. Neither house survived the Civil War. The arrow indicates the approximate site of 394 Sinclair Avenue in a landscape that was sketched from life and gives a reasonably accurate depiction of the topography of the area. (Atlanta History Center)


Figure 4. Detail from "Map illustrating the military operations in front of Atlanta, Ga., from the passage of Peach Tree Creek, July 19th, 1864, to the commencement of the movement upon the enemy's lines of communication, south of Atlanta, August 26th, 1864," annotated with an arrow to note the approximate location of the site of the Kurtz-Cummings House. (Library of Congress, cws-00195)



Figure 5. The Edgewood Methodist-Episcopal Church and parsonage, which stood south of the railroad in the southeast corner of Land Lot 14. (Inman Park United Methodist Church)


Figure 6. Advertisement for the first auction of lots at Inman Park in May 1889. (Atlanta Constitution)


After the Civil War, Atlanta quickly rebuilt itself and, by the 1870s, the suburban communities of Edgewood and Kirkwood had begun to develop around railroad stops on the Georgia Railroad between Atlanta and Decatur. Edgewood, which centered around the railroad at today's Moreland Avenue, was especially popular. With easy access to the city by regular train service, the area was home to a number of Atlanta's elite, most notably Confederate Gen. John B. Gordon.

By 1872, Augustus Hurt had platted subdivision of at least part of his property in Land Lot 15, probably that part which lay near the increasingly busy intersection of the old Turnpike Road (now Euclid and Austin avenues) and County Line Road (now Moreland Avenue). Deeds record the names of new streets—King, First, Forest, and Hurt avenues—and reference at least twenty-two numbered lots. It is possible that portions or all of Seminole, Colquitt, Washita, and Sinclair avenues date to this period, but there was virtually no new construction after the terrible economic depression that began in 1873 and lasted for most of the decade.


Inman Park

James Vickers Jones died in 1879, and three years later his widow, Elizabeth Hurt Jones, sold the property that they still owned in Land Lot 14 to her cousin Joel Hurt (1850-1926). By the mid-1880s, he was beginning to plan development of Inman Park as the city's first “garden suburb.” He moved the Joneses' old house and turned it to face a new street, Elizabeth Street, which he created in part out of an old country lane. After remodeling the house, the Hurts moved from their old house on Spring Street so that he could more closely supervise what he was calling Inman Park. Hurt hired the noted English landscape architect Joseph Forsyth Johnson (1840-1906) to draw up a plan for the development and in May 1889 auctioned the first lots. Three months later, Hurt opened the Atlanta & Edgewood Street Railroad, the city's first electric streetcar line, which ran from Five Points to Inman Park. The era of the streetcar suburb in Atlanta had begun.


Copenhill Park

The development of Inman Park in Land Lot 14 had immediate competition in the Copenhill Land Company, which was incorporated in 1888 to develop Copenhill Park, a large swath of Land Lot 15 that included the site of Augustus Hurt's old house. Partners in the company were brothers Oscar Swift Davis (1866-1940) and Charles A. Davis (1850-1940), sons of a prosperous merchant at Penfield in Greene County, Georgia, and newcomers to the city, and Lodowick Johnson Hill (1846-1930), son of a wealthy Wilkes County planter and a banker in Atlanta after the Civil War.


Figure 7. Detail from the first plat of Copenhill Park, 1890, annotated with an arrow to locate what would be Lot 10, Block 38, now 394 Sinclair Avenue. (Superior Court, Fulton County Courthouse)

Like Inman Park, Copenhill Park incorporated old country roads into a new system of curvilinear streets in the manner of the garden suburb pioneered by Frederick Law Olmsted. Its centerpiece was Madeira Park, which, like Springvale in Inman Park, was created out of a natural ravine near the center of the development. In addition, some of the intersections of the curving streets were defined by small circular or triangular traffic islands similar to those found in Ansley Park today.

