In the early 1900s, Dr. Frederick Grady Hodgson purchased land in the Piedmont region of Georgia from Colonel Zadock Harrison for the purpose of building a home for his wife, Mary Crocker Fassett, and their seven children. Hodgson’s property is located in Fernbank Forest, a 70-acre old-growth forest with 200-year-old wild oak trees. The forest is a remarkable treasure so close to the center of a major city. In 1916, Dr. Hodgson built his home and named it “Wildwoods.”
When Col. Harrison died in 1935, one of his daughters, known as “Miss Emily,” bought out the land interests of the other heirs to his estate to maintain the integrity of the forest and to avoid its subdivision. She devoted much of her life to saving the forest as an educational setting for future generations, naming it for the numerous ferns thriving there. With the help of a friend and faculty member at Emory University, she enlisted the support of many DeKalb county citizens to form Fernbank, Inc. which raised funds to purchase additional land around the forest and establish a financial base for maintaining the property.
For some time the issues of how to use the land, maintain it, and generate funds for upkeep remained unresolved. Ideas included a park, a farm, even a petting zoo were considered but rejected by the Fernbank board. A proposal was offered to donate the land to Emory University, but that also did not go through. Finally, in the 1950s, several board members approached the DeKalb County Board of Education with a proposal to construct a science center on a portion of the land. The superintendent embraced the idea, and through a mix of federal funds and donations, the center became a reality. The Fernbank Science Center was created with the 1964 signing of the land lease agreement between the DeKalb County Board of Education and Fernbank, Inc. Three years later, the science center opened to the public. Through the years, the center has continued to acquire land and buildings, including several stately houses including the Hodgson House. For years, the former house housed the center’s archives and museum exhibit workshops. Today, Fernbank is recognized as a major regional research and educational complex that includes a museum, planetarium, and observatory.