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September 23 2010

Greenwood's seventh antebellum structure, the Great Oaks Smoke House Greenwood's seventh antebellum structure, the Great Oaks Smoke House

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.

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