August 18, 2018 10:03:25 PM
Rufus Ward - [email protected]
The exterior appearance of Waverly, a National Historic Landmark, between West Point and Columbus is well known and pictured in many books on architecture. The original appearance of the interior is not so well documented.
The story of Waverly begins with George H. Young, a Georgia lawyer and legislator. With the forced removal of the Chickasaw and Choctaw peoples from Mississippi in the early 1830s, millions of acres of former Indian land open for Euro-American settlement. About 1833, Young came to Mississippi to scout out fertile land to purchase.
Young purchased a large block of Black Prairie land that had been part of the Chickasaw Nation, and he and his wife Lucy Watkins (she was the sister of Martha Watkins Harris at Whitehall) moved there around 1835. The prairie where they settled was called the Colbert Prairie after its former Chickasaw Nation residents. The name Waverly appeared by 1839 when a town was platted there.
Though the proposed town never developed, a full-blown community associated with Young's plantation did arise. By 1850 Young was farming 800 acres of improved land with 117 slaves and also had 1,469 acres of unimproved or forested land. His principal crops were corn and cotton. The Young's first house was a two story log house behind the site of present day home. Waverly, as we know it today, was not fully completed until late 1857 or early 1858.
The in spite of its fame and the extensive documentation of Waverly's exterior, the original appearance of the interior has seldom been described. A wonderful tour of the home was published in 1905 in the Commercial Appeal. At the time, Val and Billy Young, two surviving sons of the home's builder George Hampton Young, were living there. The two old gentlemen would be the last Youngs to live there and after their deaths the house for half a century stood deserted. The 1905 description began:
"The portico, wide, spacious, indicative of the hospitality within, must be crossed to reach the big front door. One threads the way through comfortable chairs and past inquisitive groups of dogs of high degree, dogs that have made Waverly a name famous in the sporting world (In the 1890s one bird dog raised and trained at the Waverly Kennels sold for $1,500).
"Through the doors the guest passes into the famous hall, an octagon shaped room 32 feet in diameter, with two staircases springing from opposite to meet on the floor above. Two tall pier glasses framed in heavy gilt stand in the hall and on the walls are portraits of the family of Young for several generations, with other studies done in oil. On the second floor are the bedrooms measuring 22-by-25 feet, and one reaches the observatory by a flight of steps from the balcony-like hall that guards the opening to these rooms.
"All the railings to the stair and balcony and stairway itself are made of walnut, and from the ceiling 65 feet above the lower floor hangs a great bronze chandelier that lights the balcony and the big hall below.
"To the left of the hall is the great parlor, whose rich furnishings, made by special order in the art centers of the Old World, have withstood the wear and tear of more than a half century of continuous hospitality. The blue velvet carpet, sprinkled in flowers, is almost as fresh as when it left the Paris looms long ago; the divans, chairs and ottomans, made of rosewood and upholstered to match the carpet, are still wonderfully preserved, the cloth being a dark blue satin damask brocaded in pale yellow roses.
"At the windows are rich old curtains of heavy blue satin damask lined with canary silk, hung from massive gilt cornices and looped over the lace curtains by means of heavy silk cords and tassels. The mantel is of white Italian marble and supports a great gilt-framed mirror 70 inches wide, and the fireplace below is four feet high and three feet wide. The chandelier in this room is of bronze and chased cutglass globes.
"The library furniture, like many other rooms in the house is rich in mahogany furniture. The bookcases and writing desk are made into the wall and easy chairs make this the family living room." This was the interior of Waverly described in 1905 by family descendants Lucile Webb Banks and Anna B.A. Brown.
After the deaths of Val and Billy Young, the house was vacant for about 50 years until Robert and Donna Snow bought it and lovingly restored it. The Snows soon gained the same grand reputation for hospitality there for which the Youngs had been famous.
Through many years and transitions Waverly itself has survived principally through the efforts of the late Robert and Donna Snow. With their passing the National Historic Landmark home is now on the market but their children are continuing to open the house for visitors. It stands today as one of the most magnificent homes in the entire South and is normally open Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., on Sunday 1-5 p.m. and closed on Mondays (662-494-1399).
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]