East Lake History
East Lake’s Birth: 1890 to 1895
by Tom Harding
Atlanta had 25 years of resurgence after the Civil War, at the dawn of the 1890’s. Economic prosperity was high with the restructuring of the new south, and the newly wealthy were seeking the good life and a break from the hardships that had proceeded the present period. The central city was highly polluted with smog from the many coal furnaces of industry and business, as well as the daily use of wood-fired cooking in residences. At this time, Atlanta saw the start its first suburb, Inman Park, springing up just two miles east of downtown to allow those who could afford it escape the problems of the city. Many folks found the way and means for leisure time and a number of entertainment forms of the day appeared. The most notable of these was the number of artesian spring gardens and man-made lakes that were built outside of the city. They all boasted the clearest, cleanest water, its healing powers, and entertainment pavilions that would provide opportunities for dance, drink and song. Family entertainment was in its birth and romance had always been on the wing.
At this time Mr. Bruce, the owner of one of Atlanta’s many streetcar companies, saw the opportunity that the times provided and searched for the right piece of land that would fulfill this new entertainment need. He discovered a farm called Meadow Nook five miles to the east of downtown and its owner, the widow of Col. Robert Alston, who had fallen on hard times after the death of her husband. The land of rolling hills and a valley with two creeks and five-spring watershed had the potential of becoming a dammed lake. The East Lake Land Company was formed and the property purchased from the widow Alston. In 1891 the marsh was cleared and a dam built to retain the water. East Lake is acre for acre the same today as it was the day it was built. The company’s ideas were as grand as the day. Subdivide the property around the lake into very small lots on one side, medium and large lots on the other, with larger tracks set aside for hotels, school, and mercantile. All of this was to be overlooked by a large dance and entertainment pavlalion on the crest of the hill where the clubhouse sits today.
The East Lake Land Company wanted an environment that the average Atlantan to the wealthiest Atlantan could buy and build a cottage, and also wanted to cater to the tourist trade that had come south for the warm weather in locations like Litha Springs, GA and Tallulah Gorge, GA. The East Lake Land Company in its original subdivision laid out no less than 22 streets in the area that we know today from the streets of Glenwood to Memorial, Allendale to Second. Some street names were chosen with an entertainment theme as others were named as ego booster to the board of directors and investors. Many of those names are still in place today. Mr. Bruce’s streetcar line was completed from downtown, along the eastern railroad line through Kirkwood, GA and south down what is currently East Lake Drive to the pavilion at the lake.
The large pavilion was built, along with a beach, boathouses, several gazebos, lawn bowling and badminton courts. Lots started to sell as well as the model cottages built on the edge of the lake, as an example of the community’s future. During later years, as the golf course was built and redesigned three different times, a number of foundations of these homes have been found spread throughout the club property. No one is sure as to the number of cottages built, but the complete title search of the property in 1994, from the 1821 Georgia Land Lottery for DeKalb County till today, proved extensive due to the number of lots sold to individuals in the 1890’s. Today only one of these original cottages still exists. It is located on Daniel Avenue, across from the East Lake Park. It is owned and protected by Dorothy Blake, one of East Lake’s longtime matrons. My best guess is it was built in 1894, but research is still needed.