The following speech was written by Marietta resident Douglas M. Frey and was delivered to the Marietta City Council on September 13, 2017:
My name is Douglas Frey and I live on Trammell Street, which is within walking distance of here. I’m in Councilman Johnny Walker’s ward. I moved here with my wife from East Cobb almost twenty years ago because of a house, an historic one, and it’s that house that keeps us here. That and Marietta Square and Kennesaw Mountain and the historic houses on Church and Cherokee Streets, and those on Kennesaw and Whitlock Avenues.
But it’s more than just pretty houses. It’s the people who built and lived in them, and their stories that intrigue us. It was this curiosity that led me to write a book on Marietta’s architectural history – The Gem City of Georgia.
I think you’d agree that it is our history that makes us unique. People want to move to Marietta to be surrounded by our lovely historic homes, even if they don’t live in one themselves. Where else can you eat Sushi in an antebellum warehouse? Panini sandwiches in a former bank? Or croissants from one of the first drugstores in the city?
We’re surrounded by history and this is what gives us comfort and creates the incredible sense of community that we can never take for granted. Take away any of those things I just mentioned and the reason for us to stay diminishes.
That is why I appreciate this occasion to speak with you about an opportunity that could be as everlasting and bountiful as the acquisition of Glover Park has been to our city. I’m asking you to carefully and sincerely consider saving the historic home known as Oakton through its purchase.
Oakton is older than the William Root House, the Kennesaw House, the Archibald Howell House, Tranquilla, or Brumby Hall. It was built not long after the founding of our city, so its history begins with the removal of the Cherokee Indians, and spans “The War Between the States,” where it was occupied by Confederate and Union soldiers. When Marietta began to recover from the war, Oakton attracted coastal elites, who remodeled the home into its current style and used it as a summer retreat for many decades. And Oakton has been lived in and lovingly cared for by the same family for nearly 80 years. It is Marietta’s oldest home and twenty years from today, will celebrate its 200th birthday.
Two hundred years is a big deal. Oakton is arguably the city’s most historic house and we are in peril of losing it. And if that sad prospect were not enough, the home sits on a treasure trove of ancient oak trees and a boxwood garden that was planted in the 1870s, a garden still flourishing and one that was so admired it was one of only three Marietta gardens featured in the 1933 book, “Garden History of Georgia.” Of the 160 Georgia gardens featured in the book, Oakton is one of only a handful that survives. Those irreplaceable gardens would likely be lost, as well.
Now, I have to tell you that I am uncomfortable being here. I normally don’t believe governments should be involved in projects that could be served by the private sector. But we see time and time again that sometimes, our government has to play an active role in things that we are reluctant to get involved in, but we know would not get done were it not to lead the charge.
We see city action in the removing of urban blight on Franklin Gateway and are seeing its revival as we speak. And we see our city preserving our heritage through the declaration of local historic districts and the county actively identifying land to preserve for parks and greenspace.
So, as hesitant as I am standing before you, I know in my heart that you believe as I do, that that there are some things that must be fought for so as not to be discarded and forgotten. Marietta continues to grow in population and prosperity. It’s all around us, from the constant expansion of Kennestone Hospital to never-ending improvements on the Square. And one of the major factors responsible for that growth is the historic nature of the city, mainly manifested in its old neighborhoods and houses. Lose one and others are sure to follow.
As you perform your due diligence, I want to remind you that the city has successfully cared for Brumby Hall and our first public library, the Sarah Freeman Clarke Library on Church Street. And in our midst is the old Federal Post Office building that now serves our community as a vibrant art museum.
These examples may cost the taxpayers money but the value they add to the city cannot be measured. Or can it? In 2013, Cobb County tourism supported 16,210 jobs, generated $1.4 billion in direct tourism spending, and over $30 million in local tax revenue.
We may also look to our sister city of Smyrna and its purchase of the Taylor–Brawner House. That purchase has made such a positive impact on the city that Smyrna officials are currently restoring another historic property nearby for its citizens, the picturesque Reed House on Atlanta Road. In Kennesaw, we see the success of Smith-Gilbert Gardens with a historic home that dates to the 1880s. But perhaps the best example of city stewardship of antebellum properties is found in Roswell, which has received national recognition for its efforts and made Roswell a magnet for tourism. Maybe it’s time to begin a new chapter in the history of Oakton and expand its place in our collective memory.
I only ask that as you entertain this idea, please imagine the pleasure you’ve had throughout the years driving by Oakton and glancing up through the maze of oaks to the beautiful house on the hill, nestled at the base of Kennesaw Mountain. And, now, think of it gone and ten to twenty houses in its place.
That is the reality that confronts us. A vital component of the legacy of The Gem City of Georgia is in your hands. Please help our community save Oakton.
Photo by Jim DiVitale
Oakton, a 5.5-acre estate that includes Marietta’s oldest surviving house, is at risk of being lost to demolition and redevelopment. The Kennesaw Avenue property has been for sale for over 2 years, and the owners have not yet found a buyer who plans to preserve the historic property. The house was built around 1838 by Judge David Irwin, and it served as the headquarters for Confederate Major General William W. Loring during the battle of Kennesaw Mountain in 1864. The home has spent most of its 179-year history in the stewardship of the Wilder and Goodman families.
Oakton is one of the most historic estates in all of Georgia. A masterful combination of architectural styles, the five-bay stucco facade features octagonal bay windows, ornamented porch posts, a dramatic entry with a decorative glass transom and sidelights, and deep gabled dormers. The landscape includes boxwood gardens that date from the 1870s and outbuildings that have been meticulously restored and maintained. But Oakton has no protection from demolition or redevelopment because it is not located in a local historic district.
Preservation of any city’s most historic buildings is an investment in both the past and the future, protecting real places that represent a community’s history so that they may be shared by future generations. Cobb Landmarks & Historical Society, Inc. (Cobb Landmarks) has been preserving, protecting, and promoting the William Root House Museum & Garden for over 20 years, and the City’s other museums also do a fine job sharing Marietta’s rich history. Oakton’s distinguished history and faithful preservation up to the present moment make it a local landmark worth saving.
The time to save Oakton as a valuable link between Marietta’s past and future is now, before a contract with a real estate developer puts the house in irreversible jeopardy. Cobb Landmarks encourages the City of Marietta to acquire the Oakton estate as a local historic landmark, joining Brumby Hall & Gardens, the Sarah Freeman Clarke Library, and the City Water Works buildings under City ownership and care. The estate could be used as a community center, house museum and garden, or some other type of public facility. While there is time to determine its long-term public use, the future of Oakton needs to be secured now, before it is too late. Cobb Landmarks calls on the City of Marietta to take this important step.