Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rock House (Douglasville, GA)

A building stands at the edge of a road, screened from view by overgrown shrubs, young trees, and waste-height grass. It resides in a sparsely populated area on the outskirts of Douglasville, where an active rail line is its closest neighbor. The former residence sits in relative silence on a two acre lot. Despite its proximity to the road, the only sounds are of the wind playing the vegetation that is slowly overtaking this property like an instrument and the occasional roar of a passing train. 

The house was built in 1917 ~ a very robust, yet simple form of Craftsman Bungalow. It is one of only a handful of seemingly intact (more or less) buildings in the area from that period. And it is beautiful. Sadly, that beauty may only be skin deep. According to one neighbor, the house is broken into frequently by druggies and vandals, so the interior is a burned-out wreck. Despite my curiosity, my better judgement prevailed and I made no attempt to enter.

But I took a closer look. How does this happen? A house like this is built of such durable materials one would expect only fire or an act of God to bring it down so soon, but the inescapable truth is that old age claims all things in time. Buildings are no different. But that understanding does little to allay the shock and disappoint of encountering such a thing of beauty, so capable of enduring for generations, in such a state. 

But contrary to what you might think, such a place is not beyond salvage. With the right investor, guidance (preferably an experienced, AIA-accredited historical architect), and planning (utilizing financial incentives in the form of state tax breaks or credits), this place could be a home again ~ or even a business. It doesn't have to be a sad story and it doesn't have to be a ruin. It is a fundamental role of historic preservation to give places like this as long and full a life as possible ~ to always prolong the inevitable in places that matter. So, that one day it will leave behind more than just an empty ruin (or a brand spanking new CVS), like a book, whose pages have been wiped clean. It could leave behind a legacy of a long life and a story worth telling.

If you own an historic building and find yourself in need of guidance or assistance in getting started with your own preservation activities (be it stabilization, rehabilitation and adaptive reuse, restoration, or ~ in extreme cases only ~ salvage), we at Rag and Bone are at your service. Feel free to drop us a line here or on our Facebook page. We would love to hear from you.


Single Pen Cottage

Single Pen Cottage, Calhoun County.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Miller Rock House & Tudor Architecture

After graduate school, I resided for a short time in Dallas, Georgia, a small, distant suburb of Atlanta. In this tiny, historic community ~ known best as the location of Pickett's Mill, of Civil War fame ~ I quickly became enamored with this wonderful, stone Tudor Cottage. It was for sale at the time ~ regrettably at a price too steep for a unemployed, recent college graduate. It sits at the northern edge of the historic main strip in Dallas, where Confederate Avenue becomes Cartersville Highway. Its neighbor to the north is Dallas Cemetery. The house was built in 1939 and though I have not yet learned the architect responsible for it, I am a big admirer. 

The Miller Rock House is a pristine example of a Tudor Revival residence. Initially reserved for grand residences, in the 1930s, this style became immensely popular as construction methods made the use of materials (like this stone veneer) simpler and more affordable. Brick and stone examples of this type can be found throughout the Atlanta area, stemming from this period between the World Wars. 

There is contention over the name for this style, which has led to the use of several different names (depending on your chosen architectural bible). The common term Tudor Revival is a bit of a misnomer, since the architectural forms and styles predate the Tudors and more closely reflect late-medieval forms in England. Attempts to correct this misnomer have produced names like English Cottage Revival and English Vernacular Revival. If you hear any of those names, it is this style being referenced. 

The name "controversy" has little bearing on the consistency of the architectural features of this style ~ and the Miller Rock House just about has it all. An asymmetrical facade is typical of this style, as is the massive facade chimney with an accentuated niche (bearing a bronze plaque with the building's name, in this example ~ shown at left). A massive, front-facing gable is a defining characteristic, often with a steep pitch and rakes of differing lengths (one extending closer to the ground ~ known, to the amusement of all, as a catslide). Windows vary, but frequently appear tall and narrow, in pairs or groups. Doors vary greatly with this style of architecture, but rounded doors are fairly common, as are batten doors. The entry to this residence is crowned by a coursed-stone arch with a prominent keystone, which stands out in stark contrast from the uncoursed stone walls; this is common in many houses of this style with brick or stone veneers. These houses frequently appear with an enclosed sunroom to one side, as with the Miller Rock House; this was often an open porch that was later enclosed, which is likely to have been the case here. This house also features decorative rafter tails and faux knee braces along the roof line. And check out the bead pointing ~ it has been meticulously maintained. 