Three lakes were depicted along the southeast side of Copenhill Park in the early plats, but it is not clear that the lakes─or more properly "impoundments"─were ever built. If they were, they would have been fed by a small stream that originated in one or more springs on the west side of Little Five Points and flowed in a southwesterly direction parallel to Highland and Sinclair avenues. This stream, the one that forms in Springvale Park, and another in Madeira Park are part of the long-buried headwaters of Clear Creek. On the early plats of Copenhill Park, "Lake Avenue" is depicted branching from the Old Turnpike Road and running parallel to the stream with cross streets between the lakes. In the early 1900s, public health campaigns against mosquito-born disease led to the draining of many similar water features while others, such as Lullwater that was proposed for Druid Hills, were simply never built. By the time houses were built in Block 38, beginning about 1905, Lake Avenue had been renamed Sinclair Avenue, and work was underway to bury the stream and make all of the lots in Block 38 more suitable for building.

In 1890, the newly-organized Fulton County Railroad Company, with Lodowick Johnson Hill as president, opened the city's second electric street car line, which ran out Highland Avenue to Virginia Avenue to Boulevard and back downtown via Houston Street and became known as the "Nine-Mile Circle." Providing convenient access to Piedmont Park, it was a popular route and spurred early development all along the Highland Avenue corridor. The electric street car lines, more than anything else, made possible the development of Atlanta's residential suburbs in the years before World War I.

George Adair (1823-1899), who began suburban development in West End in the 1870s, was the auctioneer when the first lots in Copenhill Park were offered in April 1890. It was, the newspaper reported the next day, "a gratifying success." The development lay "beautifully on a high shaded plateau. Symmetrical drives and streets have been laid off through the property, and altogether it is most admirably adapted to its purposes of an elegant suburban home retreat."

Financial panic in 1893 and the ensuing economic depression precipitated collapse of Lodowick Hill's Gate City Bank, and many others, and put an end to building construction until the late 1890s. Not until after the turn of the century were houses being built on Sinclair Avenue in Block 38. In 1908, the City of Atlanta annexed Copenhill and Inman Park.


Figure 8. Detail from the final platting of Copenhill Park in 1915, showing Block 38, after the stream that bisects the block had been buried. The mid-block meander of the street here and in the other blocks of Sinclair Avenue is an echo of the route of the stream, which itself determined the original route of the street in the 1870s and 1880s. (Superior Court, Fulton County Courthouse)


90 Sinclair Avenue

The last house to be built on Sinclair Avenue between Washita and Colquitt avenues was on Lot 10, Block 38, and numbered 90 Sinclair Avenue. On 25 January 1912, Pittman Construction Company took title to the lot from William A. Horne (1877-1967). The son of a shoemaker, Horne was born in Wadesboro, North Carolina, and worked as a book salesman there before coming to Atlanta shortly after the turn of the century. He and his wife, Mabel, married around 1907, and by 1910 he was stationery manager at Foote and Davies, the city's largest printing house. Around that time, the Hornes moved into a new bungalow at 93 (now 393) Sinclair Avenue, directly across the street from the then-vacant lot at 90 (now 394) Sinclair, which they also owned. The reason for Horne's purchase of the then-vacant lot is not clear, but it was likely bought as an investment.

On 29 January 1912, Pittman Construction Company obtained a building permit for construction of a wood-frame dwelling on Lot 10. The company had been established by Frank A. Pittman (1865-1958) in 1884 and, over the next twenty years gained a reputation as one of the city's best-known residential builders. Company offices were in the new Rhodes Building on Marietta Street, and Amos G. Rhodes, the furniture magnate, was president of the company. There was no architect given on the permit, but the notation that the house would be built with "day labor" at an estimated cost of $4,000. The builder was McCormick Neal Jr. (1860-1934), son of a prominent lawyer and judge in Covington, Georgia. The permit was marked completed on 6 May 1912, although painting and landscaping may not yet have been done.


Figure 9. A plate from Patton Paint Company's 1915 catalog. With the red roof, this was the color scheme for the Kurtz-Cummings House when it was built in 1912. (from Roger Moss, A Century of Color)


Figure 10. Susan Alford Fuller, who bought the house in December 1912.

