That being written I am not entirely comfortable with the name “Buckhead.” In order to explain I must retell for perhaps the fifth or sixth time in this column the story of how the area came to be known as such.
There are a few versions but they all come back to a buck’s head being mounted on a post near Henry Irby’s general store, which would have been in the vicinity of Whole Foods Market on West Paces Ferry Road. Franklin Garrett in “Atlanta and Environs” speculates Irby himself, the pioneer of early Buckhead, may have killed the buck.
Wright Mitchell, the founder of the Buckhead Heritage Society, posits more likely it was done by a skilled huntsman who lived in Vinings and frequently hunted in the area. His name was John Whitley. According to that story, Whitley mounted the buck’s head on a post beside a stream that today runs beneath the St. Regis.
According to Mitchell, the first official mention of the area as “Buckhead” occurred in 1840, when the state Legislature referenced Irby’s home as being near the “Buck Head.” The name remained in flux in 1841, when a post office was established at Irby’s general store and was deemed “Irbyville.” The two names coexisted for a spell before the former won out.
Though I grew up hunting small animals on our family farm in Suwanee, visualizing a recently deceased animal’s head on a post is a bit macabre and I can’t think of Buckhead without imagining that gruesome image. Apparently I am not the only one. According to Garrett, there have been several efforts to change the name to something more vanilla. The top vote-getter was the uninspired Northside Park.
Thankfully that did not come to pass.
In my opinion, what makes Buckhead Buckhead, really, is not the fallen buck or Irby’s store. In fact, what makes this area what it is today is in that boring name, “Northside Park.” It is that we are Atlanta first and Buckhead second. We are northside Atlanta. Those prominent men and women who moved from the city in the early 1900s were successful because of the city of Atlanta and all it had to offer. The community wasn’t annexed into the city until 1952.
As for the origin of the name, it may not be the best visual but it is an interesting story that relates back to our area’s pioneer days. I am just going to have to make peace with it.
Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlanta resident and is a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.