These architectural revivals are fascinating trends and emulation has always been our style in the United States. We just can't get enough of that all-you-can-eat architectural buffet that is Europe. Colonial architecture leading up to the revolution was a celebration of all things British (hence, the names Georgian and Adam). Once the yoke of England was tossed, American architects flooded our cities with Greek and Roman architecture, celebrating the ideals of Athenian democracy and the Great Republic. Over time, Americans tired of these Eurocentric themes and sought a uniquely American form. Ironically, that form was the Gothic Revival of A.J. Downing, which, together with his Mediterranean exotics, revolutionized American architecture just as Victorian influence from England carried a host of unique styles that pervaded popular fashion, design, and architecture (in many regards, to this day). As the 20th century began, suddenly the old colonial and classical styles emerged again. It's an endless cycle of rediscovery. Put into this context, the Tudor style is really another stage in a grand, American tradition. 

The prevailing explanation for the sudden and widespread emergence of the Tudor style after WWI (and then again, associated with the simpler, mass produced American Small House after WWII) is the admiration of similar quaint cottages by American soldiers abroad. You could say this architectural style was a favorite souvenir of our returning veterans. The imitation doesn't stop at the front door either. These properties are often landscaped with English gardens, abundant with flowers, decorative shrubs, winding, brick or stone-paved pathways, and crawling with English Ivy (that most accursed, aesthetically-pleasing plant). Architecturally speaking, they're just fun

And yes... I still want this house. ~MK.

Friday, July 19, 2013

McRainey's House

Malcolm Archibald McRainey, c. 1910 (Courtesy of Thomas Hildebrandt,

In addition to having one of the strongest names in the south, Malcom Archibald McRainey (1866-1914) was a man of wealth and prominence (shown above in his finest digs, resembling a cross between Doc Brown and Q). He was active in the production and use of timber (most notably for naval use), horse and livestock farming, and appears to have played a role in the establishment of the Georgia Southwestern and Gulf Railroad Company around 1906, though his role in that company is unclear. The railway, which ran between Albany and Cordele, operated under several different names and was eventually abandoned in 1977. McRainey was likely an investor in the failed attempt to extend the line from Albany to St. Andrews, Florida, based on a notice of petition for charter in the Albany Daily Herald, dated May 11, 1906, which referred to the line as being of 155 miles (when it was never more than 35 miles in length). His interest in the railroad was undoubtedly connected to his efforts to build a town. McRainey was the founder of Elmodel, Georgia, an unincorporated community along GA-37 near the center of Baker County.

Courtesy of Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Division of Archives and History, Office of Secretary of State.

It was at the heart of his community, that McRainey built this home in 1909 (reportedly on the site of the family’s previous, more modest home). The record associated with this photo in Georgia's archive indicates the architect was William Jay; presumably not the architect of great repute by that name known for his mastery of similar classical styles, who died in 1837.

J.I.D. Miller's A Guide into the South (Macon, 1911), pg. 13.
This neoclassical gem was the metaphorical diamond in the rough, a throwback to the plantation houses that once seeded this southern landscape (and fortunately still do, in some places), standing out as a display of wealth and prestige in stark contrast from the lands around them. At the time of McRainey's death in 1914, it was referred to as "one of the handsomest country homes in Southwest Georgia." It was at this house that J.I.D. Miller would have met with McRainey in preparation of his Guide into the South, a publication pressed in 1911, intended to be an enticing guide for travelers, investors, and working joes looking for opportunities to prosper in the south. Miller carried McRainey’s message of the bountiful abundance of Baker County land and his entrepreneurial endeavor to populate his small community.

It does not appear that McRainey's vision, whatever it may have been, was ever realized. Additional study of census and deed records could paint a fuller picture of this story and McRainey's successes or shortcomings, as they may have been. Nevertheless, McRainey lived and died a man of great repute and wealth.  He eulogized by the Albany Herald with the following:
"He was a large planter, landowner and business man, and a man of power and influence among his fellowmen.  The hospitality of his home was prodigal and he never was happier than when he was entertaining his friends there.  Genial and cordial in all of his relations, he made friends with all who knew him."
McRainey was buried in a small family cemetery in Elmodel, and his grave marked with a fitting monument.

