Let’s start with that odd name. Why 50? Were there 50 founding members? Is the club membership capped, like the Buckhead Coalition, at a certain number, say, 50? Is it in honor of a significant date, perhaps the creation of “Buckhead?” According to a history of the club none of these is the case.
When John Pickelsimer founded the organization and served as its first president, there were 22 members. The year was 1932 and Buckhead was just beginning to transition from sprawling farms into a significant suburb of the city with its own business district. It is critical to note here that Buckhead was not in Atlanta. That is really where the story of the Buckhead 50 Club begins.
As the area grew and a business district began to thrive there was no local government to take care of issues as basic as road paving and trash pickup. Pickelsimer, an area businessman, called 20 associates who owned or operated businesses in Buckhead and asked them to come to a meeting at North Fulton National Bank, today an empty lot at the corner at Peachtree Road and Buckhead Avenue in the future Buckhead Atlanta development.
Following that first meeting, the group incorporated to tackle issues that cropped up as a result of the area’s evolution. The Buckhead 50 took their name in order to “distinguish it from other clubs in the Atlanta area,” so really no rhyme or reason except to be different.
The members set about organizing trash pickup, solving parking issues and ensuring streets were well-lit. The Buckhead 50 Club contributed significantly to Buckhead’s success by championing the creation a major thoroughfare that would connect Buckhead with Roswell and Cumming in 1937. This was the genesis of Roswell Road.
The organization also played a critical role in the creation of Chastain Park and the establishment of a permanent home for the Waldo M. Slaton Post 140 of the American Legion, which is now at the southern tip of the park and where the club meets the first Tuesday of each month. They were also instrumental in founding the precursor to the Buckhead Business Association, the Buckhead Merchants Association.
With Buckhead’s incorporation into the city of Atlanta 1952, which the club promoted, the group became more about friendships and networking than fixing the ills of the community. Today, the 70 or so members come from diverse backgrounds: real estate, engineering, professional football.
There is always some good-natured heckling when a member has to speak in front of the group, and just about everyone is greeted warmly if not loudly as they walk through the door.
Most have deep roots in the community and have stories about what Buckhead used to be while expressing opinions on the current state of things. The club continues to focus on issues pertinent to Buckhead, regularly hosting politicians and political candidates. It is for men only, but members’ wives attend one meeting each year.
With many members getting on in years, they are looking for that next generation of civic-minded leaders to continue to challenge the status quo, just as those first 22 members did back more than seven decades ago.
Thornton Kennedy is a fifth-generation Buckhead resident and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.