Friday, December 28, 2012

Palm Beach Social Diary

Winter Stable, façade, c. 1899. Greenwood Plantation, Thomasville, Georgia. In February 1964, Jackie Kennedy found "paradise on Earth" and solace from the outside world at Greenwood Plantation, Jock and Betsy Whitney's picturesque refuge. And now, for the first time in more than a century, the Whitney family's Greentree Foundation has retained Jon Kohler & Associates to find a conservation-minded buyer to buy the legendary 4,900-acre South Georgia estate known as much for its vast timber holdings as its repute for quail hunting.
A Greek Revival restored, a historic downtown, and Thomasville at home
By Augustus Mayhew

On April 5 1993, Betsy Cushing Roosevelt Whitney was still “in a state of shock,” plantation manager Randy Ryan told a local newspaper, following a catastrophic attic fire two nights earlier that devastated the Whitney family’s beloved 150-year-old main house at Greenwood Plantation, resulting in structural damage assessed at $1.5 million, the loss of furniture, paintings, and decorative pieces valued at $2 million, and accessory damages of more than $200,000.

The house Stanford White described as “the most perfect example of Greek Revival architecture in America” was in shambles.  Along with the Whitney’s fine arts showcase, the second-floor roof was destroyed, the ceilings collapsed, the façade wrecked, and the interior walls and floors were fire and water damaged. The night of the fire, reportedly caused by faulty wiring above the staff quarters though investigators were never exactly sure, Betsy Whitney and a house filled with guests were celebrating the completion of a $2 million renovation and the upcoming ceremony deeding the property to the State of Georgia. And yet, despite the house’s deteriorated condition, it held more than a century of treasured memories for the Whitney family to ever think of not rebuilding it.

Jock Whitney and Betsey Cushing Roosevelt on their wedding day.
John Hay “Jock” Whitney had brought Betsy, his second wife, to Greenwood for their honeymoon in 1944, just as his father Payne Whitney had brought his bride Helen Hay to his uncle Col. Oliver Payne’s plantation in 1902 for their honeymoon. Treasurer of Standard Oil, Payne acquired  the vast longleaf forested sanctuary in 1899, enlisting his friend Stanford White to make subtle additions, add a sunken garden, and give a Gilded Age flourish to the Greek Revival mansion designed by English-born architect John Wind and built in c. 1840 for cotton planters Thomas and Lavinia Jones.

Upon. Col. Payne’s death in 1917, Greenwood Plantation was passed to his nephew Payne Whitney and his wife Helen Hay Whitney. According to the Whitneys’ wills, their daughter Joan Whitney Payson received a Kentucky horse farm; their son Jock inherited Greenwood.  Such was Jock Whitney’s passion for plantation life that he was said to have immediately optioned the movie-rights for Margaret Mitchell’s novel “Gone with the Wind.”  More than one million people came to Atlanta for the film’s opening week-long opening festivities in 1939, making for what is said to have been the largest event in Georgia history.

In November 1997, the mansion at Greenwood was re-opened. The façade was meticulously restored, the roof replaced, the floors stabilized, and the principal interior rooms reconstructed, although interestingly leaving the original fire-damaged details.  The work was completed by Henry Lewis Contractors of Baltimore who had previously done restoration work at Monticello.  Four months later, Betsy Whitney died.
Greenwood Plantation. Once through the unmarked gates on Cairo Road, a bed of pine needles pave the half-mile fenced drive lined with oaks and pines leading to the main house.
After more than a decade of exploring various potentials and possibilities for the landmark, recently the Greentree Foundation retained Jon Kohler & Associates to sell the property which contains no conservation easements or restrictions.  In a letter to Kohler, foundation president Richard Schaffer explains why the plantation is being offered without an asking price and the need to find a buyer who “deeply appreciates the same immense environmental qualities of Greenwood that are valued by the Foundation’s trustees.”

Here is a glimpse of my recent visit to Greenwood.  Although we toured the interior, we were asked not to photograph it.  Afterwards, we reveled in downtown Thomasville’s Victorian-style Christmas in and took a look at some of the town’s stately homes.  Although once held in the same regard as Charleston and Savannah, Thomasville’s remote location has made it a less visited destination though no less architecturally significant.  The town’s annual rose festival in April remains its most notable attraction.

