Kirkwood traces its beginnings to residential development begun as early as the 1870s. While no one would consider Kirkwood a suburb of Atlanta today, an early tour book described it as an “area of beautiful suburban villas.” Kirkwood was an early streetcar suburb to Atlanta. By 1910 streetcars provided express service to and from Atlanta three times daily, and street cars continued service along some streets including Boulevard Dr (presently Hosea L Williams Dr) until the early 1950’s.
Kirkwood was incorporated as an independent municipality in 1899. Governed beginning in 1899 by its own city council and mayor, the town boasted its own water system, school systems and fire department. The former Kirkwood School is a handsome building from this period, located on Kirkwood Road just north of Bessie Branham Park. Individually nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, the primary building on the property’s south side was originally designed by John Francis Downing, the son of the noted Atlanta architect W. T. Downing. Both buildings now comprise the Kirkwood Lofts apartments as a result of a $1 million renovation in 1997.
In 1922, Kirkwood residents voted for annexation into the city of Atlanta.
Beginning in the late 1950s and continuing into the 1960s, Kirkwood experienced a transition from an almost all-white community to an almost all-black community. Up until 1965 as the racial composition of the community changed, black citizens made up an increasingly large percentage of the community’s populations. Unfortunately they were denied the opportunity to attend the white, segregated Kirkwood School; and as a result of community pressure the Atlanta School Board in 1965 abruptly integrated Kirkwood School The school board declared the previous phased-in, grade-by-grade attempt at integration a failure.
Beginning in the 1980s, the neighborhood began to witness another influx of new residents interested in renovating the neighborhood’s stock of historic housing. Still underway, this influx of the middle-class brought with it a whole host of new issues. Some of the issues dealt with gentrification and the clash of people with different social, racial, and economic histories living together in one community.
While rich in history, Kirkwood’s rise, then its fall into decline, and its recent arrival again as a neighborhood attractive to middle and upper-middle income homeowners illustrate just how economic, racial, and social forces have shaped this historic inner-city community and many others like it.