The house is a variation on the American four-square, one of the most commonly built houses in the first quarter of the twentieth century. The four-square is a form or type rather than a style; architectural details could be varied to create the character of the Prairie Style, Colonial Revival. Neoclassical, Craftsman, or even Italian Renaissance. True to its type, this house is two stories with a full-width front porch, a hipped roof, and no center hall. It is atypical in not being a uniform rectangle or "square" but rather comprised of two staggered, oblong blocks, one six feet shorter than the other.

The new house was at the forefront of modernity, with a flowing, open floor plan made possible by a central heating system. There were large, one-over-one, double-hung windows that allowed for maximum ventilation; a full bathroom at a time when fewer than 5% of American homes had indoor plumbing; and light fixtures that could use either gas or electricity, a characteristic of early twentieth-century buildings when the reliability of electricity still remained an issue. The original first-floor plan featured an entrance hall, living room, and staircase to the second floor; a large dining room surrounded by a plate rail; and service areas that included a butler's pantry, a kitchen, a small latticed back porch, and a maid's toilet. On the second floor were three bedrooms, each with a closet, and a sitting room or study, a single bathroom, and a cross hall open to the staircase below. There was also a large daylight basement, only partially finished, and an unfinished attic.

Typical of the period, architectural details are eclectic, including shallow Tudor arches across the front porch and in the entrance hall, where there were also engaged, paneled columns, as well as Craftsman-style eave brackets, battered boxed columns on brick piers on the front porch, a bracketed living room mantel shelf, and Art Nouveau-inspired stained-glass panels in the stair well and transoms over the front window in the living room windows and over the front door. A low balustrade, presumably of wood, surrounded the roof of the front porch, and balustrades ran between the porch piers. All of the balustrades had a geometric design, similar to the popular Chinese Chippendale often associated with the Colonial Revival, but with different designs for the upper and lower balustrades.

The original colors of the house were determined through analysis of the layers of painted finishes to be a mustard-colored body, white trim, and black or dark green window sash, a popular combination for that period. The front door was varnished oak veneer, and there was red, asphalt roofing.

The house was almost certainly finished by the summer 1912, but it remained vacant when information for the city directory was compiled in September 1912. Finally, on 12 December 1912, Pittman Construction Company sold the house to Mrs. Susie Fuller for "the penal sum of $14,000," which was double the actual sales price of $7,000. Fuller paid $3,400 and signed a mortgage for the remaining $3,600. Typical of the period, the deed stated that "[i]t is understood and agreed that the property above conveyed is to be used for white residence property only."



Figure 11. The house at 394 Sinclair Avenue in 1913, not long after it was built. (Kurtz Collection, Atlanta History Center)


Figure 12. Floor plans of the house as it was originally constructed.


Figure 13. Front and rear elevations of the house as it was originally constructed



Figure 14. Wilbur Kurtz's depiction of 1864 Atlanta guided set design for filming "Gone With the Wind" in 1939.


Figure 15. Wilbur Kurtz and Annie Fuller, 1909 at her parents house on Washington Street. They married in 1911. (from Cooper,"The Art and Life of Atlanta Artist Wilbur G. Kurtz")


Figure 16. Wilbur Jr and Nell Kurtz with their nurse Agnes, left, and the family cook, Lela, on the front steps at 90 Sinclair on 16 October 1915. (from Cooper,"The Art and Life of Atlanta Artist Wilbur G. Kurtz")


Figure 17. Mrs. Kurtz, right, and Wilbur Kurtz Jr. at 90 Sinclair Avenue in 1913. (Kurtz Collection, Atlanta History Center)

The Kurtz House

In December 1912, Wilbur Kurtz (1882-1967), a young artist and amateur historian, began leasing the new house from his mother-in-law. He and his family were the first residents at 90 Sinclair Avenue. Born in Oakland, Illinois, the son of George Heelen and Amanda Baum Kurtz, he was raised in Greencastle, Indiana, where his father was a bookkeeper for the local bank. Educated at DePauw University (1903-04) and the Art Institute of Chicago (1905-09), he flourished as a commercial artist in Atlanta, specializing in architectural renderings. An avid student of local history, he painted scenes of early Atlanta that remain notable for the historical research that went into their creation.

