2011–The 75th Anniversary of GWTW, the book, based in part on writings from the Mitchell family scrapbook, shown above.
A spring drive through the Atlanta, Georgia area brings alive many Gone With the Wind destinations. There is the Margaret Mitchell House, the real life sites in Jonesboro, Clayton County, the two museums (one in Marietta and one in Jonesboro) and many other places. There is even a “Gone With the Wind Trail” you can follow to find GWTW destinations. We though we’d been to all of them, but as GWTW fans know there is always something new.
We finally got to stop and visit a place we had heard about and even featured in our book, The Making of a Masterpiece, the True Story of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind.
On a warm day in Georgia, our destination with Gone With the Wind connections was Barnsley Gardens. Barnsley Gardens–a beautiful resort area with cabins, hiking trails, horseback riding, and golf—is alive with history. Amidst the gorgeous hills of blooming tulips, flowering trees, and pristinely trimmed shrub maze sits a stark sight.
It is the “ruins” of a house that once was owned by one of the richest men in Georgia. If the walls could talk, they would tell all the Civil War history that has taken place on the site and maybe even of seeing author Margaret Mitchell.
The walls, floor, fireplace and a few doors are all that is left of a home once inhabited by a man like Rhett Butler—and his son-in-law and daughter who may have played a real-life role, along with others who have been suggested as playing a part in Mitchell’s creation of characters and situations for Gone With the Wind.
This gorgeous estate was not just built, it was well planned by its owner Godfrey Barnsley. He had spent time in the wilderness during the years of 1941 and 42 and it was then he began envisioning the home. He spent as much time planning the gardens and landscaping around the home as he did the actual structure of the house.
He sketched plans and drawings during his many world travels. He was impressed with A.J. Downing, known as the premier landscape architect of the nineteenth century in America. Barnsley followed almost every aspect of Downing techniques when building his estate. Barnsley has been suggested as someone who provided a backdrop for the character of Rhett Butler.
Many have suggested that Mitchell’s first husband, Berrien Upshaw, was the model for Rhett Butler. In his book, The Irish Roots of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, David O’Connell, Ph.D, writes, “It is probable that Mitchell drew the inspiration for Rhett Butler from a number of experiences that she had had with her first husband, Berrien ‘Red’ Kinnard Upshaw….”
Although Berrien Upshaw has been seen as at least a partial model for Rhett Butler, several other names have been tossed around. Claims of research have been made public and may have good merit. Margaret Mitchell was really the only one who knew for sure, but it is fun to look at the possibilities.
Another person mentioned as a possible Rhett Butler model was the one-time Confederate Secretary of the Treasury, George Alfred Trenholm.
Cornelius Vanderbilt, Jr. mentioned a possible Rhett Butler model in his 1956 book, Queen of the Golden Age: The Fabulous Grace Wilson Vanderbilt. He talked about a Vanderbilt uncle, Richard T. Wilson, a blockade runner who ran cotton.
Another family involved in the conversation are the Barnsleys, and their story is interesting.
On this sunny day out in the country, about 15 minutes off of the Adairsville exit on highway 75 just north of Atlanta one could almost hear the sounds of the Confederate soldiers and you could imagine a wealthy plantation owner’s daughter happily visiting with beaux on the front porch of the once splendid plantation.
Clent Coker of Adairsville, Georgia has spent his time doing research on the topic and he thinks the story of Sir Godfrey Barnsley played a big part in Margaret Mitchell’s depiction of Rhett Butler. It was because of Coker’s involvement with this author’s book, we were allowed to take our car to areas usually not driven to on the grounds of the Barnsley Gardens resort.
While Barnsley’s name has been mentioned as an inspiration for Rhett Butler’s character, Coker, who has extensively researched him believes it was actually his son-in-law who would have been more an inspiration for Rhett Butler’s character. Perhaps it was a little of both, along with others, but it’s fun to explore the research done by others.
The story of Sir Godfrey Barnsley’s life could well have provided some of the research information Mitchell used. Barnsley, one of the wealthiest antebellum plantation owners in the area, built the beautiful Barnsley Gardens (originally known as the Woodlands) which still exists today at a resort with a museum in Adairsville, Georgia.
Godfrey Barnsley’s Antebellim plantation home still stands but is known as “ruins” because the foundation and walls are there, but roof and other parts are not.
“It all began with the magnificent creation of a wealthy British sea-merchant, Godfrey Barnsley, as a dream home for his beautiful Savannah wife, Julia Scarborough Barnsley,” writes Coker in his book Barnsley Gardens at Woodlands, The Illustrious Dream (The Julia Company, Atlanta, Ga., 2000, www.barnsleyresort.com). Barnsley and his wife suffered through several tragedies and he wanted to build his beloved wife the biggest, most magnificent plantation home that his money could buy. They called it their dream.
Hearing that, it would not be a stretch that the estate and situation in which it was built could have inspired Margaret Mitchell in her creation of the character Rhett Butler—and also a little of Scarlett. On page 858 of Gone With the Wind Scarlett O’Hara talks about wanting a dream home:
“Oh, Rhett…I do want a house of my own, A great big one.”
Then she went on to say: “And inside let’s have red wall paper and red velvet portieres over all the folding doors and oh, lots of expensive walnut furniture and grand thick carpets and – oh, Rhett everybody will be pea green (with envy of course) when they see our house!”
“Margaret Mitchell went to Barnsley Gardens to visit with an older woman, while she was researching her book,” said Terry Lynn Crane, the widow of Fred Crane, the actor who played Brent Tarleton in the movie. Fred and Terry Lynn also visited Barnsley Gardens and talked to its historian, Clent Coker.
