Monday, July 12, 2010

Blueprints for the Butler Mansion: The House of a Thousand Candles

So here’s what we figured. We have material on three historical houses that resemble the Butler mansion, and, instead of distributing the posts over the course of the following weeks, as was our initial plan, we decided to post one each day, starting with today. On Thursday, when you’ll all have seen the three houses in question, we’ll have a poll and you can vote the house you find closer to Scarlett’s Peachtree mansion as described by Margaret Mitchell. And now, let's meet our first mansion:

                                                       Image scanned from Peachtree Street, Atlanta
                            Name: Dougherty-Hopkins residence
                            Built: 1890
                            Demolished: 1931
                            Location: intersection of Peachtree and Baker streets

Our first candidate enters the competition with one major drawback: as you can see, it was built in 1890, which puts some solid 22 years between it and the fictional Butler mansion and also makes it the "youngest" house in our lot. However, we think that this alone is no reason to discard it, especially since it does have a couple of elements working in its favor as well. But first let's hear the story behind it-->after the jump.

Rising on a small red-clay hill at the southeast corner of Peachtree and Baker streets, the mansion was built by the young architect W.L. Stoddart (who would later become a well-known designer of hotels and multi-stories apartment buildings) for David H. Dougherty, a successful dry goods merchant whose one-story bungalow previously occupied the lot. The new construction was a grand house, in the ornate style of the late Victorian years, built to impress and dazzle the viewer, inside and out:
"The turreted castle was a romantic edifice with towers, porches, dormers, and balconies giving it the appearance of a Swiss chalet. The central hallway was a splendid three-story affair onto which private balconies opened from rooms on the second and third floors."
--excerpted from Peachtree Street, Atlanta by William Bailey Williford
But however ornate and eye-catching its exterior was, the main attraction of the Dougherty mansion remained a piece of interior design: a gigantic crystal chandelier, suspended from the roof and extending down the stairwell to the reception hall three stories below. The glittering majesty of this chandelier would give the mansion its nickname: the House of a Thousand Candles. Hand carved mantels and newel posts were the work of an Italian artist.

In 1901, the house was sold for $25,000 to the Colonial Club, an association destined to be short-lived, despite the presence in its ranks of Atlanta's youth elite. Only one year later, Dr. John R. Hopkins acquired the mansion at the price of...$260. Hopkins was an interesting character whose fortune was made by manufacturing and selling a product for removing the kink from blacks' hair. (Kells Whiting in Gone with the Wind, Chapter XLI, anyone?)

Apparently, the old doctor also had an unusual luck at finding buried treasures, for, upon digging in his back yard one day, he stumbled across gold nuggets. As a result, in 1931, when the mansion was to be turned into a gasoline station by the Goodrich Silvertown Company, the leveling of the hill beneath it attracted much interest and hope from the Atlantans. Unfortunately no gold was found.
Now, as to the similarities between the House of a Thousand Candles and the Butler mansion, we found at least three. First of all, the magic words "Swiss chalet," used to describe the style of this house. Then, the myriad of cupolas, turrets, towers and balconies, that was also a trademark of Scarlett's house. And finally, the sensation this mansion gives, of towering over all other houses. Well, that's mainly because it was built on a hillside, but still...

So, what do you think?


  1. Well, it certainly qualifies as an architectural horror! (Where do you find this stuff? Your research skills are truly impressive.) The lot appears to be too small, but the architectural elements (turrets, balconies and that second story window with wooden trim, right front, looks kinda chalet-like) seem to fit the description given in the book. How close was it to the Leyden house?

  2. The book says that the house has a verandah around the entire ground floor and steps leading up to it on all four sides, which suggests that at least the bottom floor of the house was square. Also, it states that the third floor of the house is an enormous ballroom. This house looks like it only had an attic. So I'm gonna vote no on this one.

  3. @ Iris. Yes, the house seems to have a small lot. I looked at an antique map in the hopes of seeing a huge back yard for it, at least, but I don't think that was the case. It also wasn't that close to the Leyden house. It was like two blocks up north. Leyden was between Ellis and Cain streets, and then it went Harris street and Baker street (where the Dougherty residence was).

    The book we used (and will probably use a lot in the future), Peachtree Street, Atlanta is very cool, I heartily recommend it. It has lots of details to guide your research and it really reads more like a well-woven tale.

    @ Andrew You are right. I think part of it stems from the size of the property, as Iris noticed, which made this house appear a little crammed and probably influenced its shape as well (it seems to take advantage of its height more, which is not surprising, given its architect). And then I suspect there was a slight distance between the ideals of Dougherty, the dry goods merchant, and those of Scarlett. Scarlett's mansion would be an intensified version of a house like this.

    Thank you both for commenting!

  4. Hmm. I'd have to agree with the others--this house has elements that are similar to the Butler house, but overall I've seen others that come closer.

    A great book for this sort of things is "Atlanta Then and Now" by Michael Rose. It's a treasure trove of photographs, and there are many Civil War-era pictures in there (including shop signs) that give us an idea of what Scarlett's Atlanta looked like. The Leyden House is in there, along with one or two others that remind me of Scarlett's house.

  5. This comes close, but not as close as the other contenders as I'm coming into this discussion rather late. Was on vacation last week and am just now getting to indulge in this blog and wow, what a fantastic job you ladies have done. I am so very, very impressed! Congratulations!


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