She is still beautiful, even in her old age.
But even her dear friends will admit she could use some fresh make-up, maybe a mild face-lift.
Bob Raymond, who was first captivated by her beauty as a student at Mississippi State in 1972, certainly thinks so. So do Robert Snow and his daughter, Melanie, who have cherished the old girl since they first laid eyes on her in 1961 and have lovingly cared for her ever since.
Yes, she is beginning to show her age and the only remedy is a costly one.
Waverley Plantation needs a make-over, and an expensive one at that. The paint is peeling on the massive white-frame mansion and the cost for the new paint job has proven prohibitive for the Snow family, whose efforts to restore the old mansion, completed in 1852, have always defied logic.
“Momma used to say that to restore an old house, you had to have money and love,” says Melanie Snow. “We had the love part.”
The way Raymond sees it, now is the perfect chance for Waverley’s other admirers to step up.
To achieve that end, Raymond has turned to crowd-sourcing, setting up an account called “Friends of Waverley Mansion” at the funding site indiegogo.com.
The deadline for contributing to the painting project, estimated at $16,000, is Nov. 25, which not coincidentally is Robert Snow’s 89th birthday.
Any donation is welcomed. A $1 donation secures the donor a picture postcard of Waverley signed by Robert and Melanie. Other incentives, based on the amount donated, can secure a peacock feather from the famous old bird that prowls the 40-acre estate, photos, a tour of the home that includes a visit to the fourth-floor cupola that is usually off-limits to visitors, etc. An $89 donation secures an invitation to Robert’s birthday party.
Work has already started on the project. Workers have completed the scraping and Stan’s Painting Service is working on the job, which includes priming, two coats paint, re-glazing windows, painting iron railings and painting/re-hanging shutters.
As of Friday morning, $2,792 had been donated through the indiegogo page.
The history of Waverley Plantation
The story of the mansion begins in 1840, when Col. George Hampton Young moved his wife to the Clay County side of the Tombigbee River to take up cotton farming. He built a two-story log cabin for his family and a small brick office that adjoins what would become the mansion and began buying up farm land, ultimately expanding his property to 50,000 acres. As his fortunes grew, Young began work on Waverley Mansion, an architectural wonder that features two wings built on either side of the impressive octagonal rotunda, a concept loosely-based on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
Completed in 1852, Waverley was host to many prominent visitors, particularly during the Civil War, when the mansion hosted lavish dinner parties similar to those depicted in such movies as “Gone With The Wind.”
Famed Confederate cavalry commander Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest boarded his cavalry horses there on occasion. The general also spent three weeks ensconced in the mansion’s “Egyptian Room” as he recovered from a serious skin infection.
The end of an era
As it was with most plantations, the end of the Civil War was the end of a great, prosperous era and when the last of Young’s children, a bachelor, died in 1913, the 13 heirs could not agree on how the estate would be divided, something that set the stage for two remarkable stories that would follow.
Unable to settle the matter, the plantation was soon abandoned to the ravages of time and nature.
For almost 50 years, the mansion sat vacant, if not entirely forgotten. Over the ensuing five decades, it became a place were lovers met, where hunters sought refuge from the weather, where vagrants squatted, where university students held drinking parties.
Its only full-time residents were varmints, most notably hundreds of bats, for whom the mansion’s towering rotunda was an ideal habitat.
Located at the end of an old dirt road, the mansion was quickly overrun with weeds, vulnerable to destruction at the hands of nature or the careless visitor.
That the mansion did not succumb to those perils is a great story in its own right.
But an even more remarkable story followed.
To the rescue
In 1961, Robert, his wife Madonna (Donna) and their three children were living in Philadelphia, Mississippi. They were not wealthy people, but had fashioned a comfortable living. Robert worked for the railroad and Donna was a bookkeeper. On the side, they operated an antiques store that was open only on the weekends.
One weekend, a visitor stopped by the Snows’ antique shop and casually mentioned an abandoned old mansion located in Clay County.
Robert and Donna were immediately intrigued.
“The next morning, mama told us kids, ‘We’re going on an adventure,'” Melanie said.
The family loaded up the car and made the 90-minute drive to Waverley.
It was love at first sight.
By May of 1962, the Snows had purchased the mansion and the 40 acres that surrounded it and began moving in.
“No plumbing, no electricity,” recalls Melanie, who was 7 years old when the family moved in. “It took nine months to get the plumbing and electricity. Mama said it was nine months because that’s how long it takes to have a baby.”
That a middle-class family would dare to take on what could be expected to be an enormously expensive restoration is, perhaps, the best story of all.
Dirt daubers and devotion
With limited finances, the family began the Herculean task of restoring the old mansion. Working room-by-room, making improvements as the money became available, it took the Snows 25 years to complete the work.
One chore from hundreds stands out especially in Melanie Snow’s memory: The dirt dauber nests.
One of the mansion’s distinguishing features is the ornate plaster molding featured throughout the mansion. During the 50 years the mansion lay vacant, dirt daubers have found the plaster molding an idea place to build nests, clay tunnels that affixed the molding like cement.
“You couldn’t use water to soften the nests because it would ruin the molding, too,” Melanie recalled. “So we had to remove them all by hand, using toothbrushes and wooden tooth picks, chipping away at the nests, hundreds and thousands of nests.
“We use to just cry and cry because while all the other children around were out playing, we were there in the house, with toothbrushes and toothpicks, getting rid of those dirt dauber nests.”
The sweat equity and cost of repairs weren’t the only obstacles the Snows faced. Outfitting the large mansion with period-appropriate furnishings was a challenge, too.
Although the Snows had long been antique collectors, “the house swallowed up what antiques we had,” Melanie says.
Again, piece-by-piece, room-by-room, the Snows began assembling furnishings, relying on their expertise in finding bargains at estate-sales and antique-stores.
Robert was 39 years old, his wife, 38, when they began work on the mansion.
Twenty-one years later, their efforts were recognized when Waverley Mansion was destined as National History Landmark in 1973.
Restoration complete, the work continues
While the restoration work on the mansion may have been declared complete 25 years ago, maintaining Waverley is a never-ending commitment.
Without the great income that would normally be required to maintain such a property, the Snows have compensated by doing most of work themselves.
When Donna, the elegant, beautiful matron of the mansion, died suddenly of a heart attack at age 67 in 1991, the work fell to Robert, work which included the massive undertaking of keeping the house painted every eight to 10 years.
Now, as he approaches his 89th birthday, such tasks are well beyond Robert’s ability to perform and the paint job has been put off longer than it should have been.
He spends most of his days sitting on a bench in front of the house, reading history and welcoming visitors (the mansion is open for tours during the weekday). His main company is a docile black lab named Tallulah Barkhead, a impressively fat Chihuahua mix named Spot — who the Snows are “watching” for a friend for three years now — and an assortment of cats and a peacock who regally roams the property.
Hearing loss makes conversations with Robert difficult, but glimpses of incorrigible humor emerge during any visit.
“I want to find me a rich 99-year-old woman,” he says, his eyes sparkling.
Robert lives at Waverley Mansion with Melanie, who has expertly moved into the role of hostess her mother once performed.
Together they are gracious hosts. Even after 50 years, their love for their home is written in their expressions and springs joyously alive in conversation.
She is still a lovely lady, old though Waverley Mansion may be, they say.
Yes, a little makeup is all that is required to restore her to the flower of her youth.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.