From Miller's A Guide into the South.

So, why am I telling you this story? I married into a family from those parts and have driven through Elmodel many times. The very first time, I remember seeing this house and being just awestruck. The area is by no means lacking in noteworthy sites for a perpetual tourist like me, but as we made the drive along that rural stretch of road, flanked by fields and trees for the longest time, suddenly the trees broke to reveal this…

it really catches your attention. This is what happens when you love heritage. A chance encounter leads to a brief obsession that you often indulge until you either see it through or something else catches your eye. It’s a special kind of affair.

I was surprised to learn that McRainey’s home is still inhabited (or the parcel, at least), reportedly by his descendants. Just in case you were wondering why there is only one photo of the house today, there is your answer. Places like these are magnets for trespassers of all kinds. As a courtesy to those who may still own and value these places, always take measures to ensure you don't tread where you are unwelcome. This is one of those places. So, if you happen upon this place, enjoy the view, then mozy on.

Despite its sad state, McRainey’s home remains a gem ~ its merely lost its luster. It is not the only gem in this small community and far from the best Baker County has to offer, I am sure. But it stands out as a reminder that things are rarely what they seem. For the casual explorer, this seems out of place on that rural stretch of state highway. In reality, it is simply out of time ~ its time, at least. This community has a story to tell and this wonderful house gave that story to me.

So as you drive the back roads of Georgia (and your own states), be sure to keep your eyes on the road, because there are deer and hogs out there ~ but also pay attention to your surroundings, because there are countless little obsessions dotting the roadside, just waiting to be “discovered” once again.


John B. Gordon School to Meet the Wrecking Ball

Part I - Background and History

John B. Gordon School. Courtesy of abandonedatlanta.com

Located in the heart of East Atlanta Village, and in the hearts of hundreds of its former students, the John B. Gordon Elementary School has sat vacant since 1995. In June of 2012, East Atlanta Patch reported that the property had been purchased by Paces Properties. The building is to be demolished and a 125 to 145 unit apartment complex built in its place. A relatively brief moment of hope for the building came in the form of a year-long demolition moratorium after the results of the 2008 South Moreland Avenue Livable Centers Initiative (LCI) were being contemplated by the city of Atlanta. This past May the moratorium was lifted and plans for the apartment complex are now moving forward.

Originally built between 1909-10 as the East Atlanta School, the Battle & Barili designed building was expanded in 1934 under the New Deal era Civil Works Administration (CWA).

Photograph of participants in class play at John B. Gordon Elementary School, Atlanta, Fulton County, Georgia, 1936. Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Division of Archives and History, Office of Secretary of State.

According to several sources, the school building was purchased sometime in the late 1990s by Inman Park Properties to be repurposed into lofts, a popular development proposal at the time with the Kirkwood School Lofts, Bass High School Lofts, and the Highland School Lofts all having been converted around the same time. Inman Park Properties, however, never managed to get anything done and the property sat vacant and abandoned for years, slowly shedding plaster from its walls. Inman Park Properties eventually went bankrupt, leaving behind the Gordon School and many other deteriorating historic buildings all around Atlanta.

Today, the John B. Gordon School looks like this:

Auditorium/Gymnasium. Courtesy of  abandonedatlanta.com
Second Story Music Room. Courtesy of phreakmonkey.com
Library. Courtesy of phreakmonkey.com
Stairwell. Courtesy of phreakmonkey.com
Auditorium/Gymnasium. Courtesy of phreakmonkey.com

Part II - The Rant

Perhaps the most encouraging part of this story is the bit about the Atlanta City Council imposing a demolition moratorium in the LCI study area in order to assess the findings, presumably to prevent development not in line with the LCI recommendations and the City's resulting policy decisions. For a full year, Paces Property had to sit on their pending contract to buy the Gordon School, and for a full year the preservation community could have weighed in on the proposal. Instead, and all too often, the preservation community was mute. Opportunities like that don't come along often.

