Natural History of Lullwater Preserve
MC and EEC
The land now known as Lullwater Preserve was originally inhabited by a tribe belonging to the Muscogee Native American Nation. The arrival of these early humans dates back 12,000 years, with physical evidence of the reign of these tribes in the Atlanta area dating back to at least 1500 AD. In fact, South Fork Peachtree Creek is an archeological hotspot for Creek Muscogee artifacts. The Creek Muscogee tribes were the first sustainable users of the land, disturbing the environment as little as possible to allow for nature to flourish.
During European colonization, the Native American tribes living in and around the greater Atlanta area were consistently in contact with incoming settlers. Relations between the Native American tribes and the European settlers ranged from hostile with violent attacks to take over land to relatively peaceful with an established relationship of trade and co-existence. The tribes were highly susceptible to European diseases, though, leading to a very rapid population decline that brought together the Muskogee-speaking tribes to form one nation. After gaining independence in the late 18th century, the United States began looking for ways to expand the country to accommodate for their own population expansion. In 1821, the land forming Lullwater was appropriated from the Muscogee Nation, and the members of these tribes were forcefully relocated to present-day Oklahoma, leaving the land in the hands of the government.
For close to 100 years, the Lullwater land was exchanged through many hands, becoming altered little by little by each new owner until it was purchased by the Candler family in 1925. Walter Turner Candler, son of Coca-Cola mogul Asa Candler, purchased 230 acres of the land and called it Lullwater Farms. The stones that make up his Tudor-style mansion—which cost $200,000 to build at the time—were quarried from the Lullwater grounds. As a nature enthusiast, Walter Candler worked to keep over half of the land as a pristine forest dominated mainly by white oaks and poplars though there were healthy populations of pines, sweet gums, hickories, and—Candler’s favorite—beeches as well. The other half of the land was converted into pasture and lawn for the raising of cattle, chickens, hogs, and race horses. A practice track for his horses was built on what is now the Veterans Administration Medical Center.
Candler Lake was originally created at this time as well. Eleven and a half acres of land were dredged, and South Fork Peachtree Creek was dammed to allow for water to fill the cleared depression. The dam also served as a hydroelectric generating station to power the buildings on the Candler property. The remnants of this dam are still very much present by the northern stretch of Candler Lake.
In the decades following World War II, Emory University began its ever-steady growth and expansion. In the early 1950s, Emory’s main campus was restricted to a useful 250-acres. With the threat of “land strangulation” looming, the University looked to Alumnus Walter T. Candler’s 185-acre Lullwater Estate as an investment in the University’s future. The purchase of Lullwater in 1958 increased Emory University’s useful campus to 450-acres. Candler’s mansion became the official residency of Emory University’s presidents beginning with President Stanford S. Atwood in 1963.
Original plans for the acquisition of Lullwater included the creation of a biology research station in 1961, the remains of which can be seen on the south-eastern shore of the Biology Research Pond. Unbeknownst to the Emory administration, Lullwater also became a popular dumping ground for nuclear and chemical waste in the 1970s, which has since been cleared from the land. In 1962, a 26 acre plan for the Yerkes National Primate Research Center was created that would be partially situated within the Lullwater property line, reducing the size of the pristine forest. The land was further reduced when approximately 26 acres of Lullwater were sold to the United States Government for the development of the Decatur Veterans Administration Medical Center.
During the 1970s, the Emory Student Government Association and other community groups began expressing concern over potential ruin of the remaining natural land if measures were not taken. They suggested banning vehicles from entering the premises and gaining the cooperation of the owners of adjacent lands to keep from polluting South Fork Peachtree Creek as well as the streams that flowed directly into Candler Lake. Candler Lake was redredged in 1986, and the sediment spoils were placed behind an uphill, artificial dam. When the dam breached, sending the sediment down the hillside and back into the lake, it became apparent that more restrictive measures needed to be taken to protect the land of Lullwater.
The Murdy-Carter Report was created, delineating forested lands that ought to be protected for their ecological value as well as lands that could be developed without compromising the integrity of the pristine forests found within Emory University’s property lines. The forests of Lullwater were determined to fall within the category of lands needing preservation measures. Also around this time was the establishment of the University Senate Committee on the Environment (COE), which became an important voice on behalf of the environment. Still in operation today, the COE takes an objective look at proposed development projects and works to minimize the projects’ impacts on the environment. As the struggle for developable land continued, more and more activist groups arose, opposing the development of Lullwater. Along with the COE, these groups played a key role in shutting down the proposal to build a road through Lullwater in 1999.
Starvine Way was proposed to connect Clairmont Campus, a residential campus for Emory’s upperclassmen, to the main campus of the university. Concerns over the impacts of this project on the forests of Lullwater led to the COE and over a thousand students, staff, and faculty members to fight on behalf of the environment. The compromised result was to build the road along the periphery of Lullwater to avoid damaging the old growth forest and fragmenting the land. Following this debate, President William M. Chace hired surveyors and planners to determine the actual property line of Lullwater and began working with the outside community to determine not just the ecological value of the land, but also its benefits for the surrounding community. Once this information was collected, President Chace requested that the Board of Trustees designate Lullwater as a preserve, and on February 1, 2000, he announced the creation of the Lullwater Management Task Force to act on behalf of Lullwater for further development proposals and to begin working on restoring Lullwater to its original state through reforestation and landscaping projects. The last major development project was the construction of the Sahale suspension bridge in 2008 which connected the Emory campus to the VAMC.
In addition to the formation of the Lullwater Management Task Force, the Lullwater Comprehensive Management Plan was also created from the Starvine Way debate to create a balance between preserving the environment and allowing for continued human use. Lullwater Preserve is now home to nearly 200 documented species of animals and countless species of trees and ground vegetation. Lullwater Preserve is part of a contiguous mass of forested land that extends from Clairmont Road to the Wesley Woods Geriatric Center. This large tract of forest has allowed for the re-establishment of large mammals, such as the white tailed deer, as well the introduction of other large species, such as the coyote. Though there are still concerns over non-native and invasive species control and reduction, the establishment of the Task Force and Management Plan has led the way in recovery efforts and environmental awareness on campus.
Walter T. Candler papers 1904-1967. Emory University, MARBL.
Lullwater Comprehensive Management Plan. 2002. Emory University. http://www.emoryforest.emory.edu/lullwater/lcmpfinala.pdf
South Fork Conservancy. 2010. http://www.southforkconservancy.org/the_project.htm
Muscogee (Creek) Nation. 2012. http://www.muscogeenation-nsn.gov/