March 23, 2013 7:45:43 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
As a little girl, Gaines Gaskin twirled in front of mirrors in her hoop skirts and Pilgrimage finery before running lightly down the stairs of her family's antebellum home, Errolton, to welcome visitors. She and her mother, the late Chebie Gaines Bateman, were among dozens of hostesses throughout Columbus sharing some of the South's most beautiful architectural gems -- and interesting stories.
After a hiatus of several years, Errolton returns to the annual Pilgrimage, which will feature home, garden and church tours, as well as many other special events, March 31 through April 13. This will mark the home's debut on the candlelight tour
And today, Gaines and Keith Gaskin's 19-year-old daughter, Anna Gaines, will serve alongside her parents, as she did as a child. The family continues a legacy that first began almost 60 years ago for the graceful Greek Revival mansion with romantic Gothic detail. It was then Gaines Gaskin's grandmother, Erroldine Hay Bateman, purchased the house built in 1848, restored it to its former glory, and first ushered pilgrims through the front door wreathed in brilliant ruby red glass panels.
"I love sharing the home and its history with people who come from so many places, and they are so gracious," said preschool teacher Gaines Gaskin, showing the way to Errolton's south parlor, where she and her husband were married in 1990. It is here, in the parlor, that the house's benign ghost, Nellie, left her mark. As the widely-told legend goes, the original home builder's granddaughter fell madly in love with Charles Tucker in the 1870s, only to be abandoned by her fiancé.
During renovation by the Batemans more than seven decades later, a window was found inside with the name "Nellie" etched on a pane, a common practice of girls of the previous century. During the work, however, the window was shattered by a falling ladder and had to be replaced. Several weeks later, a family member was shocked to find "Nellie" etched in the new glass, reportedly in the same location and identical hand as before. It's just one of the stories to be shared with Pilgrimage guests when Errolton, located at 216 Third Ave. S., is open from 7-10 p.m. April 2, 4, 6, 9, 11 and 13.
Preserving the stories
"My grandmother loved it so much," said Anna Gaines Gaskin, referring to Pilgrimage. "A lot of my friends are coming back home to hostess with us." It was in 2005 that Anna Gaines finally got her parents to re-join the tour after an extended absence. But within a few short years, the Gaskins had to sit out Pilgrimage due to Chebie Bateman's declining health.
In spite of busy careers, Gaines and Keith look forward to this week's return to the tour.
"We all have a love of history," stressed Keith Gaskin, who serves as senior director of development with Mississippi State's College of Veterinary Medicine. "You have to have that," he added with a chuckle, alluding to the challenges of caring for a 165-year-old structure, as well as the preparation and organization that go into opening to the public. "But I think it's important to share the history and give back to the community," he continued.
The family is eager to share stories of ancestors who played important roles in the region's development. Many of their likenesses line the walls and stairway, portraits painted by Erroldine Hay Bateman, who studied in Paris and New York. Her reproductions of the Old Masters, painted with permission, adorn the parlors. Her own portrait greets visitors in the entryway.
Visitors will also be introduced to George Strother Gaines (1874-1873), once described by The Mobile Register as "the patriarch of Alabama and Mississippi." His extended family included U.S. President Zachary Taylor and Knox Davis, wife of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. As a factor for the federal government, George Gaines was an early leader in both states and gave up a great portion of his personal wealth to help his Choctaw Indian friends during their relocation to the West. He assisted Choctaw chief Pushmataha in forging an alliance with the U.S. Army after the Creek massacre at Fort Mims in 1813.
And then there is Marion Stark Gaines, one of the earliest known published women photographers of Mississippi and grandmother of Chebie Bateman. Her collected work captured not only family life, but social customs and race relations in the rural South.
They, along with the gentle Nellie and Gaskin family, await their visitors. All the homes and features of the Columbus Pilgrimage offer a glimpse into a bygone era. For tour schedules and tickets, contact the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau at 800-920-3533 or visit columbus-ms.org.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.