The Story of Hopkins House

Hopkins House

Written by Chuck Kinnison

Hopkins House is so named for Miss Mary Hopkins, who occupied the home longer than any other resident. She was unmarried, and lived in the home until her death in 1975 at age 84. The story of Hopkins House, however, begins many years earlier.

In 1848, Elias Edward George of Perry County, Alabama sold his cotton plantation and moved to Union Parish, Louisiana where there was bountiful water, and soil conducive to large-scale cotton planting. He had visited the area 4 years prior, and begun acquiring land. By 1848, he had purchased 4,000 acres of virgin timberland to be cleared and converted to a cotton plantation. In a wagon train of over 50 conveyances, he immigrated to Louisiana with his wife Ann, their 9 children, 54 slaves, hundreds of head of Durham cattle, sheep, horses, and other livestock, and all their personal belongings.

At this time, northern Louisiana was largely unsettled and was wild and untamed. Life here was not easy in the mid 1800’s. There were few roads, few towns of substantial size, and few schools. Shortly after installing the family on the farm which was approximately 3 miles north of Marion, 2 of the George sons, Frank (17 years of age) and Jeffy (8 years of age) were returning from school on horseback, when the saddle girth broke and the two were thrown from the horse. The younger son Jeffy was dashed against a tree and suffered severe head trauma. He died a few hours later. Frank had also suffered injury, but survived. This was a tremendous heartbreak for the family, and particularly my ggg-Grandmother Ann. She was already homesick for Alabama and her beautiful plantation home in Perry County. She had left behind a sister with whom she was very close and now, Ann was completely devastated by the tragic loss of her young son. This was almost too much to take for her and my grandfather. By 1850, with a house full of children to educate and to help my ggg-grandmother make the transition a little smoother, he decided to build a town house in Marion as a present for her. He purchased 25 acres in town for this purpose. Grandpa George had commissioned a prize artisan slave named John Thomas to construct the home, and the design selected is known as a Carolina-I house, of which fewer than 10 are known to remain in Louisiana today. The architecture style was popular among the planter and upper-middle classes as they migrated westward from the Carolinas and Virginia across the Gulf South.

As the construction of the new town house was just getting underway, tragedy struck again. A Yellow Fever epidemic swept through the slave population. Grandmother George was attending to her sick servants, one of whom was the family’s beloved cook named Julia, and Ann George had been one final time to see her. Ann prayed with Julia and comforted her as best she could. Upon time for Ann’s departure, Julia put her arms around Ann’s neck and said, “Miss Ann, meet me in Heaven.” And she died. The next day, Ann was not feeling well, but did not go to bed. That night, she had a congestive chill and at 4 in the morning, October 17, 1850, Ann met her beloved servant Julia in Heaven. Elias was beside himself with the grief, and immediately ceased the construction of what would become Hopkins House. For several months, friends and family watched as Elias slipped deeper into depression, and some thought Elias might lose his mind. Work on the farm was a welcome diversion for him. His trusted overseer, whom he had brought with him from Alabama had also died from the Yellow Fever epidemic, and a new Overseer, with little experience supervising the field hands was in need of training. This kept Elias George busy until the spring of 1851, at which time, the need to finish the house and move his children closer to school once again took priority.

The house was finished in early 1852. In “The Memoirs of Louise George Tompkins,” Elias’ daughter Louise details the new house: “The new home in Marion, with all the outhouses for the servants, was at last ready for occupancy. The house was commodious with parlor, dining room, six bedrooms, each with a fireplace, and every convenience known at that time. Father had a large hall built over the kitchen and a spacious storeroom. Steps to this hall were built from the outside to a porch above and the hall was furnished with chairs, tables, and beds, and many extra mattresses which were stored away for use during the occasions of summer church revivals, school concerts and exhibitions, and examinations, when people came from far and near. At this time, there was not only a large family of our own, but father, having a cordial, hospitable nature would never turn anyone away even if he’d been consulted, and the public seemed to think “Parson George” has established a wayside inn with a ” Welcome to All! without money and without price” , because he had a big house and plenty of servants.”

“Our home was located in a beautiful, level grove of oaks and pines. There were 25 acres. Five-hundred yards in front of us, with no buildings to obstruct, was the school. To the rear of our dwelling, the land sloped down to a bold spring and a running brook which was about four-hundred yards away. Outward surroundings rapidly improved; the grounds were laid out in oval, diamond, and star-shaped beds and there were various kinds of mounds and frames for vines. Cape jasmine hedges sent their fragrance all over the village which was steadily assuming the proportions of a town with two churches, and several stores. One church, the Baptist, of which father was the pastor, was built on his land at the end of the garden. A gate near the side entrance of the house opened into a beautiful grove of oak trees in the midst of which was the church with its white copula and bell extending a welcome to all. A large orchard of peaches, apples, plums, figs, and pears had been planted in the back of the servants’ houses; and to the right of the orchard was the horse-lot, corn-crib, and stalls. In front of these were the carriage and buggy houses, in which were kept the saddles for men and women.

Our home was full of merriment and joy with young people often meeting for a social evening. My sisters and step-brothers, with piano, violin, and flute, added by other members of the family, never lacked for entertainment.

It was necessary to keep quite a coterie of servants. Their individual duties were as follows: two cooks, Ann and Emoline; dining room maid and helper, Easter and Rose; seamstress, Harriet; Laundress, Louisa. Mother’s maid, Leta, a girl of 15; Linn, Bud’ s (Elias, Jr.), and my maid, Rose; gardener, Carter; and two 15-year-old boys, Sam and Lex to keep fires, attend horses, and do other chores.”

