Godfrey Barnsley and Barnsley Gardens
Godfrey Barnsley came from Savannah to Bartow County (Cass County in his
day) shortly after the Cherokee Indians were removed from northwest Georgia
in 1838. He came on an expedition with three friends, all of whom would
have a lasting impact on the county: William Henry Stiles, Reverend Charles
Wallace Howard and Francis Bartow. He returned to build a mansion that
was to become a legend and a showplace.
Howard came to northwest Georgia on a geological survey. Stiles was interested
in acquiring land for future development. Barnsley, whose wife and five
children sweltered under the heat and threat of yellow fever and malaria
of the Georgia coast, sought the haven and comfort of the higher elevation.
The road to the newly opened Cherokee lands in Cass County had been a
long, but fortuitous one for Godfrey Barnsley. He had come to America
from Liverpool, England in 1823 at the age of eighteen without pedigree
or distinguished education. In Savannah he was employed as a brokerage
clerk to a prominent cotton shipper and rose swiftly in both business
and social worlds. By the age of twenty-five Barnsley was a successful
cotton factor and married Savannah socialite Julia Scarborough, the second
daughter of William Scarbrough. A merchant and financier, Scarborough
built the Savannah, the first ship partially powered by steam to cross
the Atlantic. This endeavor, however, cost Scarborough his fortune.
In 1841, Barnsley moved Julia and their family to his northwest Georgia
refuge and work on the estate was begun. Eventually, approximately 10,000
acres would be in his domain. Barnsley planned the mansion with the same
bold imagination that had made him a wealthy man. He described the house
in a letter to a friend as having 'six or seven different styles of
widows, giving variety, yet harmonizing.... All the walls are of brick.
The campanile is three stories high.... On the first floor is the drawing
room, library, vestibule, hall, dining room, breakfast room, pantry, bathrooms,
etc., with cistern above a large closet and safe.'
Barnsley called his dream manor Woodlands. He designed his gardens in the
style of Andrew Jackson Downing, considered America's first great
landscape architect. He brought in every known variety of roses and numerous
exotic plant specimens for the gardens. The splendid twenty-four room
home was designed in the style of an Italian villa and featured such unheard
of conveniences as hot and cold running water. The family kitchen featured
an innovative spring-wound cooking spit that automatically turned cuts
of meat over roasting coals. A copper tank to the right of the chimney
furnished hot water to bathrooms, and a similar tank in the bell tower
supplied cold water to house and gardens. The wine cellar held plentiful
imported wines. Tiles for the verandah were imported. Doors and paneling
were fashioned by London cabinetmakers, and mantels of black-and-white
marble were brought from Italy.
The house was built on an acorn-shaped hill reputedly cursed, and Indian
legend warned it should be avoided as an unlucky site. But, having enjoyed
a Midas Touch, perhaps Barnsley was unconcerned with local legend.
The later life of Godfrey Barnsley was in tragic contrast to the early
years that had made him one of South's wealthiest men. Fortune changed
for Barnsley shortly after moving his family to Woodlands. Soon an infant
son died and Julia succumbed to tuberculosis in the summer of 1845. In
1850, the oldest Barnsley daughter, Anna, married and moved to England.
Their second daughter, Adelaide, died in the house in 1858. His oldest
son Howard was killed in 1862 by Chinese pirates while he searched the
Orient for exotic shrubbery to complete his father's garden.
But through it all, completing the mansion was an obsession with Barnsley.
He toured Europe to furnish the home with the elegance he had planned
for his wife and family. His travels netted an impressive stock of furnishings
and art treasures. When the Civil War found its way to Woodlands, Union
troops found Godfrey Barnsley alone with his treasures and his palatial
manor still incomplete.
Barnsley's two remaining sons, George and Lucian, had left Woodlands
to fight for the Confederacy. His daughter Julia married Confederate Army
Captain James Peter Baltzelle in February 1864, and Baltzelle insisted
Julia refugee to Savannah. The following spring, Sherman's forces
were on the grounds. On May 18, 1864 a cavalry skirmish occurred at Woodlands
that was depicted in the pages of
Harper's Weekly. Colonel Richard G. Earle of the Second Alabama Light Cavalry rode to
Woodlands to warn Barnsley of the Union approach and was shot down within
a stone's throw of the house.
Charles Wright Willis, 103rd Illinois infantry, wrote this account of
the event in his book Army Life of an Illinois Soldier:
May 18, 1864. Our cavalry had a sharp fight here this p.m. and on one of
the gravel walks in the beautiful garden lies a Rebel colonel, shot in
five places. He must have been a noble-looking man; looks 50 years old,
and has fine form and features. Think his name is Irwin, there must be
a hundred varieties of the rose in bloom here and the most splendid specimens
Colonel Earle's grave is within a stone's throw of the manor house
and enjoys a prominent place in a perennial garden today.
It is said that Federal Gen. McPherson forbade any looting of the unfinished
mansion, but his orders had little apparent effect. Barnsley's Irish
maid Mary Quinn is recorded as having called McPherson 'a gentleman
surrounded by rouges and thieves.'
Carefully chosen furnishings were destroyed; an Italian statuary was smashed
to see if it might contain hidden gold; windows and china settings were
broken, and wine and stored foods were consumed or stolen.
The war's end brought little relief. George and Lucian Barnsley returned
home, but refused to sign the oath of allegiance to the Union and emigrated
to South American instead. Barnsley moved to New Orleans in an effort
to recoup lost fortunes, leaving his son-in-law Captain Baltzelle and
daughter Julia to manage Woodlands.
Baltzelle supported the family by shipping timber from the estate, but
was killed in 1868 by a falling tree. Julia took her daughter Adelaide,
born in 1864, to her father at New Orleans. Here Julia met and married
a German ship captain named Charles Henry Von Schwartz
Godfrey Barnsley died in New Orleans in 1873 and Julia returned his body
to Woodlands. Von Schwartz died in 1885. Julia's daughter Adelaide
grew up and married a chemist named A. A. Saylor. Bearing out the prophecy
of ill luck that lingered over the estate, Saylor died while their two
sons, Harry and Preston, were quite young. A tornado in 1906 tore away
the roof of the main house and forced the Saylors to move into the intact
kitchen wing. In 1935 Preston Saylor a nationally recognized heavyweight
boxer under the name of K.O. Dugan killed his brother and was sent to
prison. When Mrs. Saylor died in 1942 the estate and its remaining furnishings
were sold at auction. The property was bought by W. Earl McClesky and
used for farming. Barnsley's grand dream was engulfed with kudzu.
In 1988, Prince Hubertus Fugger and his wife Princess Alexandra, Bavaria,
purchased Barnsley Gardens. The remains of the old estate and gardens
were rescued from 40 years of neglect. Today, Barnsley Gardens is a northwest
Georgia historic showplace and home to a luxurious golf resort.
Tales of supernatural manifestations are plentiful in the long and tragic
history of Barnsley Gardens. Barnsley wrote more than once that he could
feel the presence of his dead wife everywhere. Mrs. Julia Barnsley Saylor,
reported having seen Julia Barnsley, her grandmother Julia, in apparition
form in the gardens so often that it became an accustomed sight. Mrs.
Saylor also told friends that her Uncle George, one of Barnsley's
sons who had settled in Brazil, appeared at the estate on the night of
his death in South America.
With or without supernatural trappings, the Barnsley Gardens story is
as compelling as it is tragic. One must wonder what life might have been
like for the family if Barnsley had heeded the wisdom of the Indian curse
and built his home on some other spot on the huge Woodlands estate instead
of on that unlucky, acorn-shaped hill.
Plan your visit to this compelling estate, see