Monday, June 4, 2012

Edgewood -- Then and Now, and, Now and Then

Edgewood, 412 Storm Avenue, Brookhaven, Mississippi, pictured in a penny post card from some 80 to 100 years ago.

Edgewood Today. Photo Credit: Dr. Danny Dickey

Edgewood Today. Photo Credit: Dr. Danny Dickey
"NEVER let the facts stand in the way of a good story." -- An old journalistic saw  

Edgewood -- It is perhaps Brookhaven's most storied mansion.

Begun in 1908, it was the dream home Vivienne H. Butterfield, the young and socially  ambitious second wife of wealthy lumber baron Charles S. Butterfield, whose father, John S. Butterfield, partnered with fellow Chicagoan and salesman Fred W. Norwood to establish sawmills in south Mississippi in the late 1800s. 

Among their early claims to fame: their first mill, acquired from Sartin and Boone, 2.5 miles east of Thayer, was able to supply 2.5 million feet of flooring and other timbers to Chicago department store giant Marshall Field -- to specs and on time, despite an initial setback in which their first order was rejected as inferior.

In 1891, the partners established a mill at Norfield, just to the south of Brookhaven.  It soon grew to be one of the largest in the state.  It was capable of producing No. 1 yellow pine at remarkable rates of speed.  The town was incorporated in 1894, with C.S. Butterfield as its first mayor.

The extended family of the Butterfields (J.S., C.S. and R.B.) went on to own three of the largest homes in Norfield, which had burgeoned in size and soon rivaled Brookhaven's population.

Given the status quo, it is fair to say that Edgewood would have never been constructed had it not been for the untimely death of Charles's first wife, May Millsaps Butterfield, who, at the age of 33, left behind a grieving husband and two heartbroken young daughters.

Charles, devastated by May's death, went from being "fun-loving, adventurous and happy" to introverted, listless and distant, a condition that was not improved upon with his "rebound" marriage to 27-year-old Vivienne -- this, according to Robert E. Jones, Charles's grandson by May Millsaps.

Despite Charles's broken spirit, Vivienne soon presented him with a son and quickly turned her attention away from domesticity in Norfield to fulfill her burning desire to live in Brookhaven, which had a more sophisticated culture, an erudite air and a social hierarchy that Norfield couldn't begin to match. 

They chose 10 acres on a gentle hill on the "edge" of town for the building site.  To the west and north was a stand of virgin long leaf yellow pines, the likes of which fueled the region's economy during the lumber industry's zenith years of 1910 to 1920. 

A small stream ran through the property, and muscadine vines and pomegranate trees offered up ripe fruits for the taking.

No expense was spared, it seems, to construct what has been hailed as a "magnificent" Greek Revival. Artisans from New Orleans were brought in to carve the intricate moldings throughout the home and on the exterior. Local lumber was used in the construction.

It was completed in either 1910 or 1912, depending on which source you believe, at a cost of $75,000.

Once topped out, Vivienne's dream home was the largest private residence within the confines of Brookhaven proper (a statistic that stands to this day.) It sported 
- 19 rooms,
- inlaid mahogany floors
- a leather-walled library
- highly desirable curly pine wainscoting
- marble statues from Italy
- crystal chandeliers from England
- a lawn tennis court on the side yard
- an immense front porch 
- a grand stair case styled after that of a stately ocean liner

A marble replica of Winged Victory stood at the middle landing of the staircase to greet visitors.

Of Lore and Legend
As one might expect, a house of this history and size is not without its lore and legend.  

One of the more intriguing, oft-repeated tales was mentioned in a recent local newspaper story stating that the Butterfields had had tickets to sail on the RMS Titanic on April 10, 1912 -- only they missed the doomed voyage because their train was delayed on arrival at Southampton, England.

That "fact" is certainly thought provoking: How differently things might have been in Brookhaven had the Butterfields made their connection in Southampton that fateful day? 

From that perspective, I began to write a story of the home's significance and the sheer serendipity of its completion in 1912, but a nagging directive kept tugging at me -- the ship's passenger manifest is undoubtedly online -- find it and embed the link.

And so, I Googled the manifest and ... the name Butterfield is no where to be found on any of the numerous lists that turn up online. There's not even a close approximation of that last name, unless you dare to count "Butt."

Hmmm.  Perhaps the family was racing to Southampton in the HOPE of buying tickets and arrived too late?  That would explain why the name does not show up anywhere on the manifest -- they were not ticketed passengers, but perhaps "hopeful" passengers who were lucky enough NOT to get tickets that day.

Their good fortune may have been there for them in 1912, but shortly thereafter, the outbreak of WWI would prove to have an adverse impact on the Butterfields and the fate of their sawmill at Norfield.  

