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Gene Ramsay's History Blog

Are you a history buff who can't get their hands on enough stories about Norcross? You've come to the right place! In this blog, local historian Gene Ramsay will take you on a journey to Norcross' past to discover the people and culture who laid the foundations for the city we know and love today. 

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Jan 28

The "Rock House" at Thrasher Park

Posted on January 28, 2022 at 10:29 PM by Gene Ramsay

One of the most striking of the older homes in Norcross is the two story granite-faced residence overlooking Thrasher Park, at the intersection of North Peachtree and Thrasher (or Buchanan) Streets. In this article we look back at the time when the house was built, and a few of its residents over the years.

The house owes its existence to Edward F Buchanan.  He was born around 1871, and as a young boy was an orphan.  The circumstances that brought him to Norcross at an early age are not clear - there was an orphanage near Norcross in those days, run by the Methodist Church, and perhaps he had been placed there. Regardless, he was adopted by the Buchanan family and grew up in the area.  

David Wall, who worked at the Norcross railroad depot in the 1880s, mentored young Buchanan and taught him Morse code as used by telegraph operators.  Buchanan became skilled at using the telegraph key set, and this allowed him, as a teenager, to travel and work in railroad stations and businesses across the country, helping them communicate efficiently.  His skills and ambition took him to New York City in the late 1890s, and within a few years he was working for A O Brown and Company, a brokerage and banking firm on Wall Street.  At the height of his meteoric rise there, in 1907, he was an executive partner in the firm, lived in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the city, and loved to race automobiles out on then lightly developed Long Island, east of the city. Buchanan is shown in the portrait below.

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But he never forgot his roots in Norcross, and the help that he had received there as a young boy.  He used his wealth to start several businesses in the town (that’s a story for another time), and decided to build a modern home for his foster mother, Mrs. Martha Tedder, who was by the early 1900s a widow for a second time.  Buchanan bought the lot at the corner on the corner of Thrasher and North Peachtree Streets (which had been known up to that point as the “Durham Corner”, after its then owner), plus the two adjacent lots, and proceeded to build there.   

Noye Nesbit grew up in Norcross in those days, and in an interview later in life he recalled Buchanan’s generosity to the lady who raised him:

Edward Buchanan came back here … and he built a mansion for Mrs. Tedder – Mr. Tedder was dead by then. Architectural plans were drawn in New York and a contractor came from New York. 

I was a boy of about 11 then and I saw all those granite blocks – I don’t know whether they came from Lithonia or Stone Mountain. Every one of them was numbered. The contractor would pick each out and tell the masons where it went.

Then Buchanan bought Mrs. Tedder a car. This was before he started making cars himself. He bought her a red touring car, a Thomas Flyer, that had a folding top.  He took John Henry Kelly to New York to teach him how to drive it and be Mrs. Tedder’s chauffeur.

 (The Thomas Flyer, manufactured in Buffalo, New York in the early 1900s, was a famous car of the era.  In 1908 a Thomas Flyer won the New York to Paris Auto Race, which required its contestants to drive from New York to San Francisco, then travel by ship to Siberia and proceed from there to Paris overland. The photo below shows an example of the 1907 Thomas Flyer on display at the National Auto Museum in Reno, Nevada.)

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Norcross resident and Buchanan researcher Geoff Hammett believes that the house was inspired by the French Second Empire style of architecture, popular in the late 1800s.  Many buildings in this style feature a mansard roof, which is a four-sided hip roof, similar to that used as part of the Norcross house.

This style of architecture was unusual to find in the rural South of that era, which would seem to indicate that Buchanan had the house designed by architects working in the area where he lived at that time.  That origin is certainly consistent with Noye Nesbit’s assertion that “Architectural plans were drawn in New York and a contractor came from New York.”

Buchanan and several of his business associates came to Norcross for celebrations of the 4th of July in 1907, marking the completion of the home, which he deeded over to his foster mother.  The photo below shows the home during the celebration.

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There were speeches by various dignitaries, as well as tours of the home, but in his interview Nesbit remembered this event for something else – he said

Norcross gave Mr. Buchanan a big barbeque.  It was the first time I ever saw bakery bread. Everybody baked their own bread in those days.  Fifty loaves were ordered from Atlanta.

Buchanan’s stock holdings and business collapsed in 1908, and he died in poverty a few years later.  Mrs. Tedder lived in the rock house for another ten years, at which point it was sold on the courthouse steps in Lawrenceville by the Gwinnett sheriff to pay the debts that she had run up. Dr. O. O. Simpson, who lived just down North Peachtree Street from the rock house, purchased the property for $760.00 and it was owned by the Simpson family for some years afterwards.  

During the Simpson ownership the building was used as a medical office / hospital for patients under the care of Dr. Nim Guthrie, who practiced in Norcross in the 1920s.  Later it was the home of Dr. Simpson’s son Frank and his wife Vera Davenport Simpson.  Frank was a lawyer whose life was cut short by health issues. The couple is shown in the photo below.

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Norcross was blanketed by a large snowstorm in 1939, as shown in the photograph of the rock house below.

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Alonzo Scott Patterson and his wife Ione Geiger Patterson purchased the rock house from the Simpson family in 1946 and lived there until the early 1960s.  Patterson was a medical doctor who served as a missionary for the Baptist church in Africa for four decades.  His wife was there with him, working at his side, for most of that time, and three of their children were born in Nigeria.  The Pattersons moved to Norcross after their retirement from overseas mission work.  

Population in the Atlanta area was growing in the years after the Pattersons returned to America, and  Dr. Patterson helped found a number of new Baptist churches in the Atlanta area to serve the expanded population, including Doraville Baptist Church and Mountain Park Baptist Church.  Ione Patterson was very active in the work of the Norcross Baptist Church during their years here.

The photo below was included in the Patterson family’s application for passports in 1920.

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Dr. Patterson died in 1962, and Ione Patterson sold the property a few years later.

Many thanks to Geoff Hammett, Betty Spruill, the Davenport family and John Adams for their help with this article.  Other sources included Wikipedia.org, Newspapers.com and Ancestry.com


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