A HISTORY OF THE WILLIAM S. SIMMONS PLANTATION
BY KRISTI REED
Located near beautiful downtown Cave Spring, the William S. Simmons Plantation is one of the oldest brick residences in Floyd County, Georgia.
The home was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on June 19, 1980. It is also listed on the Georgia Historic Resources Register. It is listed as significant for its history and its architecture.
Built in the late 1840s, the house is constructed entirely of handmade red bricks. The brick exterior walls are 18 inches thick. The interior walls are also made of brick and are over 14 inches thick. The two story Greek revival house features nine rooms and over 4,000 square feet of living space.
A cook house dating to the early 1800s stands behind the main house. The two-room brick structure has two fireplaces and is constructed entirely of handmade brick. The cook house was originally part of the estate of Cherokee sub-chief David Vann.
DAVID VANN AND THE SIMMONS PLANTATION
In the early part of the 1800s, the area now known as Floyd County, Georgia was still Cherokee Indian territory. The Cherokee, a peaceful, agrarian people, had established their own democratic government, the Cherokee Nation, and were considered one of the five “civilized” tribes.
David Vann, Cherokee sub-chief and treasurer of the Cherokee nation in the 1840s, was born around 1800 in the valley where Cave Spring, Georgia was settled. The valley was named Vann’s Valley after his father, Avery Vann.
Avery Vann, was the son of a Scottish trader named Clement Vann who married a full-blooded Cherokee named Wa-wli Gam. Avery is believed to have been Clement’s son by his first marriage to an unknown white woman. Avery married Margaret McSwain, daughter of a white trader named Alexander McSwain and a woman named Nancy Downing. Avery’s step-brother, James Vann, was a powerful, wealthy Cherokee chief known for his fierce temper. His home, Spring Place in Chatsworth, Georgia, is now open as a museum.
Like his uncle, David Vann was also a very wealthy Cherokee planter. Vann was a slaveholder and owned a large plantation consisting of several hundred acres in the area which now comprises downtown Cave Spring.
In A History of Rome and Floyd County, Vann is described by the author as “very well educated” and having “a pleasing hand with occasional misspelt words, like most of the Indian leaders.”
A letter found in the 1960s in a city vault in Calhoun, Georgia contained a description of a visit to Vann’s home. The letter, written by Herman S. Gold on May 22, 1830 to Gen. D. B. Brinsiade, was a record of Gold’s travel to Creek Path. The letter reads in part:
“Tuesday; We visited John Ross, the principal Chief, his house is a long two story building, inside has the appearance of neatness and elegance, here we crossed the Coosa, and passed the tomb of the Cherokee, who was so barbarously murdered by the Georgians. We went along Vann’s Valley, to David Vann’s; his house is elegantly painted outside, and in, and is beautifully clouded and furnished with the nicest kind of furniture, his wife amused us in the evening by playing most charmingly on her Piano, They are both descendants of Cherokee’s.”
It was shortly before the time of this letter that gold was discovered in Georgia.
As miners rushed to the state seeking to stake their claims on the land, the pressure to rid the land of Cherokees mounted. In 1829, the Indian Removal Act was introduced in Congress. Senators Daniel Webster and Henry Clay delayed passage until 1830.
Vann, along with other wealthy Cherokee planters as well as the rest of the members of the Cherokee Nation, suddenly found themselves facing the prospect of losing their lands.
In December of 1831, legislation was enacted in Georgia to create Cherokee County, a vast area covering most of the northern part of the state.
Cherokee chief John Ross decided to fight the legislation within the court system. David Vann was initially a member of the Ross party. Eventually, Vann joined other prominent Cherokees including the Ridges in their efforts to negotiate a treaty with the United States government and end the persecution of their people at the hands of Georgians.
Ultimately though, Vann disagreed with the treaty terms that Ridge and others negotiated at New Echota. Vann refused to sign the treaty—a decision which would save his life when other treaty leaders were brutally executed in 1839.
Ross fought the federal government’s efforts to remove the Cherokee until 1838 when he finally realized his efforts were futile. Ross accompanied his people on the “Trail of Tears”. His wife was one of the many Cherokee that died as a result the grueling conditions of the forced march westward.
It is not known at what point David Vann relinquished his land to the state of Georgia and moved west. In 1835, Vann was listed in Cherokee Census. According to the census records, in addition to Vann, there were three males under the age of 18 in Vann’s household and two females over the age of 16. Vann owned seven male slaves and six female slaves. His estate was valued at over $11,000 in the 1835 Cherokee valuations.
Vann’s plantation would be divided up as part of the fourth section of the third district of what was then Cherokee County. The lots which would become part of the William S. Simmons Plantation were part of Vann’s estate.
THE GOLD LOTTERY
While most of Cherokee County was divided into 160-acre land districts, approximately one third of the territory, including that in present day Floyd County, was subdivided into 40-acre “gold” lots to be distributed by means of Georgia’s seventh land lottery.
For a grant fee of $10, any bachelor, widow or married man who had resided in Georgia for at least three years was entitled to at least one draw in the gold lottery. Married men who were heads of family were entitled to two draws.
The William S. Simmons Plantation was pieced together from six of the 35,000 40-acre land lots issued during the Georgia gold lottery of 1832. The land lots involved were lots 859, 860, 869, 870, 797 and 798.
Armistead Richardson, a wealthy landowner and one of the founders of Cave Spring, began accumulating lots in the early 1830s. Richardson was born around 1789 in Culpepper Co., Virginia, and died Apr 02, 1867 in Cave Spring, Georgia. He married Elizabeth Peterson Griggs (born September 25, 1806), the daughter of Jesse Griggs and Rebecca Peterson. They had five children: Peterson, Francis, Everard, Elizabeth and Anne.
Richardson’s first known acquisition of the land that would eventually comprise the Simmons plantation was on December 24, 1835 when he purchased land lot 797 from Simeon C. Ellington.
On January 7, 1836, Richardson purchased land lot 860 from Able Moore and Bryan Moore for $50. The next month, on February 9, 1836, Richardson acquired land lot 798 from Robert Ware. Land lot 798 was drawn by Clark Martin (or Martin Clark) who had sold it to Robert Ware for $90 in early 1836.
On October 12 of that year, Richardson bought land lot 869 from William Smith for $100. This lot had been previously sold to Smith by William L. Candler and Elisha Calhoun. Moses S. Duke was the original owner of lot 869. Duke received a grant to the property on January 5, 1836. The index to grantors and grantees in Floyd County does not indicate when the land was transferred from Duke to Candler and Calhoun or if any other party owned the property prior to Smith’s acquisition sometime in 1836.
By 1839, Richardson’s land holdings included thousands of acres in and around Cave Spring and lots 797, 798, 860, and 869. Lots 859 and 870 would be added to the plantation by his son-in-law, William S. Simmons.
WILLIAM S. SIMMONS
On December 31, 1839, Richardson sold land lots 797, 798 and 860 to William S. Simmons for $2,500. Simmons was the son-in-law of Armistead Richardson. He had married Richardson’s youngest daughter Anne on July 19th, 1839. Anne was 18 years of age at the time of the land purchase. Simmons acquired land lot 859 in 1840. The lot was purchased from Hosea Camp, who would later sell Simmons lot 870. Simmons executed a promissory note to Hosea Camp on 1-31-1840 in the amount of $2,140 for the 80 acres of lots 859 and 860. Simmons also purchased an additional parcel of land from Richardson that year. On March 25, 1840 Simmons bought 2.25 acres of land lot 869 from Richardson for a cost of $100. The deed is barely legible, but makes reference to granting use of a spring house on the property. The remainder of lot 869, 37.75 acres, was transferred to Simmons in August of 1842. It appears that this land was held in trust for the Methodist Episcopal Church in Vann’s Valley.