In the mid-1930s, he supervised the WPA-funded restoration of the Cyclorama, which included the addition of a diorama as a foreground for the painting. In 1938-1939, he was historian and technical advisor for the filming of Gone With the Wind and repeated that role for Disney's Song of the South in 1946 and his The Great Locomotive Chase in 1957. In 2013, David O'Connell published a comprehensive biography of Kurtz, The Art and Life of Atlanta Artist Wilbur G. Kurtz: Inspired by Southern History. Kurtz's extensive manuscript collection at the Atlanta History Center includes a few photographs of the exterior of the house at 90 Sinclair prior to World War I.

On 14 June 1911, Kurtz married Annie Laurie Fuller (1884-1946), daughter of Confederate Capt. William A. Fuller (1836-1905), famous for his capture of Andrews' Raiders in the "Great Locomotive Chase" in 1862. Her mother was Fuller's second wife, Susan Clementine Alford Fuller (1848-1916). Annie grew up hearing the stories about the Civil War, and some credit that with sparking Kurtz's interest in local history.

Wilbur and Annie Kurtz's first child, Wilbur George Kurtz Jr. (1912-1991), was born while they were still living in a bungalow in Candler Park, but a daughter Nell (1913-2000) and a son, Henry (1916-1988), were born while they were living on Sinclair Avenue. Two more children followed after they moved to Penn Avenue in Midtown, Annie Laurie Kurtz (1920-1987) and Eugene Allen Kurtz (1923-2006).

Susie Fuller made the last payment on the house in February 1915, but by the summer of 1916 the family had decided to move. On 5 July 1916, Mrs. Fuller sold the property for $5,575, and the Kurtz moved to a rented house on N. Highland Avenue, where they were living when Susie Fuller died in October 1916. A short time later, the Kurtz family moved to a new house on Penn Avenue, where Annie and Wilbur Kurtz lived the rest of their lives.


The Cummings House

The new owner of 90 Sinclair Avenue was William Bacon Cummings (1857-1930). He was born in South Carolina, the youngest of four children of James Cummings, a merchant in Barnwell, and his wife Rosina. Nothing is known about William's childhood, but his father, James, may have died during the Civil War, leaving his widow with three children. By 1870, Rosina Cummings and the children were in Augusta, Georgia, where she seems to have operated a boarding house. They soon moved to Atlanta, at first living in a small wood-framed house near the corner of Forsyth and W. Peters Streets and by 1880 in a two-story house on N. Pryor Street just north of Auburn Avenue (then called Wheat Street).


Figure 18. Fire Chief Cummings at his desk in his office on the second floor of Fire Department headquarters at 44 Alabama Street. (from Franklin Garrett, Yesterday's Atlanta)


Figure 19. Fire Chief Cummings in the back seat of the department's new Buick, 25 April 1909. (from Franklin Garrett, Yesterday's Atlanta)

In the 1870s, William Cummings was employed as a pressman at the Franklin Steam Printing House on S. Broad Street, but he also joined the city's volunteer fire department in 1871, soon after coming to the city.

Rosine Cummings died 25 February 1881, age 60, and was buried at Oakland Cemetery. The following year, William formed a short-lived partnership with James J. Yokum in a book-binding business, but the business did not prosper. When the Atlanta Fire Department was organized in the fall of 1882, Cummings became a professional fireman.

On 14 September 1882, William B. Cummings married Eva Esther Woodward (1864-1937), daughter of William J. Woodward, a miller at Hog Mountain in northeastern Gwinnett County, Georgia. Their children were Harold Bean Cummings, born in September 1883, and Wilhemina Elizabeth Ann "Willie" Cummings, born in November 1892. A third child died in infancy. The family boarded at 142 Crew Street in the 1880s before buying a house at 307 Pulliam Street in a new neighborhood developing southwest of downtown.

Like many middle-class Atlanta families in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the Cummings employed an African-American servant, who usually cooked for the family and who, before World War I, generally lived with the household. Two are listed in the Federal censuses: 21-year-old Lotta Grier in 1900 and 22-year-old David Blake in 1910. By World War I, increasingly poor race relations prompted most white households to stop providing living quarters in the home for their African-American servants.

William B. Cummings was assistant foreman at the fire department by 1900 and in 1906 was named Atlanta's fire chief. His tenure there is noted for the department's acquisition of an automobile for the chief in 1909 and the city's first motorized fire-fighting equipment in 1911. He retired from the fire department in 1915 and tried his hand at real-estate sales as the family lived briefly in a house on W. Peachtree Street.


Figure 20. Plan of first floor of Kurtz-Cummings House with early additions highlighted in red.

On Sinclair Avenue, the Cummings probably re-decorated, including wallpapering the bedrooms. Their most notable alteration was the addition of a sleeping porch across the rear of the house, perhaps as early as the late 1910s but probably in the 1920s. In the days before air-conditioning, sleeping porches, which were often only screened with no windows, were very popular and commonly seen on new houses or, as on Sinclair Avenue, as an addition. In the Cummings' sleeping porch, a ribbon of large single-light sash, which were counter-weighted and could be lowered out of sight beneath the sills, filled the upper half of the outside walls, allowing excellent cross ventilation. Located at the rear of the house, off the dining room, the room would have offered the family a cool, private place for hot summer evenings.

The Cummings' son Harold married Louise Maier (1888-1977) in 1907 and a son, Harold Jr. , was born in February 1909, before the move to Sinclair Avenue. After the move, a second son, John William, was born in June 1913, and a daughter Kathryn in 1920. As long as Harold's parents' lived, he and his family lived with them at 90 Sinclair Avenue, which was renumbered 394 Sinclair Avenue in 1927.

The Cummings' daughter, Willie, married Benjamin Elijah Ragsdale (1888-1953) about 1912, and they, too, lived with the Cummings on Sinclair Avenue. There were apparently no children, however, and Willie may not have been well. In the 1930 census, Willie cannot be located, but Ben Ragsdale is shown living in a hotel on Peachtree Street, alone but still listing himself as married. Willie Cummings Ragsdale died on Christmas Day 1932 and is buried in the Cummings plot at Westview.

William B. Cummings died on 10 February 1930 and was buried at Westview Cemetery. His widow Eva continued to live on Sinclair Avenue with their son John and his family until her own death on 14 March 1937. Two years later, Harold and Louise sold the property and moved to Chattanooga, where they lived the rest of their lives.


The Edens House

The new owners were the Edens, who sold their small bungalow at 877 Euclid Avenue, where they had lived for several years, and bought the house on Sinclair Avenue, which was nearly twice the size of their old house. James Felix Edens (1900-1974), his wife Louise (1901-1992), and their daughter Caroline lived at 394 Sinclair Avenue throughout the 1940s. He was a civil engineer with the Southern Engineering Company, which had offices on Spring Street in Atlanta.

No specific changes to the house can be dated to the 1940s, although the Edens most likely repainted the interior and probably the exterior as well. By the time their daughter turned 21 in 1950, the neighborhood was beginning a rapid decline, and the Edens moved to Morningside. For the next twenty-five years, 394 Sinclair Avenue was rented out by absentee landlords or, from 1960-1968, lived in by an owner who subdivided it as a rooming house.

During the housing shortage that plagued Atlanta and the nation during and after World War II, many larger homes in Inman Park and elsewhere were used as rooming houses or divided into apartments. Many people took in boarders, as the Edens probably did too. By the 1950s, the post-war rush to the suburbs was underway, and the value of single-family houses in Inman Park and much of the rest of in-town Atlanta collapsed as the neighborhood underwent massive disinvestment in the 1950s and 1960s. Although Inman Park Restoration was bringing renewed attention to the neighborhood after 1970, 80% of the commercial space in the Little Five Points business district remained vacant throughout the decade.


The Faulkner House

In February 1950, the Edens sold the house to James Taylor Hambrick, a clerk at Southern Railway Express, and his wife Olivette J. Hambrick. Apparently unable to pay off their loan, however, the Hambricks conveyed title to the house to Robert M. Couch and his wife Tommie L. Couch in August 1951. Their ownership was also short, and the Couches sold to Mrs. Fred L. Crespo on 1 October 1952. There is a building permit for installation of a new, gravity-flow furnace, but there were likely other improvements as well.


