Higher Ground: Tall Timbers revives Livingstons’ Florida plantation

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Dixie Plantation, Main House, facade. John Russell Pope, architect. The Tall Timbers Research & Land Conservancy (TTRL) has undertaken a multimillion-dollar restoration and renovation of Florida’s iconic Pope-designed house gifted to them by the Geraldine Livingston Foundation that the organization will utilize for conferences and cultural events. The more than 30-room Main House and the surrounding 9,100 acres were once a part of the greater 18,000-acre tract owned by Gerald and Eleanor Livingston, Geraldine’s parents, who transformed cotton fields into a quail hunting plantation for their family and guests. The Red Hills retreat was located between their New York residences, an East Side apartment and Kilsyth, a North Shore country estate, and their winter Palm Beach outpost.

In 1958 prominent New York architect-turned-naturalist Henry L. Beadel repurposed his 2,400-acre Tall Timbers hunting plantation into an ecological preserve to conduct conservation studies on the estate’s vegetation and wildlife. Sixty years later, Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy is Florida and Georgia’s largest regional land trust, holding more than 125,000 acres through conservation easements.

John Russell Pope

With the acquisition of the Livingston family’s 9,100-acre Dixie Plantation near Monticello, Bill Palmer, Tall Timbers president/CEO, stated, “It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand on our research and conservation efforts in the Red Hills.”

Having recently completed Phase I and Phase II for the John Russell Pope-designed Main House funded by private/corporate funds as well as matching grants from the Florida Department of State Category Grants, Tall Timbers has repaired and reconditioned the house’s structural and exterior elements and installed cooling and heating systems, as well as commenced with furnishing the house.

Phase III will address life-safety issues, restore the historic interior rooms, upgrade the numerous bathrooms, and equip the kitchen with commercial catering facilities. In addition, TTRL is planning to bring back the original gardens designed by noted New York landscape architect Robert Ludlow Fowler Jr. Once Tall Timbers completes the makeover, Pope and Ludlow’s work will share the spotlight as one of Florida’s significant cultural attractions.

Almost a decade ago on The New York Social Diary I posted New York in the Old South: The Gerald Livingstons at Dixie Plantation. The feature sketched how the Livingstons, one of New York’s most legendary families, settled in the Red Hills along with Standard Oil swells and Fifth Avenue denizens. Most surprisingly, I was baffled how a 14,000-square-foot Georgian-styled mansion designed by one of the nation’s most significant architects could have eluded recognition as part of Florida’s architectural and cultural history.

Kevin McGorty, project supervisor and director of the Tall Timbers Land Conservancy, and architect Charles Olson met me at the Main House to tour the latest improvements. Currently, McGorty is processing John Russell Pope’s work, surrounding buildings and cultural landscape for a National Register of Historic Places nomination. The Dixie Plantation committee includes Virginia Wetherell, chairman, Cornelia Gerry Corbett, Dave Perkins, Tom Rankin, John Thompson, Rosamond Chubb Davis, and Dr. George Simmons, DVM. The Wetherells are owners of nearby Oak Hill Plantation, standing next to Ted Turner’s Avalon Plantation. The prominent Chubb family has been associated with Thomasville’s plantation life for nearly a century. The Corbett’s Pinckney Hill Plantation, directly west of Dixie Plantation, chronicles the family’s Gerry-Farish heritage. The great-grand of New York railroad executive E. H. Harriman, Cornelia Corbett’s distinguished mother Martha Farish Gerry, daughter of oilman William Stamps Farish, was active in New York and Monticello charities, as well as chairman of the National Museum of Racing & Hall of Fame and was among the first women inducted into the Jockey Club.

