In the glamour and pizzazz that was the Roaring Twenties, Atlanta’s Swan House was the epitome of luxury. While many had lost their fortunes following the war, the Inman family redirected their financial interests to regain their wealth and help rebuild Atlanta. The Swan House in all its grandeur was a reflection of that wealth and a masterpiece worthy of any party thrown by Gatsby, if he was, in fact, a Southerner.
The Inman family were not newcomers to Atlanta high society. Following the Civil War, Shadrach W. Inman of Tennessee moved to Atlanta after losing much of his wealth. But unlike many Southern plantation owners, the Inmans were able to regain their fortune by adjusting to the culture of an evolving Southern society. The family made a great deal of their post-war wealth through a cotton brokerage business, as well as ties to the railroad, banking, and real estate industries. As their money helped to rebuild a struggling Atlanta, their prestige put them at the forefront of the local political scene.
Edward H. Inman grew up in Atlanta before attending Princeton University. Upon graduation in 1903, Inman returned to Atlanta where he later married Emily Caroline McDougal. The newlyweds settled into their home in the posh Ansley Park, which was interestingly Atlanta’s first suburb designed for the use of automobiles. Fitting, as Inman was one of the first in Atlanta to purchase an automobile and was an avid racer.
In 1924 the Inman family home caught fire and was destroyed. After purchasing twenty-eight acres in the affluent Buckhead neighborhood, the Inmans commissioned the architectural firm Hentz, Reid, and Adler to design the elaborate home. The talented Philip Trammell Shutze, who became a full partner upon the death of Reid in 1926, took on the challenge of designing the Inman’s new residence. Shutze had interned under Hentz and Reid as a student before extending his studies around the country and into Rome. His devotion to the Classical style (here, a combination of both Italian and English) is apparent throughout his design that became one of the most recognized works of his career.
Completed in 1928, the finished home was spectacular. The most striking view of the house is looking on the west-facing rear facade, which faces Andrews Drive. Set atop a hill, the symmetry of the heavily Italian-influenced face is highlighted with a cascade flowing down the hill, flanked on either side by stairs. The front entry to the home is on the east side and is graced with a four-column portico. The gardens and grounds were also designed by Shutze, and feature sprawling lawns, stone fountains, and obelisks. Several Renaissance-inspired elements are found throughout the grounds of the Swan House.
The home was given its name not for its beauty and grace, but for Mrs. Inman’s love of birds, particularly the elegant swan. The bird is represented throughout the grounds and home through paintings and sculptures. The home is as much representative of Mrs. Inman’s personality as it is Shutze’s love of classical architecture. Since the home was planned following the years of young children, a large spiral staircase adorns the front entrance and antiques were chosen for each room of the home. Mr. Inman inhabited the couple’s dream home for only three years. After passing away in 1931, Mrs. Inman invited her family to move into the home with her. Now a raucous home with grandchildren running about, she allowed the family only to use the servant’s staircase so as not to wear out the grand staircase.
Mrs. Inman remained in Swan House until her death in 1965. The following year the house, grounds, and most of the homes furnishings were purchased by the Atlanta Historic Society that maintains the property today. Featured in movies and on television for its style and beauty, the Swan House remains a reflection to many of what characterized the Roaring Twenties in the South—an era of prosperity after so much loss.
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