Figure 21. Plan of first floor of Kurtz-Cummings House showing rooming-house alterations ca. 1960. (drawing by author)

In 1956, Mrs. Crespo conveyed title to 394 Sinclair Avenue to Mrs. Flora M. Faulkner (1891-1968), a widow who was engaged to marry Mrs. Crespo's father-in-law, Fred Sr., who was also widowed. The couple were expecting 394 Sinclair to be their home, but he unfortunately died on 1 September 1957 before they could be married.

Probably in 1959 or 1960, Mrs. Faulkner decided to make the best of it and moved into the old Kurtz-Cummings House by herself. To make ends meet, she rented out as many as seven furnished rooms in the house, but to make that possible, she had the engaged columns removed from the south side of the entrance hall, the arch in-filled, and a pair of french doors installed, which allowed Mrs. Faulkner to separate her living quarters on the first floor from the rest of the house. A closet was built into a corner of the old dining room, which she used as a bedroom, and the old butler's pantry was remodeled as a bath room. The drafty old sleeping porch was converted into a kitchen. The three coal-burning fireplaces were closed up and the associated tile hearths and mantels were removed. All of the original combination gas-electric light fixtures were replaced with modern light fixtures, except for a single wall sconce inexplicably left in one of the bedrooms.

On the front of the house, the two columns on the south end of the front porch were also removed, along with the large double-hung window in the living room and its stained-glass transom, and a room with jalousie windows on two sides was constructed on the south end of the front porch. To complete the remodeling, the wood siding was covered with white, cement-asbestos shingles and aluminum awnings were installed around the front porch and at the two front windows on the second floor.

After Mrs. Faulkner's death in 1968, the house was inherited by her children, who continued to rent it out. With absentee landlords, the house suffered. Cigarette burns on the living room mantel, walls covered with crayon drawings, and heating ducts rusted out at the elbows from urine or other liquids poured through the registers were but some of the evidence of the neglect that occurred during this period.

In July 1975, next-door neighbor Jennie Carroll and her son Henry, tired of the condition of the house, purchased it. Owning the houses on both sides of their own at 390 Sinclair Avenue, the Carrolls initially thought about replacing all three with a modern apartment building, but thought better of it. They continued to rent 394, but they had the old sleeping porch underpinned with concrete block, the interior repainted, and the pine flooring sanded and refinished. Two years later, as real estate values in Inman Park climbed after decades of decline, the Carrolls put the house at 394 on the market and sold it for $44,000 on 29 November 1977.


Figure 22. Two views of 394 Sinclair Avenue, 1 December 1977, poor images taken with a Polaroid camera, but the only photographs made at that time.


Rehabilitation and Restoration

On the day the sale was closed, Blanche Hardy, the Carrolls' last tenant, left a fire burning in the fireplace and a warm note on the mantel. In spite of the dismay I felt the first time I saw the house earlier that fall, we soon found that she was right.

There were four of us pooling our resources to buy the house and begin rehab and restoration: Joyce, Claudia, John, and myself. We had been looking at houses for a couple of weeks: a bungalow in Garden Hills (fire damage, too small), a Victorian cottage in Grant Park (my favorite, but CMcC was afraid of the neighborhood), a Candler Park bungalow (slum city, seriously nasty, and depressing), and so forth─I knew little at all about Little Five Points, where 80% of the storefronts were vacant, or Inman Park for that matter, but a lot of the old hippy crowd from the Strip on Peachtree were in the neighborhood and our real-estate agent, Ann Roberts with Downtown Properties, thought it was "up and coming." John saw the house first and liked it immediately. What I saw was a great big box of a house—dirty white inside and out, covered with asbestos siding and awful aluminum awnings front and rear, missing mantels and light fixtures, columns and trim, relatively sound but dreadfully dull and unappealling. Since the house was habitable, with freshly painted interior and working utilities, and since we had spent all of our money on the down payment, we moved in straightaway.