At a time when Florida is overrun with housing developments, shopping centers, office parks, and themed resorts, and considering coastal residents are almost entirely walled off from the ocean by condominium towers, private residences, and tourist hotels, Tall Timbers works to conserve what remains of longleaf pine forests, wetlands and waterways, and the state’s flatwoods and uplands. The Tall Timbers Research Board of Trustees officers are Tom L. Rankin, chairman, Cornelia Gerry Corbett, vice-chairman, Daphne Flowers Wood, secretary, and Dr. George W. Simmons, DVM, treasurer. Board members include:Charles M. Chapin III, Rosamond Chubb Davis, Kenneth D. Haddad, O. Mason Hawkins, Redmond Ingalls, Robert H. (Rip) Kirby, John Wesley Langdale III, Rodman R. Linn, Ph.D., Karl Miller, Ph.D., David D. Perkins, Hewitt B. Shaw, Reggie E. Thackston, Remy W. Trafelet, John Thompson, George C. Watkins, George W. Willson, and Virginia Wetherell.

Tall Timbers Foundation trustees, pictured left to right, Tom Rankin, George Watkins, Martin Wood, chairman, Cornelia Corbett, Mason Hawkins, and Ben Watkins. Not pictured: Tom Barron. Courtesy Tall Timbers Research Station.
Dixie Plantation. The Main House’s formal entrance gates lead beneath a canopy of moss-covered oaks. The Geraldine Livingston Foundation had maintained the house’s historical integrity and placed the extensive grounds in a conservation easement, except 225 acres, with the Suwannee River Water Management District, thus ensuring the family’s conservation interests would continue in perpetuity.
Designed in 1936 and built between c.1938-1940, the Livingston’s plantation house was the last personal residence designed by John Russell Pope, who died prior to its completion. Whether inspired by Pope’s more massive Georgian formality found at Caumsett (1925) for Marshall Field or the Chapin House (1927) in Grosse Pointe, the Livingston’s façade features a progressive series of recessed layers making for added perspective and a less colossal impression. Pope’s monumental designs include the Jefferson Memorial, National Archives, Baltimore Museum of Art, and the National Gallery of Art. In London, he designed additions to the Tate Gallery and the British Museum(Elgin Gallery). As part of Phase I, the main house’s exterior brick work was repointed.
Dixie Plantation, sketch, c.1936. John Russell Pope, architect. Courtesy Tall Timbers Land Conservancy.
Historical photograph. Main House, under construction, c. 1938-1940. Courtesy Tall Timbers Land Conservancy.
Historical photograph. Main House, south arcade/loggia. Courtesy Tall Timbers Land Conservancy.
Historical photograph. Dixie Plantation, field trials. Among the setters and pointers. Courtesy Tall Timbers Land Conservancy.
Oil Portrait, Geraldine Clarisse Moncrieffe Livingston (1930-1994). By the time her father Gerald Livingston died in 1950, Dixie Plantation encompassed 18,000 acres in Florida and Georgia. After her mother Eleanor passed away in June 1977 at Palm Beach, her 30-page will bequeathed equal shares to her daughters. Geraldine was given the 9,000-acre+ Florida Dixie Plantation with the Big House. Her sister Mary Livingston (Mrs. Sidney Dillon) Ripley and the rest of the family were given the 9,000-acre+ Georgia portion. In Eleanor’s will, she gave her horses to Geraldine. To her son-in-law S Dillon Ripley, director of The Smithsonian for two decades, she gave $50,000. Plantation staff members were also bequeathed various sums, Following Geraldine’s death, ownership passed in 1994 to the Geraldine Livingston Foundation. The foundation was dedicated to wildlife management and land stewardship with family members serving on the governing board.
Photograph, Geraldine Livingston. A Palm Beacher recalled Geraldine: “A friend of my wife’s invited her for a weekend hunt at Dixie Plantation. Geraldine’s Palm Beach car, a Rolls-Royce with an English chauffeur, arrived at the door to pick her up. They drove somewhere, I think it was along the turnpike, where they were met by Geraldine’s plantation car, a Cadillac limousine driven by a uniformed African-American chauffeur. They and their luggage were transferred to the Cadillac for the last leg of the trip. From the main road to the main house took forever … Every meal was served by a formally-dressed staff who apparently had been with Geraldine most of her entire life .. it was just the three of them in a huge dining room designed for many more … It was like a step back in time.”

