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Column: Depression-era stone walls tie NYO to Chastain
by Thornton Kennedy
Northside Neighbor Columnist
August 28, 2013 10:22 AM | 2244 views | 0 0 comments | 73 73 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
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The foot-high stacked stone walls surrounding Chastain Park in Buckhead define the north Atlanta greenspace as much as the amenities that call it home.

These include but are not limited to the Chastain Park Tennis Center, the North Fulton Golf Course, the Chastain Park Athletic Club (i.e. the pool), the Chastain Arts Center and the Northside Youth Organization. It is at NYO that the stone walls meet the park’s user in a confluence of time and place that is unique to Chastain and the program.

The walls along the exterior of the park, most visibly along Powers Ferry and Lake Forest roads and the south side of Wieuca Road, were built through the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression. The actual design and layout was overseen by William Monroe and Monroe Landscape and Nursery Co. in the early 1940s. Monroe was also responsible for the Chastain Park Amphitheater and the picnic pavilions dotting the hilly park.

NYO wasn’t in existence at the time. It wasn’t until 1951 that Bob Blackwell organized the Buckhead Red Devils youth football team, first at Peachtree Hills Park on Peachtree Hills Avenue and then at what is now Frankie Allen Park on Pharr Road. In 1966, with more than 700 football players, the legendary coach moved NYO to Chastain.

Like all youth coaches, Blackwell had a day job. He was the owner of Blackwell Stone. As longtime NYO Executive Director Jane Wilkins tells it, if Blackwell Stone didn’t do your patio or driveway then, “it wasn’t worth doing.”

As NYO continued to grow, adding new fields and stretching its portion of the park as far as it could, additional stone walls were needed. This was not an act of aesthetic empathy; this was required by the city of Atlanta. Any improvements to the park had to be consistent with the original work.

From 1966 through the early 1990s, all of the rock walls in and around the NYO playing fields were the work of Blackwell. Even the field bearing his name has Blackwell Stone-built walls. Blackwell retired from NYO in the early 1990s and died in 2003. Over the course of four decades, he led the Red Devils to seven national titles.

The stonework around NYO now falls under the purview of Larry Bennett, a home builder whose children played at NYO and who served several years as the organization’s president. The most recent notable additions are the stacked-stone staircases leading from Wieuca down to the playing fields, which seamlessly tie the needs of the ball fields in with the historic feel of the park.

Coach Blackwell must have seen the similarities in the stonework and youth sports. Both require skill, patience and a solid foundation and last a lifetime.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and can be reached at thorntonkennedy@me.com.
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