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Column: Mayor celebrated milestone by selling estate to state
by Thornton Kennedy
Neighbor Newspapers Columnist
March 26, 2014 12:36 PM | 1561 views | 0 0 comments | 62 62 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thornton Kennedy
Thornton Kennedy
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On his 92nd birthday, Robert Maddox bestowed upon the state of Georgia a gift that is nearly impossible to qualify.

It was on that date in 1962 the banker and former Atlanta mayor, who as much as anyone is responsible for the Buckhead we know today, sold his grand West Paces Ferry Road estate, Woodhaven, to the state. The price tag was a modest $250,000. He could have sold the 18 prime acres to a developer for substantially more. On this site, where Maddox and his wife lived in a grand Tudor estate for five decades as Buckhead exploded around them, Georgia built a 24,000-square-foot mansion that rivals any executive residence in the country: the governor’s mansion.

One of the first business leaders to move from downtown Atlanta to the unincorporated area, Maddox had purchased 75 acres along what would become West Paces Ferry Road from his friend James L. Dickey in 1904. Atlanta’s business and social elite followed.

The new mansion, or the Georgia Executive Center, was necessary because the former executive home was “cold, gray, austere and medieval” according to a House resolution from 1961 authorizing the state to explore a new executive home. Since 1925, the governor’s mansion had been a 14-room home on The Prado in Ansley Park built for Edwin Ansley between 1908 and 1910. Then-Georgia Secretary of State Ben Fortson, under whose purview the home fell, was quoted in a local newspaper as saying the state should “chuck it in the Chattahoochee River” when asked what should be done with the failing home.

The previous governor’s mansion, located on Peachtree Street downtown, was the first official one in Atlanta following the capital’s move from Milledgeville. It also had its share of problems. The last governor to occupy it was Clifford Walker (1923-27). The governor before him, Thomas Hardwick (1921-23), chose to live in a hotel if that tells you anything.

Transforming an idyllic former country estate in Buckhead into the most important home in the state required the sweat of many. J.B. Fuqua, a great friend of soon-to-be-Gov. Carl Sanders, got the ball rolling when as a member of the general assembly he sponsored the aforementioned resolution. The state looked at several homes, including the Swan House, but the Maddox offer allowed Georgia to move forward with the plan to build a new home. Thomas Bradbury was the architect, designing the Greek revival home surrounded by 30 Doric columns with space to entertain hundreds. Edward Dougherty was the landscape architect, responsible for shaping the grounds and the gardens on which the home sat. The Georgia Fine Arts Committee, headed by Henry Green and, behind the scenes, Anne Lane, filled the home with art and antiques from the Federal period. My great aunt, Edna Thornton, served on the committee, chairing the furniture and furnishing subcommittee.

The mansion, which was estimated to cost a little more than $1 million at the time, was completed in time for newly elected Gov. Lester Maddox in 1968. After he moved in, Maddox, who was not related to Robert Maddox, issued an executive order disbanding the Georgia Fine Arts Committee. The rumor was one of the ladies, who were still working to fill the home with furniture, walked in on the governor while he was in his underwear.

Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is a sixth-generation Atlantan and the former editor of this paper. He can be reached at thorntonkennedy@me.com.
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