OLD HOMES OF TALLADEGA COUNTY1
(KINGSTON, MT. IDA, SELWOOD, THORNHILL, ALPINE)
BY MARY WELCH LEE
(MRS. SCEARS LEE)
“Thornhill, the last of the group of old plantation houses and the nearest to Talladega, is now my home. Since the fates decreed I could not have Alpine, I am grateful that they allowed me Thomhill, and I call myself an “adopted daughter” of the Hardie Clan. For the house was built by a sturdy Scotsman John T. Hardie, and named for his home in faraway Kinrosshire.
Alex Bush, Photographer, May 8, 1935, Front entrance (Library of Congress)
He left Scotland as a young man, and after twenty years in America, he had made his fortune, owning 1700 acres of land and fifty slaves. In writing to his brothers, he tells them the slaves are better cared for than the poor people of Scotland, A book of his life and letters has been written by a grandson, B. Palmer Lewis, of New York.
John Hardie built Thornhill about 1834 or 1835 but lived only a comparatively short time after coming to Alabama.
Alex Bush, Photographer, May 8, 1935, REAR (N) AND PART OF EAST SIDE -(Library of Congress)
Mrs. Hardie reared a large family of seven sons and two daughters, alone. Six of the sons served in the Confederate Army—all were wounded or imprisoned, but none were killed.
Alex Bush, Photographer, May 8, 1935, FRONT (W) AND SOUTH SIDE OF BARN – Thornhill (Library of Congress)
One of the daughters, Annie, married J. M. Lewis, who bought the place, built stables and a mile race track, to train and raise blooded horses. The place was in their hands until her death in 1880, but afterwards changed owners several times until my father bought it in the early 1900’s. When we moved to the place, we found that the house and yards had suffered much from neglect since Annie Hardie Lewis’ time—the last owner to live in the house.
The approach to the house is along a curving drive, which is part of the old race track, through a grove of massive oaks. A picket fence encloses the yard, filled in spring with masses of yellow and white narcissi. Crepe myrtle, “morning bride”, and a few gnarled cherry laurel trees have been hardy enough to survive the years of neglect.
The house is two stories, with four square pillars, and a second-floor balcony with slender wood railing to mark the front. It is built in an L with three rooms, hall and back porch downstairs, and three rooms and a shed room upstairs. While the outside of Thornhill is plainer than the other houses so far described, the interior is rather more elaborate. The two front rooms and hall downstairs are paneled to the height of three feet, and the stairway carved in a simple design.
Alex Bush, Photographer, May 8, 1935, MANTEL IN S.W. FRONT ROOM FIRST FLOOR – Thornhill (Library of Congress)
The mantels, door and window frames are fluted and the design of the mantels is repeated over the front doorway. Upstairs the woodwork is simpler, but quite as lovely, in the two front rooms and small hall; while the back room, shed room, and “office” are in still another even simpler pattern. Mr. Lewis, on seeing it, remarked that his grandfather, being a Scotsman “put his best foot foremost and economized upstairs”. The “office” is in the yard, a single room, built in the same style as the house, where all the business of the plantation was transacted. With the growing family, the Hardie boys slept there—no doubt considered quite a privilege.
Alex Bush, Photographer, May 8, 1935, FRONT (N) AND E. END OF OLD OFFICE, E. SIDE OF HOME – Thornhill (Library of Congress)
The old kitchen in the yard has been torn away and now one of the main rooms of the house is used. This room was once the dining room and from it a stairway, since removed, went into the nursery above. The old stairwell now makes a long closet for that room.
Alex Bush, Photographer, May 8, 1935, HALL AND STAIRWAY TOWARD REAR – Thornhill, (Library of Congress)
The present dining room joins the kitchen and across the hall is the parlor, with its six tall windows. Here is my mother’s carved rosewood square piano, a Victorian sofa, armchair and ottoman that once stood in the back parlor at Mt. Ida, and an etagere from “Selwood”. In the hall is a cherry love seat, one of a pair that once graced “Selwood”, and on the wall a letter framed in glass—from John Hardie to his brother in “North Britain”, written in 1819.
Rosewood sofa bought by Walker Reynolds for back parlor, now in living room of Thornhill in Talladega County, Alabama (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
In the bedrooms are spool beds, a mahogany table and bureau from Alpine. From there also came a little carved sideboard and dining room chairs, with fiddle backs. On the windowpane in the east bedroom is written “Annie Hardie 1864”, and so we think of it as the “Annie Hardie Room”, and we never cease to wonder how the pane stayed unbroken through the years.
Rosewood furniture bought for back parlor of Mt. Ida, now in living room of Thornhill in Talladega County, Alabama 1935 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
In the parlor, John T. Morgan, one of Alabama’s most famous sons, was married to Cornelia Willis, niece of Mrs. Hardie; and just across the grove to the left of the house, two of his small children lie buried in the family graveyard. There, too, lies Annie Hardie Lewis “at the home of her childhood” who long ago, when she was sixteen, wrote her name on the window glass in 1864.
I like to look over at the graveyard and to think that John Hardie is resting peacefully there in the soil of Thornhill. For I believe that the custom of family burying-places goes beyond the fact that there may not have been church or neighborhood cemeteries nearby, back to a love of the land, a wish to mingle our dust with it, to be a part of it – even in death.
Alex Bush, Photographer, May 8, 1935, GRAVEYARD, FRONT AND WEST OF HOME – Thornhill (Library of Congress)
For four generations, my people have tilled the soil of Talladega County, and it seems it is to go to the fifth, for my son at fifteen, chose the land. He will not have the vast acreage, the easy labor conditions that even his grandfather had, but a love of the land is a part of his heritage, and who am I to blame him for his choice.
- “It is a land of gullies and red dust
- Of drought and sudden rainfall and thick mud;
- Ignorance walks its backwoods, shedding blood,
- And still, I love it well, because I must.
- Man cannot tell what roots held him to earth
- That bore him like a blossom from the loam.
- He only knows that he was here from birth
- And that her fields, however dark, are home.”
- Lawrence Lee-“To a native state-Alabama
1Written in 1938 as an Alabama Day paper for a club in Birmingham,
Transcribed excerpt from The Alabama Historical Quarterly, Vol. 10, Nos. 01, 02, 03, & 04, 1948 (Alabama Department of Archives and History)
The exhilarating action & subplots keep the reader in constant anticipation. It is almost impossible to put the book down until completion, Dr. Don P. Brandon, Retired Professor, Anderson University, Anderson, Indiana
This is the first book I have read that puts a personal touch to some seemingly real people in factual events. Ladyhawk
Love books with strong women…this has one. Love early American history about ordinary people…even though they were not ‘ordinary’…it took courage to populate our country. This book is well researched and well written. Julia Smith
A picture of love and history rolled into one. A step back in time that pulls you in and makes you a part of the family and their world. Ken Flessas