Adams Park History- National Register of Historic Places 2013


Garden Citings - Cherokee Garden Library Newsletter Fall 2010 -130 West Paces Ferry Road • Atlanta, GA 30305-1366 • •

By Corliss Claire and Steven R. Montgomery, Adams Park Foundation

In 2007, a group of residents of Adams Park, located in south Fulton County, Georgia, began to document the neighborhood’s history. During research, we learned that the park in the neighborhood, also named Adams Park, was created by landscape designer William L. Monroe Sr. in the mid-1930s. Monroe was a local landscape designer who had played a key role in designing and constructing gardens and parks (including Chastain Park) throughout Atlanta between 1925 and 1963. The discovery was intriguing, but in digging deeper we found that gathering enough information on Monroe and his work was very difficult. We decided to focus our efforts in documenting historic architecture for the neighbor-hood to qualify for local historic designation. The park, after all, played a minor role in this documen- tation project until the day we came across an article by the Society for Georgia Archaeology with a picture of a 1930s stone arched footbridge in a garden setting that felt eerily similar to Adams Park. It was Glen Emerald Rock Garden in DeKalb County and the work of none other than Monroe.

The Adams Park group learned that a nomination was being prepared to have the Glen Emerald Rock Garden listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) due to its connection with William L. Monroe, Sr. If Monroe’s work had potential historic significance at the national level, and we had Monroe right here in our park, then our park was part of an important body of work. It was part of a scattered family of long lost landscape cousins with a striking family resemblance. Finding this key to Monroe—the man who used such skill and imagination in laying out the unique landscape of Adams Park—made us focus solely on the work of not only uncovering the landscape history that had been hidden right under our noses, but also uncovering much of the park’s overgrown landscape that would have to be documented for the NRHP nomination we decided to submit.

Adams Park is a 158 acre public park with greenspace, indoor and outdoor recreational facilities, a golf course, lake, cascading stream, and hardscapes of stone walls, paths, bridges, and culverts constructed with granite from Atlanta quarries and built by a Works Progress Administration (WPA) work force during the Great Depression. The park’s naturalistic setting, curvilinear design, dramatic vistas, and use of natural, local materials are reflective of the naturalistic landscape design approach to park design used by the National Park Service and the WPA in the 1930s. With Adams Park, Monroe’s work reflects this design approach and draws you in and unfolds the views of the park’s central features—the “Canyon” and the lake.

The Canyon

One key component of Adams Park is a large picnic and recreational garden area that was sculpted to create a canyon-like space. The neighborhood has deemed this area “the Canyon.” Once inside this area of the park, there is near total sense of privacy from the surrounding residential neighborhood Entering the west side of the park off Delowe Drive, a brief stroll through greenspace leads to an 84 foot stone stairway and down to a 330 foot stone walkway nestled across a terraced hillside. There is a wonderful view from the walkway down to the lake a short distance away to the right and to the Canyon floor another 20 feet below. The Venetian Avenue entrance on the north side of Adams Park has a rustic feel created by woodlands and the first of the small log picnic pavilions and stone grills. This is yet another way down to the tree-covered Canyon “floor” to the main picnic area. As the land begins a gentle slope downward, there are two additional small log picnic shelters and stone grills. Through the trees to the left of the log shelters, a trickling stream (a tributary of south Utoy Creek) enters the park through the first of six stone culverts and runs along a hillside, some of which is exposed granite dotted with outcrops of trees. Just as it reaches the bottom of the hillside, the stream winds around boulders placed there to create a cascading effect (typical in Monroe landscapes), including a massive disc shaped boulder tilted upright atop other boulders. The Canyon floor, home to the big Craftsman style picnic pavilion with its fireplace and built-in grills, is the center of what looks to be Monroe’s re-creation of a national park campground (minus the bears!) but located right here in the city. It is impossible to stand there, cozily surrounded by hillsides, trees, and a meandering stream, and not marvel at the talents of the visionary who designed it, and the WPA workers who built it.

The Lake

The Lake Stone steps off Lagoon Drive—the park’s interior roadway—lead down to the almost two acre fishing lake and accompanying wildlife of geese, ducks, turtles, and occasional beavers. Not as dramatic as the canyon-like topography of the picnic area, the more open bowl shaped topography with its trees and under-story growth continue to provide seclusion from the surrounding community. The slopes around the lake rise about 15 feet above the lake at the highest point. The roadway and upper level greenspace form the ‘lip” of the bowl-like configuration and at this vantage point there is a sweeping view of the lake below. There are several hardscape features that lead to the lake. Stone steps off Lagoon Drive to the north and two stone bridges to the east. The first one is a small bridge connected to an island (a remnant of what was once part of an earthen embankment) in the lake near the east bank. The other bridge is connected to an impressive stairway next to where the riding stables once stood. The bridge, tall and long enough to walk under, sits over an area where overflow from the lake spills through on its way into the narrow stone channel that winds through a picturesque little dell at the south end of the lake. Over 70 years ago, one of the park’s construction workers left a treasured inscription carved into the bridge—“WPA 1938.”

William Monroe Sr. designed a unique space in Adams Park. One that is not likely to be duplicated in today’s city parks. Atlanta is fortunate to have such a park and to have had Monroe.