Today’s post is a reprint from Mrs. N.D. Deupree’s “Some Historic Homes of Mississippi,” from Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. VI (1902).
In the northeast corner of Madison county is Kirkwood, the home of Gov. McWillie. In October, 1845, Col. McWillie accompanied by his family, with a long train of carriages, wagons, negroes and horses crossed the States between South Carolina and Mississippi to make a home in the West. A large comfortable house had been built for his reception on one of the most beautiful elevations in the mile square he had purchased for his western colony. This house afterwards became the quarters of the house servants, and for more than a quarter of a century its broad hall resounded at night to the music of the banjo and “fiddle,” or the loud earnest voice of the negro preacher, as he led the beloved prayer-meeting; and many a dusky bride here pronounced her marriage vows.
A New York architect awaited Col. McWillie and the home was to have been at once begun; but his lovely Christian wife suggested that first the church should rear its cross in the wilderness, that its sacred shadow might fall in blessing on their home. Her sweet counsel was law and the church was built; then the cornerstone of the home was laid, and there arose like magic one of the loveliest and happiest homes in the South, one whose doors stood always open, and whose hospitality was as large and true as the two hearts which dispensed it.
The house was a colonial pile with broad, halls, large rooms, conservatory, gardens, and wide lawns extending on one side to the church and churchyard, where sleep the loved ones that have laid down the cares of this life. On the other side stood the rectory. There could be written many sweet love stories of the scenes enacted beneath this roof-tree, but they are too sacred and we will treat only of historic events.
Among the many distinguished visitors now recalled, were Gen. Quitman; Governors Matthews, Foote, Pettus, and McRea; William S. Barry; D. C. Glenn; S. S. Prentiss; Col. A. K. McClung, whose tragic death filled all hearts with horror; Gen. William Barksdale, who fell at Gettysburg; Maj. Ethelbert Barksdale; Gen. Featherstone, the noblest Roman of them all; J. A. P. Campbell, afterwards Mississippi’s greatest judge; Gen. Adams; Gen. Miles; Capt. Joslyn, the sweet poet of the State; the Yergers, father and sons; Bishop Otey; and best and dearest, our first bishop William Mercer Green; and many of other churches, for in this home, bigotry never entered; last but by no means the least in honor or affection rises the heroic form of our own President, Mr. Davis, for years a visitor and a warm friend of the family.
Following these there comes a host of glorious men who wore the gray, while the sons of the house were in Virginia battling for right, and where one of them laid down his life as a sacrifice on the altar of liberty. This home was the refuge of the war-worn. Suites of the beautiful rooms were turned into hospitals for the sick and wounded.
The first visit of Mr. Davis to “Kirkwood” was in 1850, when he and several others accepted an invitation extended by Col. Mc-Willie to a dinner to be given by him, at which nothing should be served that was not produced upon his own plantations, but the coffee and spices, thus to refute the oft repeated assertion of the Northern brethren that the men and women of the South were indolent and improvident. The menu of that dinner has been in part preserved: Turtle soup and fish from the Seneasha, a stream running through the plantation; mutton, from a flock of hundreds of sheep; a game course of venison and quail, from the forests; beef, turkeys and ducks from the farm-yards; rice and potatoes from the marshes and fields; fruit, cream, nuts, and cheese from the home dairy; wine from grapes that ripened on “Kirkwood” hills. When the ladies left the dining room, “old mammy’s” tobacco was forthcoming, that the home menu might be complete, but the guests declared themselves more than satisfied ‘with the skill of the house-wife and the energy of the planter. Therefore, with their coffee were served fragrant Havanas.
An incident of this evening comes to mind which is worthy of mention. After the gentlemen joined the ladies in the parlor, Mrs. McWillie presented Mr. Davis with a Highland dirk which had been found on the Revolutionary battle field of Hobkirk Hill, where Col. McWillie’s South Carolina home had stood. On receiving the dirk, Mr. Davis said: “Madam, I will use this only in defending Southern rights.” After words so lightly spoken, yet so prophetic, we will put out the lights and leave this royal feast and goodly company; for on its like we ne’er shall look again.
After the death of Governor and Mrs. McWillie, their descendants felt that the old home’s work was finished, and that it would better become a sweet memory and pass away with the master and mistress, whose gracious presence had so hallowed it. Therefore, it was taken down, the carved woodwork of the library was given to a church, together with the handsome stair-rail. Tall trees grow where once spacious halls and lofty rooms echoed to the merry voices of a happy family.
Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. VI (1902), pp. 256-258.
Kirkwood was demolished or otherwise destroyed sometime in the early twentieth century, obviously after 1902. To read more about Kirkwood and Gov. McWillie, see Mary Carol Miller’s Lost Mansions of Mississippi, Vol. II, pp. 47-49.
This post is part of a series taken from Mrs. N.D. Deupree’s “Some Historic Homes of Mississippi,” published in 1903. Want to read others in the series?