The Livingstons at Palm Beach

Gerald and Eleanor Livingston, their daughters, and extended family members were longtime members of the Palm Beach winter colony. If not ensconced at the Everglades Club or The Breakers, they were likely at The Royal Poinciana Hotel. Following Gerald’s death in 1950, Eleanor, her daughters and their families, and Geraldine, came to Palm Beach for longer periods, traveling back-and-forth from their South County Road lakeside house to Dixie Plantation where they kept their horses and hunting dogs. In 1939, Gerald’s sister Mary Livingston (Mrs. Theodore) Griggs bought Earlham, first known as Otto Kahn’s Oheka I, at the corner of Sunset Avenue and the Ocean Walk, just north of The Breakers. Eleanor Livingston acquired Thatchcote, renaming it Chanticleer, at 758 South County Road.

Described both as an “English cottage” and a “Normandy farmhouse,” Chanticleer was said to be built in 1925 by two women, Countess Denise Dolfin (c.1890-1974)) and companion-artist-Philadelphia socialite Maria Kane Lawrence Wetherill. Known as a designer in Paris and New York, how/why Denise Dolfin was styled an Italian countess remains unknown. Nonetheless, she and Wetherill were credited with designing Thatchcote, living there for several years before they decamped to Greencote in Southampton where they were part of the resort’s artist’s colony. In March 1969, Thatchcote was featured on the Garden Club of Palm Beach’s house-and-garden tour.

Before the Livingstons lived at Thatchcote, it was home to Mary Benjamin Rogers, artist, who divorced her first husband Standard Oil heir H. “Harry” Huddleston Rogers Jr. in 1929.
Chanticleer, newspaper feature. The Livingstons at Palm Beach.

At Dixie Plantation

The main house’s two-story four-column Ionic portico features a broad frieze band and horizontal cornice across the top of the building, serving to focus the symmetrical central block apart from the slightly recessed wings.
A shoe brush efficiently removes any red clay before entering one of the plantation buildings.
Front entrance, Main House. Upon entering, a central hall provides views east to the terrace and Lake Windom. A south axis hall intersects leading to the south wing with a library, gun room, bar, and formal living room enhanced with wood paneling and ornate moldings. A north hall axis proceeds to the main staircase, trophy room, dining room, and kitchen. Inset: Front entrance, door-knocker.
Kevin McGorty, project supervisor and director of the Tall Timbers Land Conservancy.
Architect Charles Olson, pictured at the main dining room’s fireplace.

The Staircase at Dixie Plantation

The staircase leads to the second floor with two master suites, five guest rooms, and seven fireplaces. The attic housed five smaller staff bedrooms. There are 13 bathrooms in the house.
Living room, fireplace and overmantel.
Dining room, fireplace. The Dixie committee has begun to sample and evaluate various historical styles that will furnish the dining room.
Trophy room. At Kilsyth in Lloyd’s Harbor, the Livingstons were known for their show dogs, basset hounds and bird dogs, holding field trials and kennel club competitions. At Dixie Plantation, they hosted the annual Continental Field Trials and raised Tennessee Walking horses. The Continental Field Trials are expected to continue, as they have since 1937.

Carved wood panels and painted tiles document the family’s beloved bird dogs.
View from the library west to the motor court and allee of oak trees
Main House, western elevation and façade, view from southwest corner looking north.
Main House, south elevation.
Main House, southerly elevations, upper and lower terraces. View from the original garden area looking northwest toward the main house.The original formal gardens were designed by noted New York landscape architect Robert Ludlow Fowler, Jr. (1887-1973). A graduate of Harvard’s School of Landscape Architecture, Fowler is credited with David Rockefeller’s garden, Tarrytown.
View of the extent of the Main House from a lower terrace looking northwest extending from the fireplace in the loggia at the south corner to the dining room in the north wing.
From a lower terrace, the south wing with the living room, left, the central hall, center, and the north wing with the dining room. According to McGorty, there were plans that remained unbuilt for an arcade-gallery that would connect the south wing’s living room with the dining room in the north wing.
View from a north bedroom looking east to Lake Windom.
East elevation, doorway leading from the upper terrace into the center hall.
As we departed, view of the oak canopy looking west to the main road that was perhaps only 15-20 minutes from the main road but seemed to take forever. Once Dixie Plantation is returned to its original grandeur within the next year, it will be operated by DP Research LLC, a fully-owned affiliate of Tall Timbers Research, Inc.

