Why Kirkwood is the 'ideal community of Georgia'

This story originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Living Intown magazine.

A century ago, downtown’s streetcars transported Atlantans 4 miles to the prominent suburb of Kirkwood. Today, Kirkwood offers an affordable intown alternative for people seeking to cut commutes from outside the perimeter.

One of the neighborhood’s first landowners was Jesse Clay Sr., who in 1826 bought 205 acres in what became Kirkwood, according to a written history by a Kirkwood Neighbors Organization committee. Clay’s land joined property owned by the Kirkpatrick and Dunwoody families, whose names were believed to be combined to form “Kirkwood.”

In 1892, an Atlanta Constitution article described Kirkwood as “the ideal community of Georgia” and the “toast of society, politics and culture of the state.” Homeowners included Gov. Allen H. Colquitt, Gen. John B. Gordon and Col. Tom Howard, whose Kirkwood home was used by Union Gen. William T. Sherman during the Civil War.

In the mid-century, Kirkwood experienced white flight, and its racial makeup shifted to majority black residents, although it took until 1965 for Kirkwood School to be integrated. The school is now an apartment complex known as Kirkwood Lofts and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

In the 1970s, many of Kirkwood’s Victorian and Craftsman mansions and American Foursquare homes fell into disrepair as the community battled an upswing in crime. In the 1990s, new buyers, seeing potential in the neighborhood, began to renovate homes. Kirkwood experienced the pains of gentrification as residents became more diverse in race, economic status and sexuality. As the community continues to work through these challenges, it retains a funky and diverse atmosphere.

Now Kirkwood continues to transform as its wide variety of architecture, from 100-year-old-plus Victorian mansions to small bungalows and post-World War II ranches, attracts hipsters and young families who mix with longtime residents. Adventurous newcomers can live in such atypical homes as a renovated library, while modern homes update the look of the historic streets.

Kirkwood’s boundaries are DeKalb Avenue to the north, Rogers and Montgomery streets to the west, Memorial Drive to the south, Mellrich and Winter avenues to the northeast and Oakview Road to the east. Kirkwood, in the 30317 ZIP code, is less than one-half mile from Interstate 20, 1.5 miles from downtown Decatur and 10 miles from Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

The business district on Hosea L. Williams Drive offers a small collection of wine and coffee shops, restaurants and businesses catering to people with pets, kids and an interest in art. Residents often meet up for jogging groups or on bike paths, and at pubs and cafes, says Geoff Mueller, 2015 president of the Kirkwood Neighbors Organization.

Other historic properties in Kirkwood include the dormant Pratt-Pullman Yard, a filming location for “The Hunger Games.” Atlanta ContactPoint has proposed transforming the site, which includes more than 100,000 square feet of empty buildings, into a community sports, fitness, health and arts center.

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