Old, homeless Confederate veterans once were fed and bedded in this churchlike mansion. During World War I, bandages were made here for America's doughboys. In and out of war, the ladies of this house have always performed like patriots.
But now, the Daughters of the American Revolution are launching their biggest Atlanta battle of the 20th century. They're trying to save and restore the Craigie House, their red brick headquarters on Piedmont Avenue since 1911. It will be 10 times larger than any of their previous fund-raising efforts.
"We're more vulnerable than the Capital City Club, " says Roberta Byce, vice president of the DAR's Atlanta chapter. "If we can't raise $150,000 to keep this place up, we'll probably lose it to developers. We can't, in good conscience, allow it to deteriorate."
Mrs. Byce is worried, despite the fact that the Craigie House is included on the National Historic Register as part of the old Ansley Park neighborhood. Houses on the register have been razed before. And she believes the loss of the DAR landmark would be a "tremendous, sentimental blow" to the 220 members of the Atlanta chapter - the second oldest DAR group in the nation. It was founded in April 1891, one month after the oldest chapter, in Chicago.
Mrs. Byce winces at the cracked paint on the four white columns and the sagging roof of the once-handsome structure across the street from the Piedmont Driving Club. So much tradition, so many relics under that roof.
There's a delicately carved Queen Anne chair that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used in his library - in the original Craigie House at Cambridge, Mass. The poet's daughter presented it to the Atlanta DAR chapter in 1896. There's also a faded original manuscript of a Longfellow poem, "Chaucer."
The local Craigie House is named after Longfellow's beloved home of 39 years. But it is not a replica of that 227-year-old Massachusetts residence, as some tales would have it.
DAR historian Martha Pastero knows the real story. "The state of Massachusetts did built an exact copy of the Craigie house in Atlanta for the Cotton States Exposition of 1895, but it was torn down 14 years later, " she explains. Bits of Bay State history were displayed there during Atlanta's four-month-long "world's fair."
The original Craigie House had been built in 1759. It was Gen. George Washington's headquarters in parts of 1775 and 1776. Longfellow boarded there as a young Harvard professor in the 1830s. His father-in- law gave him the house as a wedding present, and the poet lived there until he died in 1882.
After the Atlanta exposition ended, most of the buildings were razed and Piedmont Park was developed on the site.
But the Craigie House replica continued to stand. Massachusetts had given it to the Atlanta DAR "as a graceful and proper tribute to our sister state of Georgia, also one of the original 13, " stated the resolution. More specifically, says Mrs. Postero, visiting Boston Brahmins wanted to show their appreciation for all the delightful entertainments arranged for them by Atlanta DAR bluebloods during the exposition.
Meantime, another piece of good luck. Millionaire George Washington Collier (who later had a Northwest Atlanta road named after him) gave the DAR three acres of land on Piedmont Avenue.
"Our chapter tried like the dickens to raise enough money to move the Craigie House to our new lot, " says Mrs. Postero. DAR minutes from 1907 show a paltry $919.42 had been collected.
"They had to sell the house in 1909, but the windows and doors and some brick and boards were saved and moved to Piedmont Avenue, " says Mrs. Postero. Architect Thomas Morgan donated his services, and the DAR finally built itself a permanent Atlanta home for $4,000 and dubbed it the Craigie House. It has four white columns, like the original Craigie House. Otherwise, it bears little resemblance to the High Georgian jewel in Cambridge - now called the Longfellow House.
Besides a Longfellow library chair, other "precious relics" at the Atlanta Craigie House include a gavel carved from a tree that stood by the grave of Patrick Henry. It was donated by the patriot's great-niece in 1893. Gifts from prominent Atlantans and Georgians include stained- glass windows, chandeliers, silver objects and antique furniture. One Victorian curiosity is an elaborate mahogany coat rack, full-length mirror and umbrella stand.
A brass strip identifies each item as having been donated in memory of an early Georgia governor, some entrepreneur or DAR member - including the mother of late Coca-Cola tycoon Robert W. Woodruff. Even the wooden window blinds are duly inscribed.
The Atlanta chapter, now just one of a dozen DAR units in metro Atlanta and one of 90 in Georgia, has raised $15,000 over the past three years. It collected $4,000 from a May 2 fund-raiser at the West Paces Ferry Road home of DAR stalwart Mrs. Fauntleroy Garland. Precious jewels from Neiman-Marcus were modeled and fondled while guests enjoyed wine and pate, and gaped at the library where Hal Holbrook has introduced Turner Broadcasting System TV documentaries.
"That party was just a drop in the bucket, " says Helen Scott Thomes, current regent of the Atlanta chapter. "We have been patching our house with Band-Aids. Now we have to go big time with our fund raising. I have a list of corporations and foundations to contact."