Jesse Clay Sr. (1786-1871) emigrated from Monticello, Jasper County, Georgia in 1826 with his wife, three sons, and daughter to settle in DeKalb County. He purchased Land Lots 206 and 207 of the 15th District, DeKalb County, from Taylor & Watts of Jasper County that year and made the final payment by traveling to South Carolina and back by horseback. He and his family initially lived on the property in a tent and drew water from a spring at Wade’s Place Hollow (thought to be today’s Gilliam Park). They cleared the native hardwood forest and farmed the land until Jesse’s death in 1871.
The approximately 250 acres originated from Cherokee Indian tribal lands distributed to Henry Britton of Clarke County on 11/4/1823 following the 1821 Land Lottery. The property passed to Taylor & Watts of Jasper County, Georgia and then to Jesse Clay Sr. His son Greenberry (1820-1886) owned a large parcel adjoining to the southeast (including today’s Kirkwood Urban Forest Park) which was operated as a dairy farm.
It is thought that Jesse Clay Sr. financed purchase of the land through the sale of 10 slaves (six male and four female) which show in the 1820 Federal Census of his family, no slave ownership being recorded for him in the subsequent 1830 Federal Census.
Around the time of Jesse Sr.’s death in 1871 his holdings were subdivided into parcels averaging 10-11 acres each. Son Cleveland (1836-1909), a Confederate veteran of the Civil War, inherited much of the land and the family was active in many land transactions throughout the 1800’s. Another son, Joseph Clay (1817- ?), purchased Lot 9 of 10 acres for $220.00 at Jesse Clay’s estate sale, a parcel which included Clay Cemetery.
The Clay lands subsequently became the western third of the incorporated City of Kirkwood (1892-1926) and were bordered to the south by today’s Memorial Drive and to the north by the curve of Gilliam Park. The eastern two thirds of Kirkwood evolved from lands owned by the Kirkpatrick and Dunwoody families, a combination of which produced the name “Kirkwood”.
The majority of Clay land was further subdivided into residential parcels during sales to the Atlanta Suburban Land Company in 1892 with the family retaining the Clay home at Boulevard Dekalb (now Hosea Williams Drive) between Clay and Wyman Streets at approximately the S.W. corner of today’s Hosea Williams and Clifton, Clay Cemetery, and other parcels including Cleveland Clay’s home on Clay Street.
Two title searches and a survey have failed to identify a title or deed to Clay Cemetery. It appears to exist “by exclusion”, meaning it has retained parcel identity through repeated exclusion from neighboring parcels and deeds as well as being identified across time on multiple subdivision plats as separate from other parcels.
(Research and writing by Earl Williamson, 2013.)