Although Thomas Robert Egleston, Jr. never married, he helped father two great Atlanta institutions: All Saints’ Church and The Henrietta Egleston Hospital for Children.
In 1870, Thomas moved with his family from Charleston to Atlanta. His father, Colonel Thomas Egleston, had earned his title in the Quartermaster Corps of the Confederate Army. His mother, Henrietta, was descended from the Drayton family who established Magnolia Plantation and Gardens on the Ashley River in Charleston in1676. Thomas, Jr. was the only one of the five siblings to survive into adulthood. One brother died in childhood and his other two brothers and his sister died of tuberculosis just as they were reaching adulthood.
Thomas was mainly self-educated. Upon arriving in Atlanta at the age of fourteen, he took a job as a bookkeeper at the Rolling Mill, a steel mill. Two years later he joined the insurance office of James H. Low and his son Clarence. At the age of twenty, Thomas was given the Atlanta business by the Lows when they moved to New Orleans to manage a large English insurance business there. Aware that his youth and inexperience in Atlanta was a handicap, Thomas formed a partnership with two established Atlanta businessmen, Paul Romare, the president of the Atlanta National Bank, and John Albert Perdue. The firm eventually became the Equitable Life Assurance Society, and as such, helped Joel Hurt finance the Equitable Building, which became the first Trust Company of Georgia Building. Thomas became one of the greatest insurance men in the country. He had a gift for finance and was on the boards of directors of many of Atlanta’s finest companies.
Thomas and his mother were devoted to each other, having shared much heartache and loss. Mrs. Egleston was an accomplished hostess and devoted her time to charitable causes. According to his cousin Beverly DuBose, in an article published in 1970 in The Atlanta Historical Bulletin:
“Mr. Egleston lived in the day of elegance. From head to toe all his clothes, shoes, etc. were handmade and of the best quality. Clothes were important. A gentleman went to great pains to be well dressed but he must never be dressed up. The appointments of his home, his silver, Oriental rugs, glassware, etc. were the finest to be had.”
“The wine closet held every known drink and there was a particular glass for each one, ranging from little thimble size crystals to lovely iridescent goblets of eggshell thinness. If it was a day of elegance, it was also a day of temperance for men of his type. Over indulgence in liquor in the presence of Mrs. Egleston was a thing no one had the courage to try, and there was no change after her death.”
“With all the emphasis on food the Eglestons ate moderately, and that was not customary in those days. They had some rule about getting up from the table before you had eaten your fill, and it was held out that we should eat to live and not live to eat.”
Thomas and his mother lived at 759 Peachtree Street and were members of St. Philips, which was located downtown at that time. In 1901, Mrs. Richard Peters and her family gave the land at West Peachtree Street and North Avenue to the dioceses, to establish a Sunday school more conveniently located to Atlanta’s new residential neighborhoods. Thomas and Mrs. Egleston were among the group that was active in the formation of the new parish. The first Vestry of All Saints’ was elected on June 7, 1903. Thomas was elected to the Vestry of All Saints’ in 1904 as a member of its second class and served several terms. He served on the 1905 Building Fund committee and as both Junior and Senior Warden.
When Mrs. Egleston died in 1912 at the age of eighty-six, Thomas donated our ornate brass pulpit in her memory. He also donated the large, beautiful, stained-glass window at the back of the church, made by Gorham.
According to Beverly DuBose, when Thomas died in 1916 from pneumonia following an attack of appendicitis, his will expressed a depth of feeling towards his relatives, friends, associates and retainers that he was too reserved to express while alive. He left bequests to many, generous ones to family members, token mementos to friends in comfortable circumstances, and annuities to servants.
His most important bequest was a gift of $100,000 to establish a children’s hospital, in memory of his mother. The Henrietta Egleston Hospital for Children would treat any child, regardless of ability to pay. According to the terms of the will, vacancies on the hospital’s board of directors were to be filled by the board from persons nominated for this purpose by the Vestry of All Saints’. The relationship between the hospital board and All Saints’ Church continued until the late 1980’s.
Thomas’ will also left a gift of $25,000 to All Saints’ to build a parish house. The rector, Rev. W. W. Memminger (1910-1937), had studied to be a Shakespearian actor. With his encouragement, the building was designed with a stage, high ceiling and balcony seating in the style of an Elizabethan theater. In 1947, the building was remodeled, to be used for educational purposes. According to The Diocesan Record of December 1947:
“All Saints’ Atlanta now has an ideal parish hall, equipped for any kind of educational program. There are many private, well-equipped classrooms, and lovely rooms for kindergarten and primary. The main assembly hall has been completely done over, making it the most beautiful hall in any parish in the diocese.”
All Saints’ Church, especially its beautiful buildings and grounds and its traditions, was established by a group of extraordinary people over the years. We owe a debt of gratitude to these people for our incomparable parish. Thomas Egleston was an important contributor to both All Saints’ Church and the Atlanta community. In coming editions we will profile some of the other people who were essential to the formation of our parish.
Note: Most of the information used in this article came from the All Saints’ archives, located in the library on the first floor of Egleston Hall.
Pat Leake has been chairman of the Saints’ Alive editorial committee since 2003. All Saints has been home to Pat and her family since 1975. Both of Pat and Nolan’s children were baptized at All Saints’, and their daughter Pace was married there in 2009. Although her background is in science, Pat’s long association with the church has given her perspective on the importance of its history.