The Mary Elizabeth Tyler house is a Classical Revival-style residence that features a two-story pedimented portico supported by massive Corinthian columns. A one-story porch stretches the length of the primary façade and wraps around both sides of the home. Meanwhile, a balcony extends from the second story above the central entrance, which is bordered by sidelights and capped by a fanlight. Rear additions were made to the residence in 1977 and 2000.
This Buckhead residence was built in 1921 by Mary Elizabeth “Bessie” Tyler, a seminal figure in the rise of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in the early 20th century. In 1919, Tyler had founded the Southern Publicity Association in Atlanta with Edward Young Clarke. In the same year, William J. Simmons, who had revived the Klan in 1915, hired Tyler and Clarke’s public relations firm to grow the Klan’s membership. Tyler and Clarke immediately formed the organization’s Propagation Department and worked to publicize the Klan in newspapers and magazines. Under the terms of their contract, Tyler and Clarke received $2.50 of every $10 initiation fee from new Klan members. When Tyler and Clarke began their work, the Klan counted just 2,000 to 3,000 members. By 1921, membership had grown to 100,000. By 1924, membership reached nearly 3,500,000.
Tyler and Clarke both amassed great wealth as well as power as the organization swelled. The pair reinvested their money in Klan activities and enterprises, such as the Gate City Manufacturing Company, which produced the robes and hoods Klan members purchased. In addition, Tyler founded and ran The Searchlight, the official newspaper of the Klan.
In 1921, Tyler purchased 14 acres on Howell Mill Road and built her impressive residence, which was likely a showplace of the Klan in the early 1920s. Tyler died prematurely of arteriosclerosis in 1924. The residence has been home to numerous families since the 1920s that have no connection with the Klan.
The Mary Elizabeth Tyler House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2006 for its architectural significance and for its association with Mary Elizabeth Tyler, an important figure in one of America’s most disturbing social and political movements. The house displayed the wealth she obtained as a result of the explosive growth of the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s.
*The National Register attempts to document a broad range of American history and foster awareness of both honorable and shameful patterns in our nation’s past.