At this point, Simmons owned at least 200 acres of what would become known as the William S. Simmons Plantation. During the next five years, Simmons would add land lot 870 to his holdings. The 40 acres of land lot 870, were purchased on May 20, 1847 from Hosea Camp for the sum of $1,000. The plantation house was constructed on lot 870. It is not known if the house had been constructed, or was under construction, at the time of this sale.
Land lot 870 is also the site of the brick cook house. This cook house is believed to be part of the estate of David Vann. Vann was dispossessed of his estate holdings during the Cherokee removal. The property valuations conducted during that time list numerous outbuildings on Vann’s plantation. The brick cook house is believed to be the kitchen referred to in the property listing.
Thomas Blackburn won lot 870 in the 1832 Georgia gold lottery. He claimed the land on January 11, 1834. It is not known when or if Blackburn took physical possession of the property. Blackburn sold the property to Luke Johnson on November 26, 1834 for the sum of $500. The deed describes the property as “being the lot where David Vann’s buildings stand.” The following year, on June 5, 1835, Johnson sold the 40 acres of lot 870 to Camp for $775.
By mid-1847, Simmons had enlarged his plantation to include 240 acres.
William and Anne Simmons are known to have had one surviving child, a daughter named Rebecca. Their son, Armistead Richardson Simmons died on June 18, 1846. He was eight months and three days old at the time of his death. The following year, Simmons sold his plantation.
“THE LAKE HOUSE”
On December 27, 1847, William S. Simmons sold land lots 797, 798, 859, 860, 869 and 870 to Carter Sparks for $5,000. As part of the deal, Sparks gave Simmons a promissory note in the amount of $1,000 payable in full by December 25, 1850.
Little is known about Sparks other than that he appeared to be quite wealthy. The 1852 Floyd County tax digest shows that Sparks holdings were valued at $25,687, including 32 slaves valued at $13,750.
Less than two years later, Sparks sold the plantation to James Lake for $5,000. At the time of this sale, the plantation totaled 240 acres and was made up of land lots 859, 860, 869, 870, 797 and 798.
In A History of Rome and Floyd County, reference is made to Cherokee sub-chief David Vann, the original owner of the Lake property, living temporarily at “The Lake House” in July of 1850.
The book includes a transcript of a letter written by Vann on August 27, 1850 while in Washington, D.C. to Mr. William Smith of Rome, Georgia. The letter states:
“Dear Sir: I wrote to you some time since informing you that I would be glad to hear from you respecting our silver mine in Alabama, but have not yet received anything from you. Will you be kind enough to write me a few lines and let me know how you are getting along? I have determined to go that way when I leave here for home. I cannot say when that will be. It may be some time in October.
“I have no idea that I can get away before Congress adjourns & there is no time set yet for the adjournment of Congress, though I will let you know before I leave when I will be at your house. I wrote a few lines to Major Richardson a few days ago requesting him to save me some peech seed from my old orchard (those large white peeches).
I have no news but what you see in the papers. Mr. Clay has got back this morning. He has been absent ever since his Compromise bill was defeated. The Senate has passed all the measures that he had in his Compromise bill separately with very slight alterations. Give my respects to your family and accept for yourself my best wishes for your health and prosperity.
Your friend and obt. svt., David Vann.”
It is not known what Vann’s connection was to Lake or why he was in Cave Spring in 1850. The possibility exists that Vann passed through the area on his way to Washington, D.C. where he had been dispatched as a representative of the Cherokee Nation.
James Lake was a wealthy landowner in Cave Spring. Lake served on the board of trustees for the Cherokee Wesleyan Institute and on the board of the Georgia School for the Deaf in Cave Spring (then known as the Georgia Institution for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb). He is referred to in some documents as Major James Lake, presumably of the army of the Confederate States of America.
Lake’s property was valued at $19,160 in the 1852 Floyd County Tax Digest. The digest lists his holdings as including 280 acres and 10 slaves valued at $6,500.
