The Garden Club
The Garden Club
Perfect Bound Softcover
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Fate, I suppose, together with an unexpected phone call, led me to become the CEO of the Garden Club in Natchez, Mississippi, where I served for five years. This book was conceived and born out of my experiences in that position, and is woven from my imagination, coupled with first and second-hand accounts of many events which I have depicted, as well as my study of records and archives dating back prior to the Civil War.

Natchez is famous for its mansions, and this book is about the people who inhabit those mansions, just as their ancestors did a hundred years ago. It is also about the beautiful but delicate balance of love and friendship which has evolved between black and white and which has survived in this tiny town from the days of master and slave.

It is also the story of Rod Farshall, a young man who is caught up and swept into a terrifying series of events which will change his life forever, and it is my version of the happenings leading up to and encompassing the incineration of one of the greatest homes in the city, and how the resulting actions of the Garden Club set the stage for brutal and unconscionable retaliation from a prominent Natchez citizen.

But more than all of the above, it is a story of how a few women conceived and developed The Sojourner Garden Club and then wielded its gavel to obtain their one and only goal, power.

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."

Robert B. DeBlieux is known to his friends as "Bobby." He is a native of Louisiana. Mr. DeBlieux received an MS degree from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and a BS degree from LSU in Baton Rouge.

He currently resides in Natchitoches, his place of birth, and operates his ancestral home, The Tante Huppe House, as a bed and breakfast. During his spare time he writes historical treatises, serves on numerous state and local historical boards and committees, teaches Louisiana history, and is unsurpassed as a walking encyclopedia of Southern lore.

He has written many articles about Louisiana, including two widely acclaimed tour guidebooks. He is a nationally known authority on Louisiana architecture, and is also an accomplished landscape painter.

Mr. DeBlieux is a past president of the Natchitoches Historic Foundation and is currently co-chairman of the Cane River National Heritage Area Commission of the National Park Service.

He is also a collector of historic documents, and as such has amassed the largest collection of documents regarding "free persons of color" ever assembled.

During his tenure as Louisiana State Historic Preservation Officer, he created forty-two National Register Districts in the State of Louisiana.

One can tour the South and visit every nook and cranny, but is not likely to encounter a more colorful or a more interesting character than Bobby.

The Garden Club is his first work of fiction.


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