Palladian Mansion

When we were restoring Great Oaks in the 1960s we were also building a Coca-Cola building in DeFuniak Springs. The architect was a gentleman in his 60s. I showed him some pictures of the house. When he saw pictures of the doors and windows he told me the design was Palladian. Another architect has told me the same. I never really followed up on this until the present time.

In this discussion we need to keep in mind Jackson County was formed in 1822. This area developed as a plantation area, as did most of the south. Across the south there are many houses that were built prior to the Civil War. They were typically two rooms wide with a hall between, two rooms high and one room deep. The kitchen was a separate building which was often later moved and attached to the rear of the house or some other type of structure was so added. Porches were installed at the front door. They were of all styles and they were often referred to as porticos. These homes have generally been referred to as Greek Revivals. We have two in Greenwood, the Hayes-Long Mansion and the Irwin House. In Marianna the Ely Mansion and the McKinnon House both fall in that category. You see on these the wide variety of porches. The Ely mansion architrave (the cornice work resting on the columns) is definitely Greek, but the columns are square. One reference I found said it had Ionic columns, so it may have previously had round ones.

great-oaks-palladian4From the time we first bought the Smith House (now Great Oaks) I have known it was designed by an architect. Here are some of my reasons. It had closets. All rooms except the parlor joined a hall. It was well planned and convenient. I had studied Greek architecture well enough to know the Greeks only used Doric columns. The architrave matched the Greek pattern. (Note its height.) I thought its hip roof was unusual, since most of the other houses and Greek temples had gable roofs but I now realize that's the architect's choice.

The term Palladianism comes from the Venetian architect, Andrea Palladio, 1508-1580.He wrote four books on his work which is called the Quattro Libri and he has most always had a following. There is a great deal of information about him and if you care to really get into this go to the internet and look up Palladian Architecture. I will just get into it enough to suffice our purpose. His work moved across Europe and finally came to America toward the latter part of the 18th century. It influenced our public buildings almost from the beginning. Thomas Jefferson was one of his disciples. He considered his Quattro Libri his architectural Bible. The Rotunda at the University of Virginia and the original Monticello are all Palladian. The White House, designed by James Hoban, was started in 1792. It is also Palladian. If you look at this, especially notice the window treatment.

One of his main points was symmetry. The other was windows. I am including a few pictures of Great Oaks to show these features. Note the front view. From the center of the front doors see how each side is symmetrical with the other. If you look at the floor plans, draw a line down the center, you will notice, except for minor points, the north and south sides mirror each other. Now look at the window and door trim. We have no interior pictures of the window trim because of the drapes.

Now, we ask why was such a sophisticated home built in this rural area at such a time? I have noted in previous articles that Hamilton Bryan administered his father's estate (Elijah) from 1852 to 1873 and his reports to the county judge are in the court house. I have just spent most of two days there doing research. We need to know the Bryans were quite sophisticated and travelled a great deal. They were college educated. I just found a letter from the Patapsco Female Institute in Ellicott City Md. acknowledging payment for Elizabeth's (Lizzie) tuition. (copy attached)

Patapsco Female Institute
Ellicott City, Md., Post Office,
Feby 22d, 1868
H. E. Bryan Esq
Dear Sir – I have received this day – Draft of John W. Anderson Sons & Co Savannah Ga on Gilman Son & Co New York for Five hundred dollars ($500=) which we have placed to your Credit for Expenses of your Sister (Miss E.J. Bryan) in School – Academic year 1864=68
Respectfully & truly
Your St
N. C. Brooks
Secy Patap Inst

I have been trying to find the name of the architect, but have not been successful. I' m sure he was highly qualified, obviously a student of Palladio. This type design could have been a request of Hamilton. I expect we may never know the answers to the questions, but I know we have a rare jewel. I believe if this information is sent abroad by the TDC it will bring in many students of history and architecture and will cast a new light on our area.

I expect to continue study on this and may have a follow up article later.



