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Column: Former first lady poured heart, soul into mansion
by Thornton Kennedy
April 23, 2014 04:53 PM | 2642 views | 0 0 comments | 54 54 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
Even though her husband Carl had just been elected governor of Georgia, Betty Sanders cried on the way back to their home in Augusta after visiting her future Atlanta home.

The occupant of the 1910 stone mansion on The Prado in Ansley Park at the time was Ernest Vandiver. With Sanders’ victory in 1962, Vandiver’s wife Betty invited Mrs. Sanders, then 36, to tour her future home. In the middle of lunch one of the attendants informed Mrs. Vandiver that the upstairs was leaking again. She told him to get the bucket. The 14-room home, which had served as the governor’s mansion since 1925, was not in good shape. The state had spent very little to maintain it, according to Mrs. Sanders. After touring the dilapidated house, she broke down on the trip back to Augusta because she had young children at the time.

In my March 26 column I wrote about how the governor’s mansion came to be in the heart of Buckhead. What I knew but failed to include was the role the former first lady played. Mrs. Sanders was kind enough take a few minutes out of her day and discuss her first-hand knowledge of how the magnificent home ended up on West Paces Ferry Road.

Georgia Secretary of State Ben Fortson, under whose purview the executive residence fell, had been pushing for a new home for the first family for years. With the arrival of Mrs. Sanders and a resolution approving funds for a new mansion, the state began to look for a suitable residence. Mrs. Sanders’ first decision was to recruit Henry Green of Madison to assist. According to her, they looked at two houses: first the Swan House and then the Nunnally House on Blackland Road. Neither would work for an executive mansion for a variety of reasons, but soon former Atlanta Mayor Robert Maddox made it known that if the state would build the governor’s mansion on his beloved West Paces Ferry Road estate, Woodhaven, he would sell the 18 acres and the Tudor mansion for the relatively small sum of $250,000. It was agreed.

Mrs. Sanders sent letters to every living former first lady of Georgia and asked for their suggestions for a new governor’s mansion. All were passed along to the architect, A. Thomas Bradbury. Key in all of this was room to entertain several hundred guests, which the state and governor are required to do on multiple occasions. At the Ansley Park mansion, caterers had to set up tables outside in order to manage large events, like the annual legislative dinner in January. Mrs. Sanders was sure to remedy that situation.

Mrs. Sanders, the person who poured more into the new mansion than anyone else, never had the opportunity to live there. Four years proved not enough time, and the governor who followed Carl Sanders, Lester Maddox — no relation to the former Atlanta mayor — would receive that honor after Sanders did not run for re-election in 1966 due to a state law that at the time required governors to serve only one term. Sanders ran for election four years later but lost to Jimmy Carter. The mansion, with its 14,000 square feet, 30 Doric columns and one of the finest collections of Federal period furniture and art work, was completed Jan. 1, 1968.

Mrs. Sanders, who at 86 lives not too far from the mansion with her husband, still drives by it every day.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at

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