The town of Kirkwood developed shortly after the Civil War as a whistle stop along the Georgia Railroad between Decatur and Atlanta. Initial development of the area included parts of what is now the Lake Claire neighborhood to the north of the railroad as well as what is now called Kirkwood to its south.
Business nodes were established along the railroad and later at Boulevard Drive (now Hosea Williams Drive) where trolley lines from downtown Atlanta traveled on their way to East Lake (a popular early 20th century recreation and summertime community for Atlanta’s wealthy) and Oakhurst (now a neighborhood within Decatur).
In 1899, Kirkwood was incorporated into its own municipality. It had its own town council, mayor, school system, water system, and fire department. The town had two centers, one of commerce that was and still is along Hosea Williams Drive from Howard Street to Oakview Road, and the other at Bessie Branham Park, which served as the public green. In 1922 the city of Kirkwood voted to be annexed into the city of Atlanta.
Unfortunately, as racial tensions began to heat up at mid-century, Kirkwood began to suffer. When the East-West MARTA rail line was constructed within the Georgia Railroad corridor, surface crossings were removed. This had the effect of creating an “other side of the tracks” scenario when there had not previously been one. Further compromising the community’s vitality, land at its southern edge owned by the Atlanta Athletic Club was sold to the Atlanta Housing Authority and became the East Lake Meadows housing project, which would become one of the nation’s most notoriously dysfunctional. The stigmas that developed from these actions caused Kirkwood to loose much of its luster.
Residents and neighborhood activists began the process of revival in the early 1980s. During the late 1970s and ‘80s the popular civil rights activist Hosea Williams owned a large portion of the neighborhood’s commercial corridor. After his death in the mid-90s, the property fell into disrepair. In 2001, Kirkwood’s outdated commercial zoning was rewritten to make it a neighborhood commercial district. Since then, the mixed-use Kirkwood Station development went up on the former Williams property. It is now the centerpiece of a neighborhood commercial district that is helping to restore a walkable community atmosphere to this historic neighborhood.