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Oakland Resident Spotlight: The Calico House

by Larry Upthegrove

Early 20th century photo of The Calico House (courtesy The Emory Historian blog)

Early 20th century photo of The Calico House (courtesy The Emory Historian blog)

In 1860, Oakland Cemetery resident Marcus Aurelius Bell decided to build an ornate, large house at the present corner of Courtland Street and Auburn Avenue in downtown Atlanta.
He hired for his contractor Tom Crusselle (also an Oakland resident) and the first masonry contractor to build in Atlanta. Mr. Crusselle had come to this country to construct railroad bridges and plied his trade in masonry and construction for many years to come. Mr. Crusselle had the proper quantity of blue granite quarried and delivered to the site by Oakland resident Patrick Lynch, who is buried with the families of three of his four brothers.
Mr. Cruselle installed the stone and constructed the massive house. The stone interior was plastered to smooth walls, and Mr. Cruselle’s 22-year-old brother-in-law Frank Rice was given the responsibility of finishing the interior in a very fancy manner.
Mr. Rice, another Oakland resident, was a talented man.  As a teenager he had worked for another Oakland resident, William Kay who was the first book binder and publisher in Atlanta.  For a nice finishing touch to the newly bound books, it was Mr. Kay’s custom to apply a marbleized finish to the inside covers.  This process was known only to those in the binding trade and required talent to apply the several colors for the proper effect.  Mr. Rice was taught the process and sworn to secrecy.
The paints of the day were available in the same colors as the inks that Mr. Rice knew how to use, so he was able to create a marble effect on the smooth plaster walls.  Heavy oak millwork provided the finishing touches to the house. The house was completed for the anticipated price of $25,000. The completed building sat on four acres, and had approximately 5,500 square feet divided into 12 great rooms.  The marbleizing of the walls was unique to the finishes that people were accustomed to and slightly resembled a pattern of calico that was available at the time, so the grand new house became known as “The Calico House” and was a famous landmark for many years.
By late 1863, the Civil War was in full operation and Atlanta was affected very much by being the South’s premier transportation hub. It became the center for supplying the troops and making the ill and wounded well again.  The Calico House and its owner did their service for the cause.  The house became a packing center, manufacturing facility, and hospital all in one.  Huge crates were built and packed with various commodities in the large rooms of the basement.  The rooms were also used as workrooms by women knitting, sewing, and making supplies for the Confederate medical forces.  The major room on the main level became a hospital.  As valuable as the house was to the South, at the end of Union Army occupation in November 1864, it was somehow spared from the common destruction of most of the city.
Marker for Marcus A. Bell at Oakland Cemetery

Marker for Marcus A. Bell at Oakland Cemetery

Marcus A. Bell continued to own the house and raise his family there (his son Piromus H. Bell lies beside his parents and wife on the family lot at Oakland.) Marcus’ financial situation forced his sale of the property in 1876 to persons outside of the family.  The house continued in use until 1904, still known as the Calico House when it was purchased. Asa Candler bought the house in its poorly maintained condition, and this time the property was only worth $17,500.
Together, Mr. Candler and his famous Methodist brother Warren Candler established the Wesley Memorial Hospital with the Methodists.  Asa Candler provided most of the funding.  They remodeled The Calico House and added a story to it for the hospital conversion.  The newly created facility housed 50 beds with 34 Atlanta doctors attending the populace.
Present-day view of The Calico House location

Present-day view of The Calico House location

By 1922 Emory College had moved its main campus to Atlanta due to the generosity of Asa Candler and had built a grand new facility to house the Wesley Memorial Hospital, which became Emory University Hospital.  In December 1922, the last remaining 25 patients were removed from the Courtland Street location to the new building by utilizing funeral home ambulances. The old Calico House remained vacant for three years and was torn down in 1925.  Currently the site is occupied by the Auburn Avenue Research Library, owned by the City of Atlanta.

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