The Taylor-Brawner House and Brawner Sanitarium (now called Brawner Hall) were recently awarded a rare listing on the National Register of Historic Places, becoming the first structures in the city to achieve that designation.
Terry, a member of the private Taylor-Brawner House Foundation that sponsored the nomination, said it took four years of hard work, providing historic research, photos, engineered drawings, tax records and more, to finally get the listing on March 27. Official notification arrived the week of April 9.
“The house (is known) for its architecture and because the family that lived here were quite significant in the history of Smyrna,” he said. “The hospital (is significant) because it was the first, privately owned and operated mental facility in the state.”
The Taylor-Brawner House dates back to the 1890s, when the Georgian Cottage house was originally constructed as a summer home by Mary and William Micajah Taylor, who came from Virginia to work for the ETV & GRR railroad and later as a coal distributer.
“They were very wealthy and prominent people,” Terry said. “At one time they owned almost 200 acres here. By the time they sold (the house) to Dr. James Brawner, she had sold all but 80 acres.”
In 1909, Brawner purchased the property and began construction of a 35-bed private hospital for the treatment of alcohol and drug addiction, and mental disorders. At that time, it was the only alternative to state facilities in Georgia, offering the latest progressive treatments in the profession. Patients came from across the southeast, and included a number of celebrities.
“The reason he wanted the land was because Atlanta Road was the major thoroughfare, north and south, through the entire state,” Terry said. “And the land was beautiful – gentle hills, big shady trees, a couple of creeks and so forth. That’s what he was looking for: something peaceful.”
Brawner served as medical director until 1955, when his son, Dr. James N. Brawner Jr., took over for the next 14 years. The family owned the hospital until 1978. The facility remained open as the Brawner Psychiatric Institute until 1999.
“The Brawner Hospital was the largest employer in Cobb County for many years and then the school system began to grow, and it became the second-largest employer,” Terry said. “At one time they had 260 employees there, which in 1900 was a lot.”
Considered an excellent example of a large institutional building of the Neoclassical Revival style, the hospital was constructed in 1910. Perhaps the most distinct feature is its two-story, wooden interior staircase that has an unusual ceiling feature.
“There was one guy that was just very delusional and he tried to kill himself by jumping (down the stairway),” Terry said. “Dr. Brawner hired a local carpenter with some pretty good skills.”
Male and female patients were kept in separate wings of the long, rectangular building. A second-floor, padded room, as well as a self-sustaining farm out back, are long gone but several ghost stories have survived. One involves a depressed teenage girl with long, blond hair who unexpectedly died there in the 1930s.
“About a month later, the night duty nurse had her head down over the desk, doing some work, and something caught her attention walking down the hallway,” Terry said.
“She swore the next morning that it was this young girl. She said, ‘I saw her blond hair flowing.’ So she jumps up and looks down the hallway, just in time to see this apparition go into the room that had been that girl’s room. She runs and looks in, and there’s nothing there. Then it happened again with two other nurses.”
In 2001, the city of Smyrna acquired the hospital and surrounding 11 acres, renovating the facility with city office and public meeting space, after voters passed a $24 million parks bond referendum. In April 2009, Taylor-Brawner Park, a passive park with walking trails and a playground, was dedicated.
Formed in 2005, the 525-member Taylor-Brawner House Foundation raised $435,000 to renovate the old farmhouse, which had been used by the prominent Brawner family until 1960, into a special events facility. The city helps to maintain the house.
The house plan consists of a central hall, which divides four main rooms, with a modern kitchen and restrooms in the rear. The home was restored to around 1900. Original heart pine floors, some historic moldings and antique hardware, and some fireplaces have been retained. Currently, a sideboard and chair in the 12-feet high dining room are the only original furniture in the house, but the Brawner family plans to donate more.
“After Dr. Brawner died the family moved out and the hospital turned this into doctor offices,” Terry said.
“They didn’t want the house to look like a house, so they put in false ceilings. They took out all these beautiful antique doors and threw them away. They took all of the mantels out and tossed them, covered it over in plywood and sheetrock. Luckily they left enough and we had photographs so that we knew what we had.”
Terry is the author of a forthcoming book due out in June about the Taylor and Brawner families, along with a history of the Brawner Sanitarium and early Smyrna, titled “A Simpler Time.”
The process for listing a property or district in the National Register begins with the Historic Preservation Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Gretchen Brock, state National Register and Survey Program manager, said a property must be at least 50 years old, retain historic integrity and meet other criteria to be eligible for listing in the National Register.
“Proposed nominations are submitted to our office by the public (property owners, historical societies, local governments, neighborhood associations, etcetera),” she said. “HPD’s staff provides professional and technical reviews, guidance, evaluation, expertise, site visits, and in some cases, additional research to assist Georgians in listing their properties in the National Register.”