A Little History About Forrest Hills Neighborhood
Yes, Virginia, There Was a Forrest Hill
by Caroline McKinney Clarke, granddaughter of pioneer settler Milton Candler and wife of Forrest Hill (seen at left)
“The Hill family farm house with its distinctive big circular porch sat in a grove of large pecan trees adjoined the golf course on the southeast. On the west was Judge John Candler’s Golden Guernsey Dairy Farm. The beautiful, sleek cows would stand under the trees and gaze through the fence at the golfers.
“Columbia Drive, still called by many `The Orphans’ Home Road’ was paved only to Kirk Road. From there on it was a narrow, dirt road, rutted and muddy in wet weather. Memorial Drive had not yet been built.
“The golf course in on a beautiful lay of land and it is sad that so-called progress is changing it. I wonder where the birds and rabbits will find homes. Forrest built the golf course, one hole at a time, on a part of his parents’ property which was not good for farming, approximately 51 acres. His oldest brother, Redmond, operated a dairy and farms on the rest of the acreage.”
Not only did Mrs. Clarke work with her husband to operate the course during his lifetime, but distinguished herself by operating it alone for two years just after his death during World War II. She thus became a pioneer among women taking so-called “men’s jobs.”
“I was general manager, caddy master, greens’ keeper and bartender,” she recalled. “My old aunt who’d taught for many years at Agnes Scott College was scandalized: I remember her saying, ‘Caroline, that is no job for a lady.’
It was such a sad day for me when I was over there taking inventory to close the club after Forrest’s death that when the members sent a committee to urge me to keep it open until a renter could be found, I agreed. What started as a temporary job lasted two years.
“I had to be there bright and early every morning, seven days a week, and would stay in the evenings until the last golfer left. Sometimes, during a hot summer dry spell, I’d go back at night to water the greens.
“From my home on Candler Street in Decatur I’d circle by the old ice house to pick up ice for the day and the caddies (with such colorful nicknames as Bird Brain, Dead Man and Pee Wee) would meet me there. They’d crowd into my old Buick with the ice and those who couldn’t get in would stand on the running board and off we’d go down Columbia Drive.
“I could never have done it without the help of the long-time employees, cad’dies and members. Mr. Jimmy “Sandy” Livingston was of special help. Born in Scotland, he was the pro at the Ingleside Golf Course, later the American Legion Course, in Avondale. He raised three sons who who all became pros, too. Each was pro at one time or another at the Forrest Hill Course.
“During the war with everything rationed it was especially difficult,” she continued. “You couldn’t get gas to run the pump in the pond for watering the greens or even a galvanized can to carry it in, if you did get it. I’d had experience with parties and food services before but greens keeping was all new.
“I carried a pistol in those days and took the money home with me in the evenings. Since I had a hard time getting to church on Sundays I made a special effort to take my daughter and go to Wednesday evening prayer meeting. I’ll never forget the time when I stood up for a hymn and the pistol fell from my pocket to the floor. My eight-year-old Louise whispered in a loud voice ‘Pistol packing mama.’
“The club house that was opened in 1927 was a beautiful little building and there were many barbecues, dances and office parties there. There was a huge fireplace on each floor where big log fires burned all day during cold weather to heat the dance floor.
“The clubhouse burned to the ground in 1937 and since Forrest was already sick with TB, it was never rebuilt. The building used since was a remodeled caddy house. Forrest was a great lover of the out-of-doors and sports, which is why he built the course in the first place.
“He loved trees, flowers and birds and wouldn’t mow the roughs in the spring until meadowlarks had raised their babies-even if the golfers quarreled about it. He saved the old farm fence posts for the blue birds to nest in. When golfers complained that grubs were eating the greens he refused to spray with poison. He’d say, `The robins will be here soon and they will clean up the greens. The arsenic in the spray would kill them.’ He was right-the robins would arrive right on schedule and get rid of the grubs. He intended to build 18 holes but ended up with only nine. This really worked well because it made it an easy course to play after work. Many members also belonged to Druid Hills or East Lake Clubs.
Mr. Hill, a World War I veteran, remained in the active reserves and became commander of the Florida District CCC. In spite of years of outdoor life he contracted tuberculosis in 1935, only two years after the birth of their only child. At the advice of his doctors he lived in a cottage on the golf course to protect the baby from infection.
His wife, who by then was employed by the National Youth Administration in a program to train unemployed young people for jobs, took his meals over nights and on week-ends.
