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Whittier Mill Today

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Whittier Mill Village featured in the AJC....

By Jack Wilkinson
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 05/20/07

If, indeed, it takes a village to raise a child, it takes an old mill village to raise some Parkapalooza hell.

That's what the residents of historic Whittier Mill Village did Saturday. In their century-old mill town in northwest Atlanta, just seven miles from downtown and near the banks of the Chattahoochee River, they gathered in the neighborhood park for Parkapalooza 2007.

It was only the third time neighbors met for the annual spring festival, but the sense of community in the village dates back to the turn of the 20th century.

Not many residents are left from the old days, when there was an operating mill, but newcomers have worked to keep the neighborhood close as it has grown and changed.

"It's really good," Sadie Edwards, 93, said of the neighborhood's renaissance since the old textile mill closed in 1971, a revival that began in the late 1980s and has now taken off. "The people moving in are young people, and it's really good."

Recalling the old days

Edwards moved to the Whittier Mill neighborhood in 1923 when her father, T.B. Tribble, became the pastor at the First Baptist Church of Chattahoochee. Edwards has lived in the same house, just down the street from the church, since 1940, when there were few streetlights and no yuppies.

"This community was a very close-knit family," she recalled, sitting in her wheelchair. "If one person laughed, everyone laughed with 'em. If one cried, we all cried. It's like that now. If my father could see this, he'd be pleased. He was a very progressive person, ahead of his time."

"It was a fun place to grow up and live, and it's a fun place now," said Inez Overstreet, 79, who has lived in Whittier Mill Village since she was 5. "I love all the young people who live here now. Two of 'em cut my grass."

A married couple across the street, both attorneys, look out for Overstreet, who is asthmatic and recently took a fall. When an ever-vigilant young neighbor down the block saw an unfamiliar pickup truck stop at Overstreet's house, she quickly phoned and asked, "Inez, who is that man who just pulled up?"

"He's OK, just a reporter," assured Overstreet, sitting on the couch in her living room.

Overstreet was 5 when her father, Thomas Brannon, a mill worker, died in 1932. Her mother, Naomi, had to go to work in the textile mill to support her daughter. "She worked herself to death," Overstreet said. "Fortunately, I never had to. She said, 'You'll never work in that mill.' "

The small wooden houses were once rented for $1.50 a room per month. Most of the original mill houses were six-room, one-story cottages. Overstreet recalled that, in the early 1980s, she and her husband bought their house for $4,800. "It was $600 a room," she said, "plus the bank got their [financing] money."

Today, that house - with its now-carpeted hardwood floors and a fireplace in every room - would now sell for well more than $200,000. Some of the 124 homes in the village go for far more, especially since the village is on the National Historic Register.

"I grew up happy," said Overstreet, who fondly recalls the mill's annual July 4th barbecue, walking to school at nearby Chattahoochee Elementary, the ballfield down by the mill. Each Saturday, the mighty Whittier Mill baseball team - featuring the Osmond Brothers, Tiny and Larry, in their gray flannel uniforms - would play another mill team.

"If anything happened to you, people would come right around to help you with food, money, anything," Overstreet said. "Back then, if someone died, people sat up with you."

Youth movement

There was even a nine-hole golf course adjacent to the mill property. Men and boys from the mill caddied there; the great golfer Bobby Jones even played the course once or twice. "They took children from the church over to the course for Easter egg hunts," Edwards said. "Hard-boiled eggs. We ate 'em afterward."

Now, new homes are being built on the old golf course property: Townhouses starting at the high $200,000's, single-family homes from the $300,000's.

Don Rooney's house cost considerably less when he bought it in 1985.

"When I moved in, it was like, 'A young person living in this village? What a sur- prise,' " said Rooney, 49, a historian and the curator of urban and regional history at the Atlanta History Center.

"I think I was one of the first five people under retirement age in the village. Now, to find anyone over retirement age there is rare.

"When I first saw what it was like, I mean, how many villages are there within seven miles [of downtown Atlanta]?" he said. "It truly is a village. It's a social definition, as well as a geographic one. The way people interact with each other, the way they walk the streets, it's a village.

"The old people will tell you, 'Life was hard,'" Rooney said. "But there is something that got these people through it that [shows] it is a community. And that continues to this day."

A comfortable mix

At the First Baptist Church of Chattahoochee, dozens of mostly middle-aged folks meet each Wednesday night for the $5 fellowship supper. Like Bob Tolford, 50, who works for the Environmental Protection Division and, at the urging of his wife, Jackie, moved from the Chamblee-Tucker area to Whittier Mill in 2000.

"I saw the neighborhood, saw people walking. It's peaceful and friendly, a lot of social interaction," Tolford said. "It's nice. You have yuppies, some old-timers, some blue-collar and some white-collar."

"It's great," said Janey Goss, 15, who moved here three years ago with her parents, Rebecca and Greg Collins, both musicians. "There's a great community here. They have nice lots, a nice park.

"We live in one of the old mill houses and it's great," she said. "Has a few drawbacks. It's old, hard to keep warm. But it has high ceilings and wood floors. And it's a historical district."


