The refurbishment of Oakland Cemetery’s historic Bell Tower is complete and a ribbon-cutting celebration is set for Nov. 16 to mark the occasion.

Historic Oakland Foundation and the City of Atlanta will host the ceremony at 9:45 a.m. at the cemetery, 248 Oakland Ave. SE, with Mayor Andre Dickens expected to cut the ribbon.

The Romanesque Revival building, built in 1899 as the office for the cemetery’s sexton, is an excellent example of high architecture in the Victorian period. Before the rehabilitation, the 2,800 square-foot structure housed the sexton’s office, Foundation offices, meeting space, archives, a gift shop, and storage, as well as the cemetery’s records, visitor center, and public restrooms. Space was tight, and the historic building was suffering from overuse.

The rehabilitation of the building by Smith-Dalia Architects, which began in March 2021, opened up the first and second floors, repaired masonry, restored windows, replaced roofing, and updated plumbing, electrical, and mechanical services. The building now features an elevator for greater accessibility.

The public will have access to the first floor of the Bell Tower, where they’ll find an accessible restroom as well as interpretive panels describing the history of the building and of Oakland. 

Oakland Cemetery Sexton Sam Reed will relocate his office to the building. The second floor of the building, with two porches offering sweeping views of the cemetery and of the Atlanta skyline, is available for private event rentals and meetings.

The Bell Tower rehabilitation was made possible by funds raised through Historic Oakland Foundation’s $12.5 million Living History Capital Campaign.

The campaign is allowing the Foundation to double the rate of restoration and triple the rate of investment in the cemetery over the next three years.

“Oakland Cemetery is a treasure for all Atlantans,” said Historic Oakland co-director Richard Harker. “The rehabilitation of the Oakland Bell Tower gives this building much-needed love and care while also making it accessible to more people than ever before.”

Harker said the Oakland Bell Tower rehabilitation would not have been possible without the support of The Imlay Foundation, Invest Atlanta, Dr. Jerry and Mrs. Vivian Gowitt, the Bruce Barfield Family, and the Atlanta Urban Design Commission.

“The Oakland Bell Tower is the jewel in Oakland’s crown, and The Imlay Foundation is honored to support a rehabilitation of this special building that has not only stabilized this unique historic building but also made it more accessible to the public,” said Mary Ellen Imlay, Chair and President of The Imlay Foundation. “We are proud to support Historic Oakland Foundation as it works to preserve this special place and share Oakland Cemetery with more and more visitors in creative and sensitive ways.”

To learn more about the Living History Capital Campaign visit oaklandcemetery.com/capital-campaign.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.