Here in historical Montgomery, all 7th graders are required to research and write a project about all the historical buildings and areas in Montgomery. Below is an example of one young ladies enterprising paper. She spent many hours on this, and we think it’s really creative!
The Introduction Letter
One day in December Noelle and I went to the Christmas Parade and Cookie Walk in downtown Montgomery. We were walking around, and getting kinda hungry when we saw a new sign on the side of the road that said “Hodge Podge Lodge” and “Opening Day Tours w/ Cookies and Hot Chocolate!”. SCORE! We weren’t all that excited about a tour of an old house, but cookies and hot chocolate sure did sound good! We walked up to the door and rang the bell. A lady told us to come on in, and she would show us around. We were kinda mad because we thought we would just grab a cookie and head on back out the door. No such luck.
Miss Nicola was actually very nice, and as she started to show us around and tell us a little about each room, we actually started to get kinda interested. The house was really pretty although some of the rooms had a funny smell – kinda like going to Grandma’s house. At the end of the tour, we sat at a table outside on the patio and we finally got our cookies and hot chocolate. Miss Nicola said for us to wait just a minute that she wanted to show us something. She went over the old Carriage House and came back with an old box. Inside was a bunch of old yellow letters and pictures tied together with ribbon. She told us that when her husband John was fixing the floors in one of the old bedrooms, he found the box hidden underneath a board. She said the letters and pictures were very old and were written by a young girl named Amanda about herself and her cousin Missy while they were in Montgomery in the 1800’s. They were addressed to her Mama back in Oklahoma.
She then told us that she and her husband Mr John weren’t from Montgomery and didn’t know much about the town. They were wondering about the houses and buildings in the pictures, and whether any of them were still standing. She then told us that the letters were sent very regularly until one day they just stopped.
We asked if we could read them, and she said yes, but she had to get back to her tours, but we could stay out on the patio if we liked.
The letters were really fun to read, and by the time we finished, a whole hour had gone by! Then we looked at the pictures, and were pretty sure that we recognized a few of the houses. But most of all, we really wanted to know what happened to Amanda and Missy.
Miss Nicola came back out and we asked her if we could borrow her letters and that we would try and find more information about the houses and stories that were in the pictures and let her know what we found out. Most of all, we wanted to find out what happened to Amanda and Missy. She said we could!
And that is how we started our journey to find the history of Montgomery, and hopefully solve the mystery of Amanda and Missy. But we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into…………
The Hidden and Found Letters…
August 21, 1859
There are things going on around here that Missy and I don’t understand too much about. Since the last letter I wrote to you, it seems that there are some really big things going on here. It seems that there are those up North that think that we shouldn’t have slaves here in the South. I have heard Uncle James and many others around town saying that those of us in the South need their slaves to run their plantations, and that they will fight the North if it comes to that.
Mama, Missy and I are scared. Yesterday, Uncle James went to the Courthouse in the town square where many of the men and their sons from around Montgomery were gathered. There was lots of talking, some arguing, but mostly a lot of worried looks. What is going on?
Mama, there are a bunch of men in strange gray uniforms that rode into town yesterday. A few of them are staying at our Hotel. I heard Uncle James call one of them Major Hood. Today, many of these same men went over to the Willis’ house on the east side of town. James snuck over and hid behind the honeysuckle arbor to see if he could find out what is going on and we are waiting for him to get back.
This Mr Willis is the brother of Mr Peter Willis, and they run the Willis Mercantile together. Missy and I have been to the Willis house many times with Magnolia when we came over to play with her cousins Lily and Michael. Mr Richard Willis is Magnolia’s uncle, and he built a house as grand as Magnolia’s. The yard is full of the most beautiful old oak trees that are just perfect for climbing and swinging. They have a big carriage house out back and the gardener’s shed is just perfect for playing school. Missy and I sometimes sit outside the shed and pretend that we are teachers planning a day’s lesson.
Mama, James just got back, and told me and Missy that we are going to war! Those states in the South are the Confederates and the states from the North are the Union. The main reason they are fighting is about whether or not it is right to have slaves. The North wants slavery abolished and the South still doesn’t. Mama, I think that there are lots of men and boys from our town that are heading off to fight! James said there are two different men in uniform signing up our men. One is for Hood’s Brigade, and the other is called Terry’s Texas Rangers. James said that they have a few days to say goodbye to their families, and then they are leaving! I hope Uncle James doesn’t have to go fight. Mama, Missy and I are really scared.
Mama, please come get us soon!
I miss you Mama.
Pretty clever huh???