Beadel House at Tall Timbers Research Station
13093 Henry Beadel Drive – Tallahassee

Before visiting Dixie Plantation, I met with Juanita Whiddon, archivist for the historic Beadel House at the Tall Timbers Research Station. Today the multi-building facility is a listed cultural landscape in the National Register of Historic Places, located on 4,000 acres across Lake Iamonia from George Baker’s Horseshoe Plantation on Tallahassee-Thomasville’s Plantation Parkway. New York sportsman-architect Edward Beadel established the hunting plantation in the late 1800s, building a two-story cottage in. c. 1895. Beadel’s nephew Henry L Beadel Jr. visited the Red Hills property as a youngster, sharing his uncle’s interests in hunting and fishing. In 1919 Beadel sold the property to his nephew and wife Genevieve Dillon Beadel who eventually moving to Tall Timbers permanently. Genevieve’s brother Arthur Dillon was her husband’s partner at Dillon, McLellan & Beadel, a New York architectural firm. An ardent conservationist who developed his own theories of forestry management, Henry also became a well-known nature photographer. In 1958, Beadel left his entire estate to a foundation to further fire ecology, game bird management, vertebrate ecology, and forestry. Once a sole voice of resistance to the US Forest Services policies, Tall Timbers has become the recognized authority and advocate for the use of prescribed fires as a tool for land management. In 1990 Tall Timbers formed the Red Hills Conservation Association as a separate platform to conserve working lands used for forestry, agricultural, and recreational hunting. It has focused conservation efforts in the Red Hills region in the Tallahassee-Thomasville-Monticello triangle. Tall Timbers’ acquisition and development of Dixie Plantation increases the organization’s important role in the region’s conservation efforts.

Tall Timbers Research Station, canopy road entrance leading to the Beadel House.
Main House, 1919. Genevieve Dillon Beadel and her uncle-in-law Edward Beadel stand on the porch of the original house at Tall Timbers built and probably designed by Beadel in c. 1895. The original two-story rectangular structure features a single-dormer gabled roof built by a Thomasville contractor. A central hall divides the four rooms on each floor, joined by a U-shaped staircase at the rear of the hall.
Tall Timbers, c. 1895. Henry L. Beadel and brother Gerald Beadel, with friends Jim Ogilby and H. W. Congdon, visiting his Uncle Edward’s plantation that he would acquire 25 years later. Beadel was Columbia ’98 and did not have an opportunity to visit Florida between 1897 and 1912. Henry Beadel wrote, ”Then I visited my uncle and shot with him every winter until I took over the plantation in 1919, made it my home, and carried on the old burning routines.” Beadel’s friend Herbert Wheaton Congdon (Columbia ’97) also became an architect.
Archive display, Inventory. September 25,1903. Beadel House.
L to R.: Henry Beadel at Tall Timbers. February 1926. Courtesy State of Florida Archives, Florida Memory. ; Genevieve Dillon Beadel at Tall Timbers. Courtesy State of Florida Archives, Florida Memory.
Main House, 2018. Original section. When Henry Beadel did the 1921 addition, he converted the single-dormer pointed gable into a triple dormer and added a sleeping room and bath on the first floor as well as a larger family room.
Main House, 2018. Original with the 1921 addition connected by a more than 80-foot front porch.
Archive display, Beadel House. Beginning with the publication of its first conference proceedings in 1962, Tall Timbers developed ideas about fire ecology that directly contradicted the US Forest Service model. Later, Tall Timbers’ approach to fire ecology and gamebird management would supplant the Forest Service’s guidelines, becoming the established standard.
Archive display, Beadel House. Henry Beadel became an accomplished nature photographer.
From the Tall Timbers front porch, a view south across Lake Iamonia to Horseshoe Plantation, beyond.
Henry Beadel and his brother-in-law and architectural partner Arthur Dillon, at Tall Timbers. Courtesy State of Florida Archives, Florida Memory.
Archive display, Beadel House. Better Homes & Gardens magazine, December 1926.
Archery range, Tall Timbers. Courtesy State of Florida Archives, Florida Memory.
Henry and Genevieve Beadel aboard the hunting wagon. Courtesy State of Florida Archives, Florida Memory.
Binoculars, gift to Henry Beadel from the Phipps family.
Sketch, Living room. Henry Beadel, artist. December 20, 1923.
Living room, photograph. 1937.
Living room, 2018. The addition has been kept as it was when Henry Beadel lived there from 1921 until he passed away in 1963.
Living room, gargoyle and drawing. The gargoyle was said to be a model from when he first studied Beaux-Arts architecture.
Living room. Guests at Tall Timbers were entertained by Genevieve playing the piano accompanied by Henry on the mandolin.
Photograph, February 1926. Gerald and Henry Beadel in front of the Main House at Tall Timbers. Courtesy State of Florida Archives, Florida Memory.
Gerald Beadel, portrait. 2018. Gerald left much of his estate to his brother’s Tall Timbers Research Station. Inset: Period lamp found in the kitchen at the Beadel House.
The 80-foot+ front porch.
Beadel House, west elevation.
Beadel House, departure view of oaks canopy looking north.
Genevieve and Henry Beadel at nearby Wakulla Springs,1918. I visited Wakulla Springs during my recent visit, having a wonderful lunch at the Wakulla Springs Lodge, originally built for Jesse Ball du Pont and Alfred du Pont during the 1930s. Courtesy State of Florida Archives, Florida Memory.

