Oakland Cemetery was the home of Atlanta’s very first “hothouse” in the 1870s. By the 1970s, Oakland’s 1900 greenhouse, the third to stand on the site, had fallen into rubble. Finally, in 2015, after decades without one, a serendipitous donation brought a new greenhouse to Oakland. The greenhouse is a lovely and cherished gift that fits perfectly within the preserved walls of the 1900 greenhouse allowing us to restore the area to its original use while showcasing historic masonry. This project is completed but will require future funding to replace mechanical components as they wear out due to age.
Completed in 2015
History of the Greenhouse
Oakland Cemetery was home to Atlanta’s first greenhouse. In 1872 under pressure from the women who tended their family gravesites, the sexton petitioned for and was successful in building a pit-style greenhouse, which, as best as we know, was a walk-in structure dug in the ground to take advantage of more consistent ground temperatures, and heated by a stove. The greenhouse was so popular that several others followed in later years. A larger structure was built in 1900. It was three times as large as the 1872 greenhouse and heated by a furnace.
As Oakland fell into disrepair, so did its greenhouse. In the mid 1970s, a storm reduced what was left of the 1900-era greenhouse to rubble. After HOF’s establishment in 1976, plans were made to restore the greenhouse and other cemetery structures that had fallen into disrepair. However, that project did not come to fruition.
HOF Gets Lucky
After decades without a greenhouse, HOF got a lucky break. Atlanta Cyclorama’s impending move from Grant Park to the Atlanta History Center campus required the Buckhead Men’s Garden Club to remove its greenhouse, which was currently located where Cyclorama is housed. The BMGC offered the structure to Historic Oakland Foundation in 2014, in hopes that the cemetery could utilize it. The new building, which was dedicated in late 2015, fit perfectly within the footprint of the preserved 1898 greenhouse walls, allowing us to restore this area to its original use while preserving and showcasing the historic masonry.
In preparation for the installation of the new-to-us greenhouse, Dr. Jeffrey Glover and the GSU Anthropology Dig Department performed a survey of the greenhouse site in early 2015. They found that to the north, there seemed to be an earlier wall that was collapsed and used as rubble, overlaying a number of 3 cm-thick slate slabs used as flooring for an earlier greenhouse. A layer of charcoal was found across the site that probably acted as bedding for the plants. The south end of the greenhouse yielded 3 grave shafts (an infant, a juvenile, and an adult) that had already been excavated, as they contained only coffin nails and screws. These burials all faced East. A layer of possible 20th century household fill such as medicine bottles, and a cachou box were found to the south in a layer above the burials.
Dedication and Use
Installation of the Beaumont Allen Greenhouse was completed in fall of 2015, and in November, Historic Oakland Foundation officially opened greenhouse with a private dedication ceremony attended by around 150 guests. Today the greenhouse is used by the gardens team to start tender annuals and perennials and is available for rental for special events.
The new structure is used the same way as it was originally used, to overwinter tender plants from the grounds and to grow plants for the grounds. Additional modern uses include supporting the twice-annual plant sales and as a site for events and private rentals.
The site is an example of the foundation’s efforts as a National Historic Register site. The historic fabric was restored and the overall site was rehabilitated, assuring its future relevance and value.
Many of the greenhouse’s mechanical components are wearing out due to age. These need to be replaced as they fail, and other components need to be added to fit with modern usage. An automatic watering system is needed to minimize labor, ceiling fans are needed to circulate hot air to reduce fuel consumption, and an interior system is needed to recycle water from the evaporative cooling system and to keep the floors dry and safe. Funding for this type of work will be an ongoing need.