For most of the time I live there, ongoing maintenance took up too much time and everything was always hampered by lack of money; but bit by bit, in fits and starts, the house was transformed. The aluminum awnings at the second-floor windows were removed in the first month, and the asbestos siding on the front façade shortly after that. It would be several years before all of the awnings were down, and years more before all the asbestos siding was gone and the original wood siding repaired and repainted. An elevation of over 35' around the southwest corner, a lot of it over the steep gabled roofs of the sleeping porch, made exterior work a real challenge.

The jalousie-windowed enclosure of the front porch was removed in the early 1981. The original tongue-and-groove flooring and ceiling remained intact, as did the shallow Tudor arches springing from missing posts, but after the walls were removed, for too many years that end of the porch roof rested on adjustable metal jack posts. I'm not a mason but I could have done better than the mason we hired to rebuild the porch piers, which were structurally sound but look awful. Two of the concrete slabs that cap the piers were also poorly reproduced, but one of the originals was being used as a door step and, although broken in half, was good enough to reinstall. The battered boxes were easy to build, and Randall Brothers recreated the bed and crown moldings based on my drawings of the remaining, original columns and pilaster. The original porch balustrades were long gone, but in an ill-advised remodeling, the owner of the house at 402 Sinclair removed and discarded its Craftsman-style columns and balustrades. Rescued from curbside, the balustrades were hand-stripped of paint, and installed at 394. Only later was a 1914 photograph from the Kurtz collection located that showed the design of the original bannisters. 

The house was designed to take advantage of natural ventilation that could be provided by the large double-hung windows, but the upper sash in most windows were painted shut, and most of the sash cord for the counterweights were broken. All but two of the double-hung windows were restored to working condition in the early 1980s, but adaptation of the sleeping porch as a kitchen had made use of all but two of the sash there impractical. Like most houses of the period, the house never had exterior louvered shutters.

Asphalt roofing and half-round gutters and round downspouts were original features of the house, but the house has been re-roofed several times. Examination of a complete sequence of roofing that was uncovered in the 1990s showed that the original roofing was a red asphalt shingle.

The house originally had four fireplaces, all but one designed to burn coal. Three of these (in the front and master bedrooms and in the dining room) were removed in the 1950s, reportedly because the owner had no where to put her bed! The wood-burning fireplace in the living room was intact, but the floor-level concrete hearth was failing and had to be replaced. The chimneys for the fireplaces in the living room and the bedroom above and for the old kitchen remained intact, but the chimney for the fireplaces in the dining room and bedroom had been dismantled to the roof line before 1978. In the 1980s, the small chimney for the original kitchen stove was also dismantled to the roof line after it began to collapse.

The house was wired for electricity when it was built, although that original system was mostly limited to lighting the house, except for a single receptacle under the front window in the living room. The original electrical panel box was located in an asbestos-lined cabinet above the second-floor linen closet. Each room had overhead lights and most had wall sconces as well. In addition to providing electric light, chandeliers and wall sconces were also piped for gas. Only one of the original light fixtures remained in the house in 1978 and it was missing its glass shade. Originally located to the left of the side window of the master bedroom, this fixture is now located in the upstairs hall opposite the bedroom door. The original coin-operated gas meter was located in the northwest corner of the basement near the step-down to the rear basement. The meter was later relocated to the exterior front of the house.

The old galvanized-iron water lines were replaced with copper, and some of the cast-iron waste lines were also replaced. The original bathtub and sink are still in place, but the original toilet was replaced prior to 1978. All other fixtures in the kitchen, kitchenette, and downstairs bathroom were after 1978.

In the northeast corner of the main basement, a large circular imprint in the concrete floor marks the location of the house's original, gravity-flow furnace. It was replaced in the 1952 by a gas-fired, forced-air system, designed to heat the house as it had been subdivided. It may have been at that time that a large, vertically mounted exhaust fan was installed in the attic, with a wooden cowl covering a louvered hole cut into the stairwell ceiling. In 1992, that furnace was replaced by a high-efficiency gas-fired system. Split-zone air-conditioning was installed in 2005.

Most of the original plaster on wood lath remains intact, although 1/2" sheetrock has been installed in the kitchen, on the outside wall of the dining room, in the kitchenette, and in both bathrooms. Sheetrock ceiings have also been installed in the master bedroom, stair hall, and all first floor rooms.