He was a member of a large and prominent South DeKalb family. As the story goes, his father, Thomas P. Hill, who established the local clan, settled in this county in the mid 1890s quite by accident. With his family he was headed from Ohio for Florida where he intended to buy property and leave the icy shores of Lake Erie. A train layover at the Decatur depot delayed them for two days. Mrs. Hill and their five young children were weary of travel by that time.
A man he met at the depot told him of a farm for sale nearby so they drove out in a horse-drawn buggy to what is now the corner of Columbia Drive and Memorial. He liked what he saw and bought the farm. He added the oversized barn that made it unique in the area. This was because he was accustomed to the bitter cold Ohio winters where you had to get to the barn through the snow and house the animals through the winter.
Later, Mrs. Clark reported, the family grew weary of 100 cows bawling to be milked in the barn very close to the house. By then it was a full-fledged dairy farm. Thomas Hill had been an educator as well as a farmer and had taught at Oberlin College. Several of the children were sent back to be educated there. Forrest, the youngest, was the only one to be born in Georgia.
When Memorial Drive was cut through the farm it divided the pasture. So the builders cut a culvert under the new road so the cows could cross under it into the south pasture. “The cows would have none of that,” Mrs. Clarke recalled. “Someone had to stand behind them and whack them to make them go over and then go drive them back to the barn at night.”
From the Dekalb History Center, presented at FHNA Founder’s Night, May 24, 2004
by Katie Marages, Dekalb History Center
At the turn of the century, noted Atlanta historian Franklin Garrett quoted an 1893 Atlanta Constitution article in his own book Atlanta and Environs .
“The new electric line to Decatur that is so rapidly nearing completion is very naturally exerting a great deal of interest…and has brought the charming little suburb into prominence again. The conveniences of living in Decatur are just about the same as in Atlanta…There are plenty of nice first class grocery stores, a good drug store, meat market, etc….The value of such a suburb as Decatur to a city like Atlanta is almost inestimable, but up to this time it has not been as fully appreciated by the Atlanta businessmen as it should be. When they realize, however, this summer, that they can so easily and cheaply get out of the heat, noise, and dust of the city in the evenings after a hard day’s work, away from the mosquitoes and in such a few minutes to a nice cool country home they will begin to see what a valuable suburb it is.”
About three years after this description of Decatur was written, Forrest Hill was born, the youngest of Thomas and Fannie Hill’s five children. As some of you may know, he is the namesake of your neighborhood. The story goes that the Hill family settled in DeKalb County by mistake. While the family traveled from Ohio to Florida , a train layover at the Decatur Depot delayed them for two days. A man at the depot told Forrest’s father, Thomas, of a farm for sale at the corner of present day Columbia and Memorial Drives right where the Avondale Mall and High school are. Mr. Hill decided that the land looked good and the Hills and their young children were tired of traveling. He purchased Land lot 217 of the 15 th district in 1895 from a Mr. Ramspeck. The deed listed the price of the land at $500.
Later, Forrest Hill would build a golf course on the land that his father had purchased. In the early 1920s, Forrest built the course one hole at a time on approximately 51 acres of his parent’s property that was not great for farming. His oldest brother, Redmond, operated a dairy and farms on the rest of the family’s land. The course’s clubhouse was built in 1927 and was the scene of dances, barbeques and parties until in burnt to the ground in 1937. The course stood at the location as a landmark from the 1920s until the mid-80s when it was destroyed to build the Avondale Mall.
I’ve brought a picture of Forrest as he was building the course, some pictures of the clubhouse, and a number of maps to show how the area grew and changed over time.
The first is a 1915 map. You’ll notice the land is labeled with its owner’s name. T.P. Hill is listed on land lot 217, 232, and 249. Right above his land is an area called Ingleside, named for the Ingles family who operated a large farm there. This is the land that was developed into Avondale Estates in 1926. You’ll notice that Memorial Drive doesn’t exist on this map. It wasn’t necessary until the 1920′s when people wanted to travel to Stone Mountain to see the newly created Civil War memorial.
The 1928 map shows the development of Avondale Estates as well as the Columbia Seminary in place. Flat Shoals Road was changed to Orphan’s Home Road and then later to Columbia Drive inside Decatur City limits and Columbia Road outside of the city limits. Columbia Road was named for the Columbia Seminary built in 1927.
The 1954 map shows more of the roads that you are familiar with, and many of you will be able to find the lot where your homes are located.