18 December 2013

Some Notes On Confederate Veterans, Swannanoa & My Great Grandfather

As I work feverishly to finish my next book for the History Press on the Battle of Waynesboro, I was going through some of my great-grandfather's papers refreshing my memory about my family's connection to the battle. I've blogged about my g-grandfather, "Mr. Charlie" McGann before. Anyway, I came across this receipt:

This was for building material for a house Charles McGann built on Locust Avenue in Waynesboro. The house is located at what was the epicenter of the battle. It still stands today. There are two interesting facts about this invoice. First of all, it's from someone who was a well-known builder and contractor in Waynesboro in those days. As a matter of fact, M. Ree Ellis was the general contractor that built Swannanoa, which has quite a history. It sits atop Afton Mountain, about 5 miles, as the crow flies, from my home. Wikipedia notes this about this grand estate:
Swannanoa is an Italianate villa built in 1912 by millionaire and philanthropist James H. Dooley (1841–1922) above Rockfish Gap on the border of northern Nelson County and Augusta County, Virginia, in the USA. It is partially based on buildings in the Villa Medici, Rome.

Rockfish Gap is the southern end of the Skyline Drive through the Shenandoah National Park and the northern terminus of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is located on the crest of the Blue Ridge mountains, overlooking both Shenandoah and Rockfish valleys. It is located on a jurisdictional border, so it is in both Augusta and Nelson counties.
Intended to be a "summer place" for Richmond, Virginia, millionaire and philanthropist James H. Dooley and his wife Sally May, it reportedly took over 300 artisans eight years to build the structure, complete with Georgian marble, Tiffany windows, gold plumbing fixtures, and terraced gardens. Built as a token of love from husband to wife, the depth of James and Sally May’s relationship was represented in the 4,000 piece Tiffany stained-glass window and a domed ceiling bearing the likeness of Mrs. Dooley. Despite the lavish expenditure, it was occupied only for a few years following completion in 1912. (Source)
Another source claims that:
Harry Byrd suggested to President Coolidge that the estate become the “Summer White House”, but the idea was defeated by a single vote. (I'm not sure what "vote" the source is referring to, but I assume Congress.)

James Dooley served in the Confederate Army as a private in his father’s unit, Company C of the First Virginia Infantry, and was wounded at the Battle of Williamsburg. He also served in the Virginia legislature (about the same time one of my other ancestors did). He married into another prominent Virginia family and became a very successful businessman after the War Between the States. 

Also on the invoice is a notation made that part of the balance was paid by "C.H. Withrow."
Charles H. Withrow
The Withrows were a prominent family in Waynesboro and Withrow had served on General Rosser's staff during the War, later returning to his hometown and teaching at Fishburne Military School and serving as Mayor. My great-grandfather and Withrow were close friends. Mr. Charlie actually worked for Withrow, helping to tend his orchard and also taking care of the Colonel's horse, "Bird."

Some of the personal belongings of Withrow, passed down to me, are currently on loan for an exhibit at the Waynesboro Heritage Foundation Museum

Charlies McGann, as well as his father and Confederate Veteran were "dirt farmers." It appears from what I've heard and read through the years that Colonel Withrow sort of took Mr. Charlie under his wing and helped him carve out a living in early 20th century Waynesboro. Several of Charlie McGann's daughters were named after some of the Withrow family members, including my grandmother, Helena Chase McGann.
Confederate Veteran and my
great-great grandfather,
John McGann

Interesting what you can sometimes discover just rummaging through dusty old boxes.


RightsideVA said...

I look forward to the release of your book... Please keep us advised to the release dat.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Will do - thanks for stopping by.

Phil James said...

Your "rummaging" kindled a great story! You pulled together numerous aspects of our region's history and showed, again, how all of the day-to-day events of life connect to make the history story that we all can relate to.
Nice work -- Thanks for sharing!

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Thanks for the kind words Phil. It's amazing how much fascinating history each of us have in our own families. Merry Christmas to you and yours!

Mary Highsmith said...

Thanks so much, Rick, for this wonderful and informative write-up. And thanks, too, for loaning those possessions of Col. Withrow
for the exhibit currently on display at the
Waynesboro Heritage Museum. For those
who may not have seen the exhibit yet, there
is also a photograph of Helena Withrow
Swoope, for whom Rick's grandmother was
named. Looking forward to your book, Rick. I know you have worked long and hard on it.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hi Mary - great to hear from you. I thought about contacting Shirley to see if she'd like a version of this post on the WHF blog. Mention it to her if you think of it - hope to see you soon!