Of course, the building may in fact be beyond repair, as the developer claims, but all too often structural integrity is the scapegoat for developers looking to save face when they want to demolish an old building. And why not? The photos above certainly tell a tale of failing roofs, deteriorating walls, rotten floors, and vandalization. Again though, and it bears repeating, the preservation community had a full year (and roughly 16 years prior to that) to show that the building was salvageable. A great example of a historic building thought to be beyond hope by most (non-historic) building professionals is the Constitution Building in downtown Atlanta, which, after a thorough engineering study, has now been determined structurally stable enough for rehabilitation. Developers are under no oath to tell the truth, so rather than take their word for it, the City and the folks tasked with protecting historic buildings should have been more proactive. Another option, of course, could have been local historic designation, which would have effectively prevented the building's demolition without a full structural report being reviewed by the Atlanta Urban Design Commission (or, at least, a petition from Paces for an economic hardship variance). At the very least, a blog post would have been a good start...

The more obvious gripe is the fact that the Gordon School was allowed to sit vacant for so many years in the first place. Public agencies like Atlanta Public Schools (APS) should be required to develop a management plan for decommissioned public buildings, as these are, after all, public property and by sitting vacant, result in lost tax revenue, opportunity costs, ancillary costs, and various socio-cultural costs. Vacant, deteriorating buildings (and vacant 'speculation' lots) are urban diseases and do far more harm than simply allowing demolition by neglect. Not only should public agencies be held responsible (I'm talking to you again, APS, and your failure to appropriately deal with the historic Howard High School), but developers like Inman Park Properties, who sat on the historic Gordon School, letting it deteriorate for years, should be taxed or fined. Philadelphia was working on a program that would do this and Atlanta recently approved a registration fee for vacant properties, but to really force developers to either do something productive or move on, the fees need to be steep and enforced.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Is that Historical or Historic?

Is that old building historical? Do you belong to a historic society? Well, that depends; if the old building also references a past event, then it might be historical. If that society has been around for a long time, it may be historic. More often than not though, You mean to say "historic building" and "historical society".

Webster's defines the two words as;


a : famous or important in history <historic battlefields>
b : having great and lasting importance <a historic occasion>
c : known or established in the past <historic interest rates>
d : dating from or preserved from a past time or culture <historic buildings> <historic artifacts>


a : of, relating to, or having the character of history <historical data>
b : based on history <historical novels>
c : used in the past and reproduced in historical presentations

The subtle difference in definition is that something Historic is something that dates from the past that had an important impact on history. Historical simply refers to the past.

The Grammarist puts it like this: Buildings, villages, districts, and landmarks deemed historically important are often described as historic because they are historically significant in addition to being of or related to history. Societies dedicated to recognizing and preserving these things are called historical societies because they are concerned with history but not momentous in themselves.

So, an old building (let's say 50 years old or older), is Historic. A society whose mission relates to history, would be called a Historical Society.

But then, what about the term Historic Preservation?

The nuance in usage helps to clarify this apparent contradiction; after all - we are not necessarily referring to important preservation actions that took place in the past, we are referring to programs that deal specifically with historic properties. This is, in fact, why we use Historic and not Historical in the term Historic Preservation - Just think of it as having a silent word like "Environment" or "Places" or "Building" thrown in between Historic and Preservation.

Of course, the current trend in the profession is a move away from the term Historic Preservation altogether and towards the term Heritage Conservation. Not only does this avoid the tricky use of Historic, but it also avoids issues with defining the silent middle word and the word Preservation, which often conjures up images of retirees determinedly trying to "preserve", in all of its historical accuracy (or is that historic accuracy), some great high-style Victorian manse.

Heritage Conservation gets right to the heart of what the field is about: Conservation is to use in a way that does not deplete and Heritage can include the tangible and intangible, the built and the unbuilt, the historic and the modern... Heritage Conservation is the professional field concerned with figuring out how to use, in the most appropriate way, the things we consider important to our shared history.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Pratt-Pullman

The Pratt Engineering/Pullman Company property is a historic industrial complex located in the Kirkwood neighborhood of Atlanta (here). Construction of the first buildings began in 1904, followed by a second building campaign when the Pullman Company bought the property in 1926. The site is currently owned by the state of Georgia and has been abandoned since 1996.