September 23 2010

On a cool, crisp morning in December of 1861, eight-year-old Lizzie Bryan awoke from her first night's sleep in her new home to the sounds of trace chains jangling, a wagon creaking, and Mingo speaking to the team of mules. She dressed in front of the warm fire one of the house servants had built. Peering out the back window she saw smoke coming from the kitchen chimney. Aunt Polly was cooking breakfast. Once downstairs she hurried out on the front porch to see what was happening. Standing dwarfed by one of the towering Doric columns, she watched the men taking oak saplings off the wagon and planting them in a row along the dirt road. Will they all live to some day become a row of great oaks, she wondered? A jangling bell interrupted her thoughts, and she ran into the dining room to join her family for a breakfast of ham, eggs, biscuits, gravy, grits and coffee.

On the morning of May 26, 1966, eight-year-old Rachel Reese awoke from her first night's sleep in her new home to see her mother standing beside her bed with a glass of orange juice, as she would every morning until Rachel went away to college.

Central heating and cooling kept the house very pleasant, so she just put on a robe and house shoes and padded downstairs. Out on the front porch she surveyed her new front yard. Standing beside one of the huge Doric columns, she noticed a wider space between two of the trees in the long row lining the highway. One of those trees planted a long time ago did not live to become a great oak, she concluded. She heard the bell ring and ran into the kitchen for a breakfast of sausage and waffles.

So, we come to the end of our series on Antebellum Greenwood. I will now give you some trivia you may (or may not) enjoy.

We have four great books that begin June 3, 1961, a Sunday afternoon, the day before we began the restoration. Not every one of our visitors has signed these guest books, but an astonishing 5427 people have registered their name. They've come from all states except Delaware, Montana, Nebraska and Nevada. We've had visitors from 18 foreign countries - Argentina, Germany, Japan, Hungary, France, England, Rhodesia, Canada, Switzerland, Norway, Yugoslavia, Ukraine, Thailand, Kuwait, Albania, Costa Rica, China and Singapore. We have opened the house to the public several times. Many meetings have been held here.

And oh, we've had lots of parties! I think the Christmas parties have been the most fun. I remember one when we had fires in all five fireplaces and ceiling-high decorated Christmas trees on both floors. There have been a number of slumber parties. One, when Rachel was in about the third grade, lasted all night. Becky finally went up about dawn and got them to settle down. But some never did go to sleep!

The most memorable one was Claudia's 45th birthday. At that time she was residing in Panama City, and lived quite the social life. She invited 37 ladies here for lunch. They all dressed up in hats and gloves for the occasion.

There have been sad times too. We lost Claudia to cancer in 2002, but she is ever with us through her art work that graces the walls throughout the house.

In 1993 we realized none of our girls would return home to live, so we decided we needed to make arrangements for preservation of the house. We contacted several institutions and received the most favorable offer from Harding University, located in Searcy, Arkansas. We gave the house to them, and we retain a life estate. On our deaths they will take possession. They agreed to preserve the house and enforce that condition on all successive survivors.

In the beginning I promised I would tell you a story at the end. At that time I told you Mr. Smith, from whom we bought the house, required us to restore it, paint it white and paint the shutters green. Actually, I'm going to tell you two stories.

In January 1967 we received a letter from Mrs. Mordecai N. Gist of McIntosh, Fl. It was addressed to Mr. & Mrs. Claude Reese, Marianna, Fl. We had then been living in Greenwood, Fl. seven months, but the letter still found us. She had lots of antiques. She had seen our house many times down through the years and read an article by Judge Carswell on our restoration. She had a clock, still in working order, that had belonged to General Mordecai Gist who fought with General Washington. She wanted it to go to someone who would take care of it. She thought we were acceptable. It was worth around $1500, she believed, but she would take less from us. We were broke, but told her we could pay $500. To our surprise she sold it to us and we set a time to go get it. A few days before the appointed time she called and said she had actually offered it to Colonial Williamsburg several months before, but they never responded. They had now called, decided the clock was as she described it, and offered her $5000. She told me she would still like us to have it for the $500. We released her from the deal, and the clock is in Williamsburg to this day.

