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Column: Almshouse gave rise to largest park
by Thornton Kennedy
Neighbor Newspapers Columnist
October 09, 2013 03:51 PM | 4645 views | 4 4 comments | 75 75 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
Designed by the architecture firm responsible for downtown Atlanta’s historic Healey building, the Fulton County Almshouse served the neediest for more than five decades in what today is Chastain Park, Atlanta’s largest park.

The Neo-Classical brick building fronted by two-story Doric columns and topped by a pointed pediment, on the northern end of Buckhead, is now home to The Galloway School. The firm of Morgan and Dillon designed the facility in 1911. They gave Atlanta many of its most important buildings of the early 20th century. Those that remain include the Healey building and the C&S Bank building downtown, now the J. Mack Robinson College of Business on the Georgia State University campus.

The almshouse served injured veterans, the poor and the infirm until 1963. It could accommodate up to 145 with two wings surrounding a courtyard in a horseshoe shape. One wing served the women, the other the men. In 1936 it was renamed Haven House.

After 1963, the almshouse was no more. The brick building was leased for a number of endeavors, none of them lasting until Elliot Galloway saw in the derelict building a future school. His namesake school has been much improved since its founding, with buildings and facilities added as they were needed. But that main structure with its magnificent facade is what drew Galloway to Chastain Park some 44 years ago. He signed a five-year lease with the city of Atlanta to rent the building and provided a $36,000 loan to get the school up and running. A team of volunteers and parents restored the facility and the school opened in September 1969.

When the almshouse was originally built, it sat on 1,000 acres of county-owned land which was specifically to be used for the poor and the infirm. Indeed, where the golf course is now was a working farm tended by the residents who were able. In the 1930s, under the direction of Fulton County Commissioner Troy Chastain, the property was transformed into amenities to attract development. The city annexed the area in 1952. These improvements included picnic pavilions, a golf course, swimming pool and amphitheater.

Even though at 268 acres Chastain is the largest park in Atlanta, it could have been three times as big. The effort to bring development to north Fulton, however, worked. Those 700 or so acres were sold to builders.

The “house” that started it all, nestled high upon the hill with arguably the best front yard in Buckhead, was built for those who couldn’t take care of themselves. Today it serves an equally noble purpose as one of Atlanta’s most unique schools.

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

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