- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) - For Saraland veterinarian Ben George - a lifelong history buff with a special interest in, as he calls it, “The War Between the States” - owning Magee Farm, one of only three sites of major surrenders leading to the end of that war, was like a dream come true. Losing it has been devastating to him.

“It’s like I’ve lost both my parents,” he said.

Like many people who experience a death in the family, George said he is now “clinically depressed about the whole thing.”

Built in 1848, Magee Farm, located on U.S. 45 at Ala. 158 in Kushla, Ala., is marked by a large wooden sign calling it “The Last Appomattox.” In the home’s front parlor, Confederate Gen. Richard Taylor and Union Gen. E.R.S. Canby met on April 29, 1865, agreed to a cease-fire and negotiated a surrender of the 47,000 troops serving from Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, to end the Civil War, which occurred one week later.

Unlike the McLean House at Appomattox Court House, Va., which was looted and dismantled until a replica was built in the 1940, or Bennett Farm in Durham, N.C., which was struck by lightning and burned in 1921, and eventually was replaced with a similar cabin, Magee Farm is completely intact.

The home “is the only surviving structure from a Confederate surrender,” said George, noting that he and his wife once visited all three surrender sites in a 24-hour period.

Years ago, George met Margaret Sturtevant, whose family bought Magee Farm in 1898, when she brought her dogs to his veterinary practice. “She was a sweet Christian lady, and she knew I had a passion for history, especially that period,” he said. “I brought my young children by and told them of the significance” of the house.

After she died, George spoke to her nephew about the possibility of buying Magee Farm and all its furnishings. “His wife and Miss Sturtevant’s sister prevailed on him that it was what she would have wanted,” he said - and so her nephew agreed to sell it.

Paul Bryant Jr., who at the time was president of the Civil War Preservation Trust, “donated $300,000 to the trust to buy the farm with,” George said, and a year later he took it over as a nonprofit, opening the house as a museum in 2007. “We had no one on the payroll,” he said. “It took $60,000 a year to run it. At the same time, Chickasabogue Park had nine employees, with a budget of $750,000 to $950,000 a year.”

Groups of school children visited Magee Farm on field trips, George said, and curator Ken McGhee, a well-known re-enactor, gave tours. But operating the house as a history museum didn’t generate enough money to pay the operating expenses. Mobile County contributed $5,000 “a couple of years,” and $20,000 another time, he said, but then stopped.

“We tried to get the city and county to understand the significance and help preserve it,” he said. “And we told the truth about history. General Canby was the only one who kept his word” (by not allowing Union troops to vandalize the property).

George believes Mobile is biased against Confederate history, unlike other cities such as Natchez, Miss., Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga. “We do very little to preserve our history here,” he said. “The idea is that this is a piece of history we want to forget about.”

In 2010, Magee Farm was named a “Place in Peril” - one of Alabama’s most endangered places - by the Alabama Historical Commission and the Alabama Trust for Historic Preservation, which noted that the property is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is “the only surrender site that retains its original building, in unreconstructed form with many of the original furnishings intact.”

When the museum closed, the house was put on the market for sale, much to the chagrin of the historical commission: “Magee Farm illustrates the difficulties faced by many historic house museums in the wake of the economic downturn. It also represents a failure of community leadership to recognize and respond to the rare opportunity to keep this nationally significant piece of Alabama history in the public realm.”

That same year, “The charity closed for lack of funding,” said George, who was left saddled with paying $36,000 a year out of pocket to pay the mortgage and maintenance on the home, he said.

George agrees that city and county leaders have failed. “Every person in elected office is responsible,” he said. “I’m disappointed that the city and county did not step forward to help preserve it.” Magee Farm “is something Mobile should be proud of, instead of having to be a detective to find it.”

He listed the house with a local real estate company for about two years, without any luck. Now he has taken it off the market, he said, and is currently renting it.

“I’ve had multiple offers for buying the furniture, and I just gave up,” he said. He contacted Bill Appling of Antiques and Estates in downtown Mobile about doing an estate sale.

“It’s a sad story,” George said. “I wanted whoever got the furniture to at least know where it came from.”

Appling, who said he feels “very honored to have been chosen for such an important historical residence,” called Magee Farm “the Oakleigh of north Mobile County.” ”It deserves the attention so many houses in town get,” he said.

“It’s an incredible burden that he’s carried all this time, to get people to recognize the home’s historical significance,” Appling said of George. “He has put everything into it.”

George said he moved to the Mobile area from Birmingham in 1969 and considers Mobile to be his home. “I hope our city starts to look at the treasures all around us,” he said. “We spend so much money on stupid things like the Maritime Museum, when we could have taken that money and preserved history.”

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide