If ever it was appropriate for someone to die at home, it was Robert Snow.
Snow, 91, died in his bedroom at Waverley Mansion Sunday evening, with his daughter, Melanie, at his bedside, almost 55 years after a restoration project became a family obsession.
“He had been in bed for about a week after he had a fall,” said Bob Raymond, a family friend. “He told Melanie he was sore because he’d been out working in the yard the day before, but he hadn’t been out of bed for days. Then he just closed his eyes and passed.”
Snow’s death came just four days before the 77th Annual Columbus Pilgrimage. Waverley Mansion, located just east of the city of West Point, was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1973 and has long been a mainstay of the Pilgrimage Tour. Raymond said Waverley will remain a part of the tour this year as planned.
While many of the historic homes and buildings on the tour are remembered best for their history, Waverley Mansion will be best remembered for the loving care Robert, his wife, Madonna (Donna), and four children poured into restoring the grand estate, a project that spanned decades.
West Point businessman Jimmy Bryan said Snow never seemed to be finished with the restoration he began in 1962 after the Snows purchased the property and moved from their hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi.
“Every time I went out there, he was always doing something,” Bryan said. “The last time I saw him he was working on restoring the gardens.”
By the time the Snows purchased the mansion, it had fallen into a state of disrepair. As people of modest means, restoration was slow.
“They didn’t have a lot of money, so they did the work themselves,” said Raymond, who met the Snows in 1972 when he was a college student and wandered out, like so many before and since, to see the old mansion as it slowly came back to life. “One of the images that sticks out in my mind is watching Robert paint the house. He didn’t have money for scaffolding, so he tied two ropes to the windows at the top of the house and would raise and lower himself as he painted.
“Robert did everything but the electrical and plumbing,” he added. “They did all the work and opened the house again, room by room.”
Waverley Mansion was built in 1852 by Col. George Hampton Young, who 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. He also began buying up farmland, 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 in Virginia.
The home was a favorite destination for the Southern Aristocracy of the day and, upon completion of the major renovations, the Snows, too, proved gracious hosts for private parties and, later, regular visits from by friends and strangers alike. In fact, Waverley Mansion remains open 365 days a year for tours.
Donna, who passed away in 1991, was an elegant hostess and Robert seemed the quintessential Southern gentleman, with all of the charm and none of the pretense.
“He was mischievous and fun and liked to tell jokes,” Raymond said. “He was just a really nice gentleman and very knowledgeable, always fun to talk to.”
After Donna died away, their daughter, Melanie, took over her role as hostess. In his later years, Raymond said, Robert chose to avoid the role of host.
“If he wasn’t sitting out on the bench out front, he’d go hide in the kitchen,” Raymond said. “He preferred to let Melanie handle the tours and visitors.”
In February, the Legislature passed a resolution acknowledging the Snows’ loving restoration of the old Mansion.
“For this community, Waverley Mansion is kind of a shining star,” Bryan said. “If it hadn’t been for Robert, I doubt it would ever have been restored. It’s pretty amazing what they were able to do.”
Although funeral arrangements have not been announced, Raymond said services will be held on the mansion grounds. Robert will be buried alongside his wife in Philadelphia.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]