On your next woodsy hike through the Simpsonwood retreat, be sure to tip your walking stick in appreciation to a woman who loved those same soaring hardwoods, gentle evergreens and flowing river waters so much so many years ago that she made a plan to preserve it for all of us to enjoy today.
Ludie Simpson was born in Norcross on December 10, 1887, and became a teacher with the Atlanta and the Gwinnett County school systems until her retirement in 1957. Ludie loved to travel the world, but upon her retirement Ludie returned to live in a home she inherited along North Peachtree Street in the downtown district of Norcross.
When Ludie Simpson inherited her family’s farm, acquired in the land lottery of 1820, now the area that is Simpsonwood United Methodist Retreat Center, along the Chattahoochee River she pondered ways to preserve it long after she was gone so, in 1971, at the age of 84, Ludie prepared her Last Will and Testament leaving some land and homes to her nieces and nephews as she never married or became a mother herself. Ludie sold some of the Simpson farm, an expanse that ran roughly from where Peachtree Parkway (Highway 141) crosses the river and 7 miles or south to the crossing of what is now Holcomb Bridge Road, to developers who built subdivisions like Amberfield, Riverfield, and Neeley Farms as well as the Forum, an open air shopping mall. Miss Ludie also specified several acres adjacent to Jones Bridge Park for use by the school system and Simpson Elementary was built in the 1990’s.
Because of her vision to preserve some of God’s beauty, as she herself put it, “For people to enjoy God’s beauty for all time”, Ludie was compelled to deed those 227 acres of land that is the Simpsonwood Retreat Center, to the Presbyterian Church. However, the deal fell through because the Presbyterians would not agree to Ludie’s wish to preserve the retreat area and her specific condition that the land’s natural beauty be kept, for the most part, intact, so Miss Simpson approached the United Methodist Church.
The Methodist agreed with Ludie’s vision and accepted the dense woodsy area on her terms, and the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church first opened the gates of Simpsonwood on June 19, 1985, with the center’s first director, Reverand Jack Bozeman, participating and Bishop Ernest A. Fitzgerald officiating.
The Methodist fulfilled another wish of Ludie by building a little 100-seat English-style field chapel near her family's original home-site. The chapel is named in memory of her mother, Elizabeth Jane Sanders Simpson. Ludie was buried next to her mother at the Mount Carmel Methodist Church cemetery after her death on April 29, 1975, ten years short of seeing Simpsonwood developed.
At Ludie’s funeral a gentlemen who worked for her as a gardener commented on how much she loved the woods, and it inspired the retreat center’s name, Simpsonwood. Ludie would likely be happy with that.
This concludes our series about the history of Simpsonwood Center, join Sally Toole soon for a walk through downtown Norcross to hear more historic tales. Visit HistorywalksofNorcross.com for details.