Houses and Mansions

Sorrel-Weed House in Savannah, Georgia

Madison Square in Savannah, Georgia is bounded by Harris Street to the north, Bull Streets to the east and west, and Charlton Street to the south. A statue commemorating Revolutionary War soldier Sgt. William Jasper stands proudly in the center. This monument marks the southern limit of British defenses during the Siege of Savannah in 1779. If the view looks familiar, it is because an aerial perspective of the park can be seen in the opening scene of Forrest Gump (1994).

The Sorrel-Weed House stands on Madison Square’s north side. Irish architect Charles B. Cluskey designed and built this majestic Greek-Revival home for Frances Sorrel, a merchant from the West Indies, in 1841. His son, Moxley Sorrel, rose to fame as Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet’s staff officer during the American Civil War.  General Robert E. Lee visited his home in late 1861 and early 1862. During the Siege of Petersburg in 1864, he was promoted to brigadier general and given command of a brigade. At 26, he was the youngest general officer in the Confederate army.

At some point in the past, a market was built along Bull Street on the mansion’s west side. The Society for the Preservation of Savannah Landmarks opened it for tours in January 1940. It was designated a state historic landmark in 1953. When it underwent renovations, the city tried to prevent the new owner from painting its exterior a gaudy orange, but he was able to prove, by pealing back 20 layers of paint, that was its original color.

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Boldt Castle in Winter

Few places in Upstate New York are as romantic as Boldt Castle on the St. Lawrence River. George Boldt, general manager of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City and manager of the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia, began construction of the 120-room mansion in 1900, but it was never finished.

It was to be a grand tribute to the love of his life, Louise Kehrer Boldt. Tragically, Louise Boldt died suddenly in January 1904. Heartbroken, George Boldt sent workers at the castle a telegram telling them to cease construction immediately.

For the next 73 years, the partially-completed castle sat empty and abandoned, left to the mercy of vandals and the elements. In 1977, the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority bought Heart Island and agreed to commit all proceeds from tours and events toward its restoration. Today, much of the structural damage has been reversed, and the ground floor is beautifully furnished. It looks particularly romantic, like something from a fairy tale, covered with snow and ice.

Bragg-Mitchell Mansion’s Stately Lady and Phantom Feline

A stately, Greek-revival style Southern mansion with tall, Doric columns sits off Springhill Avenue in Mobile, Alabama. Built in 1855 by Judge and Congressman John Bragg, brother of Confederate General Braxton Bragg, the Bragg-Mitchell Mansion is a simple, yet elegant example of antebellum architecture. Today it is a museum that carefully preserves its antebellum splendor for weddings and events, but visitors say something intangible has also remained. Some have reported chance encounters with the willowy fur of a phantom feline–as well as a forlorn and mysterious lady of the manor.

John Bragg purchased this 3 acre plot of land, then on the hinterland of Mobile, in May 1855 for $7,500. The mansion he built was 13,000 square foot and served as a seasonal home for his wife, Mary Francis Hall, who hosted parties and entertained guests from Mobile’s high society. They spent the remainder of the year at their plantation in Lowndes County, Alabama. Mary was 21 years younger than her husband, and the couple had six children. She was 42 years old when she died in 1869, just four years after the end of the Civil War.

During the war, Judge Bragg had all the oak trees on the property cut down so that the Confederate defenders of Mobile could more effectively fire on advancing Union troops. On Mary’s insistence, they moved all their most valuable possessions out of the mansion to their plantation. Ironically, Union soldiers burned the plantation and all their possessions, but left Mobile largely unscathed. Their oak trees were replanted in 1865 using acorns Judge Bragg had saved. Today these trees beautifully decorate the front lawn.

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