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Column: Almshouse gave rise to largest park
by Thornton Kennedy
Neighbor Newspapers Columnist
October 09, 2013 03:51 PM | 4349 views | 4 4 comments | 75 75 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
Designed by the architecture firm responsible for downtown Atlanta’s historic Healey building, the Fulton County Almshouse served the neediest for more than five decades in what today is Chastain Park, Atlanta’s largest park.

The Neo-Classical brick building fronted by two-story Doric columns and topped by a pointed pediment, on the northern end of Buckhead, is now home to The Galloway School. The firm of Morgan and Dillon designed the facility in 1911. They gave Atlanta many of its most important buildings of the early 20th century. Those that remain include the Healey building and the C&S Bank building downtown, now the J. Mack Robinson College of Business on the Georgia State University campus.

The almshouse served injured veterans, the poor and the infirm until 1963. It could accommodate up to 145 with two wings surrounding a courtyard in a horseshoe shape. One wing served the women, the other the men. In 1936 it was renamed Haven House.

After 1963, the almshouse was no more. The brick building was leased for a number of endeavors, none of them lasting until Elliot Galloway saw in the derelict building a future school. His namesake school has been much improved since its founding, with buildings and facilities added as they were needed. But that main structure with its magnificent facade is what drew Galloway to Chastain Park some 44 years ago. He signed a five-year lease with the city of Atlanta to rent the building and provided a $36,000 loan to get the school up and running. A team of volunteers and parents restored the facility and the school opened in September 1969.

When the almshouse was originally built, it sat on 1,000 acres of county-owned land which was specifically to be used for the poor and the infirm. Indeed, where the golf course is now was a working farm tended by the residents who were able. In the 1930s, under the direction of Fulton County Commissioner Troy Chastain, the property was transformed into amenities to attract development. The city annexed the area in 1952. These improvements included picnic pavilions, a golf course, swimming pool and amphitheater.

Even though at 268 acres Chastain is the largest park in Atlanta, it could have been three times as big. The effort to bring development to north Fulton, however, worked. Those 700 or so acres were sold to builders.

The “house” that started it all, nestled high upon the hill with arguably the best front yard in Buckhead, was built for those who couldn’t take care of themselves. Today it serves an equally noble purpose as one of Atlanta’s most unique schools.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this newspaper. He can be reached at
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Lee Sechler
May 26, 2014
Thornton, another great article. Thanks.
Linda Cuthbertson
October 22, 2013
Great story, I attended Galloway and have fond memories of that old building.
October 11, 2013
One important detail was left out of the article I’m afraid. The “poor farm” that the Galloway School now occupy’s was for whites only. Blacks were relegated to the small shabby building which I believe is now the Arts Center. (So much for the “separate but equal” argument of our segregated past). Thought it might be useful to elaborate on the almshouses in their historical context…

From the Sadie G. Mays website

Sadie G. Mays Health and Rehabilitation Center stands and operates as a tribute to Sadie Gray Mays, who epitomized tender and unrelenting determination to help others. Sadie earned a Master’s degree in Sociology at the University of Chicago. Her husband, the late Dr. Benjamin E. Mays (president of Morehouse College - 1940), stated that “she had a special concern for the young, aged, disadvantaged and the poor.”

During the 1940’s, long-term health care services, especially for African-Americans who were ill, homeless and many times unwanted, were very inadequate. Prior to the establishment of Medicaid and Medicare, most persons needing long term services were placed in county operated Alms Houses or privately owned boarding homes. In September, 1946, an article in the Atlanta Journal evoked public outcry causing public health officials to respond to the needs of the black community.

On January 21, 1947, a nonprofit corporation, the Atlanta Association for Convalescent Aged Persons, Inc., was founded. An Interdenominational Committee was established for the purpose of providing more effective care for the sick and homeless. Mrs. Sadie Gray Mays was elected as President.

By March, 1947, the Old Battle Hill Sanatorium site was selected to be used as the nursing home. The home was named “Happy Haven” and on March 24, 1947, accepted its first residents. The original home could accommodate up to sixty patients.

A facility renovation was completed at the end of the Summer, 1967, which increased the occupancy to 160 beds. On February 8, 1968, the first residents were admitted into their new home. By the end of March, the remaining residents of the Fulton County Alms House were transferred to Happy Haven, officially closing the Poor House which served the Black community. This transfer of residents marked the end of an era of depravation for the homeless, the chronically ill and the unwanted.

Mrs. Sadie G. Mays was admitted to Happy Haven Nursing Home during the Summer of 1969 and passed on October 10, 1969.

And From Chastain Park Homes:

Galloway School now occupies the white almshouse. This historic structure is in sound structural condition. The neo-classical revival building is built in a characteristic horseshoe shape with a center courtyard. The building is considered by the City to be “historically significant” and is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.

The almshouse building and eight acres were retained by Fulton County when the city annexed the Park and surrounding area in 1952. Galloway School … leased the building and grounds from the County in 1965. The Galloway School acquired the property from Fulton County in 1988… The Galloway School has made a number of improvements including renovations to the almshouse pool house and the grounds.

The Fulton County black almshouse was built in 1909. This white frame building is also in the classical revival tradition and features a covered portico around its L-shape layout. The black almshouse continued to operate until 1968, when it was sold to the City of Atlanta. Shortly thereafter, the Chastain Arts Center began operating under the Department of Parks and Recreation. A new pottery wing and additional structural renovations to the roof and porches were made in 1978. Another renovation effort in the late 1980’s created a professional gallery space in the old prisoner/caretaker quarters. This building is also considered “historically significant” and eligible for the National Register of Historical Places.

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