According to Dr. Jack Tindall's local history book, the dawn of WWI forced the cancellation of exports and stockholders demanded an early sale of the mill in 1915. The Denkmann-Reimers Company, headquartered in Rock Island, Illinois, purchased the company and subsequently renamed it Denkmann Lumber Company.

(Yet another book on Brookhaven history, written by the aforementioned Robert E. Jones, Esq., implies that it was Vivienne who had urged the sale.) 

Whatever the case, eventually, the Butterfields sold the business and eventually sold the mansion and moved to Florida, but when that occurred is not exactly clear. 

It appears they were still occupying Edgewood as late as 1918, when Mr. Butterfield's 21-year-old daughter Elizabeth from his first marriage returned home from boarding school to marry long-time beau and the newly licensed young attorney, Robert Lee Jones, Esq.

A Creepy Crypt?
I would be remiss if I did not mention the rumor that there is a crypt within the house, behind a door under the staircase, and that some of the Butterfields are buried there. 

I can recall hearing that story as a child, when I would visit classmate Ethebet Hart, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Royce Hart, who lived in the 1950s ranch-style house next door to the mansion to the east.

Whether the crypt story is true is not verifiable from where I sit, and I welcome any assistance in confirming or denying that long-time rumor.

This I did find: Find-a-Grave shows that Charles Spences Butterfield died on Dec. 12, 1935, age 71.  Vivienne H. Butterfield, born on March 21, 1877, died on October 15, 1968, age 91.  They are buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Pensacola, FL -- and NOT at Storm Avenue.

The Indian Doctor Years 
In addition, there are plenty of stories about an "Indian doctor" who practiced medicine in the house in the years before it was purchased by current owner, David Lovell.

According to the Daily Leader, "Dr." Harry P. Hannon used the home as a medical clinic.  His patients would move into the home while he treated them.  

It is said that Hannon was loved by many but distrusted by others, in particular the town's medical doctors.  It is believed that he was not in actuality a licensed physician, but what was known as a "psychic surgeon."  

Nonetheless, he supposedly performed medical miracles in the home.  Just what they were, I have been unable to determine.

He passed away, according to the Leader, in one of the home's second-floor bedrooms.  The year of his death and the cause, are unclear.

Harry P. Hannon and his wife Christine had twin sons, Harry and Robert, and daughters  Dorothy Hannon Odom and Sarah Hannon Grusendorf.  Harry, Dorothy and Robert are  deceased, according to this link to Robert's obituary two years ago.

 The Last 50 Years or So
Local artist, designer, decorator and antiques expert David Lovell bought the house in 1956 for the bargain price of $25,000. 

Before then, the massive portico had been removed by Dr. Hannon in an attempt to "modernize" the home in the 1940s.  Lovell went to a great deal of expense to restore the porch in the late 1950s/early 1960s, ordering oversized columns from New Orleans.

Lovell estimates that he has invested $400,000 to $500,000 in the house over the five decades he has owned it.  He has used it as a bed and breakfast and also hosted any number of weddings, receptions, socials and parties.  (Below are photographs taken during my wedding reception in 1983.  I include the photos not to show off my kith and kin, but to illustrate the magnificence of this home's interior, as evidenced in the photos.) 

Note the curly pine wainscoting to the left of the archway.  Also note the nude marble statue in the center of the photo. My Puritanical mother, in the hot pink dress, worried about what the townspeople might think, debated whether she should demand a Scottish kilt be put on the statue to cover its butt, during the reception. That obviously did not happen.

Note the chandelier, no doubt one of the English chandeliers auctioned off in 2010, and also note the "palace sized" Persian  rug, which was also among the sale items back in 2010 to help raise money to bring the mansion back up to snuff. 

On the grand central staircase.  Note in the background on the landing is a replica of "Winged Victory."
Recently, Lovell, now in his 80s and in declining health, auctioned off many of the exemplary antiques from the home in the hope of raising significant funds to renovate and repair the home for the eventual sale upon his death.  The proceeds of the sale will go to his heirs.  It is unclear if the auction accomplished that goal. 
Photo Credit: Dr. Danny Dickey

For additional reading, including an interesting account of Elizabeth Butterfield Jones' feelings about her blended family and information about her own life, which included being sent to a Virginia boarding school with her sister Fannie during WWI, please see the late Robert E. Jones' book "Mississippi Gumbo," available for sale on line.

1 comment:

  1. My Great Grandfather was Charles Butterfield and my Grandmother Josephine was one of his daughters. Josephine spent her young years at Edgewood and my family has pictures of her as a young child on the Grand Staircase in Edgewood. I am traveling through Brookhaven in August 2015 and hope to visit the home! Would you know who the current owners are and how I could possible contact them?