A dark forest green was used extensively in the house when it was new. The entry hall and stair hall were originally painted dark green with tan or off-white trim and ceiling. Most of the bedroom ceilings were originally covered with wallpaper with reflective highlights. Bedroom walls had several layers of wallpaper, some with contrasting paper borders. bedrooms. No evidence of wallpaper was found in any of the first-floor rooms.

All of the baseboard, picture rail, and door and window casing were work painted when the house was constructed. originally. The handrailing and newel posts of the staircase were stained and varnished as were the two-panel, birch-veneered doors. The original mahogany stain on the doors was later replaced on most of the doors by a brownish, fruitwood stain, but the interior of the linen closet door retains the original red stain. All doors were overpainted in 1977, but were stripped of paint in the 1980s.

Most of the original, yellow-pine flooring remains intact, but it was heavily sanded  and refinished once or twice prior to 1978, which greatly reduced the thickness of the wood. Some damage from oversanding can be seen in the area between the living room and dining room.

The house originally had a wood-framed garage, entered from the alley off Washita Avenue. The existing stone wall and barbecue pit probably date to the 1930s. 

The large scarlet oak on the property line near the corner of the kitchen is probably contemporaneous with the house. A large large oak or poplar tree was once located in the northeast corner of the rear yard and a sugar maple in the southeast corner of the front yard. Both were gone by 1978. Photographs in the Kurtz collection show a tall board fence along the north side of the rear yard, and there was probably one on the south side as well. The privet hedge that bounds both sides of the property was probably started when the fence deteriorated and was removed.

Ornamental shrubs that were on the property in 1978 included a weigelia, a ligustrum, and two abelia along the porch foundation, a spirea on the right side of the house, a flowering quince near the deck steps, and a large pomegranate at the south end of the front porch.  The holly tree near the alley gate was a small bush relocated for construction of the deck in 1980, and a badly overgrown pyracantha was removed from the north end of the front porch about the same time. Georgia Power cut down a badly chopped-up sassafras tree near the telephone pole in 1978. The three crepe myrtles at the street were planted about 1981. The dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostrobides) in the back yard was planted in 1984. The red maple at the corner of the deck was planted in 1985. The bamboo grove was established in 1986. The azalea bed on the south side of the back yard was laid out about 1980. 


Sources of Information

Fulton County Superior Court, Records of Deeds and Mortgages, document the various property transactions, 1910-2005.

Building permits for the original construction in 1912 and for some of the later alterations are on microfilm at the Atlanta History Center.

Atlanta City Directories, 1912-1978, document a variety of residents over the years.

Wilbur G. Kurtz Sr. Collection at the Atlanta History Center includes a few historic photographs and other documentation for the house's early history.

The decennial federal censuses, 1910-1940, provide a biographical snapshot of residents and their neighbors.

In 1977, three or four of the old-timers were still living on Sinclair Avenue. Among them were Maude C. Jackson (1912-1991), widow of high-school teacher William A. Jackson, who moved into 374 Sinclair before 1920, and Ruth Fitzpatrick Patterson (1898-1997), widow of the owner of Patterson Lumber Company at the railroad bridge on Highland Avenue, who lived at 409 Sinclair Avenue. Our real links to the past, however, were the Blackwoods at 389 Sinclair. Charles Blackwood (1915-1982) was born in South Carolina but moved with his parents, Cora and Zeb, to Atlanta in 1919. Living first at Kirkwood, they moved to 397 Sinclair Avenue, directly across the street from the Cummings House at 394, around 1920. Sarah Browne Blackwood (1919-2005), the daughter Nathaniel and Louise Browne, was born in Atlanta. In the late 1920s, the family moved to 413 Sinclair Avenue, and Sarah remembered playing with the Cummings' granddaughter, Cathryn. Sarah and Charles married in 1942, and by the time their first child, Ross, was born in 1950, the family was living at 389 Sinclair Avenue. Even as massive disinvestment in the neighborhood was underway in the 1960s and 1970s, they remained and warmly welcomed the reinvestment in the neighborhood that got underway by the late 1970s.