The Neighborhood House: A Settlement House for East Athens

The Neighborhood House served East Athens millworker families as a settlement house and community center beginning in 1914. It was the second settlement house in Athens following the Hiawassee Settlement, which opened a few years earlier in the Southern Manufacturing Company’s mill village near the corner of Boulevard and Hiawassee Street. Unlike the Hiawassee Settlement, which was fully financed by the Southern Manufacturing Company, the Neighborhood House and its supporters had to raise its operating budget from local donors.

The Neighborhood House begins appearing in the newspaper in December 1914 with a series of open houses and activities around Christmas. Located on Oak Street in former Night School building, the House was open all day on Christmas and the day after Christmas serving “coffee and teacakes” and holding events for children. Many other activities were also advertised: the Y.W.C.A. Extension Club hosted a Christmas party; Louie Lane organized a special afternoon for “the old women” and prepared “a package of goodies” for each of them; and Mildred Rutherford, then the elected Historian-General of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was present “in her own charming manner” to tell stories of “Christmas on the Old Plantation.”  Millie Rutherford’s talk exemplifies the truth that Neighborhood House activities were designed for white Athenians and not for the many Black Athenians who also lived nearby.

According to Maxine Easom and Patsy Arnold, the Neighborhood House proved very popular and the demand for services at was high. Since Louie Lane was already serving as Principal of the Night School (now located at the Oconee Street School), more staff was required and in 1915, the City Board of Missions hired Hettie Stewart, a social worker from Chattanooga, to manage the activities of the Neighborhood House.

The Athens Banner reported on Christmas celebrations at the Neighborhood House in 1914.

Editorial, The Athens Banner, March 31, 1916, Georgia Historic Newspapers, Digital Library of Georgia

In 1916, Louie Lane described the services of the Neighborhood House in the Athens Banner. She explained the building was open every day from noon until 10:15 p.m., and was a place where “the boy out of work, the girl wanting a book to read, or the neighborhood woman [wanting] a pleasant afternoon chat” would find a warm welcome. Six days a week the house offered afternoon classes in cooking, sewing, and “fancy-work”, as well as boys club, story hour, mothers’ hour, and the “little housekeepers’ class” for children who stayed home from school to look after younger siblings and the home. In the evenings, the House provided recreation, games, and simple refreshments. On Sunday afternoons, the House held a vespers service.

The House also promoted sports. It hosted gymnastics, had an indoor basketball court and fielded baseball teams. In May 1916, they were very proud to have defeated the College Avenue team, including Sid Johnson, UGA’s second baseman.

Editorial, The Athens Daily Herald, May 30, 1916, Georgia Historic Newspapers, Digital Library of Georgia

This 1918 Sanborn Fire map shows the Neighborhood House on Oak Street in East Athens. Louie Lane’s house (marked with a “D”) sits next door. The Dairy Queen now occupies Miss Louie parking lot now occupies the space that was the Neighborhood House front lawn; Miss Louie’s house sat next door where the Dairy Queen now dishes up softserve).

The Neighborhood House continued to provide service through the 1920s. In addition to the sports, clubs, and activities, the Neighborhood House also provided showers for families who lacked those facilities at home.

No photographs of the Neighborhood House have yet been found for this project, however Lucille Eberhart Hancock lived next door to the Neighborhood House when she was a young child and remembers the building. As she recalled to Jane McPherson in 2021, “It was a huge house with a long from porch and ten steps leading up.” She remembers a large sign with the words “Neighborhood House” and several rooms inside.

For more on the Neighborhood House, the East Athens Night School, and the work Louie Lane, see Maxine Easom and Patsy Arnold’s Across the River: The People, Places, and Culture of East Athens.

Across the River: The People, Places, and Culture of East Athens was published in 2019.