History of the Donaldson-Bannister Farm

4831 Chamblee-Dunwoody Road, Dunwoody, GA
Year Built: 1870
Georgia Register of Historic Places (2008)
National Register of Historic Places

The circa 1870 Donaldson-Bannister Farm is special to long-time Dunwoody residents, who think of the charming two story farmhouse as a reminder of bygone days and remember when there were still animals in the pastures surrounding the home.  It is also special to today’s community of Dunwoody for the great potential it has for our city.

Now, the Dunwoody Preservation Trust has made that potential possible as the gates and doors of the old home place open up and welcome visitors.  The home offers opportunities not only to Dunwoody, but all of our nearby neighborhoods and cities.

The history of the home goes back to the end of the Civil War, when William James Donaldson returned to the area following his service to the Confederacy.  He was born in South Carolina in 1827, but like many others came to Georgia and was living in the same house as Samuel House of Cross Keys in 1850.  He married Nettie Lucretia Reeves and continued to live in the Cross Keys area.

Nettie died and William Donaldson married Sarah Powers before joining Company F, 36th GA Infantry Regiment on April 10, 1862. He was captured at Vicksburg in July of 1863 and taken prisoner.  By signing an oath not to take up arms again, he was able to be released soon afterward.

Mr. Donaldson kept that oath as he did not take up arms again for the Confederacy, but he did aid the soldiers by making and repairing shoes.

Following the war, he came to the area just north of Cross Keys now known as Dunwoody.  At that time it was identified on maps as Providence, for the church that stood along present Chamblee Dunwoody Road just north of Mount Vernon Road.

He married Martha (Millie) Adams (born 1842) and lived on the land owned by her father, Jesse Adams.

Jesse Adams was one of the sons of Salathiel Adams, a pioneer who lived in the Cross Keys area (today’s Brookhaven) and who is buried in a small family cemetery off  Oconee Pass.

Over the years, Mr. and Mrs. Donaldson acquired one thousand acres between Dunwoody and Chamblee.  When William J. Donaldson died in 1900, Millie Adams Donaldson continued to run the farm for the next thirty years.

In 1934, following Mrs. Donaldson’s death, the land was sold at auction.  Lois Pattillo Bannister purchased twenty six acres that included the old farmhouse.  She bought the old house to use as a summer home and proceeded to have it remodeled in the Colonial Revival style.  She hired Atlanta architect Francis Palmer Smith to plan the conversion.

Other owners of the home have included the Roberts and Ogden families, followed by the Frank Smith family in 1955.  Frank Smith was a successful nursery owner in Atlanta.

Developer Jim Cowart purchased the property from Frank Smith and while planning development of an adjoining neighborhood, he actively sought new owners who would restore the old home.  Linda and David Chesnut purchased the house from Cowart in 1975.

In 1998, a tornado struck Dunwoody and severely damaged the house, primarily due to large mature trees falling on the home.  The Chesnuts repaired all the damages, restoring the home to its glory.

The Chesnuts sold the home to DeKalb County in 2005 with hopes that they would take care of the old home.  Instead, the Donaldson-Bannister Home sat neglected for several years.

donaldson bannister barn

When Dunwoody became a city in 2008, the home and surrounding property became part of Dunwoody’s Parks and Recreation Department.  As they home continued to sit unused and without needed repairs, the Dunwoody Preservation Trust stepped in, offering to manage the renovation and operation of the historic home.

After many years of fundraising and hard work by the community of Dunwoody, May 1, 2018, brought the Grand Opening and Ribbon-Cutting of the Donaldson-Bannister Farm.  Once again the property has been opened to the residents of Dunwoody and surrounding areas.  The farmhouse and grounds are now available for public and private special events of all kinds, and is ready to be enjoyed by all.

Currently the only historical building on the property still in need of renovation is the Guest Cottage, which sits adjacent to the main house.