This Winnona Park Boy’s Life . . .
Bill Breen reminisces about Winnona Park
Bill Breen remembers . . . When the Columbia Seminary apartment complex between Kirk and Inman was instead the site of woods and “the most beautiful little lake.” . . . When Shadowmoor Drive was unpaved and was a favorite spot of exploration for young boys with its “caves” and the “best blackberry picking places.” . . . When a young Scotty Candler kept a horse in the backyard of his South Candler Street home (on S. Candler, presently the home of a City Commissioner). . . . When the Winnona Park School playground was all dust (or mud if it rained) and had no grass.
Bill Breen, who was born in 1926 in one of the county’s oldest houses, has lived most of the last three-quarters of a century in Winnona Park . He was the guest speaker at the May 2006 meeting of the Winnona Park Neighborhood Association. Breen was born and lived his earliest years in his grandparents’ home, the Fulton-Avary House on South Columbia . The house was built in 1868 by the James Avary family and purchased by the Fulton family in 1888. It is now the home of Breen’s uncle, Tom Fulton Jr.
At one time, there was a small lake on the property, said Breen, but it was drained by Avary after his first wife died of malaria that he believed was contracted from the pond.
At age six, young Billy’s family moved to a house on the southeast corner of Winnona and Avery, near his present home on Winnona Dr . Then, in 1936, the family moved to Avery St. , where his mother, Henrietta Fulton Breen, operated a small nursery school for more than 20 years, until about 1972, on the bottom floor. As an adult, Breen, who grew up to be an architect and still has offices in Decatur , designed an addition to the Avery Street house.
He remembers his years at Winnona Elementary as a combination of work and play, strict teachers and “sweet, pretty” ones. The YMCA operated recreational programs at the playground, which had no grass in those days; “it was all dust or mud, depending on the weather.” In eighth grade, he went to the high school “which proved to be a good training ground for me… About 95 percent of the students went on to college.” When he wasn’t attending school, Breen and his friends were likely to be exploring the woods and “caves” and creeks in the neighborhood. Avery, or Avary as it was originally known, was paved with sidewalks, and it was quite a venture for young Billy to walk through the woods (lots of mimosa trees) and across the creek from the Fulton-Avary house to Winnona Drive or Avery Street .
Shadowmoor Drive, which Breen recalls as having no houses at the time, was “paved” with crushed stones and oiled to keep the dust down between Columbia and Hilldale but impassable to Inman. “On the far side of Shadowmoor were steep banks with what we boys called caves that we played in and dug for minié balls.” Summertime meant good blackberry picking in the bushes along Shadowmoor.
When young Bill and his friends wanted to go camping, they didn’t have to look beyond their neighborhood. A favorite spot was the woods and lake where the Columbia Seminary apartments now stand. The catch, Breens says, was that his mother made him call up the president of the Columbia Seminary, a Dr. Richardson, and ask permission to camp on the property.
A community club with pool was located behind Avery and Winnona “next door to my current house,” says Breen. “I would crawl out the window at the break of day and go swimming… all the kids had chronic earaches all summer.” The brick pool, opened as the Decatur Athletic Club in 1913, was deteriorating even during his childhood, says Breen, and was later demolished, though the remains of the old tennis courts are now in his current backyard.
A classmate, “Pinky” English, lived with his aunt and uncle in the Milledge house, a large house off Kirk near Mimosa that was demolished later to make way for the Candler Oaks development. Another classmate was Martha Feemster of Avery, whose father owned a grocery and butcher shop on East College where the Georgia Power substation is now. Martha later married Henry Hagee, who owned the Decatur Floral Company greenhouses that stood where the Kirk Crossing development is now. Kirk Road was built from South Candler through to Avery, but the area further east was woods on the south side and the greenhouse business on the north.
Scott Candler, former Decatur City Commissioner and mayor, was also a classmate of Breen’s. His yard at South Candler ran all the way back to Avery and included a formal garden, servants’ quarters and a stable that housed young Scotty’s pony. Breen remembers riding the pony and falling off: “I’ve never liked horses since then.”
Breen and his friends often walked, as Winnona residents do today, to the businesses at East College and South Candler. Back then, he said, there was a pharmacy, a garage, a hot dog stand, a barber, plus a service station. Neighbors shopped for food at a grocery store where Smith Hardware is now.
By the 1960s, when Bill and Betty Breen were raising their own family of four children in the house on Winnona Drive , the South Candler/East College business area had two drugstores and the garage had closed.
As an adult, Bill Breen has always been an active part of the Decatur community. He was active in the Boy Scouts and served on the Decatur City Commission. It was while serving as mayor of Decatur during the era of racial desegregation that Breen fought and won a battle to keep the city schools from being turned over to DeKalb County .
Editor’s note: Special thanks to Randy Tyndall, Avery Street resident and Columbia Seminary staffer, for videotaping the talk by Bill Breen.