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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.

The Deans brought new life to the old Coxe estate.  They began a tradition of illuminating one of the holly trees on the front lawn during Christmas week for the town and their little son to enjoy. When the boy was a bit older, he and his friends played all over the lawns and thickets of the estate, and they especially relished playing in an old family surrey.  The house was again the scene of various entertainments some because of  Mr. Dean's position as mayor and others because he served as president of the United States Field Trial Club. One memorable occasion the house witnessed was the mayor's being called upon to marry a couple in riding clothes, here for the bird dog field trials.
This happy period was cut short by Mayor Dean's fatal heart attack in the house in March of 1935.  From the depths of the Great Depression, mother and small son would face the future alone.  Like many another Holly Springs widow, Jean Burns Dean began to rent out rooms, primarily to teachers. Another measure was to offer piano lessons to local children.  There were still extensive land holdings, along with other of the Mayor's investments, but everyone had to count pennies now.

Jean Howell Burns Dean was a person of great talent, charm, and wit.  Her father was James Howell Burns of Petersburg, Virginia, whose family came to Marshall in the 1880s and purchased the Holland plantation on the Coldwater River, which they named Airliewood Farms.   A pharmacist employed in L. A. Rather s drug store, James Burns married a county neighbor, Sue Ingram, the orphaned daughter of Jeremiah Brown Ingram and Caroline McPherson, who had grown up at Sunnyside between Holly Springs and Hudsonville, the plantation of her McPherson grandparents and her great uncle William Wall, purchased originally by their uncle Thomas Hill Williams, one of Mississippi's first two United States senators.

Jean Burns was a  gifted musician, who had received her training at Randolph-Macon Junior College in Danville, Virginia (now Stratford College), then headed by her aunt Miss Christine Burns.  My father used to recall that in her day Jean was the sportiest dresser in Holly Springs.  A person of great warmth, she was a free spirit.  TVA came to our area, and she had electric heat installed. Even the great hall was amazingly warm.  But when the first bill arrived, it was for a staggering one hundred dollars. She wrote the check with a flourish and noted at the bottom,  "For being a damn fool."   She then got rid of the electric heaters, went out and bought a coal oil stove, and installed it in the front hall.

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."

Jean was my public school music teacher when I was in the lower grades.  I was in no way musical, but I became devoted to her.  After she quit teaching, Gus Smith and I would sometimes disappear from physical education class and slip over to visit.  Though it was mid-day she would just have gotten up and would be sitting in her robe in the card room having breakfast. When I got old enough to ride around town at night endlessly with high school friends, I took pleasure to seeing her car coming out of her front gates near midnight, either taking the bridge group home or just bound to mail a letter.  Other people her age had been in bed for hours.  Greeting me one day outside the post office, she said  "Well, I guess you wonder why I'm carrying this big old straw purse."  I had not, though one of the straw handles was broken and dangling down.   "It s because I'm not wearing a slip,"  she said.

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.

Her son Charles Nunnally Dean (1927-1983) was one of the exceptional people of Marshall County,  uniting the conviviality and charm of his parents with an intelligence and magnetism all his own. His qualities manifested themselves early.  When the Centennial Booklet appeared in 1936, the editor announced that the first copy would go to nine-year-old Charles. In 1938, he and his mother named the Coxe estate Airliewood,  for the Burns plantation. There has been no one who loved town and county more, and for whom place was more central to identity. Interested in and responsive to everyone, he was, as a friend commented,  "All things to all men,"  and his circle was almost unlimited.

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.

In the last months of his life, renovations were underway at Airliewood.   A back storage room was made into a real kitchen (Jean Dean had been quite content with a small corridor kitchen in the old Coxe bulter s pantry since she never cooked, and Mary Sue Burns was not one to complain).  Phoebe Moss Dean continued the renovations, added a swimming pool in the shape of a gothic arch, redecorated  Airliewood,  and opened it once again for the 1984 Holly Springs Pilgrimage.  Within a few years, she married Dr. Daniel Copeland of Memphis and moved there, but spent many week ends in Holly Springs. Finally in the mid-1990s,  she and her sons decided to sell the property. On Nov. 26, 1996,  Airliewood  passed out of the Dean family but in memory it retains the glow of their charm.



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