The front walk to the Hopkins House is lined with fragrant 160-year old cedars. Originally, there were 4, unfortunately 2 of the huge cedars were lost to lightning strikes in the late 1980’s. The wide pathway itself is paved in a chevron pattern with old red bricks, handmade by the George slaves, on the property itself. The old picket fence surrounds the front yard, which is accented by huge crepe myrtles, and camellias. Hopkins House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Originally, there were 6 fireplaces, but only 2 remain, and they are sealed and unusable. They were constructed of handmade bricks, a few of which retain finger and hand prints, most of which appear to be from children. My Aunt, and Grandpa Elias’s daughter, Louise George describes the early kitchen in her memoirs as a separate two-story structure with a storage hall and upstairs porch. As was customary in the mid 1800’s, kitchens were detached away from the main house due to fire hazard. This original structure was torn down around the turn of the 20th century when the present kitchen and dining wing was added. The original floor plan was altered at the rear to accommodate these modernizations. Also at this time the connecting chamber was converted into a bath and closet.

Hopkins House has changed hands 3 times in its history. The first time was in 1866 when Reverend Elias George sold the home to Louis Powell and Ella Hargis Powell. Ella Hargis Powell was Elias George’s granddaughter. The Powells lived in the home 18 years, and sold the property to J.W. Frellsen in 1884. The Frellsen and Powell families were bonded by marriage and the house eventually was occupied by Miss Mary Hopkins, a great-niece of Louis Powell. She lived in the home until her death in 1975 at age 84. As she had no direct heirs, descendants of the Frellsen/Hopkins families, Miss Mary’s extended family assumed ownership of the home until 2013, when it was sold to Danny and Ann Smith.

Hopkins House has extraordinarily large thirteen foot wide entrance hall, which features an eight foot set of folding faux bois paneled doors with a continuous 8 ½ foot transom, flanked by 14 overlights and 10 sidelights, all of original glass. This treatment is duplicated in the rear end of the central hall which opens onto a now-enclosed central rear porch. A simple stairway of crude country design leads to the upstairs landing, central library and two large bedrooms. Of particular note is the relative shortness of the stairwell banister, which when built wasn’t really that short, as the average height of a male in 1850 was only 5 feet, 5 inches tall. Women were even shorter on average than that.

The nails in the heart pine floorboards throughout the house are all either square or wedge-shaped and were all made on the plantation. Old oak trunks or “steamer chests” had iron ribs to protect them during travel. The pictures are of Mr. Louis Powell and his son Louis, and daughter-in-law Ella Hargis Powell, granddaughter of Elias George. Above the mantle in the east upstairs bedroom is a picture of Miss Mary Hopkins.

Hopkins House and the War of Northern Aggression

When rumblings of an imminent civil war began to reach Union Parish, many planters felt as though the best way to maintain the value of their property and slaves was to pull up stakes and move further west into Texas. The Georges stayed. Like many in both the north and the south, Reverend Elias George believed the war, if it indeed came, would be short-lived. He was not an ardent secessionist and believed in the union of the United States. His father had served with General George Washington in the American Revolution, and Elias had grown up with the stories of the birth of the new nation. As he became a father, his own patriotism was reflected in his son’s names: Washington Lafayette George, Benjamin Franklin George, Thomas Jefferson George, and the youngest son, who would become my GG Grandfather took his father’s name, Elias Edward George, Jr.

Elias George Jr. was nicknamed “Bud” and was 17 years old when secession came and the first shots were fired on faraway Fort Sumter, in Charleston harbor, South Carolina. Older Brother Frank, and many Union Parish friends rushed to defend the homeland from the northern invaders. Bud was determined to go also; afraid the war would be over before he had a chance to fight. He attempted to join the Confederate Army twice in 1861. However, he refused to lie about his age and at 17, he was ineligible to serve, and sent back home. He waited anxiously for his 18th birthday in February of 1862, and by March he was ready to depart for camp as part of Company I of the 31st Louisiana Infantry.

Oral history passed down through our family tells the story of Bud’s departure day for the war. He had grown up with a slave boy named Say-Money, and the two were the best of friends. When Bud decided to join the Confederate army, Say-Money was to accompany him as his manservant. On the front steps of Hopkins House, young 18-year-old Elias Jr. “Bud” was bidding his father farewell. The story is told that Reverend Elias George, with tears in his eyes, placed his hand on the young servant man’s shoulder and pleaded with him saying, “Say-Money, take care of my boy and bring him back to me safely when this war is over.” Say-Money gave his master his word that he would. And the two went off to fight. Bud and Say-Money were together through camp and both survived the siege of Vicksburg. Hungry, tired, and spent, the two friends made it back to Hopkins House in August 1863. Elias Jr. would return to the war and serve in the 3rd Louisiana Cavalry until the surrender in 1865.

 

2 thoughts on “The Story of Hopkins House

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. This is very well written, I just wish you would have included sources. I really would love to know where you found the name of the former slave who is credited in your blog, for building Hopkins House? I do have a copy of a bill of sale for a male slave purchased by Elias George from John Ross for Peter for $2500 but have found nothing for a John as yet. I appreciate you for providing names of the former enslaved at all, because those are my family members that are hard to find beyond the 1870 census. I have read the Memoirs of Louisa George Tompkins and find it and invaluable resource. Again,

    Thanks, Victori Bass.

    Like

    • Hi Victori. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. I send a message to Mr. Kennison that he comment. I thought he would come in to answer you. However, he answered on FB. Here is his reply.

      I do not know where the expert carpenter John Thomas came from, but the story goes that he was the best of the best when it came to building. He belonged to my GGG-grandfather and it is said he was valued at $3000, a very highly valued male slave. I’ve seen an African American male of the same name listed as living in Ouachita City, Union Parish, La post-emancipation. Ouachita City is about 20 miles south of Marion. I’m not sure if it is the same man, however.

      Like

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