Robert Snow, one of Mississippi’s most determined but understated preservationists, died at his beloved Waverley north of Columbus on Sunday, according to a tribute by Slim Smith of the Commercial Dispatch.
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.
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“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.”
The Snows fell in love with Waverley when they first made their way through the woods near the Tombigbee River in 1962 after hearing about the house from a friend. Mrs. Snow told the story in an article in American Preservation, and it’s one that resonates with all die-hard preservationists, but their renovation project was not one most of us would undertake:
“We peeped in the front door . . . saw this magnificent stairway . . . and that did it,” Mrs. Robert Allen Snow Jr., said in describing the first visit she and her husband made in 1962 to Waverley, a long-abandoned plantation home between Columbus and West Point, Mississippi.
Mrs. Snow said she and her husband, both of whom grew up to love old houses, decided then that they would buy the home if the owners would sell.
Abandoned in 1913 after the death of Captain Billy Young, the Greek Revival style mansion had been neglected for 50 years, subject to the ravages of winds, rains and small animals while vines entangled the outside.
An ordinary house mostly likely would have crumbled.
But Waverley didn’t. It endured as if waiting for the return of its master . . . a wait that ended in 1962 with the arrival of the Snows.
Mrs. Snow told American Preservation in an interview that when they disclosed that they were buying Waverley, “our friends thought we were completely crazy.”
Dec-Jan 1978, p.68
This is how the house looked when HABS photographer James Butters came through in June 1936. Waverley had been vacant for two decades and still had another 25 years to go before the Snows.
And after 35 years of work by the Snow family.
Thank you to the Snows for saving Waverley and sharing it with the rest of us.
Read more about the Waverley story and get involved in maintaining this National Historic Landmark:
- Columbus Pilgrimage Report, 2009
- Senate Concurrent Resolution 575 (Feb 2017), Recognizing the Legacy of the Robert and Madonna Snow Family as Pioneers of Historic Preservation in Mississippi.
- Friends of Waverley Facebook Group