The rock barbecue pit was designed by William L. Monroe, Sr. and part of the original plans for Meredith House.
The rock barbecue pit is a pit in two senses of the word. First and foremost, it hosts a hearth kitchen and a grill / smoker pit with a separate flue. Secondly and perhaps intentionally, it is carved into the topography of the surrounding area as if in a pit.
The central mass is a stacked stone double-flue fireplace with stacked stone extending in both directions from the fireplace capped with large blue stone countertops. The main fireplace has a hearth kitchen with wrought-iron chain hooks, swing-arms, and an iron ledge for a massive cooking grate. A wrought-iron warming oven sits above the fireplace opening below the mantel. To the right of the fireplace is a porcelain sink and storage underneath. To the left of the fireplace is a smoking pit with a side flue chimney. Two large concrete-lined ice bins with drain holes are located at the far ends of the countertops (furthest from the fireplace).
According to noted landscape architect Ed Daugherty and longtime Buckhead landscaper Harold Bailey both recognized the stone as Chattahoochee stone. Back in the 1930s, an individual had lease-rights to remove stone from the river when the water levels were low (this would have preceded era of the dams upriver).
The construction is similar to other fireplaces and barbecues designed and built by Monroe Landscaping and Nursery, including those at Chastain Park less than a half mile away. Daugherty and Bailey also noted that the lodge structure was in the WPA-style of building. This is also consistent with Monroe’s work since he was utilizing WPA labor at Chastain Park. The stone stairs are also consistent with Monroe’s work at Adams Park and Dunaway Gardens. The main post bears a 1935 date stamp in the Southern pine beam from the Mereduc Company.
There is mention of the structure in a 1940s newspaper article. According to November 19, 1948 edition of the Atlanta Constitution, Girl Scout Troop 154 held a meeting at Meredith House on that Friday night. “The fun will begin with a cookout at the rock barbecue pit at the Meredith home, and later there will be square dancing in the play room” (p. 13).
The structure was substantial enough to be noted on the February 24, 1954 Plat Map. Here it is listed as “barbecue.” Of note, the “chicken house” is also listed.
There is only one extant photo of the rock barbecue pit structure from pre-2000.
According to Chris McLoughlin, there was a crank-style phone located in the pit with a direct link to a similar phone located in the kitchen of the main house. This was inoperable during the McLoughlins residence and was removed.
Sometime after 1962 and before 1973, the lodge structure providing cover for the rock barbecue pit was significantly cut back. Visible in 1960 photo is the fact that the structure was really two pieces. A front portion sat at a lower elevation than the rear structure and displayed a large domed light. The front portion was removed or destroyed sometime after the McLoughlins left the residence (i.e., 1962) and the Thompsons arrived (i.e., 1973). What remained was the rear portion of the original structure.
In 2015, a large pine branch fell and snapped one of the main supports to the lodge structure. The structure was no longer structurally sound. Repair was not deemed feasible given the already fragile nature of the remaining beams and roof.
While undertaking the 2016 replacement of the slate roof, a skilled carpenter (David Grice) was on-site to replace rotten trim and joists on the main house. The carpenter noticed the damaged structure as well as its construction with round beams and posts. He claimed to know a sawmill in north Georgia where he could source large round posts and beams cut to specifications. The carpenter was provided a copy of the 1960 photo as the only available “plan” for reconstruction. He was asked to reuse as many of the original posts and beams based on their integrity.
As the structure was carefully deconstructed, the metal roof was pealed off. Some shake planks were found underneath the metal roof and confirmed the original roofing material. A ‘new’ structure incorporating as many of the original elements as possible was undertaken. The ‘new’ structure was also restored back to its original size.
Masonry repairs were undertaken to fix poorly-done repairs and reinstall the swing arms (which had fallen off but were still onsite). A skilled mason happened to be one of the carpenter’s helpers. Master blacksmith Lloyd Hendricks of Mountain Park (GA) Forge was identified through contacting the Atlanta History Center and meticulously restored all the iron work using period methods and materials. RW Stokes roofed the structure in cedar shake shingle in a pattern and style consistent with Monroe’s original design, including keeping the curves in the roof.
For now, the rock barbecue pit has been restored back to its original condition. This included rebuilding the wooden structure, affectionately dubbed “The Lodge,” back to its original size, scale, and materials – – just like the Merediths and William L. Monroe, Sr. envisioned. Like other events at Meredith House, the restoration project came about through the confluence of unique (and seemingly disconnected) circumstances.