The Thomson-based Watson-Brown Foundation is restoring the “peacock house” to its former glory. When it is complete, the 1932 Philip Shutze-designed masterpiece will be open to the public as a historic home. The foundation also restored the home of Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb in Athens, after moving the 1833 home from Stone Mountain Park in 2005. Opened to the public two years later, it is a reflection of 19th-century Georgia life.
With nearly 100 years between them, the two homes couldn’t be more different. The Goodrum House is an architectural gem known for the colorful peacocks, which once roamed its grounds, while the T.R.R. Cobb House is best known for its namesake owner, a prominent Georgian of his era.
The Cobb House has another connection to Buckhead. Several families including the Ansleys, the Benedicts and the Healeys can trace their roots back to Cobb, a brigadier general in Civil War who lost his life in the Battle of Fredericksburg.
Before organizing his own legion to fight in the War of Northern Aggression, Cobb had been a successful lawyer, educator, politician and author. He is one of the founders of the University of Georgia School of Law. When he died in 1862 he was just 39. His Athens home reflected not only the tastes of the time but Cobb’s professional and social success.
The original plain, plantation-style home was a gift from Georgia’s first Supreme Court justice, Joseph Henry Lumpkin, in honor of Cobb’s 1844 marriage to Henry’s daughter Marion. As Cobb prospered he improved the house, first building a dining room and bedroom off of the back in 1847 and then, in 1852, incorporating two octagonal wings off of the sides, which allowed for a two-story portico complete with Doric columns, which was consistent with the Greek-revival architecture popular at the time.
Several years after her husband’s death, Marion Cobb sold the home. Over the years, it served as a fraternity house, a rectory and a convent, among other things. As happens with these things, in 1984 the house faced demolition. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association stepped forward, moving the home to the park, where it planned to restore it. Unfortunately, the association had just enough money to move the house, apparently. There it languished on concrete cinder blocks for nearly two decades, falling into a state of complete disrepair.
Watson-Brown, with an assist from the Midtown-based Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation, the Athens-Clark Heritage Foundation and the association, moved the Cobb House back to Athens in 2005 to a few blocks from its original location, fully restoring it.
A mounted camera set up across from the future sight on Hill Street took a picture of the construction every five minutes. The video is astonishing as the home arrives in several pieces and is rebuilt, fully restored and finally painted bright pink. The historic home attracts about 4,500 people annually, according to Program Director Shannon Stoer.
It has been fascinating to watch the ongoing restoration of the peacock house. Watson-Brown is taking its time, which we can only assume means it is being done very well. To get an idea of how well, look no further than Athens and the Cobb House.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.