The Report on Hodge Podge Lodge aka “Melrose House”
Melrose House was built in 1854 for Richard Willis – brother of Peter Willis, who built Magnolia House.
It was built by craftsman J.E. Shelton featuring hand-planed siding, pegged and morticed framework. It was restored in 1965 by Mr. and Mrs. R. Waldrop, and renamed Cathalorri for their two granddaughters. Later, the home was occupied by respected Montgomery physician, Dr John Lewis Irion, and was then known as “The Irion Place”.
It received its historical marker in 1966. Magnolia and Melrose were built in the 1850’s, and are examples of fine estates that were afforded by the wealthy. However, the Civil War and all that happened after that brought big changes to the town of Montgomery, and no class of people was left unaffected.
It isn’t a surprise that with the number of plantations in Texas, and the large amount of plantation owners that owned slaves, that Texas was in favor of secession from the Union. Large numbers of men from the county volunteered for the Confederate army. Meetings and recruiting efforts took place on the grounds of the Melrose House. Many of the local men came and met with the Confederate army leaders, and a very large number of them were recruited and joined the Fourth Texas Regiment of Hood’s Texas Brigade. Others joined Terry’s Texas Rangers, which were part of the Eighth Texas Cavalry. It was estimated of the county’s two different companies that served in Hood’s Brigade, all but 9 were killed in the war.
Those that were too young, too old, or disabled to go to war formed the Montgomery County Home Guard, and together with the women of the town, sewed uniforms for the soldiers, sent food, and donated their plantation slaves and wagons for delivering the supplies to the men that were fighting. Some of the men were allowed to stay home to ensure that their plantations were kept productive and animals cared for so that crops, food items, and manufactured goods that came from their area would continue to be produced for consumption by the war effort.
Local families made big sacrifices by using all available supplies to send to their husbands, sons and friends representing Montgomery that were fighting the Civil War. People didn’t have any new clothes during that time, and ate very little. There are many letters in different museums from local troops of Montgomery, describing the events of the battles they fought in, conditions, and updates of who was killed and wounded. By the end of the war, around1865 – after 4 years of the Civil War, there wasn’t even enough supplies to keep the local stores open, and many closed down.
With President Abraham’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, that made all the slaves free, there was no one to work in the fields to support the farming that was so vital to Montgomery. The entire State was in debt, and with the huge effect on farming, and little merchandise and supplies to keep businesses running, the town of Montgomery, as well as most others that fought in the Confederacy, experienced a significant economic depression.
The economy didn’t begin to recover until the late 1870’s and early 1880’s with the coming of the Railroads.
Melrose is now called Hodge Podge Lodge, and has been beautifully preserved and updated by caretakers Nicola Weems, and her husband John Baxendale. Their plan for the historic home is for it to become a historic venue for others to “gather, create, and stay”, while maintaining the property’s nostalgic look, and old-time character and charm. They are currently hosting vintage weddings, wedding rehearsals, birthday and anniversary parties, club luncheons, and several different kinds of creative crafting and cooking themed retreats.
Nicola and John are very friendly and welcoming, and have done such a beautiful job of restoring and maintaining the integrity and charm of this beautiful home, its grounds, and other original buildings on the property for all to enjoy. Their guests have the use of all rooms and spaces of the home: from the parlor, library, and kitchen/dining rooms, to the dressing room, sunlight-filtered glass sunroom, and beautifully decorated bedrooms – all featuring vintage furniture, period paintings and decorations, and even a big clawfoot tub in the main bathroom.
Their imagination and attention to detail continues outside. When you stroll around the beautifully landscaped grounds, you will notice a thoughtful mixture of both restored and new features. One example is a simple patio they constructed using only original bricks that they found scattered throughout the property, making sure that the different names stamped into each brick are visible for you to see. A new feature in the backyard is a very large round brick courtyard that is surrounded with majestic old trees that have hanging from their branches, white lanterns and antique bird cages filled with soft white lights. There is even a very unusual small tree in an earthen pot on the back patio, that has strands of white lights woven throughout its thin twisted branches.
Nicola told us that even though it was dead, she loved its unusual look, so she rescued it out of the trash pile, decorated it with lights, and named it the Hodge Podge Tree. The feel of the backyard area of the house can only be described as “magical”. It is easy to see that the possibilities for hosting your brand of special event are endless. Nicola and John are available anytime to help you plan and host just about any kind of indoor or outdoor event that your imagination can dream up.
Hodge Podge Lodge is indeed appropriately named!
AWWW! Thanks guys!