Glen Mary Plantation | Hancock County, GA | c. 1848
Upon first survey, the story of Glen Mary is the story of the Smith and Hitchcock families, but with greater understanding, one realizes that the story here actually reflects the greater one going on across the nation.
As the U.S. emerged from the ashes of the Civil War, relationships, commerce, work, wealth, propriety, status, ownership, and indeed society as a whole shifted seemingly overnight. A before and after event where the world is not the same today as it was yesterday. Glen Mary was not immune to those changes and everyone who worked, lived, or enslaved here was impacted by this new world order.
But through generations, wars, depression, and boom, this building has stood here faithfully despite what the surrounding world might’ve been up to.
Here is a glimpse into the storied past of this property and the people who called this land home, broken into parts to highlight the very different phases this house has undergone.
PART I: Theophilus Jackson and Mary Gonder Smith
Glen Mary’s builder, Theophilus Jackson Smith was born in rural Hancock County on June 18, 1818. Throughout his life, Theophilus became involved in various business ventures. He was an architect-builder, a land trader, and a banker (who lent money on slave collateral). He also invested in local manufacturing companies and in The Sparta Plank and Turnpike Company which was incorporated in 1850, to build a road to Warrenton and Sandersville.
As a public citizen, he was equally active serving Georgia as a state representative, state senator, and a justice for the inferior court. He was also instrumental in helping to build the nearby town of Linton, GA before volunteering for Civil War Service.
His most lucrative business, however, was as a cotton-planter, where he could solidly be places in the planter class during the ‘Golden Age of Cotton’- a class that exemplified the antebellum upper strata of Southern society. He would marry Mary Gonder Smith in 1842 or 43.
He built this home for his bride in 1848- but not just as a shelter. He was wealthy Planter class and as such, Thomas would build a shining example on a hill situated above the surroundings to make a statement about his views and his perceived place in society. He named it Glen Mary (in Scottish meaning, ‘Mary’s Valley’) in honor of his wife.
PART II: Construction of Glen Mary Plantation
We aren’t sure exactly how long it took from start to finish to complete Glen Mary Plantation, but thanks to numerous detailed architectural surveys, we do know quite a bit about how this structure was built.
I would be remiss if I jumped into the architectural description of this home without mentioning the magnificient placement it has on the property- a deliberate and lovely placement. This structure first presents itself as you round a bend around rural grassland. Situated atop a rolling hill overlooking a sloping property, it sits just along the road that leads you either to Sparta or Linton. Today, Glen Mary remains the only surviving high Greek Revival "raised cottage" plantation house in the United States, situated on a portion of the original cotton plantation lands. It is one of the finest examples of High Greek Revival Raised Cottage on plantation grounds in the United States
“In terms of structural form, it is a raised cottage that has a prominent first floor or ‘basement’ area with the main living area on the second level. Stylistically, however, Glen Mary is not a ‘cottage’ but a formal, High Greek Revival style structure with a symmetrical four-room central hall plan, an Ionic portico above a square columned colonnade on both the rear and front facades and a full dentilled entablature.
This is a 53 foot square house, 4 rooms up (2 parlors, 2 bedrooms) and 4 rooms down (Dining Room and bedrooms). Originally 55 feet square in plan, Glen Mary was a four-room central hall, 5x4 bay structure with porticos on the front and rear facades. Being a raised house, the lower level is a stuccoed, full daylight dining room bedroom area. The second, weatherboarded floor, has two formal parlors and two bedrooms.
The first floor area, built of 18" brick stucco (including the interior walls), contains the family rooms. They are symmetrical with the second level with the exception that the ceiling height is somewhat lower than the fourteen-foot upper level ceilings. The second level, built of clapboard contains the public rooms. It has a four-room central hall plan.
Outstanding interior features include solid walnut second floor doors with curly maple panels, cranberry etched glass around the front doorway and cornices in the parlors. These cornices are signed by the craftsman, Francis McDermott of Savannah.”
Part iii: Pre-civil war
Luckily census information from 1850 and 1860 can help us to paint a picture of life for the Smith’s at Glen Mary before the Civil War. According to the 1850 census: 34 slaves lived at Glen Mary. The Plantation encompassed 1,575 acres. The farm, implements, and machinery were $7365 in 1850, with Smith’s personal holdings valued at $1200.
By 1860, the Plantation included 2,484 acres and had grown to 76 slaves, however, Smith gifted his daughter Ella 25 slaves on the occasion of her marriage in that same year, leaving Glen Mary with 51 enslaved persons. In this year, Glen Mary, her implements, and machinery were worth $18,500. The land itself was worth $25,000, while Smith’s non-land holdings were valued at $60,700.
We also know that prominent locals and statesmen visited Glen Mary in the pre-war days. In the isolated plantation environment hospitality was ritual. As carriages topped the rise on the plantation road Glen Mary emerged elegant and in perfect symmetry. Upon opening the garden gate, the center path led to the main entrance of the house through the fragrant formal gardens with their colorful flower beds bordered with boxwood. Guests were received on the first floor, immediately ascending the facing staircase to the double parlor, dining room and verandah on the second floor.
Some of those known to have visited Glen Mary are Hancock County lawyer Linton Stephens and his half-brother Alexander H. Stephens, future vice president of the Confederacy, and Robert Toombs of Washington County, another founding father of the Confederacy and her first secretary of state.
But life was about to change for the wealthy planter class and everyone else alike.
