Grayce and Dewitt Hicks, pictured Thursday in front of Rosewood Manor, their home on Seventh Street North, will bid farewell to the Columbus Spring Pilgrimage after this year's tours March 28-April 6. The Hicks have shared their c. 1835 home and gardens with visitors for the past 42 years. The property is currently for sale. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
As the new owners of Waverley Plantation Mansion in Clay County, Charlie and Dana Stephenson look forward to taking part in their first Columbus Pilgrimage, which begins Thursday with a community kickoff party on the grounds of the Tennessee Williams Home and Welcome Center at 300 Main St.
Photo by: Courtesy photo
March 23, 2019 10:06:45 PM
Change tends to come slowly to a venerable 79-year tradition like the Columbus Spring Pilgrimage. But, as with all things, change does come with the passage of time. This year's annual Pilgrimage marks an exit, and an entrance -- a farewell to the tour by one homeowner family, and the beginning of another family's antebellum journey.
Grayce Hicks will never forget the day many years ago that the Delta Queen steamboat docked in Columbus and all its passengers arrived via shuttles at her historic home, Rosewood Manor, for refreshments.
"The entire ship (of people) came to our garden," she smiled, recalling the sight of the expansive lawns overflowing with travelers on the receiving end of Southern hospitality. "We gave them mint juleps and they just loved that. It was a special time, to have that many people. They really enjoyed the fellowship."
Then, there was the spring of 1988, when particularly long lines of Pilgrimage tourists filled Rosewood Manor's long brick carriage path, waiting their turn to see the house and gardens with their own eyes. The home, along with several other of Columbus' antebellum dwellings, had just been prominently featured in Colonial Homes magazine.
"They were lined up all the way down our walk, to the street!" Grayce Hicks said. "They came with the magazine under their arms. We've never had anything like it before or since."
These are only two of the hundreds of memories Grayce and Dewitt Hicks have from the past 42 years of sharing their 1835 home with visitors from across the country and globe -- many of them during Pilgrimage. This Pilgrimage, however, will be their last, the Hicks said. The time has finally come to downsize. Rosewood Manor is for sale.
"I woke up one day this (past) summer and thought, I can't do this much longer," said Grayce Hicks. "It can't last forever. There comes a time that you need to realize it."
The home on the National Register of Historic Places is just blocks from downtown Columbus, on Seventh Street North. It is known for its stately white Greek Revival facade with Federal influence, its elegant antiques, extensive rose gardens and boxwoods and -- perhaps most unique -- a small family chapel estimated to be more than 125 years old. The Hicks acquired it almost by happenstance at an auction around 1990. The structure was in dire need of repair, but the couple was captivated by it. Now restored, the charming chapel is a popular Pilgrimage attraction.
The Hicks hope that sacred space, the home and the gardens will soon find new owners who care about sharing Rosewood Manor as they have.
"I just love every brick in this place," said Grayce Hicks. "It's hard to give it up, but we're looking for the right people who love older things and love the fun of a house that means this much to the community."
"We've tried to be good stewards of this property and hope someone else will enjoy it as much as we have," said Dewitt Hicks, adding that Columbus has always been "a wonderful place to live and worship and raise a family." "It's really been a joy to meet people who appreciate an opportunity to see an old home."
"Especially one that's lived in," his wife added.
Nancy Carpenter is CEO of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau (CCVB) and the Columbus Cultural Heritage Foundation, a 50l(c)(3) nonprofit entity. Without the homeowners, she stressed, there would be no Pilgrimage.
"We are deeply indebted to the Hicks for having served as Pilgrimage homeowners for 42 years, and as homeowners who were willing to have their home available for tours on a daily basis."
She praised Grayce Hicks as a gracious and hospitable hostess and noted that both Dewitt and his wife have served on the CCVB board.
"For the last several terms, Dewitt has been our chair, and his support of both me and our board, our city and our county has been undying," Carpenter said. "He is always the voice of reason, and his loyalty has been ever-present."
The Hicks will be recognized during the final event of the 2019 Pilgrimage, a ticketed garden party April 6 from 3-6 p.m., at Temple Heights at 515 Ninth St. N.
New chapter for Waverley
As the Hicks anticipate their final Pilgrimage, Charlie and Dana Stephenson are looking forward to their first. In late 2018, they became the new owners of Waverley Plantation Mansion, a well-known c. 1852 property in Clay County. One of the most photographed homes in the Deep South, Waverley, a National Historic Landmark, features an octagonal rotunda with an enormous cupola, or observatory, crowning it.
Many area residents are familiar with its story of survival -- that after 1913 it deteriorated until the Robert Snow family fell in love with it in 1962 and began its slow revival. Patriarch Robert Snow passed away in the spring of 2017, at age 91. The Stephensons count it an honor to carry on Waverley's Pilgrimage legacy.
The couple currently resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but has Mississippi roots. They grew up in Meridian, and Charlie often visited his grandmother and other relatives in Columbus.
"My father's side of the family is from Columbus. I graduated from Mississippi State," said the avid Bulldogs fan. "When we started out, we were just looking for a home in Starkville; we spend a lot of time there, and I plan to retire (in the area)."
The Stephensons were "looking hard" at a property in Starkville when their realtor mentioned another one coming on the market.
Dana Stephenson said, "All Charlie had to do was look at the pictures on Zillow and he was all in on Waverley. I wasn't so certain at first. As we spent time there ... I, too, knew that Waverley was meant to be our home. I'm so grateful the Snow family entrusted her to Charlie and me."
Her husband remarked, "The Snows were kind enough to bless us with the house."
The new owners have already begun some needed restoration and have enlisted the expertise of Belinda Stewart Architects of Eupora. Stewart specializes in historic preservation and rehabilitation.
"We'll honor the history of the house in everything that we do," said Charlie Stephenson. "At the same time, I firmly believe that for these homes to survive, people need to live with them, and to do that they need to be updated."
The couple will be in Columbus for Pilgrimage.
"Charlie and Dana Stephenson, who originally have roots in both Columbus and Meridian, are another gracious couple that will open their home," said Carpenter Wednesday. "I'm delighted they have purchased Waverley. This is exciting. They will continue to make an impact on the Golden Triangle."
Rosewood Manor and Waverley Mansion join 10 other homes on Pilgrimage tours March 28-April 6 -- Baskerville Manor, Errolton, the Stephen D. Lee Home and Museum, Ole Magnolia, Rosedale, Shadowlawn, The Amzi Love Home, White Arches, Whitehall and Temple Heights.
Carpenter describes the generosity of all the homeowners as "a gift to the community." The stipend of $2,800 each home receives is modest in relation to expenses incurred in preparing an antebellum house and grounds to be on tour. Owners know these homes built 160 to 185 years ago are part of America's architectural archive, and that opportunities to see them at close hand are rare. Grayce Hicks believes it's important to share them. It's one of her great joys.
"I love sharing our home with people, and they appreciate it so much," she said. "The good Lord has been kind to us and gave us all these years here, so why shouldn't I have been kind and shared it with others?"
She and her husband hope -- just as the Snows did as Waverley was waiting for her new family -- that the next owners will want to share, too.
"You have to love them," Hicks said of Columbus' antebellum treasures. "These homes just get under your skin."
Editor's note: Go to visitcolumbusms.org for a schedule of Pilgrimage tours and special events March 28-April 6. Or visit the CCVB office, 117 Third St. S., or call 800-920-3533 or 662-329-1191.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.