The Westminster Schools’ founding can be traced back to a school for girls started by Anita and Lola Washington, great- nieces of George Washington’s half-brother, Lawrence. The sisters started Washington Seminary in the living room of their aunt’s home with eight girls in 1878.
In 1953, the school merged with Westminster, which was just moving to its new campus on the grounds of the former Fritz Orr Club School on Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead. Westminster was formerly North Avenue Presbyterian School, or NAPS.
Anita Washington came to Atlanta to visit her aunt and uncle, Gen. and Mrs. W.S. Walker. A “visit” in those days was more an extended stay than a weeklong jaunt. It was out of the Walker’s home at 232 W. Peachtree St. that Anita started instructing her niece, Lillie Walker, at the request of her aunt. A few more nieces and neighborhood children soon joined and Anita sent for her sister to assist her.
The school grew from there, moving a few times before settling at its iconic location on the west side of Peachtree Street just south of the Brookwood split. Among the addresses noted in Franklin Garrett’s “Atlanta and Environs” are East Cain Street, Walton Street and East North Avenue. At this last location Mrs. W.T. Chandler served as principal, while her nephew, Llewellyn D. Scott, was assistant principal. Scott’s sister Emma would become synonymous with the school during its halcyon days.
Those would begin in 1913, when the school acquired what according to a 1927 school directory was one of “the most beautiful school sites in all of the country.” It was a magnificent two-story Colonial-style mansion on Peachtree Street surrounded by too many Corinthian columns to count with a grand circular portico protruding off the front.
The new campus sat on four acres of “wide lawns, walking paths and shade trees.” The 28-room house had been built in 1895 for Colony Clifford L. Anderson, a founder of the Trust Co. of Georgia, an attorney and a state legislator. He called the home “La Colina,” or The Hill, because it sat on a knoll overlooking Peachtree.
Washington Seminary started in pre-kindergarten and went through high school. When Llewellyn Scott died in 1937, his sister became the principal and was known simply as “Miss Emma.” So loved was she that the school’s student periodical cleverly bore her name, the Missemma.
As for that magnificent mansion where so many women from Atlanta’s founding families were educated from 1913 to 1953 — including my grandmother, Mary Adair Howell Bird — it was demolished in 1955 and replaced by the Rivera Motor Hotel.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at email@example.com.