According to information provided by previous owners of the William S. Simmons Plantation, Lake died in the 1860s and his property was sold at public auction by his administrator Joseph Ford.
T.H. Lake, the guardian of James Lake’s children, bought the property at public auction on December 4, 1866 for $2,000. T.H. Lake was the guardian for Maria, William, Lizzie P., Joseph H and James C. Lake. According to the deed, T.H. Lake resigned his guardianship to W.M. Friend. This transfer took place in Mobile, Alabama. Friend became the guardian of James Lake’s three youngest children, the other two having come of age.
At this time, the Lake estate went up for public auction and was advertised in the August 10, 1873 edition of The Atlanta Constitution. According to the full page advertisement placed in the newspaper, the property was to be sold on October 7, 1873. However, records show that Friend purchased all 240 acres on July 7, 1873.
Two years later, in 1875, Friend sold what was then known as “The Lake Farm” to William T. Gibson.
THE MONTGOMERY HOUSE
After less than four years of ownership, William T. Gibson sold the Lake farm to Green Cunningham on September 10, 1879 for $5,000. At the time of the sale, The Lake Farm was comprised of 160 acres carved out of lots 860, 797 and parts of land lots 798, 859, 870 and 869.
Cunningham died less than six years later on February 13, 1885. Cunningham was 68 years of age having been born May 22, 1817. In his will, he bequeathed the property to Willie Pamelia Bobo Montgomery. Willie was the niece of Cunningham’s wife, Jincay Bobo and was Cunningham’s legally adopted daughter. Jincay, born February 16, 1814, had preceded her husband in death on February 23, 1883.
Willie was married to James Middleton Montgomery. They had nine children. Mr. Montgomery died May 9, 1899. He died 22 days shy of his 53rd birthday. His daughter, Lucille Montgomery (born August 15, 1885), purchased the property on September 24, 1937. Mrs. Willie Montgomery, Lucille’s mother, was still living in the house. By this time, the home was known as “the Montgomery House.” Willie Montgomery passed away on October 14, 1943. Lucille Montgomery continued living in the house until her death on October 12, 1967.
The Montgomery’s oldest daughter and Lucille’s older sister, Rosalie, was born on September 9, 1879. She married Charles Morgan Sewell in August of 1904. Their daughter, Lavinia Sewell, became the eventual owner of the property when she and her husband, J.H. Wesley, purchased the property in 1969.
Mr. and Mrs. Wesley were preceded in death by two sons. Upon Lavinia Wesley’s death, the property passed to her nephew, Charles Whitaker Sewell, and her niece Elizabeth Sewell Arnold.
After sitting vacant for several years and falling into disrepair, the house was purchased by Ina Benton Black on February 15, 2008. The sale included approximately 1.3 acres surrounding the house as well as the brick cook house constructed as part of David Vann’s estate at least 170 years earlier.
The interior wall surfaces are plaster over brick. The parlor, two bedrooms, the upstairs hall and foyer feature hand painted murals in a multitude of colors. Though the walls have suffered damage over the years, the colors are remarkably vibrant and the painting exquisitely detailed. Upon close examination, the brush strokes are still visible. The finest work may be seen in the parlor where the artist did his most elaborate work, including an ornate religious motif over the doorway. The murals in the parlor have gold leaf detail. The artist also used gold leaf to decorate the ceiling and cornices.
The floors are made of heart pine and every room except one includes a carved mantel original to the house. On two of these mantels, the remnants of a faux marbleized paint finish can still be seen. It is believed this faux marbleizing was done by the same artist that painted the interior murals.
Another unique aspect of the home is the extensive wood trim throughout the house. Many of the doors and even some of the trim was decorated with a technique known as faux bois, or painting ordinary wood to look like a more expensive wood. The technique gives the doors the appearance of having panels when in fact there are none. Much of the trim is also painted to simulate wood grain.
Ms. Black is currently working to repair and restore the property. At this time, much progress has been made towards restoring this fine home to its original grandeur.
Copyright Kristi Reed 2009. All Rights Reserved.