CHRONICLE INDEPENDENT (Camden, S.C.) Monday 22, 2004
"The Season of Sarsfield"
By Jade Gale Northrup
Sarsfield the last home of Civil War diarist Mary Boykin Chesnut is a historic property at 136 Chesnut St. in Camden significant to those who have lived there and link to the past for future generations.
Mary Chesnut's father-in-law, Col. James Chesnut, had stated in his will that upon his son James' death, a male Chesnut heir would inherit the Chesnut Plantation. Mary and James did not have any children and a decision was made for her to have a home that would be in her name.
John Doby Kennedy deeded title to land to Mary Boykin Chesnut in October 1872. John H. Devereux, a Charleston architect, prepared estimates and plans and in 1873 Sarsfield was built. The Italianate villa was situated on 50 acres.
"Mary was said to have inspected the new home many times during its construction," said Irvin Wiley in "Confederate Women".
Shannon Dubose, who lives on Fair Street in Camden in what was once her grandmother's house, said that her grandmother, Louisa Shannon Dubose, remembered seeing Mary Chesnut driving a farm wagon up Fair Street loaded with the bricks taken from Mulberry to the land where the house was being built.
Dr. Elisabeth Muhlenfeld writes in her biography of Mary Chesnut who suffered with angina," In the last decade of her life, she was frequently unable to travel, and became more and more confined to Sarsfield in Camden. Despite illness, however, she remained as busy as ever, gardening, supervising her dairy enterprise at Sarsfield." Working with Molly, a former slave, Mary Chesnut acquired money selling eggs and butter.
In February 1885, Mary Chesnut's husband and mother died within days of each other at Sarsfield. Dr. Muhlenfeld writes.
Under the provisions of his fathers will, the Chesnut lands were not his to give. Thus Mary Chesnut retained only Sarsfield
It was on this property that Mary Chesnut revised the journal which she had written during the Civil War. She also revised an autobiographical novel and finished drafting a second novel.
"Inquires come from all over the country for permission to use Mary Chesnut's material which shows how widely her work is known and admired," said Katherine Hill co-executor to the copyright of her great-great aunt's work.
"Many visitors are on an odyssey in Camden to make the link with Mary Boykin Chesnut," said Joanna Craig Historic Camden executive director. They don't come to see the Chesnut home at Mulberry. They are confused about where Mary Chesnut lived and wrote and then are pleased when they learn they have access to a view of Sarsfield and the house from which she revised the diary, considered to be one of the to 10 diaries in the world.
"Today these five acres are all that are left to show Mary Chesnut's desperate struggle to survive after the war," Hill said about the property.
Elizabeth Shaw, whose former mother-in-law, Mrs. A.H Ehrenclou, lived at Sarsfield described the window in the library which Mrs. Chesnut would lift from the ground up in order visit with friends from where she was working.
Dr. Muhlenfeld writes, "Camden residents remembered only glimpses of her, gardening in a large shade hat and a pair of her husband's pants, or sitting in her library on many occasions talking with great animation through the open window to her friend Caroline Perkins who would drive into the yard and converse with her, never descending from her carriage."
According to Dr. Muhlenfeld, Mary Chesnut wrote to Virginia Clay, a friend from earlier time in Washington now living in Alabama, "My home -- Sarsfield is such a handsome brick house A splendid library. No en of old China Glass silver Stuart portraits and 50 acres four Jersey cows and an income of $140!"
Mary Chesnut died two months later on November 22, 1886 at the age of 63. Much of her estate was left to her sister's son, David R. Williams III. She left Sarsfield to his wife Ellen. Mary Chesnut's niece, Serena Chesnut Williams, received two Jersey cows, Oily and Flora.
In 1908 when David (III) and Ellen Williams decided to renovate Mulberry which had been empty since 1873, they sold Milford, then Manning home near Pinewood which Mrs. Williams had inherited.
For a time the Court Inn, a resort in Camden, used Sarsfield as the Clubhouse of the Sarsfield Golf Club. The course included the land around the inn over to Old Factory Road Pond.
Then in the November 21, 1919 issue of the Camden Chronicle with front page headline "Sarsfield Property Sold," the reader learns, "The large tract of land lying on the eastern limits of the city containing fifty-one acres, and used for a number of years by the Sarsfield Golf Club, was sold this week by David R. Williams to Messrs. R.E. Stevenson and L.A. Kirkland, the sale being made through the C.P. Dubose real estate agency."
The article continues "We understand that the Golf Club has a lease of two or more years upon the property, and at the expiration of that lease if it is not unsold, it is the intention of the new owners to divide the property into one hundred and sixty nine building lots and place them on sale. Three streets will run though the property and it will be laid off in such a way as to make desirable residential lots. The large brick building situated nearly in the center of the property and used as the club house will go into the sale."
