In 1844 a young and promising couple was gifted a home on the occasion of their wedding. Over the next 170 years, that humble home would transform with chameleonic skill, first from a modest house into a Greek Revival mansion, then from a single residence into a cross-hatched home for many. In its flightiest years, the house even raised its roots and moved, its sights set on a bigger city and bigger dreams that never quite came to fruition. But, like so many of us Southerners, the heart of the house was pulled back to settle where it began, in its hometown.
The members of the aforementioned couple were Marion Lumpkin (daughter of Joseph Henry Lumpkin, the first Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court and gifter of the home) and Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb, for whom the house was named (a name it would retain through all its various chapters). The Cobbs settled in Athens, Georgia, one of the first well-to-do families to do so. As a lawyer (as well as author, educator, politician, and military leader), Cobb found success in the burgeoning town of Athens and quickly became one of the most respected—and successful—members of the community. As his wealth and influence grew, so did his home.
When the T.R.R. Cobb house was originally constructed in 1834, it was a modest and simple home of the “Plantation Plain” style, a “four over four” construction with four rooms on each of its two stories. But Cobb had dreams, big ones, for what his home could become.
All around Athens, a city figuratively and literally modeled after the intellectual hub in Greece, homes in the Greek Revival style were being built, and Cobb’s humble abode seemed dimmer by comparison. By the late 1840’s, he had begun expanding the home with simple additions, but as the century met its midpoint, the house grew to grandeur. In 1852 Cobb unveiled two octagonal wings that framed either side of the original structure; they would mark the house’s signature silhouette. That same year he also added a two-story portico and Doric columns, completing the conversion of the home from discreet to grand.
Unfortunately, Cobb was not able to enjoy his architectural accomplishments for long. A mere decade after finishing the expansion and at the peak of his career, Cobb, a brigadier general in the Confederate army, was killed at the Battle of Fredericksburg, leaving the home to his wife Marion. Though Marion stayed until 1873, the home was never the same without its lively and ambitious progenitor.
When Marion sold the house, the abode initiated its teenagehood: flighty and irresponsible, it shifted from vocation to vocation, becoming moody and shabby and undergoing awkward growing pains. It became a rental property, then a debaucherous fraternity house, then a dingy boarding house. Finally, in 1962, it took up a nobler role as a rectory and offices for the adjacent St. Joseph’s Catholic Church.
But even in the church the T.R.R. Cobb house did not find stability. In the 1980’s, the 150-year-old home lacked luster; its faded paint and sagging facade were a direct contrast to the glimmering church. So when the church began its rumblings of expansion, the solution was immediate: demolish the T.R.R. Cobb house and incorporate the lot into its fold.
Despite being added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975, the T.R.R. Cobb House nearly fell into that cold, dark night—until the Stone Mountain Memorial Association stepped forward in 1984. Though located seventy miles away, just outside Atlanta, the folks of Stone Mountain recognized the historical and architectural gem and swooped in to save it.
It wasn’t, however, quite the salvation one might expect. Though the Stone Mountain Memorial Association was able to purchase and move the house, budgetary restrictions limited the restoration of the home. After it was placed in Stone Mountain Park in 1985, it sat untouched upon the same cement blocks for twenty years.
Finally, in 2005, true deliverance arrived for the T.R.R. Cobb house in the form of the Watson-Brown Fund. The Fund, dedicated to the revival and maintenance of classic Southern heirlooms, purchased the home and transported it back to where it belonged, in Athens, a mere two blocks from its original site. In 2007 the restored mansion was opened to the public as a museum. Today the noble home stands monument to the accomplishments of Cobb and the South.