I first visited Waverly Plantation Mansion as a sixth grade student. For the history-loving teacher who taught sixth grade for years upon years, the excursion to Waverly was an annual tradition – in fact, my father had made the same trip with the same teacher in the same grade some 20 years before! By the time two of my four younger siblings had reached the grade designated for Waverly, my former teacher had retired and the annual pilgrimage was no more.
Waverly Plantation Mansion is located roughly 20 miles outside of West Point, MS, a small town located within reach of the Golden Triangle of Mississippi. Located on the Tombigbee River, this former plantation home boasted a direct route to Mobile, Alabama for trade in its wares. Completed in 1852 by Colonel George Hampton Young of Georgia, it was occupied by the Young family until 1913. During that time, the planation was self-sustaining, enjoying an ice house, swimming pool, brick kiln, lumber mill, and leather tannery, among other amenities. It even became the site of the first fox hunt association, begun in 1893 with the importing of foxes from New England.
In design, the Greek Revival mansion consists of two stories with an additional two story cupola featuring an attic. Each of the rooms on both stories open from the central octagon-shaped space, lit by a gas-fired chandelier. The design is considered architecturally unique amongst Mississippi’s various antebellum mansions, but also served the functional purpose of creating drafts of wind throughout the house when doors and windows were open – a welcome necessity on hot southern days. In days past, an individual standing in the unique cupola would have witnessed a commanding view of the Tombigbee River upon whose back the wealth of the plantation was built. Surrounding the mansion, its grounds boast an orchard, what remains of the ice-house, a small pond, and beautiful flowers, trees, and shrubbery that make up the garden areas.
After 1913, the Young family abandoned the mansion and it sat empty and in disrepair until the 1960s. It was then that Robert Snow, owner of an antique shop in nearby Philadelphia, Mississippi, heard tale of the abandoned white mansion tucked away in the woods. In 1962, he and his wife began the 25 year process of restoring the mansion to its former glory. Although most of the interiors (with the exception of three mirrors) was no longer present or usable, Mr. Snow used his expertise in antiques to recreate the experience of the mansion. Restoration was no easy feat, as the half-century of abandonment had left the house prey to mischievous children who spent their free time in the “spooky white house in the woods.” However, in 1973 it was declared a National Historic Landmark and is now open year-round for tours.
We arrived at Waverly one June afternoon, having wandered our way down many roads. All memory of the trip seemed to have abandoned me as I drove myself, three of my siblings, and my brother’s girlfriend to visit the planation house. Upon arrival, we were immediately taken in by the brick gates, shrubbery, and ancient-feeling magnolia tree that greeted us. As we meandered closer to the house itself, we were greeted by the man who would be our knowledgable tour guide and guided through each downstairs room. As we listed and looked, we learned the history of the house, saw pictures of its builders and original inhabitants, learned the history of various antique pieces brought in to adorn it, and were regaled by stories with effects still visible today. After the completion of the downstairs tour, we were told one last story – that of the haunting of Waverly Mansion – before given free rein to explore the second floor and its four bedrooms.
The haunting of Waverly Mansion is well-known amongst Mississippians, though the stories themselves vary. The story we were told on this day is that of a young girl, tripping while running on the self-supporting staircases between the attic and second floor and falling to her death. Visions of the girl, and a body-sized impression on one of the second story beds, are said to be visible (though, our guide noted, he had never seen or heard anything in his many years working at the mansion).
Other stories abound. Another possibility includes the little girl trapping her head between the staircase spindles. Some report that a Confederate soldier can be seen in the reflection of one of the original mirrors. Still others say a piano can be heard near the parlor. It is reported that the Snows were warned against buying the house by its neighbors due to strange activity and noises that still wafted from it, even in its desolate state.
Strolling the grounds after our tour, I can’t say that I saw or felt anything while within the home. Nor do I remember anything from nearly twenty years ago when i first visited. However, as my siblings and I – spanning almost 20 years of life, between us – roamed amidst the trees and greenery, there was definitely a sense of something. For just a little while, it becomes easy to imagine the charmed life of a 19th century planation owner. You become aware of the relationship between the land and its people – how humans and nature worked together to build something both beautiful, functional, and sustaining. And you remember all those in times past, reflecting on what brought them life, what they viewed as important.
Not far from Waverly Planation Mansion, stands Friendship Cemetery in Columbus, Mississippi. First built in 1849, Friendship Cemetery would come to intern the remains of over 2,000 Confederate soldiers and up to 150 Union soldiers. In 1866, treating both the Confederate and Union soldiers as equals, a group of women from Columbus decorated the tombstones in honor of these fallen men. Eventually, the tradition became known as Memorial Day.
Though born in a time that we may sometimes want to forget, I believe the memories and lessons from places like Waverly Plantation and Friendship Cemetery are well worth exploring. For it is from this past, both its pleasant and its unpleasant, that we move forward and grow.