Tucked inside the bustling enclave of Buckhead a special farm is being grown to interpret history. Visitors to the Atlanta History Center’s Smith Family Farm and Goizueta Gardens can experience a slice of American farm life as it may have been in Atlanta in the 1860s.
One of Atlanta’s oldest surviving farmhouses, the restored Smith family house was built in the 1840s and is made up of their modest living quarters as well as a small separate building out back which housed their kitchen. The gardens that surround the home—made up of a small flower garden, fenced kitchen garden, field crops, a small orchard, and the enslaved workers’ garden—are just one small part of the six gardens that make up the 33-acre Goizueta Gardens. The heirloom crops, varieties of flowers, and preserved woodland are all grown and tended to while remaining true to the time period. (Even the grass in the meadow is a variety that would have been growing on a Georgia farm in the 19th Century.)
The view from the front of the Smith house, at what is now 130 West Paces Ferry Rd, shows the contrast of the area’s past and present, the St. Regis towers in the background. The front garden is blooming with Johnny-Jump-Ups and Sweet shrub.
Emily Roberts, an urban agriculturist for the Atlanta History Center works alongside curator Valerie VanSweden to help research and grow historic plants, paying close attention to how and why they were grown and used. “Everything at the farm is a condensed version of what the Smith family would have had,” Roberts explains, “So, in the field we grow the cash crops like cotton and corn and sweet potatoes that the Smith family is documented as growing at that time.”
“The kitchen garden is the garden that would have fed the Smith family,” Roberts says. “It would have been worked by the enslaved Africans who lived here, but it would have been overseen by Mrs. Smith.” The kitchen garden yields radishes, garlic, parsnips, onions, kale, and dill, thyme and rosemary—all heirloom varieties that date back to the 1860s or earlier. Herbs with medicinal uses like Feverfew (used to treat migraines) Lemon balm (heal wounds) and Lovage (digestion) are also growing here. A makeshift trellis, made by Roberts, is ready for the Dwarf Grey Sugar peas to grow and thrive. “They weren’t doing any sort of fancy trellising in 1864, they were just cutting boughs and then weaving the sticks together to make the pea trellis,” Roberts says.
Though the kitchen garden is grown in a more traditional-style, with neat rows of vegetables and herbs, in the enslaved people’s garden it is a much smaller area, and would have been in area that would not have been considered useful—sloping spaces, usually shadier, with less drainage.
The farm is also home to heritage breed animals including Gulf Coast Sheep, Standard Bronze turkeys, and Plymouth Rock and Rhode Island Red chickens. (Don’t worry. All of the animals have names so no one plans to serve them any time soon.) On a recent visit, children could be heard squealing with delight as they ran into Dodger, the farm’s resident cat who roams freely at the farm.
A census report from 1850 revealed that the Smith Family, made up of Robert Smith, his wife Elizabeth, their six children, and 13 enslaved workers had 15 sheep which yielded them 33-pounds of wool that year. The modern-day version of the Smith farm is also highly prolific: The hens laid 1,400 eggs in 2017. Turkeys Tallulah and Hiawassee laid over 250. The food made here is only used to demonstrate cooking techniques, but sometimes if they yield a bumper crop of collards or cabbage they’ll donate to the local food bank, though that is rare.