Greenwood Plantation
Thomasville, Georgia
The drive passes through these more formal gates said to have been added by Stanford White.
Formal gates, detail. Greenwood Plantation.
Having visited several Red Hill plantations in the Thomasville-Tallahassee-Monticello triangle during the past several years, the drive at Greenwood is one of the most dramatic with many moments of breathtaking wonder.
As the main house comes into view, a low brick wall and gate frame the view.
The shadows grow from the late afternoon sun.
A view of the main house from the garden gate.
Brick garden gate, detail.
As we arrived along the northwest side of the house, we caught a glimpse of the now abandoned sunken garden, designed by Stanford White. Except for a few scattered benches and a boundary balustrade, Jock and Betsy Whitney donated the garden's 16th century fountain, marble steps, bird baths, and ancient statuary to the Elizabethan Gardens on Roanoke Island, near the site of the Lost Colony in North Carolina.
The drive separates the sunken garden from the main house, continuing beyond the house lined with oaks towards the lodge, tenant houses, kennels, and carriage house.
The side garden entrance.
We parked on the side brick motor court, catching a glimpse of the Stanford White additions.
Historic postcard. Original façade of the Main House as designed by English architect John Wind. Image courtesy Library of Congress.
Main House, façade, as it looks in 2012, having been rebuilt in 1997 following the 1993 fire. The restoration was artfully done.
Main House. In an unusual adaptation, Jock and Betsy Whitney utilized the first floor principal rooms flanking the central hall as his-and-hers separate bedrooms with baths, not the customary formal living room and dining room. In 1976, Jock Whitney had a heart attack at Greenwood; the reconfiguration might have followed when he returned to Greenwood for his recovery. He died in 1982.
President Eisenhower was a frequent visitor to Greenwood Plantation. Jock Whitney served as Eisenhower's Ambassador to the Court of St. James during both of DDE's administrations. When first married to James Roosevelt, Betsy Whitney was called up to act as First Lady at the White House for her father-in-law President Franklin Roosevelt when Eleanor had other commitments. The ten-year marriage to James Roosevelt ended in a 1940 divorce. Nine years later, Roosevelt agreed to allow Jock Whitney to adopt his teenage daughters Sara and Kate.
Façade detail. Greenwood Plantation.
The east and west wing additions were said to be designed by Stanford White who considered the Main House.
East wing addition, main house. Greenwood Plantation.
Stands of towering oaks shade the Main House from the skeet range.
Many of the oaks surrounding the house are symmetrical sculpted wonders.
Others have their own particular idiosyncratic sense of design.
The Lodge at Greenwood Plantation
The entrance portico leads into the 13,000 square foot guest quarters.
The spacious lodge guest house.
Carriage house. Built during the 1920s, the 10-bay garage featuring a 3-door mechanic's well was considered among the era's most elaborate. When Payne Whitney died in 1927, his $178 million estate was reported to include 29 cars, including four Rolls-Royces and four Lincolns.
The property features numerous tenant houses. Above, the men's and women's staff quarters.
Winter stable, south and east elevations.
Winter stable. When Jackie Kennedy visited in 1964, and again in 1968 with Lord Harlech, horseback riding through Greenwood Plantation's 1,000-acre Big Woods was part of her daily routine. The cathedral of longleaf pines at Greenwood is said to be among the finest along the southern coastal range.
Late afternoon at Greenwood Plantation looking towards the lodge.

Further information about Greenwood Plantation @
Thomasville proper

During the late 1800s Thomasville was the "Winter Resort of the South," known for its curative pine-scented air and its lavish hotels. Thomasville's era ended when railroads were extended into Florida where St. Augustine became the popular rendezvous for the wealthy.
Thomasville style! A 1950 Studebaker Champion Regal Deluxe. For a moment, I thought it was a 50s Rolls Royce.
Thomasville has been declared a "Great American Main Street City."
The Business Exchange Building is just one of Broad Street's many striking buildings. 125 North Broad Street.
Thomasville Municipal Building.
First United Methodist Church. 1885. Victorian Gothic.
Thomas County Courthouse. Originally built in 1858 and designed by John Wind, the same architect as Greenwood Plantation, the historic Neoclassical courthouse is undergoing a $6 million makeover, its third renovation in its more than 150-year history.
Thomasville at home
Garden gate, detail.
Balfour house, c. 1900. 435 South Hansell Street.
Balfour house, a closer view of the porch.
Harrell house, 1853. 420 South Hansell Street.
Dyson house, 1854. 406 Remington Avenue. A Classical Revival "honeymoon cottage."
Charles Hebard house, 1899. 711 East Hansell Street. Not every Thomasville house is in museum condition.
Hebard house, 1899.
Burbank cottage, 1875. Victorian Gothic.
Watt house, c. 1890. 421 South Hansell Street.
Lapham-Patterson house, c.1885. An eclectic 19-room cottage featuring no square or rectangular rooms
Lapham-Patterson house.
Ransom Reid house, c. 1854. 331 Remington Avenue.
Stevens-Butler house, c. 1870.
Charles Watt house. An 1880's Victorian transformed during the 1920s into a Neoclassical Revival.
Ainsworth house, 1882.
William Miller house, 1888. 21 East Monroe Street.
"A Great American City."
Kevin's is located in the historic Pringle Block.
Holiday cheer at Kevin's.
The taste of Thomasville.
Alexandra Kauka sold Chinquapin Plantation, the historic Archbold estate last asking $9-10 million, last week, according to the John Kohler office. Last year, Kauka bought 130 El Brillo Way in Palm Beach for $8.6 million.
At Home in Thomasville, 1882.
The Gift Shop, 1885.
The Hardy-Bryan house, 1833, is home to Thomasville Landmarks. I snapped this at the last moment of sunlight.
Downtown Thomasville shops were filled with holiday lights.
Jonah's Fish and Grits was packed with 20 waiting when we arrived. I went back for lunch the next day and was not disappointed.
5:59 pm in Old Thomasville.
Photographs by Augustus Mayhew.
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