You’ve finally reached the exciting conclusion to the epic trilogy of Columbus Pilgrimage. I know you’ve been anxiously awaiting the announcement of my favorite house on the tour.
If only I knew how to do a drumroll here. I guess I could link to an audio file or something.
It’s Waverley, of course.
The house, of course, is simply amazing. Built in 1852, it is topped by this amazing octagonal tower that not only lights a beautiful staircase and rotunda but also provides an efficient means of ventilating the house. We couldn’t take interior photos, but you can get a good feeling for the staircase that seems to float upward forever and the other wonderful interior features in this e-zine article from the New Southern View. In addition, HABS has photographed the house twice, once in the 1930s in its abandonment and the second time in 1975 when it was being lived in and loved again. You can find those pictures here.
Just as amazing to me is the preservation story that has kept this house intact up till today so that awestruck people like me can wander through. You’re probably all familiar with it, but it bears re-telling because to me it’s passed into the preservation mythology and is a reminder that even in our small world there are people who create heroic epics, overcoming obstacles and hardship because “This Place Matters”
The Snow family ran an antique store in Philadelphia. They weren’t rich, just getting by with their business. A man came through one day in the early 1960s and mentioned this antebellum mansion that had been vacant since the last brother in the family died in 1913. Said it was up north of Columbus. The Snows decided to go see it. The New Southern View article quotes Robert Snow recollection of his first site of Waverley:
“As we came around a huge oak tree, we stopped dead in our tracks—absolutely breathless, mesmerized. There was the house, rising up out of the jungle, four stories high with the dome set against the bluest sky. Vines clung to the house and swayed in the breeze. The porch floor had collapsed and the marble steps were scattered in the yard. We scarcely spoke.”
Wow–I wish I had been there to see that! People in the surrounding countryside and communities had been to the house in its vacancy, many college students had used it for parties and initiations, but amazingly, the Snows found it in almost pristine shape architecturally: the gasoliers were still in place, three enormous mirrors still hung from the walls, only three balusters in the whole staircase were missing. This in itself is a testament to the community that had recognized the rarity and beauty of the place and had treated it with respect.
But the story that follows is even more epic: the Snows, limited though their means were, convinced the remaining scattered family members who owned pieces of the estate to sell the house to them. And almost single-handedly the Snow family, including the children, worked on the house, living in it while restoring room by room, fighting back nature, and opening the house to the always curious visitors who stumbled in with looks of shock to have found such a place in the middle of seemingly endless woods and bottomlands.
I know the Snows received an award in the 1960s for their work on Waverley from the American Association for State and Local History, but I would nominate the whole family (Mrs. Snow passed away in the 1990s) for a lifetime achievement award in preservation because this has been a labor of love for decades and they’ve shared this gift with all of us.
And that’s why Waverley was my favorite.