The Dean Years
Early in 1926, Walter Thompson and his second wife had mortgaged the old Coxe-Topp estate, and on 17 June 1929, the Bank of Holly Springs called in the loan of $4,000 and sold the property, in a private sale for $5,526.26 to one of its directors, Charles N. Dean (DB 77:176-77). The Dean family would own the estate for the next sixty-seven years.
Charles Nunnally Dean (1873-1935) was born in the house on Chulahoma Avenue now known as Cuffawa, built by Charles Niles in 1838 and purchased by the Dean family in 1871. He was the son of Joseph Edmondson Dean, who grew up on the Dean plantation on Cuffawa Creek near Chulahoma, and his second wife Frances Virginia Nunnally. The Nunnally plantation was on Pigeon Roost Creek six miles west of Holly Springs. Both sets of grandparents were early settlers of Marshall County.
Charlie Dean (as he was known) was a jovial, popular
man. He married, first, a contemporary, Jane Rutherford Craft,
daughter of Addison Craft, whose 1871 house stands at the southeast corner
of Craft Street and Elder. She died childless in 1910. During
his subsequent long bachelorhood, he courted a number of local belles,
built a cabin and observation tower on Rocky Mountain just west of town,
grew increasingly prosperous, and was elected mayor of Holly Springs
in 1921, a position that he held for fourteen years. In 1926, he
married a woman twenty years his junior, Jean Howell Burns (1893-1980),
and in 1927 they had a son, his namesake and heir.
Decades later, Ripley"s Believe It or
Not noted that she and the same three friends had played
bridge several nights a week for fifty years. Completing the
foursome were Annie Martin Greene Tyson (Jean's best friend and school
mate at Randolph-Macon), Lucy Roane (Pat) Evans Hopson, and Lucy Hill
Daniel ( who lived in the Hugh Craft House). Many nights the
air would be blue in the card room at the end of the long hall. The
first three were heavy smokers with wonderful smokey voices. All
were wonderful story tellers, and Lucy Hill was one of the town's great
eccentrics. Once when she and I were dessert guests at Thanksgiving
(meals were served for the first time since 1929 at Airliewood when
in the early 1960's Jean's sister, Mary Sue Burns, an excellent cook,
moved into the house), after we had been offered numerous choices--
ambrosia, mince pie, cake, so forth, she looked over the table, "No,
no, no, no. Don't see anything that appeals to me."
The house was filled with pianos, and she could frequently
be found playing. Once a Fant daughter from down the street paid
an impromtu call with her twin daughters. Jean, at the piano in
the card room, looked up and upon seeing the little girls, broke into "Dixie." Her
artistic touch was strong throughout the house. Roaming the grounds,
she would come with small branches, vines, and perhaps just a single
flower, put them in a vase and achieve delightful effects.
After two years at Southwestern (now Rhodes College), Charles transferred to Ole Miss. where he received his undergraduate degree and his law degree. Afterward he went to Harvard Law School, but never finished that degree because he was involved in an automobile crash that injured him and killed friends in the car. After recovery, he entered the Judge Advocate corps of the U. S. Army. Stationed at Fort McPherson, he held the rank of captain.
In 1955, he returned home from his tour of duty and began to farm the family land. A great reader, devotee of Shelley, raconteur extrordinaire, late-blooming ladies man, and bon vivant-- he was a presence sought and welcomed everywhere. He was a great wit. "If Jesus came to the courthouse," he once said, "Only about two people in Holly Springs would bother to go, and one of them would say, " Oh, didn't he look bad!"" He also had an acute sense of the ridiculous. When an extremely pretentious restaurant opened in Oxford, he took a local group down one evening. The grand wine steward ceremoniously poured the chosen wine in Charles glass and placed the cork next to it. Charles inspected the cork and sipped from his glass. "Splendid, my good man," he intoned. He then ceremoniously lifted the cork, and with great aplomb inserted the cork in his navel.
Charles Dean sought out old residents and learned from them all he could about our region's past becoming soon the resident county historian. Upon his return from the army, he began accumulating historic properties to save them from destruction, owning fourteen at his death. Airliewood itself became a treasure trove of Marshall County's historic past.
In his early twenties, he purchased in New Orleans beautiful chandeliers for the double parlors, and he continued adding fine furniture to the Dean collection of family pieces and other Marshall County antiques that included an early Steinway piano. In the late 1950s, he was contacted by Gilcher Holiday of Louiville, nephew of a Topp widow and heir to the furniture the Topps had taken from the house seventy years before. Charles Dean went immediately to Louisville and returned with the painting of house and grounds that had originally hung in the hall, an oval mirror, a wig dresser, slipper sofa, wardrobe, and a gothic secretary. (I seem to remember that he also brought back a bed.)
This significant restoration of original furnishings was made at the same time that he had also undertaken a major rehabilitation of the mansion. This work continued for over year. Attentive to detail, he had missing plaster work and interior and exterior woodwork replaced, and he hired local architect Hugh H. Rather to design stuccoed gothic porches and porte cochere to replace the wooden versions designed by W. W. Anderson for the Elliott family. As a final touch, Charles Dean returned the outside walls to the salmon color shown in the painting he had brought back to the house. A resplendent Airliewood was featured on the 1961 pilgrimage.
In 1973, the apparently confirmed
bachelor Charles Dean married Phoebe Moss, great-granddaughter of Col.
Harvey Walter, builder of Walter Place; granddaughter of Irene Walter
and Oscar Johnson, one of the founders of International Shoe Company
of St. Louis; and daughter of Fredonia Johnson Moss, Vassar graduate
living in Berkeley, California, who returned to her family's roots
in Holly Springs in the late 1960s. Charles Dean and Phoebe Moss
had two sons, Charles Nunnally III and Malcolm Robertson. In
1983, Charles Dean, at fifty-five, died an early death.
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