Tuesday, February 5, 2019
Dinner at George's Place
Monday may be the day everyone groans about at work, but my work this past Monday gave me great pleasure. It started out with a happy family reunion between two cousins, and culminated in a wonderful dinner with new friends in the house built by my third great-grandfather, George McClellan.
I can now, in addition to all that, say that I have been to the home of my Florida roots, thanks to the wonderful couple who has, over the past thirty six years, lovingly restored the old McClellan home in Wellborn, Florida. While they are not family per se, they have opened wide the doors to their home—the home which once was the residence of my own family.
Granted, that home was built well over one hundred years ago, and likely was not lived in for long by my third great-grandfather. With George dying in 1866, widowing his second wife of only five years, she had decided, at one point, to move the place from its location outside Wellborn right into the midst of the town. That feat required the house to be placed on logs and rolled for miles, pulled by the stubborn willpower of mules.
Such details certainly didn't please any of George's children from his first wife, the late Sidney Tison McClellan, whose demise in 1860 was followed almost immediately by George's marriage to Celestia Relief Holman. Perhaps you remember my mentioning the contention over George's will in some posts a while back. Add this to the reasons why his descendants are still complaining about that woman, even today.
Despite the house's history, my introduction to the misplaced residence turned into a lovely evening. The couple who have devoted their retirement years to the restoration of this two story farmhouse were kind to show us the many loving details for which they invested so much of their time and attention. Any details of the house—fireplace mantels, for instance—which could be restored to their former glory were painstakingly brought back to life, sometimes with small revisions to make the conversion work in modern times.
In the good old southern style, we couldn't just gawk, eat, and run, of course. The evening became a wonderful time to hear all the stories about the property and the people who once lived here—or thought they had a claim to the place. We had a chance to look over old history books about Suwannee County, as well as view the title history drawn up for the proud owners, an inch-thick folder tracing the property's history back to the original grantee, Louis Wellborn Dubois, the civil engineer who obtained the property from a sale of public lands of the State of Florida. It was he who originally drew up the plat maps for the town which eventually bore his name (well, at least his middle name).
The day had started out with a grand tour of Wellborn—a task which took all of five minutes, it seemed—as my cousin explained all she had discovered about the town and its interrelated residents while we drove. We lingered at the McClellan cemetery, once part of the family's farm, but now deeded to the town. We walked amidst the graves of names now familiar to me after years of chasing their history on paper. Now I could see for myself what life was like in the town they once called home.
Researching by walking around—and talking...and talking...and talking—is a very different type of research journey than the usual paper chase at the archives. It's a time to let things unfold as people tell story after story. It's an experience in which you feel the history as much as you hear it, and though reading it may come into the picture, it isn't the featured event of the day. This is a town, as my hosts put it last night, where there are insiders, and then there are outsiders; though our hosts had spent the last thirty six years pouring their life efforts into restoring just one piece of Wellborn history, they just as likely could still be considered outsiders.
Today, we get to continue the conversation with some of the "insiders." This time, we'll meet a distant McClellan cousin who has been able to call Wellborn his home. Though we meet as strangers, hopefully we'll leave with a fuller sense of what it meant to be a McClellan growing up in—and still staying in—Wellborn.