Dearing Street and Henderson Avenue
The Dearing Street area was laid out in three separate surveys. Around 1830, Major James Meriwether platted a section west of Pulaski Street and went as far west as Church Street, bordered to the north and south by Front Street (Broad Street) and Waddell Street consecutively. In 1833, a survey by E.L. Thomas laid out streets and lots from Church Street to Rockspring Street. Then in October 1844, the final survey, extended south and southwest to include Henderson Street. By 1852, Bass Street was added and has since become the major artery known today as Baxter Street.
The streets were platted in a north-south grid; Milledge, however, makes a bend to stay in the center of the ridge. The square or block between streets was designated a lot, each lot containing four acres minus the edges for streets. Any smaller lot was designated a fractional lot; these occurred where lots were subdivided after the initial sale and where the grid of the surveys met the diagonal borders of the University of Georgia’s tract. Interestingly, these streets did not have names until 1859, when City Council appointed a committee to name the streets of Athens.
The homes in the Dearing Street neighborhoods have changed over the decades as lots were subdivided and popular architectural styles changed. John Whitehead, whose family built and lived in the house at 236 Henderson Avenue for 77 years, explained the neighborhood was characterized by its open land, which was as much a part of the “feel” of the district as the individual houses. Today that openness has changed due to major infill apartments and condos. Some of the houses noted in the 1975 National Register Historic District nomination for the neighborhood prepared by Patricia Cooper are highlighted below.
Rucker-Teague House, 328 Dearing Street
The oldest house in the neighborhood was originally built around 1810 and was a central hall, plantation plain house with two main rooms on each floor with end chimneys. It had an original small room to the left rear and perhaps one on the right, connected by the back porch or passage from which the partly enclosed stair ascends. Downstairs mantels have sunbursts; six-paneled doors have brass knobs and iron locks and some windows have been altered. The house was moved from its unknown original location in the 1850s to its present lot, then owned by Richard J. Wilson. Mrs. Kate McKinley Cobb, a later owner of the house, added the right wing and the veranda.
Crane-Harris-Coleman House, 220 Dearing Street
The house was originally constructed by Ross Crane between 1834 and 1839. The house is square, hip roofed, with central hall and four rooms to each floor, Federal in overall character but with Greek Revival Doorways and other detail. In 1843, Young L.G. Harris bought the house as well as the rest of the block. The veranda and interior kitchen were added by Harris. Upon his death in 1894 he left the house to his nieces, Mrs. Bevelle C. Hampton and Miss Annie T. Comer, who divided the block into smaller lots. The house was moved in 1910 to its current location, just south east of its original location.
Meeker-Barrow House, 197 Dearing Street
Christopher Meeker built this house in 1859. One of few remaining examples of Italianate houses in the neighborhood, the exterior is elaborately decorated, while the interior detail is rather simple. The curled eave brackets are repeated in the veranda brackets. The unique window blinds were achieved through the use of six small panels of louvers on each binds instead of the usual two panels.
Chase-Yancey House, 243 Dearing Street
Another Italianate example, this house is the most consistent in its use of typical Italianate elements. In addition to eaves brackets with both curves and tear drops, the house has a double round-arched window over the front door. The round-headed front door panels and round-arched fireplaces were favorites in that era. The cast-iron work on the veranda has geometric and arabesque motifs. Greek Revival influence survives in the trabeated doorway and interior doorway moldings. Instead of the usual four over four plan, this house has a large parlor to the left of the very wide central hall, a double parlor to the right, and a cross hall in the back. When the National Register nomination for the district was written, the well house, stables, and two servant’s houses were still standing on the property.
Hartman Cottage, 342 Dearing Street
This cottage is one of many built between 1880 and 1920 within the Dearing Street historic neighborhood. Built in 1915 with only one story, the house is much smaller than the ones described above. While the design is simple, elements from other houses in the neighborhood are used here: wide veranda, federal-style doorway, hipped-roof, etc.
Mell-McAdams House, 398 Dearing Street
This house was built during the 1880 by Groege A. Mell, who sold the house to D.W. McGregor in 1911. The house is characterized by its steep gables and limited ornamentation. The latter includes a panel with sunburst design above a pair of windows, semi-circular louvers, small brackets, and faintly Eastlakian circular ornaments. Porch columns and window blinds are not original.
The Tree That Owns Itself
One of the most beloved legends of Athens is of the Tree That Owns Itself at the corner of Dearing and Finley Streets. Patricia McAlexander told the story of this tree in her 2011 article title “Tree Tales: Next Door Neighbor Tells All.” The original white oak tree was so beloved by Willima H, Jackson, whose house was across the street, that between 1820 and 1832 he willed eight feet of land around the tree to itself. The story was recounted in an 1890 article in the Athens Weekly Herald, but the will was never found; and legally a tree cannot own itself.
Some people believe the story was fabricated to keep the city from cutting the tree down, due to its encroachment onto Finley Street. If that’s the true story, it definitely worked. The tree was later given a border of granite posted linked with chains and a stone slab (pictured below) bearing a quotation from Jackson’s will.
On October 9, 1942, the original white oak tree, sick with heart rot, fell in a wind storm. It was replaced on December 4, 1946, by the Junior Ladies’ Garden Club with a three-foot sapling grown from one of the original Tree’s acorns, in the exact same spot. They have since cared for the new tree in cooperation with the city. This tree is often referred to as the Son of the Tree That Owns Itself, and is generally recognized as the legal heir of the original tree.
The Tree often receives visitors who like taking pictures or leaving small gifts. The Tree also has its own Facebook Page, where Athenians comment and post pictures.
The Athens Clarke Heritage Foundation has previously published walking tours of many of the historic neighborhoods in Athens for their series: Athens Heritage Walks. Three tours for the Dearing Street Historic Neighborhood were completed: