Atlanta Historic Houses & Gardens
Step back in time in one of the country’s finest history museums, 2 historic homes on the National Register, a Research Archives, and 33 acres of beautiful period gardens to experience the people and events that have shaped Atlanta and the South.
Lavishly decorated with most of its original furnishings, the 1928 Swan House mansion gives you a glimpse into the genteel and grandiose lifestyle of the early twentieth century.
Swan House, an elegant classically styled mansion named for the swan motif found throughout its interior, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has become an Atlanta landmark.
Built in 1928 for Edward and Emily Inman, heirs to a cotton brokerage fortune, the house was designed by well-known Atlanta architect Philip Trammell Shutze, a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, Columbia School of Architecture, and the American Academy in Rome, Italy. In Swan House and its gardens, together considered Shutze’s finest residential work, he adapted Italian and English classical styles to accommodate twentieth-century living.
In 1966, the Atlanta Historical Society purchased the Swan House and most of its original furnishings, which range from eighteenth-century antiques to twentieth-century objects. The house opened to the public in 1967.
In 1982, Shutze bequeathed his research library along with his personal collection of decorative arts to the Society. Rotating selections from these collections are on exhibit in three second-floor rooms at Swan House. Shutze’s collection, including antique Chinese export porcelain, English and European ceramics, American, Chinese, and English silver, rugs, paintings, furniture, and other objects-provides insights into his personal tastes. Shutze’s architecture and distinctive style had a profound influence on the style of Atlanta from the mid-1920s to the late 1940s.
Tour and other activities at Swan House will be slightly altered for the present time while the interior of the landmark building undergoes a facelift. Visitors will still learn interesting information about:
- the Inman family
- the servants and their activities
- the lifestyles of the 1920s and 1930s
- architect Philip Shutze
- the styles present in the house and gardens.
Plus, visitors will also get to enjoy a unique and informative tour around the exterior and surrounding grounds. All times and tours are subject to change without notice during restoration, but these events are anticipated to be rare. In the event of a tour cancellation, guests will receive a refund of the Swan House tour portion of their admission ticket.
Swan House at Atlanta History Center
130 West Paces Ferry Rd NW
Atlanta, GA 30305
Phone: (404) 814-4000
Tullie Smith Farm
A plantation-plain house built in the 1840s by the Robert Smith family, the Tullie Smith House is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Originally located east of Atlanta, outside the city limits, the house survived the near-total destruction of Atlanta in 1864. Robert Smith was a yeoman farmer who owned eleven slaves and about 800 acres of land in present-day DeKalb County, Georgia. The Smith family cultivated approximately 200 acres of their land, while their cattle and hogs ranged freely nearby. Contrary to popular belief, yeoman farms were more common in Georgia than the large plantations many people associate with the “deep south.”
The house, detached kitchen, and related outbuildings were moved to the Atlanta History Center in 1969.
The farm complex serves as tangible evidence of the rural past in a metropolitan area where agriculture has essentially disappeared. Tullie Smith House is surrounded by a separate open-hearth kitchen, blacksmith shop, smokehouse, double corncrib, pioneer log cabin, and barn complete with animals, as well as traditional vegetable, herb, and flower gardens. Costumed interpreters lead tours of the house and perform everyday activities typical of nineteenth-century rural Georgia, including open-hearth cooking, animal care, blacksmithing, basket weaving, candle making, quilting, spinning, weaving, and other craft demonstrations.
Costumed interpreters lead thirty-minute tours inside the house beginning at 11:15 a.m. (1:15 p.m. on Sundays) until 4:15 p.m. Visitors can reserve tour times at the admission desk.
Smith Family Farm at Atlanta History Center
130 West Paces Ferry Rd NW
Atlanta, GA 30305
Phone: (404) 814-4000
While admiring the gardens of Swan House, you may stumble upon the beguiling Victorian Playhouse. Built in 1890 of white clapboard with touches of “gingerbread” on its front porch, the house serves as one of the Atlanta History Center’s tangible links to the turn of the century.
Made for children of a prominent Atlanta family, the playhouse changed hands through the years, taking it on a veritable tour of the city’s fashionable neighborhoods.
- 1890: Built by the Goldsmith family, 279 Peachtree Street
- 1906: Owned by the Seals family, Inman Park
- 1910: Owned by the Murphy family, Ansley Park
- 1926: Owned by the Hurt family, Brookwood Hills
- 1932: Owned by the Ellis family, Buckhead
- 1980: Donated to the Atlanta History Center by the Ellis family
At present, the playhouse is not structurally sound enough for children to play inside, but it is still delightful to view across its miniature, period wrought-iron fencing. Plans are underway to restore and relocate the playhouse as the centerpiece of a children’s garden.
The ca. 1937 Lee Playhouse is located along the path between McElreath Hall and the back entrance of the Atlanta History Museum. Charles R. Roberts, an Atlanta businessman, built the playhouse for his daughter in the backyard of the family’s home on nearby Woodward Way.
Like many real homes, the playhouse was expanded during the years; the rear addition was built for a later owner’s cat. This playhouse remained in the same location for more than sixty years, until John Lee, the current owner of the Woodward Way home, donated it to the Atlanta History Center in 1998. Our young visitors are welcome to play inside this enchanting house.
