Although born in Jefferson County in 1823, Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb is considered one of Athens’ “First Citizens.” Lawyer, author, educator, politician, military leader, defender and promoter of Southern Nationalism, Tom Cobb contributed much to the history of Athens, to Georgia, and to the South during a brief career in the mid-1800s.
With the return of the T.R.R. Cobb House from Stone Mountain, Georgia, and the restoration and construction complete, Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc.’s T.R.R. Cobb House is poised to serve a unique educational purpose for Athens and the surrounding region as a museum and resource center illuminating the life, character, and accomplishments of Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb, as well as aiding those interested in the history of the South during the 19th century. Tom Cobb’s legacy and a vestige of our Southern History lives on in the T.R.R. Cobb House in Athens, Georgia.
After languishing for almost 20 years at Stone Mountain, GA, 70 miles from its original location on Prince Avenue in Athens, GA, the T.R.R. Cobb House has returned to the Classic City. Its new address is only about two blocks from its original site. Open to the public as a house museum, it is being restored to reflect the styles of 1852-1862 when Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb was at the peak of his short-lived career.
T.R.R. Cobb left an indelible mark on the history of Athens and Georgia. He was one of Georgia’s greatest lawyers, an advocate of education and religion, and an officer in the Confederate army. As a man of his times, he was an ardent Southern Nationalist, an advocate of states’ rights, and a supporter of the institution of slavery.
Every great piece of history deserves to rest in its true home. Returning the T.R.R. House to Athens creates a sense of time and place while providing a reference for accomplishments made long ago and provides an opportunity for broader understanding of the ideas of the past and how they influence our present.
The home of Thomas Reade Rootes Cobb is of Greek Revival style. The original part of the house was a four over four “Plantation Plain” built about 1834. The house was a wedding gift in 1844 from Joseph Henry Lumpkin, the first Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court, to his daughter Marion and T.R.R. Cobb.
With success at the bar, T.R.R. Cobb grew in influence and wealth. In the late 1840s, Cobb enlarged his relatively modest home to include additional rooms. By 1852, he added the signature octagonal wings and an imposing two story portico with Doric columns, an aesthetic development consistent with the construction of other stately Greek revival mansions that defined the architecture of antebellum Athens.
Following Cobb’s death in 1862, Marion continued to live in the house until 1873 when she sold it. The house was next used as rental property, fraternity house, and boarding house, until purchased in 1962 by the Archdiocese of Atlanta for the use of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. In the 1980s, the house was threatened with demolition when St. Joseph’s began pursuing expansion plans. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association stepped forward in 1984, bought the house, and moved the structure to Stone Mountain Park near Atlanta the following year.
Due to budgetary constraints, however, the house was never restored at Stone Mountain Park and instead was mothballed for later use. So for nearly 20 years the house sat on the same cinder blocks it had originally been placed when it arrived at the Park. In 2004 the Watson-Brown Foundation, working with the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation and the Athens-Clarke Heritage Foundation, bought the house from the Stone Mountain Memorial Association. A generous grant from SMMA helped move the home back to Athens in the spring of 2005. The Watson-Brown Foundation managed and funded a painstaking restoration that returned Cobb's home to its 1850 appearance. In 2008, the Georgia Trust awarded the T.R.R. Cobb House its Preservation Award for excellence in restoration. Today, Cobb's home is open to the public as Athens' newest historic house museum.
The restored T.R.R. Cobb House, operated by Watson-Brown Foundation, Inc., opened in 2007 as a historic house museum. The mission of the T.R.R. Cobb House is, through careful restoration, judicious recreation and responsible interpretation, the T.R.R. Cobb House will seeks ways to preserve, explore and present the life and legacy of its owner as a legal scholar, a civil leader, a statesman, a slave owner, and a military officer in an effort to cultivate a greater understanding and appreciation of nineteenth century southern life.
"The Watson-Brown Foundation, through creativity, diligence and financial support, labors to improve education in the American South by funding its schools and students, preserving its history, encouraging responsible scholarship, and promoting the memory and values of our spiritual founders."
The mission statement of the Foundation fully captures the intent of its founder, Walter J. Brown. In 1970, Brown established the Watson-Brown Foundation primarily to provide "college opportunities for underprivileged boys and girls." Named for Thomas E. Watson and J.J. Brown, the Foundation awards annually more than $2.4 million in merit and need-based college scholarships to students from a sixteen county region of Georgia and South Carolina.
Walter Brown also set a precedent for preservation, especially as it related to the history of the South. Today, the Foundation owns and operates three historic sites in Georgia and explores history through the eyes of the men who created them.
Finally, the Foundation operates a grant program that encourages responsible scholarship on the South and supports historic preservation.
The Foundation is based in Thomson, Georgia, hometown of Thomas E. Watson.