Roswell, 1920. Great Oaks located on Mimosa Boulevard
was built in 1842 as the home of Reverend and Mrs.
Nathaniel Alpheus Pratt
Its difficult to write about Nathaniel Palmer Pratt, founder of the N.P. Pratt Laboratory (predecessor to Pratt Engineering and Machine Company), without first writing about his father and his grandfather. The senior Nathaniel Alpheus Pratt (b.1796-d.1879) was a well-to-do Presbyterian minister from Connecticut. N. A. Pratt senior was also the son-in-law of Roswell King, founder of the city of Roswell Georgia. King brought Pratt, a graduate of Yale and Princeton's school of divinity and fellow resident of Darien Georgia, to the new town of Roswell to take charge of the Roswell Presbyterian Church, of which he did from 1840 until his death in 1879. In 1842, N.A. Pratt built 'Great Oaks' in Roswell, pictured at right.

Doctor Nathaniel Alpheus Pratt (b.1834-d.1906), son of a preacher man, was born in Darien and raised in Roswell. He studied chemistry and engineering at Harvard and was considered to have a brilliant mind for science; "His mind received and retained impressions as a piece of wax and his information upon all scientific subjects was marvelous" (Men of Mark in Georgia, Vol. V, 1910). His reputation in chemistry led him to become an adviser in the sourcing and production of gunpowder for the confederacy during the American Civil War . Following the war, Dr Pratt began a long and lucrative career of establishing chemical fertilizer plants all over the south. He was also an inventor, credited with patents on several chemical processes and a Geologist, mapping mineral deposits all over the south. Dr. Pratt was a bit of a nomad, living all over the southeast, from Florida to Virginia, but lived out his final years in Decatur, Georgia - where, in 1906, he was struck and killed by a Georgia Railroad train.

One of Pratt's first patents, this one of
the "process of and apparatus for making
sulfuric acid, September 1895.
Nathaniel Palmer Pratt (b.1858-d.1942), son of the renowned 'man of science', was born in Milledgeville, Georgia, the capital of Georgia at the time. In 1878 he graduated from Washington & Lee University, just two years after his father resigned from the position of chair of applied science. N.P. Pratt was a chemist and engineer, and also like his father, was ambitious and an entrepreneur; He founded the NP Pratt Laboratory in 1879, at the age of 21. Of course, it would take another decade or so for the NP Pratt Laboratory to engage in any serious work - biographies of N. P. Pratt suggest that his company was not founded until 1890. By 1900, he held at least a half-dozen patents for the manufacture and production of various chemicals, including sulfuric acid, his patent of which became the worldwide standard for many years. According to Drugs and Pharmacy in the Life of Georgia, 1733-1959, Pratt Laboratory was one of the first to manufacture and sell liquid carbon dioxide, which would be used in the newly popular soda fountains. This connection to soda would result in a very successful career for Pratt's cousin William Pratt Heath, who was Pratt's chief chemist for many years, and would later go on to work for Coca Cola.

N.P. Pratt Laboratory, from American Fertilizer, 1899

In 1898 N.P. Pratt Laboratory bought Fulton Foundry and Machine Company, which had a plant located at 490 Marietta street and also with offices in New York City. Presumably, Pratt realized that he could not only patent chemical processes and apparatuses, but could manufacture and sell the machinery used in these processes as well. A year later, in 1899, N.P. Pratt Laboratory built offices and a laboratory at 90 Auburn Avenue (corner of Courtland) in Atlanta. The two story, stone and pressed brick building cost roughly $18,000. It was designed by Godfrey L. Norman (one-time business partner to Neel Reid and Hal Hentz, and replaced by Rudolph Adler after his death) to be able to take an additional two stories if needed (American Fertilizer, Vol. X, No. 1, Jan. 1899), though whether this happened is unknown as the building, unsurprisingly, is no longer extant.

Image from Atlanta Constitution, June 6, 1906
In 1904, Pratt began construction on a state-of-the-art facility in the newly incorporated hamlet of Kirkwood, just south of the Georgia Railroad tracks, between Atlanta and Decatur. Kirkwood at the turn of the century consisted of not much more than a collection of fine estate homes, a post office, a fire station, and a couple of general stores. The area was easily accessible by two trolley lines, and with this new employer, this would help precipitate a swift residential building boom, filling out most of the neighborhood with Craftsman style bungalows.

