This story is part of a series on historic homes on Gainesville's Green Street. Read other stories in the series. Copies of a free publication on Green Street home history are available at The Times at 345 Green St.
Address: 746 Green St., Gainesville
Architecture: Neoclassical revival
The houses of Green Street each have a story to tell, but one of them tells a story that is arguably grander than the rest.
Local historian Garland Reynolds calls Green Street “the fabric of Gainesville,” and one of its most important threads — indeed the most important, he said — is the Longstreet-Newton home on 746 Green St., the final residence of General James Longstreet.
The architecture of the Longstreet-Newton home, Reynolds said, is not particularly historic compared to some of the other houses on Green Street. “But as far as the historical value of that house and what happened in it,” he said, “it probably exceeds all the others.”
A historical survey by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources estimates the house’s construction to 1910, but Richard Pilcher said Longstreet lived in the house for several years before his death in 1904.
“He lived in that house,” said Pilcher, manager of the Piedmont Hotel, which was owned by Longstreet and now serves as the headquarters for the Longstreet Society.
The house was owned by Longstreet’s second, much younger wife, Helen Dortch, who he married in early September 1897. He was 76 and she was 34. Pilcher said she inherited the house from her father after he died in 1891 and the 1910 date might refer to when a second story was built. More recent historical records reference the second story being built after 1916.
Reynolds said there are two main reasons the Longsteet-Newton home eclipses its neighbors in the annals of Green Street’s history. First and foremost, it is the birthplace of St. Michael Catholic Church in Gainesville.
“The Catholic church was founded in the basement of that house,” Reynolds said.
After being shunned from the Episcopalian church and branded a “scalawag” for supporting Reconstruction, Longstreet converted to Catholicism in March 1877. His wife Helen was a devout Catholic.
Longstreet held Catholic church services in her basement, where two fireplaces were built to resemble an altar, according to historical records with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. The basement was used for a number of years before a Catholic church was built.
The second reason the house is historically significant is that it became a pawn in Helen Longstreet’s lawsuit against Georgia Power to stop the damming of Tallulah Gorge, then one of the highest waterfalls in the eastern United States, which she and her husband visited often.
Georgia Power sought to dam Tallulah Gorge to power the trolley system in downtown Atlanta, Reynolds said. “Well, this upset her so much, she railed against destroying Tallulah Gorge with dams, and at this time she was living in that house on Green Street,” he said.
She had to mortgage her home to pay her lawyers in the fight to stop what she considered the “ruthless destruction” of Tallulah Gorge. But to no avail. She lost the case and had to surrender the house to cover her legal fees. According to one of the current owners, Jeanne Winner, Helen Longstreet — known as the “Fighting Lady” — had to be physically removed from the house.
In 1916, a banker named Charles Newton bought the house and added a second story to make space for his large family, according to historical records. He died in 1965, and the house was sold to Rafe Banks, who lived next door.
In the late 1990s, the house passed into the hands of Jeanne and her husband Gary Winner, who now use it as a wellness center for chiropractic therapy and nutrition. They say they are very proud to own the house and to preserve its history.