Mary Howard Gilbert Memorial Quarry Garden
In 1972, an abandoned three-acre rock quarry was uncovered while trustees of the Atlanta Historical Society (the operators of the Atlanta History Center) were searching for a place to construct McElreath Hall. The quarry had been active during the late nineteenth century, possibly as a source of gravel for county roads. The quarry operation ended in the early 1900s, and English ivy and undergrowth took over.
The Mimosa Garden Club sought to turn the former quarry into a quiet oasis for contemplation and a site for studying plants native to Georgia. With the financial assistance of the Price Gilbert Jr. Charitable Fund, the garden club obtained professional advice for landscaping and plant selection, and the dream soon became a reality. The garden was dedicated in 1976 to the memory of Mary Howard Gilbert, one of Mimosa’s founding members.
Today this garden showcases plants native to pre-settlement Georgia in a natural, granite enclosure. Paths lead past shaded woodlands, granite outcrops, a pond, a stream, and a waterfall. Highlights include trillium, ferns, and magnolias.
Frank A. Smith Rhododendron Garden
In the mid-1970s, the Azalea Chapter of the American Rhododendron Society, led by late nurseryman Frank A. Smith, began constructing a new garden to illustrate two of Atlanta’s most beautiful plants. Coinciding with the 1975 completion of McElreath Hall, volunteers cleared away weeds and other undergrowth, purchased rhododendrons, and graciously donated their own azaleas. The Rhododendron Garden’s contemporary design respects the land’s existing terrain and furnishes ideas for shade landscapes.
Frank A. Smith Rhododendron Garden
Andrews Dr NW
Atlanta, GA 30305
Cherry Sims Asian-American Garden
The idea for an Asian-American garden was conceived by Center horticulturists in 1988 as a way to compare the evolution of Asian plants with those of the southeastern United States, two areas with many climactic similarities. The garden also exhibits the successful use of Asian plants in an American landscape and features extensive collections of Japanese maples, hydrangeas, Satsuki azaleas, and ferns. A gazebo designed by Jimmy Means, a protege of Swan House architect Philip Trammell Shutze, provides a lovely focus along a winding trail under towering trees.
Swan Woods Trail
The ten-acre Swan Woods Trail provides a link between the rural lifestyle of Tullie Smith Farm and the formal elegance of Swan House. In 1967, the Peachtree Garden Club undertook the development of the trail as an example of ecological succession in the Georgia Piedmont. The trail has fifteen stations. At each one, a numbered sign explains the surrounding environment and provides ecological information.
Visitors are in store for an educational delight as they walk from station to station in the tranquil wooded setting. An especially interesting segment of the trail is the Gardens for Peace. The first of an international gardens network, this garden features a bronze statue, The Peace Tree, by Gia Japaridze, an artist from the former Soviet Georgia. The garden and statue both serve as reminders that people from all nations can join hands to further the cause of peace throughout the world.
Swan House Gardens
Elegant fountains surround the 1928 Swan House, acquired by the Atlanta Historical Society in 1966 from the Inman family. Atlanta residents Edward and Emily Inman traveled widely in Europe, collecting both ideas and antiques. In 1926, they employed local architect Philip Trammell Shutze to design a classically styled mansion and its accompanying grounds and formal gardens.
Although the design of the house echoes English country manors of centuries past, the gardens have a distinctly Italian flavor. Viewing the house from Andrews Drive, the most prominent feature is the cascading fountain flanked by large urn-embellished stairs, inspired by the Palazzo Corsini in Rome, Italy. Two fountains in collecting pools, a rolling sweep of manicured lawn, and a row of Belinda roses tumbling over a stone wall complete the front landscape of one of Atlanta’s most photographed homes.
Adjacent to Swan House’s spacious screen porch is the Boxwood Garden. The Pinetree Garden Club worked with landscape architect Dan Franklin to redesign and enhance the garden when the house opened to the public in 1967. In 1996, the Atlanta History Center’s gardens staff conducted an extensive excavation and restoration, returning the garden to its 1930s appearance. The refurbished garden was dedicated to the memory of Caroline Sauls Shaw, a longtime trustee and supporter of the Atlanta Historical Society.
Tullie Smith Farm Gardens
The ca. 1845 house and detached kit house and detached kitchen at the Atlanta History Center were moved from nearby DeKalb County in 1969 and named in honor of the home’s last resident, Tullie Smith. Tullie’s great-grandfather, Robert H. Smith had cultivated about two hundred of their eight hundred acres, growing crops and raising animals; there had been little time or inclination to maintain formal gardens. What resulted was a potpourri of casually planted flowers, which generally reseeded themselves from year to year.
In 1972, a group of dedicated volunteers set out to create and maintain the landscaping for the farm. They researched appropriate plant materials from diaries, early garden books, and letters, and they performed plant rescues from old house sites. Today, a professional gardens staff builds upon the foundation laid by these volunteers, cultivating a stunning border garden composed of plants typical to a Piedmont plantation flower yard.