East Robert Toombs Avenue [†] between Alexander Avenue and Grove Street comprises an historic district of unusual architectural cohesiveness. The majority of the structures on this tree lined section of the,street date from the second quarter of the nineteenth century. The, few later additions, in scale or building materials, are compatible with the earlier forms. Together with the setting of dense foliage and tall trees, these buildings provide a strong sense of time and place. This is not a static image, but one in which there is a sense 6F organic growth and the passage of time conveyed by both buildings and trees.
The Washington-Wilkes Historical Museum, a major structure at one end of the district, has been listed on the National Register. In addition two other buildings, the Robert Toombs House and the Washington Presbyterian Church, have been selected, because of their architectural qualities as well as historical associations for separate nomination. All three of these structures have been marked by the Georgia Historical Commission as historic places. Further, Frederick D. Nichols suggests the architectural interest of several of the East Robert Toombs buildings when he includes them in, The Early Architecture of Georgia.
In addition to the architectural quality of this district, the history of many important Washington people and events is closely associated with its homes and churches. Perhaps its most famous citizen was Robert Toombs, Georgia's "unreconstructed rebel," who was not only active in Georgia politics but served in the United States Congress for sixteen years before resigning in 1861 to take an active part in both the government and armed forces of the Confederacy. It is reported that the massive post oak in front of his home sheltered the Federal soldiers who came in the spring of 1865 to arrest Toombs, and that soldiers marched down the street from its site with his picture on the point of a bayonet. After fleeing to Europe and living there a few years, Toombs spent his later years in Washington and died irresolute in his house on December 15, 1885.
Among other well-known state and local personages who occupied some of the West Robert Toombs Avenue houses was a Speaker of the Georgia House of Representatives, Isaiah f. Irvin, who lived in the Dyson House from 1851 until September, 1860, when he was killed in an explosion of the steamship, Bayou City. Also, Gabriel Toombs, Robert's brother, lived in two of the houses, that which bears his name, and after he gave this one to his daughter, in the former Hillhouse home. The Randolph-Colley Home was probably brought to its present form by Maria J. Randolph, who legend says was a descendant of Pocahontas. She was known in the town for her fine style of living, her elaborate carriage, fine silks and elegant entertaining, and seems to have epitomized the aristocratic southern lady whose townhouse reflects, as do its neighbors on this street, the era of the planter aristocracy in Washington In addition to its homes, this section of the street is the site of two of the churches of Washington. The Episcopal Church came late to the neighborhood in 1895 after its earlier building burned, but the Washington Presbyterian Church was one of the earliest church buildings in Washington. John Springer, the church's first pastor, was an important figure in the early development of the Presbyterian denomination in Georgia, being the first Presbyterian minister to be ordained on Georgia soil. Other well-known ministers such as S. J. Cassels and Francis R. Goulding served the church and distinguished citizens including Alexander Stephens were members of the congregation. Mrs. David Hillhouse, who became the first woman newspaper editor in Georgia after her husband David's death in 1804, was also a member of the congregation. For many years, 1814 until her death in 1831, she lived across the street from the church.
The land on which the Hillhouse home stood was, like the remainder on the northern side of the street, once part of the holdings of the Gilbert family whose house stood north of the area. Much of the land along the Augusta Road (now East Robert Toombs Avenue) was sold before 1821 as home sites by William G. Gilbert. The settlement which grew up there and whose homes still line the street was known in early ante-bellum days, when it was still outside the town of Washington, as Gilbertsville. A history of the transactions on these lots, as well as some interesting information on the buildings and life of the period is extant in the deeds and other county records.
The historical associations that accrue to the East Robert Toombs area and are expressed by the combination of buildings and settings produce a remarkably impressive historic place in a town that has a rich heritage of historic architecture.
† Adapted from: Elizabeth A. Lyon, consultant, Washington- Wilkes Historic Foundation, Department of the History of Art, East Robert Toombs Historic District, nomination document, 1971, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.
Robert Toombs Avenue East