It had taken two full days to pick a jury, and the twelve people who were now seated in the jury box waited with extreme anticipation for the trial to begin. Natchez aristocracy was seated in the courtroom en masse, including Maxine Milner, one of the founders and then president of the prestigious Natchez Pilgrimage and the Garden Club. All eyes were fixed on the plaintiffs, Della Teal and her youthful husband, Bobby.
Della and Bobby Teal had come from New York to Natchez in the fall of 1937 to see the magnificent antebellum homes on the Pilgrimage sponsored by the ladies of the Sojourner Garden Club. Their appearance in Natchez immediately set tongues wagging, since Bobby appeared to be fifteen to twenty years younger than Della and was mistaken by many to be her teenage son.
As they toured the grounds and massive rooms of one particular great house just put on the market, they knew at once they had to own it, and Della in particular seemed obsessed with the idea of buying the mansion and moving to Natchez. The house was Homedale House, which had been built in 1855 by a wealthy young Natchez couple, William R. Balfont and his wife, Lydia Hunt Balfont.
Homedale was one of the Deep South’s great mansions. The plantation on which it stood had originally consisted of several thousand acres. It had been given to the Balfonts as a gift by Lydia’s father, the fabled David Hunt, who was the owner of twenty-six plantations and seventeen hundred slaves. He was, at the time of the gift, arguably the richest man in Mississippi.
William and Lydia began the building of Homedale with an unlimited budget. The house took five years to complete, with the finest artisans from Philadelphia and New York being employed to design and complete the exquisite detailing of the interior woodwork, ceilings and trim. Homedale was hailed by the press in Mississippi as a "magnificent edifice."
The house was astonishing to the eyes. Its imposing front columns were thirty-five feet high and nine feet in circumference. It had a beautiful slate roof, brick walls three feet thick, and structural steel beams throughout. All of the hardware on the interior and exterior was made of Sheffield silver. A massive carved walnut staircase reached up three stories. The fireplaces were of the finest Italian marble and intricately carved, each one depicting a different motif.
An article in the Natchez Free Trader of February 1, 1858 stated, "The beautiful mansion now being erected near our city has a majestic front of Doric columns with three cast iron capitals. Each wing has light, airy and graceful porticos. Below the grand entrance is the ground story, and even here there are perfectly beautiful hand finished floors, as in the reception rooms, parlors and dormitories above."