Summerhill was Atlanta’s first African-American real estate development, created soon after the Civil War and settled by emancipated slaves. In the early 1900’s, it was a prosperous neighborhood and home to African Americans, Jews, and Greeks. Summerhill was home to several of Atlanta’s influential civic and business leaders, including Sam Massell, Herman Russell, S. W. Walker and Leon Eplan.
But, like neighboring Mechanicsville and Peoplestown, Summerhill fell victim to economic and political pressures beyond its control. As Atlanta grew to the north and west during the early part of the twentieth century, the more affluent moved to larger lots with bigger houses. The politics of Urban Renewal left Summerhill with a prevalence of dilapidated, sub-standard housing, vacant lots, and abandoned commercial buildings.
In the mid-1960s, a riot occurred in Summerhill over the shooting of a young African American man by the police. This incident served to galvanize the residents into civic action which resulted in the formation of a neighborhood organization, Summerhill Neighborhood Inc.
By 1990, through the efforts of Summerhill Neighborhood Inc., a CDC named Summerhill Neighborhood Development, Inc., was founded to take charge of the physical redevelopment of the neighborhood in preparation for the 1996 Olympics, which would take place at Turner Stadium on Summerhill’s doorstep. In 2004, a new neighborhood organization was formed, the Organized Neighbors of Summerhill, who in conjunction with the CDC work to develop and strengthen the Summerhill community.
Mechanicsville formed after the Civil War alongside a rail yard and locomotive repair shops and was home to many of the rail road’s mechanics. It was also home to many of Atlanta’s earliest Jewish residents. The ethnically, religiously and economically diverse neighborhood was home to African Americans, Russians, German, and other Europeans.
In 1989, J. Lowell Ware, publisher of The Atlanta Voice, partnered with Rosa Burney, a Mechanicsville community activist, to create SUMMECH Community Land Trust which later became SUMMECH Community Development Corporation. Ware had previously demonstrated his commitment to the community by moving his newspaper’s offices into Mechanicsville in 1972 where they remain today. Upon the death of her father, Janice Ware was named as the organization’s executive director and, under her leadership, the organization has focused on the provision of affordable housing to low and moderate-income families. Over the years, SUMMECH has acquired vacant lots and abandoned housing and redeveloped housing in the neighborhood, including 234 units at Rosa Burney Manor Apartments and City Views at Rosa Burney Park.
SUMMECH has also sought to attract homebuyers to the community, becoming a HUD-certified housing counseling agency and helping more than 1,000 individuals to complete its homebuyer education classes. Acting as an aggressive engine for change in the community, SUMMECH developed 69 townhomes, 16 single family homes and 834 apartment units in partnership with Columbia Residential and the Atlanta Housing Authority.
As a part of the redevelopment of McDaniel Glenn public housing community, $3.8 million in public-private funding was invested in improvements at the neighboring Rosa Burney Park and the Dunbar Neighborhood Center. Improvements at the 13-acre park included the construction of a new Olympic-size pool, new and improved tennis and basketball courts, an inclusive children’s playground set, and construction of a promenade that connects the park with nearby housing developments. The Dunbar Neighborhood Center is home to many non-profit organizations that serve the area, including The Center for Working Families, Inc. and Center for Black Women’s Wellness.
Named for the previous property owners, the Peoples family, Peoplestown emerged in the 1890’s as a single-family neighborhood. By the 1920’s, it was home to a diverse population, including African Americans, whites, and Jewish immigrants from Western Europe with a variety of Arts & Crafts-style bungalows.
Peoplestown is the current home to over 3,200 individuals (approximately 1,200 households) and has a rich history of community-based organizing and deep social networks. Emmaus House, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, formed in 1967 and opened in the Peoplestown community. Historically serving as an incubator for neighborhood-based organizing and empowerment, Emmaus House continues to partner with neighborhood residents to provide education, opportunity, assistance, and advocacy. Also in 1967, Southside Medical Center was founded, and today provides comprehensive healthcare services for residents of the surrounding communities.
Peoplestown Revitalization Corporation (PRC) has facilitated the building of affordable housing and fostered economic development in the neighborhood since its founding in 1991. PRC lead the community-organizing to protect the residents’ interests in the building of the Olympic Stadium (current Turner Field). Through the 1990’s, PRC has developed a number of affordable housing complexes in the community, including Columbia at Peoplestown, The Square at Peoplestown, Peoplestown Villas, and Ethel Mae Mathews Place.
Peoplestown Neighborhood Association (PNA), formed in 2007, continues to primarily focus on social networking, neighborhood beautification, communication within the neighborhood, developing partnerships, and promoting quality education at D. H. Stanton Elementary School.
Friends of Peoplestown Parks organized residents to create Four Corners Park and to renovate D.H. Stanton Park into the first energy cost-neutral and active park in the City of Atlanta. With its grand re-opening in spring 2011 and dedication as an Atlanta Beltline Park, D.H. Stanton Park in the Peoplestown neighborhood is a shining example of the power of a collaborative effort within the community to turn a former landfill site into greenspace for all to enjoy.