Hunt House’s last chapter may yet to be told in Jones County

lfabian@macon.comJuly 4, 2013 

Elmcroft, the Hunt home in Jones County, is seen in 1914.

Tall trees now obscure a wooden house entrenched in Georgia history.

The pristinely primitive antebellum dwelling never has seen a spark of electricity or a splash from an indoor spigot.

But it has volumes of history to tell.

A year shy of a century ago, readers of the Macon Daily Telegraph learned about a grand Fourth of July barbecue on the sprawling lawn near Round Oak in Jones County.

The July 5, 1914, edition of the paper noted the festivities at the home Mr. and Mrs. Jesse M. Hunt, not far from Wayside.

Hunt’s stepson, W.C. Gibson, hosted his fellow soldiers from the Macon Volunteers, a military company protecting the city of Macon.

They gathered under the great oaks at Elmcroft, the name of the 2 1/2-story house on the family’s sprawling peach farm.

Under the shade of a large tent adorned with American flags flapping in the summer breeze, guests feasted on the season’s bounty.

Days later, the Jones County News provided even more detail in the July 9 edition.

Rustic chairs, swings, rockers and sofa cushions were scattered on the lawn for rest and comfort.

The festivities had the unnamed reporter gushing and “indebted to these clever people for one of the most delightful days he ever spent.”

The soldiers even took on the Wayside baseball team in a game nearby.

The Hunts were no strangers to hospitality. Civil War wounded on enemy territory had experienced a similar a dose of their Southern comfort nearly 50 years before. They were gently nursed back to health or shown kindness in their final days of suffering.

That the house still stands today is a testament to Jesse Hunt’s first wife, Mary Elizabeth, who cared for scores of men wearing blood-stained uniforms of the Union army. Her house is about a mile and a half from the scene of the Battle of Sunshine Church.

Gen. George Stoneman, leading 3,000 men of the Ohio Cavalry, was headed south in hopes of taking Macon and freeing 30,000 of his comrades from the prison camp at Andersonville.

With 1,300 Confederate forces of Gen. Alfred Iverson waiting in a “V” formation, Stoneman’s men took fire from every side.

The general from the North fought on with 600 men, which allowed his other troops to escape before Stoneman raised the white flag of surrender.

In the days and weeks that followed, Mrs. Hunt rose early each morning to prepare delicacies for those who were too sick or wounded to travel to prison. Her sister’s home was only a half-mile from the battlefield.

Hunt’s brother-in-law Frank Haskell gave over his entire bullet-ridden home as an overflow hospital for the wounded who found no room in the crowded quarters of Sunshine Church.

Hunt descendants kept a yellowed letter written by those Union soldiers appealing to Gen. William T. Sherman to protect the Hunts and their property, due to the kindness of Mary Elizabeth.

“Though she may have suffered from us, she has forgotten everything in the natural feelings of a noble and generous disposition, considering only how she could relieve our wants and alleviate our suffering,” the soldiers wrote.

Her soothing words of comfort were etched in their memory.

“May our Father in Heaven who sees all things and knows the innermost secrets of our hearts, reward her bountifully,” they wrote.

When Sherman’s troops came through months later, she was not at home to pass on the letter.

Soldiers destroyed everything -- but the house.

A quarter of a century later, another letter arrived at the Hunts’ house.

The writer, B.F. Morris of Shenandoah, Ohio, was the first of the Union soldiers wounded at Sunshine Church.

Morris wanted to know the state of the property, and Jesse Hunt sent word back of the destruction.

“Everything was destroyed except the dwelling -- stock of all kinds, everything in the house and 40 bales of cotton burned, even our furniture was destroyed,” Hunt explained.

The men continued to correspond, which led to Morris’ returning to Georgia to spend two weeks visiting the Hunts and the Haskells.

Morris invited the Hunts to the federal reunion of Sherman’s Brigade in 1890.

Although Mary Elizabeth stayed home, Jesse Hunt was the guest of honor at the banquet.

At the dinner, Hunt closely examined a silver fork at the table.

“I was just seeing if this was my wife’s silver the Yankees carried off,” he said in a speech that cheered the 1,000 in attendance.

The relationships forged with former enemies led to several Northerners moving south to Jones County.

One veteran of Sunshine Church helped carry Mary Elizabeth to her grave.

Another Ohioan, John T. Creigh, fell in love with the Hunts’ daughter Hattie. They married and are buried in the Hunt plot at Round Oak.

The family sold Elmcroft during the Depression, and no one has lived in the house for decades, said Hank Hunt, Jesse Hunt’s great-grandson, who lives in Clinton.

He and his wife, Angie, and others have been leading the charge to save the house.

The current owner no longer wishes to keep it on the property, and they couldn’t afford to have it moved, Hank Hunt said.

“Everybody who goes out there is touched by it,” he said. “Not just my family. It’s everybody.”

Seeking preservation

The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but there is no organized entity to fight for its survival.

The house -- not far from Otis Redding’s Big O Ranch -- has been nominated for the Georgia Trust for Historic Places annual Places in Peril list.

“In my mind’s eye and in my heart, places like that belong to everybody,” Hunt said. “It’s magic. When you walk in, the history is there you can touch.”

When preservationist Aubrey Newby learned the fate of the old house was in jeopardy, he got permission from the owner to photograph it.

“I walked in and it just spoke to me,” said Newby.

It dates to 1810 when the Cabiness family built part of the house. The rest was the Hunt family dwelling built in 1830.

After the Hunts bought the property, they joined the two parts in 1850.

In the ’70s, the Wieter family bought the house and shored up its three chimneys and underpinnings.

“The Wieters are the reason the house is still there,” Newby said.

Recent efforts to publicize the plight of this piece of history include a "Save the Hunt House" page on Facebook.

Newby said he was told a potential buyer is willing to move it, although details were not disclosed, he said.

“I felt like we needed to focus as much attention on the house as possible to help secure a buyer for the house, and hopefully that’s happened.”

Information from The Telegraph archives was used in this report. To contact Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.

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