Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Sapelo Island - the Reynolds Mansion

One of the main attractions on Sapelo Island is the antebellum Reynolds Mansion; we were lucky enough to see the interior, as there were no guests there at the time. What is today called the “Reynolds Mansion” was originally a plantation house designed and built from tabby (a mixture of lime, shells and water) by Thomas Spalding, an architect, statesman and plantation owner who purchased the south end of the island in 1802.  Although a majority of the construction was complete in 1810, it wasn’t until 1812 that the house was fit for habitation. Heavily vandalized during the Civil War the mansion lay in ruins until 1912 when members of the Sapelo Island Company undertook a partial restoration. Having purchased the south end of the island for use as a hunting preserve, they added a new roof in addition to other improvements with plans to use the house as a hunting lodge.

The Reynolds mansion, a progression: 1. Sallie Spalding's sketch 1958 2. Post Civil War ruins 1900 3. Hunting lodge 1912 4. Today 2013 (Source for photos 1-3 here)
When Howard Coffin purchased much of the island he set out to restore the building to its original state, mainly using a sketch by Spalding’s granddaughter, Sally Spalding. Utilizing the foundations of the house and incorporating some of the original exterior tabby walls, the new house was finished in 1925 complete with indoor swimming pool, upstairs ballroom, and a nautically themed rec room.  R.J. Reynolds Jr. modernized the electrical and communications systems while owner of Sapelo, and for several years opened it to vacationers as an exclusive resort. In 1934 the land and facilities were donated to the University of Georgia for marine research, and eleven years after Reynolds' death in 1964 the Mansion and most of the island were obtained by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Today, the grounds are shaded by ancient live oaks, sunlight filtering through the Spanish moss to cast shadows on the manicured landscaping. The often photographed sunken pool was full on our visit, with the two giant Spanish water jars and Carrara marble statues present, but alligators thankfully absent. We passed under four huge Ionic columns (the original house had six) and across the front piazza through enormous doors into the great hall, from where rooms split off in all directions.

The dining room
The right wing (north) contains the dining room and beyond that, the kitchens. A sideboard in the dining room is one of the few pieces of furniture remaining from the years Spalding owned the house, and it stands in the same spot today that it did over a hundred years ago.

The left wing contains the library, complete with many volumes from Mr. Reynolds' private collection.

Continuing beyond the hall and its ornate fireplace is the pool room, which originally was a “sun parlor” and now is again, as the pool is not operational and is covered by a faded carpet. Formerly the marble swimming pool was tiled with emerald green and blue, and at the end was a fountain which sprayed water over a statue of a bathing girl. Using a little imagination I could imagine how it looked in its heyday, light streaming in through the many windows and greenhouse-style roof, with the marble sculptures looking down on the swimmers…

We wandered down a spiral staircase and emerged in the lounge, which opens into the rec room. Nautically themed, there is a boat-bar at one end, but the eye-catching feature is the bowling alley. Modern-day guests can play billiards and table tennis.

On the second floor are the living quarters. One suite was occupied by President and Mrs. Coolidge on their visit to Sapelo in 1928, and the adjoining bedroom was the president’s office with a private line directly to the White House. Together, the Mansion can accommodate up to 29 guests in 13 bedrooms; for more information on rates and availability, check the Georgia DNR website.
Yet another hallway and flight of stairs and we found ourselves in the ornately decorated Circus Room (the ballroom), sporting the wild animal scenes of famed Atlanta muralist, Athos Menaboni and his wife, whose work appears throughout the house.

Our time in the mansion was soon up, and we stepped out to the terrace for a few moments while awaiting the rest of our group. It was easy to imagine facing the ocean from this location; the island is actually “moving” south, so sand is eroding at the north end and being deposited at the south, meaning the beach is no longer visible from the house.  Ocean view or not, the mansion and grounds have fueled my dreams of Southern teas and debutante balls. As we continued our tour, I imagined the silence returning to the grounds, the alligators free to reclaim their vigil over this grand old dame of the South.

More on Sapelo Island:
An Introduction, Nanny Goat Beach and the Hog Hammock community
The Sapelo Island lighthouse
A short history of the island
Your guide to visiting Sapelo Island

1 comment:

  1. Labdien Liene...fascinating history...and yes she certainly is a grand old dame!


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