Wakulla Springs, 2018

Wakulla Springs. I was surprised by the number of seemingly dead trees that had not been cleared since the last hurricane swept through the area.
Waiting to board for our luxury cruise at Wakulla Springs.
A trio of turtles.
The ubiquitous anhinga, aka snakebird.
A gator and a snowy white scour for lunch.
My host for the two weeks I spent in the Red Hills. An expert birder, Diane moved to the Red Hills 15 years ago as part of Governor Jeb Bush’s staff, liked it, and decided to live there.

St, John’s Lively Café 211 North Monroe Street – Tallahassee

One morning we trekked to Quincy, once a flourishing town 20 minutes northwest of Tallahassee, to tour the Florida Watercolor Society’s annual exhibition.
Altare della Patria. German Boettcher, artist. Although Boettcher was not among the prize winners, I liked the scale of his work.
Historic Coca-Cola sign, dated 1905. Courthouse Square, Quincy.
Damfino’s Café & Market, Courthouse Square. Damfino’s serves naturally grown vegetables from Full Earth Farm, a founding member of the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance.

English Rose Café 107-7th Avenue West – Havana

From Quincy, we took a scenic 30-minute drive northwest to Havana, Florida, where better to dine at a delicious English café.

The English Rose Café serves all things English from cakes to curries.

South Madison Street Thomasville, Georgia

I have previously glowed about downtown Thomasville. Though far from the well-traveled Charleston-Savannah-Jekyll Island historical route, Thomasville’s historic center continues to attract quality establishments with museum-quality preservation standards.

St, John’s Lively Café 211 North Monroe Street – Tallahassee

Although it is not on anyone’s list of places, a friend suggested lunch at The Lively Café locate within a church courtyard and community room. Described as “an indoor sidewalk café” with “gourmet home cooking,” located next to the café’s menu order-and-pay table is a list of the various charities where the café has donated thousands of dollars. The food was superb.
St. John’s Episcopal Church, sanctuary.1880-1881. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, St. John’s apparently believes that breaking bread is a worthwhile daily activity.
The Lively Café. We arrived late in the afternoon. Simply sensational.

Photography by Augustus Mayhew.

Augustus Mayhew is the author of Palm Beach-A Greater Grandeur

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