....and in Creative Loafing Magazine:

Whittier Mill Village
A century-old mill town retains its charm


Veronica Cooper doesn't believe she lives in Atlanta. She's far removed from the bustling city, shrouded by the huge oak trees and quaint cottages of her turn-of-the-century neighborhood. It's a place where her 2-year-old son Jack can stomp in puddles on the brick walkway without constant supervision; where she and her husband - who moved into the neighborhood as newlyweds nine years ago - can spend summer nights chatting with neighbors on their front porch swing; where impromptu neighborhood cookouts and soccer pick-up games are the norm.

"We have our own little world here," Cooper says, as she leans against her gray-blue siding and rearranges the cushions on her porch's bistro chairs. "We're close to the city, but far from it."

Whittier Mill Village, located just inside I-285 in the northwest part of the city near Vinings, is an escape from Atlanta's faux lofts and cookie-cutter gentrification. Nestled behind Bolton Road near the Chattahoochee River and 15 minutes from downtown, Whittier Mill residents take pride in a 30-acre, 110-home neighborhood that boasts front porches, brick chimneys, steeped roofs and sincere neighborly rapport.

"The neighborhood holds onto rural qualities that are disappearing elsewhere," says Don Rooney, a 20-year Whittier Mill homeowner. "We still have dead-end streets and open land, unique characteristics that make it a village."

Whittier Mill has its roots in the 19th century. In 1895, the village sprang up to house Whittier Textile Mill workers after the Whittier family of Massachusetts expanded its business to the South. Mill workers could rent the modest frame houses for about a dollar a week and had access to the "ark," akin to a modern-day square, which housed a barbershop, shoe store, pharmacy and communal showers.

In 1925, the mill expanded, and another wave of houses was built to accommodate the workers. When the mill closed in 1972, many of the retired workers stayed on and helped maintain a cohesive community.

Most of the mill's remains were demolished in 1988. All that's left of the original 65,000-square-foot factory is a brick tower, which serves as the center of Whittier Mill Park. Though new homes on Butler Way obscure an old baseball field, and the newest houses facing the park look like they're from the set of The Truman Show, history and character remain a vital part of the neighborhood. In 2001, the city of Atlanta designated the neighborhood as a Historic District, meaning the Atlanta Urban Design Commission must approve alterations to the exterior of cottages as well as designs for new homes to keep the neighborhood uniform.

Today, Whittier Mill Village boasts some of the only pre-19th-century homes available in Atlanta, and at reasonable prices. A two-bedroom, one-bath home built in 1895 is currently listed for $229,000; another, built in 1870, is going for $199,000. Many of the homes have original heart-pine floors, masonry fireplaces and bead-board walls. And though the lots are small - most are around a third of an acre - the 17-acre Whittier Mill Park provides ample room for neighbors to enjoy the outdoors.

Last year, the Arthur Blank Family Foundation Environmental Initiatives program gave the neighborhood association a $40,000 grant to renovate the remains of the old carpenter shop, located in a corner of the park. The association plans to turn the shop into an open-air picnic pavilion and playground.

"Though the neighborhood has gentrified, it's done it naturally over time," Rooney says. "There's a wonderful combination of convenience and isolation."

Three-year Whittier Mill resident Angie Bowman says she and her husband often take walks around the neighborhood at dusk - and don't return to their pale yellow cottage until 11 p.m. They drink home-brewed beer with their neighbors and throw community parties - most recently an "Around the World" New Year's Eve bash. This spring, they'll help plant trees and clean up Whittier Mill Park with fellow neighbors.

"It's a modern-day 'Desperate Housewives' without all the drama," Bowman says. "As long as I'm in Atlanta, I'll live here."

03.16.05 (Photographs by Jim Stawniak)

Whittier Mill Village was featured earlier in 2000 in Creative Loafing:

Whittier Mill EntranceIt is not easy to find the Whittier Mill Village neighborhood, but those who do hope the rest of Atlanta never discovers their urban nirvana. "We are blessed with isolation," says longtime resident Don Rooney. "People drive by us for years and never know we are here." However, keeping the charms of the neighborhood a secret is becoming more and more difficult. Tucked between the Chattahoochee River and the Norfolk Southern Railroad line, this northwest Atlanta neighborhood is seeing a boom in popularity. "You have all the perks of a close-in neighborhood, without the price," says resident Tevi Tallifero, who happened upon her turn-of-the-century home three years ago. Residents of Whittier Mill often comment that because of its perceived remoteness, it is like living in the country. Just minutes from downtown, Whittier Mill's yards overflow with vegetable gardens and flowers, explains Don Rooney. The occasional unpaved road or two add to the rural feel. Mill Villagers

The country sensibility of the residents has also fostered a strong sense of community in the neighborhood. "We are very close to our neighbors here," says Tevi Tallifero. "We take real pride in our community; we watch out for each other, bake cookies and stand in the street and chat." The social traditions of the village of the past has apparently lingered on.

History remains important in Whittier Mill. The neighborhood is designated by the City of Atlanta as a Historic District, meaning that the Atlanta Urban Design Commission must approve major changes or alterations to the exterior of buildings as well as the designs for new buildings in the area. Tallifero and Rooney both agree that the design guidelines have allowed the neighborhood to grow and change, but still retain unique character. Recently, several new houses were built on the old neighborhood baseball field. Because of the design guidelines, these houses blend beautifully with their historic neighbors, but have all the amenities found in a typical modern house.

Article with minor revisions courtesy of Creative Loafing 9.30.00

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