Knollwood: An Architectural and Social Landmark

After the turn of the century, wealthy Atlantans began to purchase property north of the city along Paces Ferry Road to build summerhouses.  James L. Dickey, Sr. was one of the early pioneers of the area, and he purchased 400 acres from F. M. Powers in 1899.  In 1904 Robert F. Maddox bought 73 acres of Dickey’s property for $90 per acre. Maddox built a summer home, stable, servants’ quarters, and other outbuildings, and the property was named Woodhaven.

At the end of 1911, Maddox sold William H. Kiser the eastern portion of his property that included the original summer house and several outbuildings.  At that time, Maddox began to build a large home on his remaining property and hired architect Walter T. Downing for the design.  The Tudor Revival home, also named Woodhaven, was built by 1913, and Maddox lived at Woodhaven until 1962 when he sold the remaining seventeen acres to the State of Georgia.  The State demolished Maddox’s home to build the new governor’s mansion.

The original summer house was built by Maddox between 1904-5 and stood where the current Knollwood sits today.  While the Maddox family modestly referred to the summer house as a “cottage,” it was a significant home and the stage for elaborate events.  The Atlanta Constitution wrote that the home “was elegant enough to invite Teddy Roosevelt to a white-tie-and-tails dinner that began with caviar.”  Woodhaven, in both versions, was the scene of many brilliant social affairs, and this tradition continued at the new Knollwood.

Original Summer House

In 1917-18 the Kisers hired Norman C. Butts to develop the formal terraced garden in the rear of the house. These gardens were considered among the finest in the city.  The formal terraced garden was featured in the Garden History of Georgia (1933) as well as on many spring garden tours for local charities.

In 1929 the Kisers engaged Hentz, Adler, and Shutze to design their new home.  The plans were “put out to bid” in February 1930, and Kiser awarded the contract toC ollins, Holbrook, and Collins, the contractor for both the Goodrum and English houses  on Paces Ferry that were also designed by Shutze.  The construction of Knollwood continued into 1931, and the Kisers began entertaining in the fall of 1931.

Mrs. Kiser in the Garden

The Kiser family sold the property in 1952.  Bernard Wolff purchased the home and a few surrounding acres, and the Smyrna Land Company purchased and developed the remainder of the property.  While the home has had several owners since the Wolff family, it has remained largely intact, and the gracious legacy of entertaining has continued to the present owner, Barbara Morgan.

Paces Ferry Facade Knollwood II, 1931

For the design, Phillip Shutze took inspiration from several Georgian precedents in England and her colonies.  As with all of his designs, Shutze would not simply copy an earlier design but would use his extensive historical vocabulary to develop a dynamic system of architectural devices.  While the Paces Ferry façade was modeled after Chatham, an 18th century estate in Stafford County, Virginia, he used numerous other sources as well.

The beautifully designed limestone porte cochere recalls the work of English architect William Kent, but the double curved stairs with its elegant wrought iron railing was inspired by the Duncan house (1814) in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. While the interior stairs allude to colonial Virginia, the design was modeled after a staircase from the Deaf and Dumb Asylum in Clapton, England.  This precedent was published in one of the volumes in the firm’s extensive library, and the conditions of these books indicate their constant use.  As was typical, Shutze was inspired by a historical precedent but developed the design so that it was his own.  The Knollwood staircase is a wonderful example. The Deaf and Dumb Asylum provided the overall inspiration, but Shutze then took details from the Brush-Everhard House near Williamsburg and created a delightfully new combination.

Shutze’s extensive knowledge of both English and American Georgian architecture allowed him to improvise and develop a new design that was uniquely his.  While the design was Shutze’s, Knollwood feels as if it could have comfortably been set in both colonial Virginia and contemporary England.

Stair Detail

Kiser Family

William and Lucy Kiser purchased the property in 1911 and built Knollwood. Both William and Lucy were from prominent Atlanta families and continued the active social and civic lives of their families.  William’s father, Marion Columbus Kiser, was one of the most important businessmen in the city during the later half of the nineteenth century.

The William H. Kiser Family, 1939

Marion Columbus Kiser was born in 1874 on a modest farm in Campbellton (now Fulton) County.  He had limited education but through discipline and hard work became one of Atlanta’s most successful businessmen.  M. C. Kiser began his career working in the dry goods store of his two older brothers.  He continued in the dry goods business and also began investing in real estate. He developed the eight-story Kiser Building in 1890 and another building on Pryor Street.  He also built the Marion Hotel in 1897.  Kiser then began the M.C. Kiser & Company that produced and sold the very popular Shield Brand Shoes.  At his death in 1893, Kiser left the largest estate in Atlanta at that time.

Edyth Kiser Shadburn was born in 1931 and moved directly with her family into Knollwood.  At that time, there were three generations of her family living in the house. During the Depression, Shadburn recalled that “every house on West Paces had three generations living in it except for the Dickeys.” Despite the hardships of the Depression, Shadburn remembers her twenty years at Knollwood as “magical times” and recalls many stories that illustrate the interesting mix of rural and suburban life on Paces Ferry.  Shadburn would live in the house until 1951.  The Kiser family tried for two years to sell the house to a buyer who would not subdivide the property.

Written by Jonathan LaCrosse and Wright Marshall

3 responses to “Knollwood: An Architectural and Social Landmark

  1. I am in the early process of renovating 231 West Paces Ferry. Through my research I have found the original owners, William C. Cram, Jr. and his wife Jamesina (O’brien) (l928). 231 West Paces is located between Habersham and Chathan, 114, 17th District Lot 6. The house was owned by Harrison DeSales, VP of Coca Cola in l934. An Italianate (Mediterranean Revival), to my knowledge is the only home with an Italian/Plaster Fresco surrounding the upper eaves of the fascade. The house is in very poor condition- recently placed on the market as a tear down. Hopefully, I can discover enough historical significance of this property to justify the cost of a 80% renovation. Can anyone supply any information concerning this property? I cannot find the architect or any drawings and would greatly appreciate any help. 678-637-1882 Zoe Hersey Zelby.

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