Sunday, October 6, 2013

MHS Fall Picnic at the Warner-Clark-Gabriel Home

The Meriwether Historical Society met on Sunday, September 29th at the National Register Home of Ibby, Dan, and Ros Gabriel outside of Greenville on LaGrange Highway.  Known as the Hiram Warner-Clark-Gabriel Home, the Federal antebellum home and grounds was a lovely venue for a fall picnic.

Sallie Mabon welcomed the eighty members and guests attending and made several announcements concerning our upcoming Expressions of Meriwether event on October 19th and the paver sale for Greenville’s Streetscapes Project which begins its second phase of construction this winter.

Mabon and Sally Neal recognized Rod and Linda Wilburn and Mando Corporation for their outstanding contributions to our county.  In 2012 Mando Corporation contributed to the “facelift” given the county courthouse’s exterior.  Rod and Linda Wilburn have been instrumental in making Greenville and Meriwether a vibrant bright spot through the economic downtown with projects like the animal shelter, Habitat for Humanity, Rails to Trails, the arts, restoration of commercial and residential historic buildings, and more. Two pavers were purchased through Greenville’s Better Hometown program in honor of the two benefactors.

Before touring the house and grounds Sally Neal gave a brief history of the house and its builder. Hiram Warner was born in 1802 in Massachusetts in a family that had been the first settlers of Martha’s Vineyard. Educated in the local schools he was a favorite of his teacher Leavitt Thaxter who moved to Sparta, GA to teach and asked Warner to come be his assistant.  The trip south took 36 days as Warner left in December of 1821 but the ship was overcome by a gale that drove it toward Cape Hatteras.

From Warner’s diary we know the livestock were thrown overboard and that Warner and two sailors’ longboat was capsized by the waves and they swam to shore. Shipwrecked and walking for hours, they hired a boat to take them to Ocracoke then to Charleston and on to Savannah. During this time Warner was in his bunk as he had contracted the measles.

Not long after Warner arrived in Sparta he began reading law and was admitted to the bar in 1824 and began practice in Crawford County. The frontier climate forced the non-brawling Warner into a fistfight where his imposing size and strong physique flattened the bully that accosted him.  Respect was earned and the public incident brought him into the limelight faster than anything he could have done.  The next year he was elected to the legislature.

In 1832 Warner became law partners with George Washington Towns-later a Georgia Governor. Their office was in Talbotton and from there Warner was elected judge of the Coweta Circuit. In 1845 the first session of the Georgia Supreme Court was held in Talbotton with Warner as one of its first judges.  Salary was $2500 yearly, there were no travel expenses, and judges took their own notes as there were not stenographers.

Warner served a number of years as judge and in Congress in the years leading up to the war. As a land owner (1800 acres) and farmer he owned 74 slaves and took the position that slavery should be allowed in the expanding territories of the U. S. As the war neared he was against secession.

Warner is best known for the hanging story. He was caught at his plantation in 1865 by members of Wilson’s Raiders that came through Meriwether and pillaged from landowners.  Robbing Warner of his cash, they demanded more of his gold and wealth. They bent a tree and wrapped a lariat around his neck.  The subsequent jerk into the air rendered him unable to speak for days.  The soldiers cut him down and demanded more money and two more times strung him up to a tree.  They set fire to a nearby buggy before riding away.  The flames spread and were near Warner’s limp body.  A servant cut the judge down and he lived to tell the story.

When Warner and his wife Sara and daughter Mary Jane came to Greenville from Talbotton in 1835, they rented a house while he acquired land and built a one and a half story plantation home. Over thirty years later, Warner’s daughter Mary Jane purchased the nearby Abner Callaway home, dismantled it and added it to make the Warner home a full two story, 4 over 4 imposing antebellum house.  Mary Jane Warner Hill designed the parterre garden of English boxwood. She died in 1925 and her son Alexander Franklin Hill Jr. lived in the home until 1933.

Louis and Laura Clark purchased the home in 1934 and they restored the beautiful formal gardens rooting the boxwood and planting bulbs. Their welcoming family enjoyed the home and pastoral setting for many years.

The Gabriel family acquired the home in the late 1900s and did extensive renovations.  Removing the shed porch to the rear, they built a rear double verandah that matched the front porticos. Resizing the bedrooms allowed for the addition of indoor plumbing, and downstairs a large family room and kitchen were added. Several buildings such as the Obadiah House exist and are enjoyed by the family today.

The historical society members were treated to more family history during their tour of the home as Warner’s descendent, Sally Estes, set up family paintings and photographs of him as well as his diary.  Most interesting were the pressed and dried flowers sent to him by his future wife that were wrapped in a locket of her hair.

The society enjoyed the tour and finished with a barbecue catered by Stanley Wheelus from St. Marks.

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