Thursday, February 28, 2013
Busbys revive historic mansion
By SUE WATSON
Gena and Frank Busby are living their life’s dream.
It started when they bought The Magnolias in Holly Springs, built in 1852, so they could cut off some commuting time from Ashland.
Molly and Abigail, their two daughters, attend Marshall Academy. Gena Busby saw the for sale sign in the yard while picking up her children from school in November 2011. The Busbys purchased the home in January 2012.
“I’ve never liked living in a new house and this is the most extremely old one I have ever lived in,” Gena Busby said “We are really a part of the town.”
The Busbys both work for the Memphis (Tenn.) Fire Department. He is a 16-year veteran and she has worked there six years. Before that, she worked for Shelby County as a paramedic on its ambulances.
This year The Magnolias is on the Pilgrimage Tour and the Behind the Big House Tour. Their daughters dressed up in antebellum attire for a Travel South Post FAM Tour last week, getting some practice in what it will be like when the house fills with visitors on April 12-14 this year. Restoring the main house, cook house and slave quarters is something they are doing themselves as they have the time and money.
The mansion was fixed up and painted pink outside for the movie “Cookie’s Fortune,” made in Holly Springs. The home still has some of the movie furnishings and other items left in the home and basement by a previous owner.
The mansion will help the city serve its tourism industry.
For Gena Busby, the story of the mansion just rolls off her tongue. She is comfortable with guests and invites visitors to sit and have a cup of coffee with her.
William Mason built Hamilton House first, then the mansion for himself as a place to live. He came to Holly Springs at age 14, and died in 1870, after becoming a successful businessman. His grave in Hill Crest Cemetery and family plot lines up in a row with the two houses on Mason Street.
Mason became a founding member of the Presbyterian Church, was involved with the railroad, and owned businesses on the square.
The owner refused to allow Union troops to take over the house during the Civil War. So the house was sacked and dishes were said to have been used by the occupiers to use as target practice. A bayonet was thrust into the front door, but the rest of the house was not harmed.
Hamilton’s daughter Maggie lived in the mansion until the 1920s or 1930s.
Busby said few families with children lived in the house so it is in good condition.
The Magnolias sat empty and without heat from 1996 until 2012. Gladys Slayden owned the house from 1940 until she died and left it to Susanna Moore Moldoveanu.
During its early years the mansion was used extensively to host parties. The Busbys intend to offer the space for parties and weddings and it is listed on the daily tour with the Tourism office.
“It’s too big of a house not to share,” Busby said. “Too big and too fancy, too.”
Part of the mansion’s present lure is its story as a use for movie making. Gena Busby and her children know the story of “Cookie’s Fortune” by heart and have a copy of the movie and pictures of the movie stars to display for tour groups.
When the mansion was first built, nine slaves worked there. The surrounding fields that went with the home had fruit trees, pasture and a pecan orchard. The slave quarters is a two-room structure. The kitchen was beside the slave quarters and then the mansion had an entrance on the back where food could be taken to the dining area.
Gladys Slayden, who owned The Magnolias for a long while, was a state senator and hosted many parties in the home. She did not have children.
Busby said she does not plan to ever move from the mansion and has lots of antiques that have been recycled from other places in town to use.
The film will likely be available for the public to enjoy during Movies, Magnolias and More, an event in Spring Hollow Park beginning Thursday, April 12. Call the Holly Springs Tourism and Recreation Bureau at 662-252-2515 for more information on the tour and when movies can be viewed.
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