The older woman Mitchell visited with was Addie Saylor, Barnsley’s granddaughter; and she went there more than once, according to the historian in charge.
Coker is the Barnsley Historian and Founding Director of the museum at Barnsley Gardens and has has done extensive research. He has letters and papers that pertain to the Barnsley family as they are his ancestors
“I’ve spent a lifetime researching the Barnsley project,” said Coker. He also put in a lot of sweat and hard work, working with others to restore the estate.
According to him, Margaret Mitchell, known for reading every book she could get her hands on, read a book which piqued her curiosity.
“Augusta Evans Wilson, the author of the best selling book St. Elmo which was first released in the 1860’s used Barnsley Gardens as the setting,” said Coker.
Unfortunately Julia, Sir Godfrey Barnsley’s wife never lived to see the completion of the dream home, but according to Coker, four generations of her descendants would reside there. Though she died before the home was completed, the story was handed down that workers on the house were astonished to find that Barnsley continued having the work done the way his wife would have wanted it done—as if she were still there.
“When we were working on the big house, some mornings Mr. Barnsley would come by and say ‘Miss Julia wanted something done such-and-such-a-way.’ We didn’t know what to think with her being dead and all, but we just did what he said and kept on working.”—that story was relayed in Coker’s book. He spared no expense and built the mansion in the middle of the wilderness.
Barnsley lived through the Civil War, and in te fall of 1863 General Lee sent Captain James P. Baltzelle to take charge of the important Confederate “hub” at Kingston and keep the supply line open from Atlanta to Richmond. According to Coker, shortly after he arrived in the area he heard about Barnsley’s grand estate and decided to pay a visit. He enjoyed the lavish supply of brandy they had and became taken with Barnsley’s daughter Julia, who he eventually married.There was a Civil War encounter with Union troops on the property. (“Yankees at Tara?”) Barnsley had much of his money tied up in Confederate bonds so he suffered severe financial losses after the war. Eventually Captain and Julia Baltzelle took over the property. During the reconstruction period as they were trying to save their estate, Baltzelle started a lumber business.
It was tough times for Julia as she had been the daughter of a wealthy man and then with her marriage to the important Captain Baltzelle she had enjoyed parties and social life. With the war, those things were gone. She did enjoy time with a family friend, the famed novelist, August Evans Wilson, who visited the estate. It is those visits which led her to use Barnsley Gardens in her book St. Elmo.
The Baltzelles worked hard to regain their life after the Civil War but tragedy struck and her husband was killed in an accident when a large tree fell on him during work for the lumber mill. Julia was now a widow and t was now up to her to take care of things.
“Julia was a strong-willed woman and taught the women on the plantation how to survive,” said Coker. “In the months that followed, Julia would become well seasoned to the hardships of reconstruction at Woodlands. Many of her days were spent gleaning the fields with her servants, digging for turnips and roots, or anything else she could find to keep her household from starving until more crops could be planted and harvested. She also worked with her servants to continue running the lumber business.”
“Many years later, according to historians, and family associates, the young Atlanta writer Margaret Mitchell, also became enchanted with Godfrey Barnsey’s Woodlands. It seems she was especially intrigued by the colorful stories surrounding the daughter Julia who struggled to preserve the estate through the Civil War and the period of southern reconstruction. Later Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind would echo themes of Julia’s life at Woodlands.”—Coker wrote in his book. Addie Saylor, who died in 1942, was Barnsley’s granddaughter, and according to Clent Coker, Saylor said that after Mitchell had read St. Elmo, she wanted to see Barnsley Gardens. It is about an hour from Atlanta.
St. Elmo was the Gone With The Wind of its time. It was a hugely successful book, which sold a million copies within four months of its appearance and remained in print well into the twentieth century. It contained a strong woman in Southern society. Augusta Evans Wilson, was the author of nine novels—all about Southern women.
“St. Elmo was so popular it was re-released several times,” said Clent Coker. “Margaret Mitchell read it and wanted to see Barnsley Gardens, so she came and visited with Miss Addie Saylor and asked questions. Barnsley Gardens was a showcase of the South, one of the most flamboyant estates in the area.”
Though Godfrey Barnsley has been compared to Rhett Butler, (Barnsley’s daughter) Julia’s husband—Captain Baltzelle– has also been mentioned in comparisons to Rhett Butler and Mitchell was known to have asked Addie Saylor about him.
There is a lot of lore surrounding Barnsley Gardens and it is worth it for Gone With the Wind fans–who also like beauty, hiking and exploring the ruins of an old estate– to see. The admission is just $10 or to find out about the rooms, suites and cottages go to their website, http://www.barnsleyresort.com.
“There were numerous legends of a mystical nature that had long-lived at Barnsley Gardens,” said Coker in the book. “Down through the years, more than one wayfarer has claimed to have encountered the Lord of Barnsley manor roaming the grounds.
Some of the locals still insist that on special evenings at about the hour of dusk, the beautiful Julia Barnsley visits her marble fountain in the boxwood parterre
Barnsley Gardens is not just a stop off the highway, is a real beauty –full of peace, nature, history, the possibility of ghosts–and a connection to Gone With the Wind. For those who decide to make the trip, be sure to allow some time to just enjoy the whole place. There is a golf course, horseback rides and hiking, but just going there to tour the ruins and the garden takes a while and should be given enough time to enjoy.
Sally Tippett Rains is the author of the award-winning The Making of a Masterpiece, The True Story of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. She will be the recipient of the Ella Dickey Literacy Award at the Missouri Cherry Blossom Festival in Marshfield, Mo. in conjunction with the book on April 23, 2015. She is currently the content manager for STLSportsPage.com a sports news website in St. Louis, Mo.