The roots of both Athens and the University of Georgia are inextricably linked. Land for the university was purchased in 1801 by John Milledge who would later serve the state as governor. The land, on a hill overlooking Cedar Shoals on the Oconee River, was to house the state-supported university and parcels of land adjacent to the campus were sold to private interests. The town was incorporated as “Athens” in 1806 with a handful of residents, faculty and students. Athens grew quickly into a regional center for trade and education as well as a social center.
After the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves, Athens became a regional center for the African-America community. A school, The Knox School, was created and a prosperous African-American middle class emerged towards the end of the 19th century. The entire city saw rapid growth throughout the 20th century, some of it tied with the growth of the university. The city continues to expand with the university which has brought a world-class cultural experience to the region.
Alpha Gamma Delta House
530 South Milledge Avenue
Built as a private home in 1896 and used as a sorority house since 1939, this exuberant wedding-cake like house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. William Winstead Thomas, a local engineer, built the house which was later bought by James Yancey Carithers as a wedding gift for his daughter, Susie. As legend tells, when Susie’s groom failed to show up for the ceremony on time, the distraught woman hung herself in the attic. The groom finally did show, having been delayed on the way to the nuptials, but Susie was dead. Her spirit has been seen throughout the house while girls living in her old room often become engaged, thus the suite’s name, “The Engagement Suite.”
300 North Thomas Street
When it was decided to build a performing arts center in Athens, the original plans called for the demolition of the warehouses and the old 1912 Firehouse Number 1 which were standing on the site. However, local citizens fought to have the firehouse incorporated in the design. The firehouse was remodeled and now serves as a box office for the performing arts center that stands around it. Captain Hiram Peeler had had a distinguished career as head of the Athens Fire Department when he plunged to his death in an elevator shaft in 1928. It is believed to be his spirit that remains in the firehouse. Reports of activity were reported in the building while it still served as a firehouse. The activity continued through the building’s use as the Chamber of Commerce and has continued while it serves as the Classic Center.
For further information on the Classic Center, see my article, “A chain-rattling, Classic spirit–Athens, Georgia.”
199 West Washington Street
Actors in the dressing room of this restored theatre have reported odd activity in the dressing room. Sadly, that’s all the information I can find in terms of the paranormal. The Morton Theatre was built by African-American businessman Monroe Bowers “Pink” Morton starting in 1909. The theatre was one of the main anchors of “Hot Corner,” the intersection of Washington and Hull Streets, that was the center of African-American life in Athens. It opened as a vaudeville house for the black community and such names as Butterbeans and Susie, Louie Armstrong and Cab Calloway appeared there. The building has since been restored as a performing arts center for the community and is one of the few remaining black vaudeville houses in the nation.
Oconee Hill Cemetery
297 Cemetery Street
When the main city cemetery (now known as the Old Athens Cemetery) began sprawling close to the campus and the homes of the university president and professors, steps were taken to create a new cemetery nearby. Since it’s opening in 1855, the university has sprawled close to the cemetery with massive Sanford Stadium now looming across the street. The cemetery now hosts a number of prominent Georgians including two governors, eight university presidents and at least one ghost. The legend exists of a ghostly carriage appearing on the bridge between the old and newer portions of the cemetery.
Old Athens Cemetery
The original city cemetery before Oconee Hill Cemetery was created; the cemetery was created around 1810. The last burial occurred in 1898, not long after the university first tried to reclaim the land. This would be a struggle that would continue through the 1980s. The cemetery was deeded back to school in 2004 and in 2006 a preservation program was instituted under the university’s grounds department. Kathleen Wall mentions that the ghost of a young girl has been seen in the cemetery. The location was investigated by the Georgia Haunt Hunters team in 1998 and the team discovered some temperature fluctuations.
Phi Kappa Psi House
398 South Milledge Avenue
In researching Athens, I keep coming across locations that are mentioned as being haunted, but there are few specifics given. This is one location that is briefly mentioned. Daniel Barefoot mentions that the brothers in this house have heard the crying of a baby. This Queen Anne style home was built in 1890.
Phi Mu House
250 South Milledge Avenue
The legend of the Phi Mu House, according to the sorority, concerns a young woman named Anna Powell. Her husband shot himself, either purposefully or accidentally at the bottom of the stairs. At times, it is said, a cross will appear on the floor where this horrific incident took place. Anna’s spirit has been encountered frequently by sisters in the house. Knocking and sobbing have been heard in the house and one young woman had the door unlocked for her late one night by unseen hands. The house was constructed by Colonel Thomas Hamilton, reportedly Georgia’s first millionaire, and finished in 1858 by his widow, Sarah. It has served as a sorority house since 1964.
