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.






The relocation and restoration of the Tullie Smith House by what was then the Atlanta Historical Society in 1969–1971 was a landmark event in the history of Atlanta’s historic-preservation movement. At a time when the city was fast destroying some of its greatest buildings—the Equitable Building, Piedmont Hotel, and Terminal Station were all razed in 1971—the Society’s work in preserving the Tullie Smith House and the Swan House were among the first such efforts in the city since the Uncle Remus Memorial Association bought Joel Chandler Harris’ Wren’s Nest in 1913. And Tullie Smith was among the first such museum houses anywhere that did not have associations with famous people or high-style architecture.

The “plantation-plain” style of the Tullie Smith House is an excellent example of a traditional way of building and living in which the very concept of architectural style is largely irrelevant. The house continues to offer insight into the character of nineteenth-century life in the Georgia Piedmont before Atlanta wrecked and sprawled its way to become one of the nation’s largest cities.

Tullie Smith House, Atlanta History Center, December 1996 (author's photograph)


This history is divided into two main parts: the first focusing on the Smith family and the second on the house that Robert Hiram Smith built about 1845 and that is now known by the name of his great-granddaughter Tullie Smith. While the house has been the subject of extensive research and investigation, particularly during the course of its restoration in the early 1970s, the data from that work has never been compiled into a comprehensive history. The present study was commissioned by the Atlanta History Center with a primary goal of providing a synthesis of the data that is currently available. Much of this information is not new, but the federal census, county records, and family histories consulted for the present study provide additional details and context. There are copious footnotes throughout along with an extensive bibliography of primary, secondary and general sources. Virtually all of these sources are locally available, if not in the Library of the Atlanta History Center then at the Atlanta-Fulton County Library, the Georgia Archives, National Archives, the DeKalb County Historical Society, or the Fulton and DeKalb County Courthouses.

As with the data supporting the history of the family, the data on the house, its move and its restoration have also been generally re-examined. The bulk of this material was located in the archives of the Atlanta History Center and was thoroughly searched.

My own investigation of the house during the fall and early winter of 1996 helped confirm the record and rationale behind most of what was done in 1969–1971. Prior to that time, study of the region’s vernacular architecture was in its infancy; for comparisons with the Smith house, the Society’s restoration committee in 1971 turned to the older sections of east Georgia, where restoration of houses in Madison and Washington-Wilkes was then underway or complete. Today, more is known about the similarities and differences between the vernacular building in that section of the state and that of the more-recently settled western Piedmont. In addition, a survey of some other similar antebellum residences that have survived in the vicinity of Atlanta provides an expanded context in which to understand and interpret the Smiths’ house.

Questions remain about the house and always will. Some of the maddeningly contradictory and confusing evidence that the committee documented in 1970 remains unexplained. And this is not because of inept investigation or poor interpretation but rather because the historical record is incomplete—the evidence was simply not there then and much of it is not there now either.

The present work is a revision of the study produced for the Atlanta History Center in 1996, with changes, deletions, and additions made throughout. All errors of fact or interpretation are my own.

A copy of the document in PDF format is available at the link below:

Tullie Smith House: A History of the Smith Family and "The House on the Hill"


Tommy H Jones
Atlanta, Georgia
December 2019