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Life With Ferris: The Divine Barnsley Gardens

  • Monday, May 27, 2024
  • Ferris Robinson

My siblings, Buzz and Woo, and I recently took our mother on a little trip to Barnsley Gardens. We had been scratching our heads to find a place not too far away that featured fabulous food, lovely accommodations and access to golf carts. Really, that’s all we needed, with emphasis on fabulous food.

We found it an hour away from Chattanooga! We drove straight to the Woodlands Grill at the resort for lunch and dessert, and it was divine! When we had finally had enough, we checked into our room, which was actually a house with four gracious bedrooms and ensuite baths as well as a gathering room. Each bedroom actually had is own private porch, as well.

We spruced up a little after we rested and then headed back to Woodlands Grill for dinner. It was the only restaurant open during the week we were there, but it was fabulous! The wine flowed and appetizers were gobbled up and the salmon was fantastic. Topped off with chocolate cake and ice cream, the meal was delicious, and each of us slept like bricks in our luxurious bedrooms.

The next morning, we had a private tour of the ruins Barnsley “castle.” Our golf cart driver clearly loved his job, because he was thrilled to show us nooks and crannies, including the “spring house” under which a creek ran. With shelving back in the day, the temperature inside the little shack was downright chilly.

The story of the mansion is fascinating, and thanks to Lynn Hartman’s book about it, I read aloud all the way down, which was just over an hour. Godfrey Barnsley was born in 1805 in England, and at the age of 18, headed to Savannah to seek his fortune as an importer. There, Julia Scarborough caught his eye, and he began to court her. Her mother was anything but pleased, saying quite regularly that the uneducated working class Barnsley was beneath her. Like, far beneath her.

They married anyway, and he brought her to his newly acquired land in Georgia, where he set out to build the most impressive castle and gardens ever. He was advised by a Native American not to build on that lovely hill overlooking vast lands, warning him that a burial ground was underneath his planned castle and asked Barnsley to build somewhere else on the 10,000 acres.

Barnsley paid no attention and began importing Italian marble and tile, English cabinets and doors and plants from all over the world for his folly. The tree that is still standing was roughly 30 feet high when it was carried across the ocean to the site! Andrew Jackson Downing influenced the elaborate formal gardens that were full of exotic specimens.

Meanwhile, Julia was very frail and went back to Savannah to stay with her parents while she tried to recover from a terrible cough as her husband kept building and travelling back and forth to be with his bride.

When the elaborate structure was almost finished, Julia came to see it. The gardens were full of huge imported trees, one towering as tall as the castle. He built a third floor so that she could easily see the sweeping view of the garden.

Perhaps Barnsley should have paid a little more attention to the Cherokee who warned him to find another spot. One of the 10 wealthiest men in the world, he was actually cursed. He and Julia had six children, much to her mother’s chagrin; the first son died as an infant. The second daughter died in the house as a young woman. Their oldest son was killed by pirates in the Orient while searching for more exotic shrubbery for the gardens. His beloved Julia died of tuberculosis and is buried in Savannah.

Some say the curse haunted him for the rest of his days. Before the impressive structure was totally finished, Julia Barnsley died. She is buried in Savannah; Barnsley and his children are buried at Barnsley Gardens. Settling the estate, two of his grandchildren fought bitterly over the rightful ownership, which ended by one shooting his cousin. The bloodstain is still in the original house and on view in the museum.

We were all fascinated and awed by the history of this place on its own, but add in canoes and kayaks on the lake, horseback riding, archery, fishing, down-to-earth, friendly personnel, fitness center, spa, golf, bicycles at the ready and a saltwater pool to boot? And you have a grand vacation spot!

But I gotta say, the highlight for my family was the precious time we had together. Laughing until our stomachs hurt and connecting for four days was incredible. But Barnsley had us at food.

* * *

Ferris Robinson is the author of three children’s books, “The Queen Who Banished Bugs,” “The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds,” and “Call Me Arthropod” in her pollinator series “If Bugs Are Banished.” “Making Arrangements” is her first novel. “Dogs and Love - Stories of Fidelity” is a collection of true tales about man’s best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com and you can download a free pollinator poster there. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror.

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