During the twelfth annual Oxford Pilgrimage an unusual home was added to the homes open to visitors to Oxford. This time it was not an antebellum home of the rich or famous, it was a servants home that had been built for him by the man that brought him over from Scotland. The man for whom the home was built was named McDonald. His first name has been lost to history, but his employer, Jacob Thompson, would bring him to Oxford in the late 1840s and he would remain in his service until Thompson’s death and then he would return to his native Scotland to live out his remaining days.
In October of 1846, Jacob Thompson and his neighbor, Robert Sheegog, both purchased land from the Chickasaw Indian Er-nah-yeh on which to build their Oxford mansions. Sheegog’s home would later be named Rowan Oak by an owner that purchased the home in 1930. Thompson’s home would not make it through the Civil War because it was singled out by General A. J. “Whiskey Joe” Smith for destruction on August 22, 1864. For some unknown reason, Smith did not have his men burn the servant’s home or Sheegog’s home as he did Thompson’s and four other homes of prominent Oxonains and the Oxford Square.
After Smith and his men ransacked the Thompson home they moved Kate Thompson, her daughter-in-law and her newborn daughter to the front lawn. They then set the twenty-room mansion a blaze while Kate and her family looked on. McDonald is said to have sifted through the charred remains of the mansion to try and salvage any property that might have survived the flames.
McDonald has been credited with landscaping Sheegog’s home, Thompson’s estate, the home on his brother William known as the Thompson-Chandler home on South Thirteenth, his brother John’s home on South Lamar, and the W. S. Neilson home on South 11th Street. It is also known that McDonald did some landscaping on the Ole Miss campus because his employer was on the Board of Trustees.
As I have reported in previous columns, Thompson and his wife remained in Europe for several years after the Civil War. On the return to Oxford in 1869 they built a new home on the site of the one destroyed by Smith. This home was later given to their son Macon and his wife when the Thompson’s moved to Memphis to spend the remaining years of their lives. This home is now the residence of Dr. Beckett Howorth and is known as Marworth. McDonald would move to Memphis with his employer and would remain in his service as his coachman until Thompson death in 1885.
In the following decades, the Gatekeeper’s Lodge on a hill just to the west of Marworth on Old Taylor Road would slowly deteriorate. The home would pass to several different owners including the Elliott family and the Smallwood family. By 1970 it was little more than a crumbling brick shell surrounded by strangling vines and waist high grass. In 1973 Dr. Wayne T. Lamar and his wife Pat, who would later become Mayor of Oxford, saw the potential in the dilapidated home and purchased the property from the Smallwood family.
Smallwood had offered to tear down the kudzu covered home at his expense if the Lamar’s wanted the property. A hole was knocked in the front of the home to determine what would be involved in renovation and they discovered it was constructed of triple handmade brick. Further research revealed the house was made of heart pine and the brick was hand-made on the property. Several unique features included not only the triple brick, but also a fully enclosed basement. During the period the home was constructed it was rare for a servant’s quarters to have a basement. Because McDonald also served Thompson as a winemaker could have been the reason for the basement.
The home was restored and in 1977 a new wing added. Not wanting to disturb the flavor of the old, the extensive project was constructed as authentic to the original part as possible. The dimensions in the new section are equal to the old, although rooms are divided differently. Handmade bricks were used and the flooring came from the old Atlanta depot. All the mantels are from older homes and the exterior shutters are from old buildings in New Orleans. A ceiling fan in the den of the home was purchased from the Peabody Hotel before its renovation in the late 1970s. Another interesting feature is the claw-footed tubs that came from the old Colonial Hotel on the Square. The Colonial Hotel is now called the Thompson House. What was once a humble servant’s quarters is now one of Oxford’s most beautiful and meticulously maintained homes.
Jack Lamar Mayfield is a fifth generation Oxonian, whose family came to Oxford shortly after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832, and he is the third generation of his family to graduate from the University of Mississippi. He is a former insurance company executive and history instructor at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs, South Panola High School in Batesvile and the Oxford campus of Northwest Community College.
In addition to his weekly blog in HottyToddy.com Oxford’s Olden Days, Mayfield is also the author of an Images of America series book titled Oxford and Ole Miss published in 2008 for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for restoring the post-Civil War home of famed Mississippi statesman, L.Q.C. Lamar and is now restoring the Burns Belfry, the first African American Church in Oxford.