We had our second open house Sunday afternoon, May 22, 1966, the day before we moved in. 508 people came between 1:00 – 5:00pm. We had people at the front door, and guides in all rooms. We asked people to stay in groups of about 15. I was in the library, alone at the time, and happened to look out in the upstairs sitting room and saw this lady alone. She was really dressed up. She had on a pink suit, corsage, pink hat, pink shoes and stockings. Quite striking in appearance. "Ma'am, have you lost your group?" I asked.

"I do not have a group," she replied.

She came into the library. "Mr. Reese, you don't recognize me, do you?" I shook my head. "No Ma'am, I don't." She said "I'm Mrs. Smith." I caught my breath in surprise. "What do you think of it?" I asked. She started crying. I joined her. We wept together, standing in the library. That's the last time I saw her, but I did attend her burial service at the Baptist Cemetery.

I close with a picture of Greenwood's seventh antebellum structure, the Great Oaks Smoke House.


How We Got Great Oaks

I flew a North American T-6 from Greenville, Ms. to the Marianna Airport along with about 150 other pilots on the 31 of March 1953. I instructed here until the end of 1960.

When I first started instructing here we were flying Piper P-18 aircraft (Cubs). We were landing in the grass north of the East – West runway where the experiment station is now growing cotton. We flew our traffic pattern at 600' and some of the patterns took us over Greenwood, so the first time I saw the house was from the air. I subsequently visited the site, and was permitted to go through the house. I was quiet impressed with it and told Becky and the girls about it. We drove out and looked, but we did not go in. We had three girls then, Becky Lee 7, Claudia 5, and Priscilla 3. Rachel was born in 1958 about two weeks after a three inch March snow fall. We had talked about buying the house for seven years, but never researched anything about the house. After Christmas vacation in Tennessee we were returning through Eufaula, Al. and the girls got quite motivated by the lovely homes that lined the main street there and they insisted we buy the house is Greenwood.

So, after getting home, I learned it was owned by Mr. Louis Smith of Graceville. I wrote him a letter indicating I was interested in buying the house and asked him to give me a price if he was interested in selling it. In about four days we received his price in a very brief letter and we agreed to buy it. Mrs. Smith required us to agree to restore the house and paint it white, and paint the shutters green. If you are following this series, please try to remember this requirement, because I will tell you a little interesting story near the end.

In 1972, we tried to get the house listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but we did not have adequate information regarding its history. About this time I met Etta Bryan Carroll. She was a granddaughter of Hamilton Bryan. She told me she knew where all the information on the house was located. She took me to the court house and showed me Hamilton's 21 annual reports as was required by Mr. Bryan's will. This information we received made us successful in getting it listed on the National Register. Miss Etta's home was on Lafayette Street in Marianna where Jim's Steakhouse is now located.

After the war, Mrs. Penelope Bryan wrote to the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, VA and asked them to recommend a tutor for her girls. They recommended Mr. Louis Smith from North Carolina. He came here and taught them, and later married Emily. We bought the house from their grandson. We are the first people outside the Bryan family to own the house.

Now we will give you some more pictures with comments about the restoration.

Image 1:  The house as it appeared when we bought it in 1961. Note the ladders by the windows. They were fire escapes installed when it was a school. Also, note the addition. This was added to make that space into a kitchen. The original kitchen and laundry were in a separate building that was located about where the camera was set up for making this picture. The foundation for the chimney is extant.

Image 2:  This shows the work in progress. Looking through the old kitchen framing you can see the south entrance we now use. If you look very carefully where the back porch meets the wall you can see a figured post that we used for a pattern.

Image 3:  Carpenter work proceeds all along this area. We had to do extreme cornice work. We are enclosing the old kitchen area and making it into a utility room. We are installing a double window for the room we now use for the kitchen. This was originally a bedroom.

Image 4:  The exterior is nearly finished except for porch roofs. The boy on the back porch is John Toman, the son of Joe and Joyce Toman. He is now 47 years old and lives in Tallahassee.

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