634 Prince Avenue
Built by Irish immigrant turned cotton merchant and planter, Robert Taylor, in 1844, the Taylor-Grady House was purchased by Major William S. Grady in 1863, at the height of the Civil War which he was fighting in. Major Grady was killed in the Battle of Petersburg and his spirit is said to have returned to his family’s home. Henry Grady, the major’s son, was a staunch advocate for the “New South” as managing editor for the Atlanta Constitution and a famed orator. As the only existing of Grady’s homes, the Taylor-Grady House was named a National Historic Landmark in 1976.
T. R. R. Cobb House
175 Hill Street
This noteworthy home with octagonal wings took the scenic route in its move from nearby Prince Avenue. It faced the wrecking ball in 1985, and was moved to Stone Mountain Park, just outside of Atlanta, to be restored as a part of the living history village there (which also has some notable haunted structures). After languishing 20 years, the home was returned to Athens and restored. A ghost story from this house was collected as part of the WPA Writers’ Project and recalls the spirit of “a gentleman wearing a gay dressing gown” who is seen descending the stairs and sitting in front of the fire in the drawing room. For further information, see my in-depth entry on this home, “A firebrand phantom.”
University of Georgia Campus
Joe E. Brown Hall
This 1932 building, built as a dormitory is home to a staircase to nowhere. Legend states that not long after the building was built, a student hung himself during Christmas break. His decomposing body was found when students returned. Though the mess was cleaned up, the blood stains were said to return. According to Daniel Barefoot, when the building was remodeled for office space, the room was sealed and the staircase leading to it blocked. In an article in the university newspaper, The Red and Black, a photograph of the staircase to nowhere was published in an article on campus legends. Supposedly knocking still issues from the sealed room.
Like many of the oldest campus buildings, the Lustrat House has served a variety of functions. Currently the office of Legal Affairs, the building initially served as a residence for professors. Towards the end of the 19th century, it was home to Dr. Charles Morris, chair of the English Department. When the university decided to relocate the house in 1903, Dr. Morris attempted to assuage officials away from that plan. He refused to move with the home. After his death, the family of Professor Joseph Lustrat began to see Dr. Morris has surprisingly taken up residence, sitting in his favorite chair by the fire.
The oldest building on campus still in its complete form according to Daniel Barefoot, Waddel Hall was built in 1821 as Philosophical Hall. The sounds of a tragic lovers quarrel are still heard in this building that now houses the university special events office. During World War I, a young man left his female love who fell for another in his absence. When he returned, he confronted his beloved and the quarrel ended in a murder-suicide.
- Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation. Milledge Avenue Walking Tour. No date.
- Barefoot, Daniel W. Haunted Halls of Ivy: Ghosts of Southern Colleges and Universities. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 2004.
- Bender, William N. Haunted Atlanta and Beyond. Toccoa, GA: Currahee Books, 2005.
- Beynon, Valerie. “Morton Theatre.” The New Georgia Encyclopedia. 26 March 2005.
- Burnett, Daniel. “Mythbusters UGA.” The Red and Black. 28 January 2009.
- Hendricks, Bill. “Ghost trackers look for proof of afterlife: Athens haunt club checks Georgia sites.” The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. 1 December 1998.
- “History.” The Classic Center. Accessed 17 June 2011.
- “History.” Oconee Hill Cemetery. Accessed 17 June 2011.
- “History.” The Taylor-Grady House. Accessed 21 June 2011.
- Jackson Street Cemetery. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 June 2011.
- Killion, Ronald G. and Charles T. Waller. A Treasury of Georgia Folklore. Atlanta, GA: Cherokee Publishing, 1972.
- Miles, Jim. Weird Georgia. NYC: Sterling Publishers, 2006.
- Miles, Jim. “Weird Georgia T.R.R. Cobb Haunts Athens Home.” Brown’s Guide to Georgia. Accessed 18 June 2011.
- Roberts, Nancy. Georgia Ghosts. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1997.
- Thomas, Frances Taliaferro. “Athens.” The New Georgia20 October 2010.
- “Thomas-Carithers House.” Accessed 15 June 2011.
- R. R. Cobb House. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 18 June 2011.
- Walls, Kathleen. Georgia’s Ghostly Getaways. Global Authors Publications, 2002.