As I visited neighborhoods around the BeltLine in researching this book, I adopted what I humorously called a “sleeping around” strategy. Rather than just making flash visits, I tried to find somewhere to stay overnight, so that I could get to know people and their communities better. I stayed two nights in September 2015 with Rod and Bobbi Paul in their large Inman Park home on Elizabeth Street, a short walk from the Eastside Trail. Bobbi had recently retired as the executive of an anti-nuclear watchdog organization, and Rod, a documentary filmmaker, traveled the world for his job.
They bought their lovely Victorian home for $149,000 in 1984, when the neighborhood was already coming back, but at the time the home still had black mold, rats, and bare wires hanging out of the wall. Having fixed up the home and raised two sons there, they now live with their two dogs and remain active in neighborhood affairs.
One night we walked across the street for a wonderful salmon dinner on the back patio at the home of their friends John and Midge Sweet, who were among the neighborhood pioneers. John, a lawyer who later became a city councilman, came to Atlanta in 1968 as a Vista volunteer. Three years later, he bought his dilapidated Victorian for $23,000. “The former boarders had parked their cars in front yards, so it was hard-packed dirt where no grass could grow,” he recalled. “One day a group of us were helping a guy up the street, digging a stump out, sweat pouring off us. A man walking by was amazed when I told him it wasn’t even my house. He ended up being inspired to move to Inman Park himself.”
Sweet, a community organizer, took part in what everyone called the Road Fight, which spanned an astonishing four decades. In 1964, the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) introduced plans for Interstate 495, a toll road that would rip through Inman Park and other neighborhoods on its way to Stone Mountain and Athens, Georgia. Over 200 acres of homes were cleared in preparation for the expressway, with the last home, belonging to Judge Durwood Pye in Inman Park, torn down in 1971, the same year John Sweet moved there, as well as Cathy Bradshaw, an Atlanta native who became a leader in the fight to stop the road. During a driving tour, Bradshaw gave me an overview of the Road Fight.