Candler Park is a large residential neighborhood developed primarily in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was founded as Edgewood, a small suburban community in DeKalb County halfway between Atlanta and Decatur.
DeKalb County was formed in 1822 after the Indian Springs Treaty of 1821 forced Creek and Cherokee Indians from the area and opened it up for settlement. Decatur was established as the county seat in 1823, and Atlanta was established in 1837 as “Terminus,” marking the southern end of the Western & Atlantic Railroad. In 1845 another railroad, the Georgia Railroad, reached Atlanta from Augusta in the east. The Georgia Railroad followed the Native American ridge trail between Decatur and Atlanta which forms part of the Eastern Sub-Continental Divide. In the Civil War, much of the Battle of Atlanta took place along this ridge and the area of Candler Park (the park) was home to a Union encampment which shows up on some later maps as “Union Square.”
Edgewood to Candler Park
The community of Edgewood grew up in the 1870s and included today’s neighborhoods of Edgewood south of the railroad and Candler Park on the north side with the railroad itself as a central feature rather than a dividing line. The Georgia Railroad stopped then at “Mayson’s Crossing” which was a small commercial district about where the Edgewood-Candler Park MARTA Station is today. The Town of Edgewood was incorporated in 1898 and was autonomous for about ten years before being annexed by the City of Atlanta.
In the late 1800s, Edgewood was home to both black and white residents with little segregation, as was common in communities of that time. Substantial African American communities within today’s Candler Park neighborhood including Hooper Street, and the Rose Hill community centered along Candler Park Drive north of McLendon. According to the 1900 census, Edgewood’s population was 1,196 and included 155 white and 216 black children. As early as 1879, the African American Antioch Baptist Church congregation met in a “brush arbor” near Oakdale and Miller Ave, which, by 1883, was officially the site of the “Antioch Baptist Church of Edgewood” which later moved, building the “Old Stone Church” on Candler Park Drive around 1918. The Antioch congregation remained there until 1950.
The area of Candler Park was served by two streetcars, one along McLendon and the Atlanta–Decatur line along DeKalb Ave. The Georgia Railroad stop eventually ceased to be as streetcars took over intercity transportation. The streetcars and annexation into the City of Atlanta in 1908, spurred the rapid development of the neighborhood as a middle class suburban neighborhood, including the McLendon commercial districts at Oakdale and Clifton (streetcar stops). Realty companies and large property owners began to subdivide the area and sell off great numbers of small lots. Although the existing African American communities remained embedded in the neighborhood through the 1940s, newly platted streets and lots were restricted to white ownership. By the 1930s the Candler Park we know today was largely developed.
The neighborhood increasingly came to be called Candler Park after the creation of the park “Candler Park” in 1922 and its golf course in 1928. As Atlanta’s African American population grew and became more mobile spurring “white flight” across the city in the 1950s and 60s, the Edgewood neighborhood became increasingly black and Candler Park became increasingly white. The Antioch East Baptist Church moved to Edgewood in 1950, and the good citizens on Whitefoord Avenue, realizing that they shared their street name with black families to the south, requested a name change in 1960 to Oakdale Road, a street that, after a couple of jogs, began in Druid Hills and extended north.
1970s to Today
The more recent history of our neighborhood has its roots—like so much else in Atlanta—in the 1970s, not in the railroad this time but in THE ROAD, the issue that probably more than any other has shaped our neighborhood as we know it today.
Proposed roads that would cut through established, leafy neighborhoods prompted considerable community organizing in the 1970s and profoundly affected city politics from the mayor on down, beginning with the election of Maynard Jackson in 1973. First was the proposed I-485 that would cut east through the Old Fourth Ward and then north through Virginia Highland, Morningside, and other neighborhoods. Next was the Stone Mountain Freeway, that would extend east from I-485 through Inman Park, Candler Park, and Druid Hills. The clover leaf that would have been their intersection is now the site of the Carter Center, but that’s another story.
Many neighbors still remember the fight to save our historic neighborhoods and the two organizations formed to oppose the DOT road planners. CAUTION, Inc, primarily a collection of respectable lawyers working the system, and the “Roadbusters,” the less respectable, more rabble-rousing element, worked together to ultimately defeat the proposed highways, but only after large swaths of land had been cleared.
The matter was finally settled in the 1990s. Today what would have been I-485 now loops by the Carter Center, ends at Ponce de Leon, and is named the John Lewis Freedom Parkway. What would have been the Stone Mountain Freeway is now a path and Freedom Park. Check out the Roadbusters video and imagine living in the shadow of a bustling, busy highway instead of the shade of Freedom Park.
The 1970s and 1980s in Candler Park saw many other changes, among them the revitalization of Little Five Points, the commercial center on our western boundary. Without activists like Kelly Jordan and Don Bender pictured here, the two active theaters would be parking lots and the eclectic collection of shops both along Euclid and Moreland might have remained abandoned and in disrepair—as detailed in a Creative Loafing article from 2016, How Little Five Point Got Weird. Today the Little Five Points Alliance continues to work to connect commercial property owners, businesses, and residents with everyone who loves Little 5 Points.
Candler Park has cultivated a certain reputation for eccentricity. Here’s a YouTube video worth watching, Candler Park: A Neighborhood in Transition, produced by Georgia State University’s Department of Anthropology in 1980 and containing interviews with Candler Park residents old and new.
Candler Park was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 (updated in 2005) as the Candler Park Historic District, not to be confused with local City of Atlanta Historic or Landmark District designation, which includes design review by the Urban Design Commission. National Register listing simply means that Candler Park appears on the “official list of the Nation’s historic places worthy of preservation.” Previously, the Smith-Benning house (at the corner of Oakdale and Benning Place) had been individually listed on the National Register in 1982
But what does National Register listing mean? Robert Craig, architectural historian and owner of the Smith-Benning house explains: “National Register listing prevents certain federal action (like federal roads being built thru the neighborhood) without economic impact review and public comment although the famous ‘presidential parkway road fight’ demonstrated that this process of stopping such intrusions is not easy and is often nonproductive with respect to historic preservation, AND the road fight and such causes are costly since vested interests with big bucks usually prevail. But were it not for this effort by your neighbors, an eight lane expressway (four lanes each way) would be today crossing Moreland Avenue via an overpass, and Olmsted’s Druid Hills parkway system and community would be fatally compromised.” For further informationsee the Georgia State Historic Preservation Department’s page on the National Register of Historic Places.
History never ends and there are many more stories to tell. But what is presented here is an orientation, an introduction into some of the forces and issues that have shaped our ever-evolving Candler Park Neighborhood.
Edgewood/Candler Park: A study of the Suburbanization Process in Atlanta, 1880–1980 — 1985 thesis by Ann Huston — detailed history of our neighborhood with many historic maps and pictures.
Early Edgewood-Candler Park BiRacial History Project’s website — history, maps, and pictures detailing the historic African American presence in the Candler Park neighborhood.
1983 National Register nomination — application including detailed descriptions of the neighborhood and 63 photographs of Candler Park houses.
updated 2005 National Register Boundary Increase — application including 50 additional photographs of Candler Park houses.
— Roger Bakeman & Emily Taff, June 2020