Part IV: During the Civil War
April 12, 1861: War broke out when the Confederates bombarded Union soldiers at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. By July, Theophilus had enlisted in the 15th Regiment (Company E) Georgia Infantry and was elected Captain on 15 July 1861. His regiment was the first in Hancock County to go to battle. He was elected Major on May 1, 1862 but would have to take sick leave over the next year (where he returned to Glen Mary) until he finally resigned due to disability 14 January 1863. (Muster Roll Company E 15th Regiment).
Alas, the war continued and farming activities were halted at Glen Mary. Forced sales of large portions of the vast plantation lands were obliged.
From a letter dated 22 April 1865, Sallie Bird (a neighbor of Glen Mary) writes to her daughter:
We were told the Yankees were at Glen Mary last night, so our stock is all hid out. The armistice is filling all hearts now. I am thankful for a cessation of hostilities even for a while. I hope things can be honorably settled.
From ‘Through the Heart of Dixie: Sherman’s March and American Memory’ on when Sherman’s troops passed through the area:
The mistress of Glen Mary Plantation in Hancock County, Georgia had to endure soldiers riding their horses through her home’s large open windows and stealing her locket (though it was later returned). However she safely hid her silver under the dining room floor, a spot later rediscovered during a twentieth-century home renovation.
Glen Mary was narrowly spared from the destruction of Sherman’s March to the Sea, but the landscape was barren, the fields burned and trampled, the roads lined with carcasses of livestock. The slaves and agricultural hands had gone and with his health and combat injuries, Smith’s health was destroyed.
His financial safety, crops, and affluent life disappeared quickly, leaving little more than this building. Col. Smith was impoverished and in financial ruin, much like the rest of Georgia’s wealthy planter class. But a final blow would be dealt to this once-affluent man and his estate in 1869 when he was finally forced to sell his remaining holdings, including the pride of his life, Glen Mary.
To add insult to injury, it was his purported adversary, Union General Ethan Allen, who bought the house for a mere fraction of its worth ($10,500). Allen was advisor to Lincoln, a fact that reflects the harsh reality of the outcome of the War. A true turn of events for Glen Mary that Theophilus couldn’t have ever accounted for back in 1848.
T.J. Smith would pass away 14 Oct 1881 in Leesburg, FL. He is buried in the nearby town of Sparta. Mary Gonder Smith died 15 Jan 1897 and is also buried in Sparta.
Part V: General Ethan Allen Hitchcock Family History
General Ethan Allen Hitchcock had served in the military for most of the first half of the nineteenth century before he purchased Glen Mary from T.J. Smith in 1866-9?. Although Hitchcock would only live here for three years before his death, he was, perhaps, Glen Mary’s most famous resident.
Even before the war, he had a distinguished career that began as a student and then as a professor at West Point Military Academy. He played the flute and was intellectually engaged in a myriad of subjects many of which he wrote extensively about. Some of these topics included: alchemy, metaphysics, philosophy, ethics, religion, ancient medieval literature, among others.
During the Civil War, Hitchcock served as advisor to Lincoln and was one of two who guarded his body right after his assassination in 1865. Sometime after, the general was struck by a horse from which he never fully recovered.
By the time he purchased the home, the general was already in poor health, and as such, he decided to place the home in his wife, Martha Rind Hitchcock’s name so that her family could live there after his death. It is said that they lived here in ‘genteel poverty’ as did many who struggled to maintain large plantations in the Reconstruction Era South. Hitchcock passed away and was buried at Glen Mary in 1870 but was later transferred to West Point where he is buried today.
Mr. and Mrs. Hitchcock had no children so Glen Mary followed her maternal family, the Nicholls who maintained ownership of the home until 19xx. The Nicholls Family cemetery is located here on site where Mrs. Hitchcock is buried. Anita and Elizabeth Nicholls restored the home in the 1960s. Around that same time, part of Hitchcock’s personal music collection was discovered nearby in Sparta which consists of 73 bound volumes. Included in this collection are works by some of the general's contemporaries and music manuscripts handwritten by Hitchcock himself. These manuscripts now reside in the Warren D. Allen Music Library at Florida State University.
PART VI: 1875-Today
1875: In 1875, there was a run in with the KKK at Glen Mary. The family that lived at Glen Mary at the time donated 3 acres to the local blacks for a schoolhouse and church. Many locals didn’t want blacks to learn to read and write so the KKK pinned a letter to a tree on site that said:
“Now our advice to you is to stop those night meetings and unless you put a top to it we will put an end to your existence…death will be your portion, it will…We have been resting in our graves three years but have been aroused again by your misbehavior…When we come there will be a tornado to be remembered…
We are your friends that fell on the battlefield of Virginia.
We are the KKK from Augusta”
page 209 of Marching Through Georgia: My Walk Through Sherman’s Route by Jerry Ellis
1930s: At some point after 1900, a rear-wing addition was added but by the 1930s, the home was in poor shape and had sat empty or in lack of care for some time.
But at some point it was fixed up because by 1959, it looked like this:
1950s-60s: Nicholls descendants restore the home along with architect Edward Vason Jones.
Early 1970s, the house was in the process of restoration. Here’s an exterior as well as one of the parlors:
1973 & 74: The home is listed on the Georgia Register of Historic Places and on the National Register of Historic Places
1984 or 87: In 1984 the house was purchased from the Nicholls family by Wayne and Catherine Hill. According to the book Antebellum Houses of Georgia, Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Hill bought the stately house in 1987.
1998: November- Preservation America purchased Glen Mary from the Hills
2011-12: Restoration efforts to stabilize the front columns further.
Today: this Georgia gem is owned by Preservation America Trust.