Image from Louisiana Planter, 1907

Announcement from American Fertilizer,
Vol. 30, Jan. 1909

Sometime in 1908 or 1909, Pratt Engineering and Machine Company was formed. It is unclear what transpired here, but it appears that Pratt Engineering & Machine Co. was spun off of the engineering department of N.P Pratt Laboratory. N. P. Pratt and George L. Pratt (for whom much of the design credit for the new facility is due) continued to manage the Kirkwood factory. Notorious businessmen, Joel Hurt and George F. Hurt had a hand in this deal and became directors of the new company. Both companies continued to operate in tandem for another decade or so (Joel Hurt papers, G.F. Hurt biography, American Fertilizer, Vol. 30, Jan. 1909). 

Pratt Engineering (and, prior to 1909, Pratt Laboratory) not only produced manufacturing equipment, but also built dozens of complete factories around the state, country, and world, including factories in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Brazil. Machines were constructed onsite at the Kirkwood location, assembled and tested as a complete production facility, then disassembled and loaded onto train cars for shipment to their final destinations.

C. 1910 sketch of Pratt Engineering and Machine Co., source unknown

Briefly during World War I, the plant was used for the production of munitions. Though the details of this work are unknown, it was not an uncommon practice at the time. Franklin Garret notes in his seminal work on the history of Atlanta, that Pratt Engineering gave its employees the remainder of the day off on the morning the armistice was announced. Though it would appear that business was booming, shortly after the War N.P. Pratt Laboratory and the Pratt Engineering and Machine Company were liquidated. Portions of the lab were sold to former NP Pratt Laboratory employees to form Brogdon-Dumas Laboratories (Chemical Age, 1919 and Chemical & Metallurgical Engineering, 1920). The remainder of NP Pratt Laboratory was sold to Coca Cola, who at the same time bought out William Pratt Heath's start-up, Crystal Carbonic. Heath went on to become one of Coca Cola's chief chemists. It is rumored that Earnest Woodruff, who bought out Coca-Cola in 1919, negotiated these deals, perhaps incorporating from Pratt their successful carbonic gas manufacturing and analysis and dropping the remainder to streamline business. 

1927-1930 topographic map
What became of Pratt Engineering is not known, but the Kirkwood facility was eventually bought by the Pullman Company in 1926. The site was purchased for around $250,000 with another $1.25 million in renovation/construction costs (Atlanta Constitution, Aug. 12, 1927). Two large saw-toothed buildings were constructed at this time, as well as the innovative transfer table, which allowed workers to moved train cars laterally down the production line, saving space and time and allowing all work to go on concurrently.

The Pullman's "Atlanta Shops", were one of several repair and maintenance facilities strategically located around the United States. As with Pratt, Pullman was a major employer for the local community of Kirkwood, which was incorporated into the City of Atlanta in 1926. In 1954, facing declining passenger train use, Pullman began closing its ancillary facilities. The company went bankrupt in 1969.

Aerial Image, date unknown (1960s)
From 1955 to well into the 1970s, Southern Iron and Equipment Company, manufacturer of train locomotives and train parts, operated a train repair and manufacturing facility at the site. Southern Iron changed its name to U.S. Railway Manufacturing Co. and then to Evans Railcar Division of the Evans Products Co. Several prefab metal buildings and sheds were installed during this time.

After a decade of abandonment, the state of Georgia bought the site in 1990 for $1.66 million and began running the New Georgia Railroad, a tourist and dinner train running from Atlanta Underground to Stone Mountain. The Pratt-Pullman site was used for equipment storage and maintenance.

C. 1992
The New Georgia Railroad went belly up in just a few years later and the site has been vacant since. Though used briefly in the late 1990s for storage and occasionally rented out to movie production crews, the site has seen the most use by graffiti artists and urban explorers.

In 2001, the Pratt-Pullman site was placed on the Atlanta Preservation Center's endangered places list and in 2009 the Kirkwood neighborhood, including the Pratt-Pullman site, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information and to get involved in this site's preservation, please visit the SAVE Pratt Pullman Facebook page.

Oakland Cemetery

West Entrance Gate to Oakland Cemetery (Atlanta, GA)