"While there are many who will regret to see this beautiful play ground disturbed there are still a great many more who will be glad to see this property divided and placed on the market as there are very few building lots to be found in Camden at present and the need for such lots is great."
In 1927, Mrs. William D. Nettles and her sister, Mrs. L.J. Watts, were living with their parents, Thomas Lee and Margretta Gruver Little, at Sarsfield. Mrs. Nettles was 8 years old and Mrs. Watts was 3.
"I loved the place. I really did," said Mrs. Nettles. I have good memories.
Soon after the Littles' moved to Sarsfield with their five children, Mrs. Little put a fence around the then-10 acres which extended to Union Street. In between each post Mrs. Little planted alternately White Cherokee Rose and redbine.
"It was a fun time," she remembers. "I remember playing in the yard." She recalls a little cement pond in the shape of a figure eight with a bridge over it along the right side of the driveway leading up to the house from Chesnut Street, a fish pond in the center of the circular driveway in front of the house, a special tea bush, and a big oak tree to the left of the front of the house."
"I learned to ride my bicycle on the driveway at Sarsfield," Mrs. Watts said.
"There was a big old fig tree we climbed in the back," Mrs. Watts said.
There was a pigeon house in the back of Sarsfield with a ladder from which one could take the squabs for a meal. "My fathers hobby was raising white king pigeons, said Mrs. Watts and added,"We had rabbits and chickens too."
Mrs. Watts remembers receiving her doll house one Christmas. The little two room house which was originally placed on the right side of Sarsfield where the kitchen is located was even electrified. It can still be seen today on the Sarsfield Avenue side of the property.
When asked if Mrs. Watts shared her playhouse with her three sisters and brother, she responded with an emphatic, ";No, it was mine."
"I remember big dances when my sisters were older," recalls Mrs. Watts. "My brother and I would sit on the staircase to watch."
"It was beautiful place to grow up in," Mrs. Watts said.
"It was a favorite time of my life," said Mrs. Nettles about her childhood at Sarsfield.
It was during the family's yearly summer visit to their maternal grandmother's house in Virginia that a fire broke out, burning the staircase and the roof and causing extensive damage to the house and furnishings. Upon their return from Virginia, Mrs. Watts remembers her mother sitting outside the house and crying. It is thought the fire began in a closet under the stairs where cleaning material was kept.
Mrs. Nettles said, "The staircase was beautiful." It was never rebuilt to its original state.
The Sarsfield the Little family knew before the fire was "Like when Mary Chesnut lived in it,"Mrs. Watts said.
Dr. and Mrs. A.H. Ehrenclou bought Sarsfield in 1936 from the Littles'. They were from New York City and had been coming to Camden for 30 years. Renovation was significant most notably the modification from Italianate villa to Georgian style. Mrs. Ehrenclou planted the magnolias along the drive from Chesnut Street to the house.
Lynn Sherr wrote to Mrs. Ehrenclou from New York February 27, 1975, "I am writing a travel book about women and history and am looking for a location for Mary Chesnut. I see from the city brochures that your house may have been built from the bricks of Mulberry. It must be wonderful to live in a home with so much history. The history of our New York apartments is rather forgettable I'm afraid".
Yasuo Sasaki wrote to the owner of Sarsfield from Berkeley, California February 18, 1982 after having read "one of the most interesting diaries edited by Mr. Ames Williams," which she found "most interesting."
She continues, "Now I do wish some day I shall be able to actually visit he little southern city and to actually see just where the Chesnut's lived near Camden. I hear South Carolina is a very attractive state with many old antique homes. I do wish this house they built is still there. Is It?"
In 1986 Sarsfield was listed with Sotheby's International Reality. Sotheby's is interested in marketing properties with "spectacular settings, impeccable design and craftsmanship, and the patina of history," according to a December 20, 1986 article by Laura Dannhardt in the State Newspaper.
Alice Boykin of Boykin Reality in Camden was quoted, "Sotheby's was interested in Sarsfield because of its historic significance". The home was for sale for $450,000.
The story continues,"The estate of the six-bedroom, six-and one-half bath home now rests on only five-and one-half acres in the historic district in Camden".
In 1989 Robert and Sharon Kurschner of California bought Sarsfield from the Ehrenclou family. In 2002 the Kurschners' submitted a proposal to subdivide the property into 10 lots. That request was denied by the Camden Planning and Zoning Commission. An appeal of the 5th Circuit Court was thrown out on a technicality.
The Kurschners' returned to the planning and zoning commission in late February with a revised proposal to create eight lots on the historic property. More details of that plan were originally scheduled to be presented to the planning and zoning commission at its meeting Tuesday. However City Building Official John Burns confirmed late Friday that the proposal has been removed from Tuesday's agenda. It is now expected to be discussed at the commission's meeting in April or May.
© Chronicle-Independent (Camden, S.C.) Monday March 22, 2004