The Mason Family Fortune
James S. Mason was born to James Mason and Alice Heywood in Lancashire, England, in 1811. He came to Philadelphia with his parents around 1830 and founded a company circa 1832 to manufacturer shoe blacking and ink pigments. His blacking was basically tallow and lamp black. Although this preceded the abrupt rise in popularity of shoe polish around World War I, it was a successful endeavor.
The following image of the James S. Mason & Co building at 138-140 Front Street in Philadelphia is an 1856 advertisement, archived by the Library Company of Philadelphia. After the building construction in 1851, it was occupied by the James S. Mason & Co until 1919. The building was demolished in 1973.
The following editorial and advertisement is from the 1867 handbook Philadelphia and its Manufacturers by Edwin Troxell Freedley. This 634 page handbook is a wealth of information about the history of the industrial revolution, popular sentiment on the subject, and the manufacture of industrial and consumer goods.
By the 20th century, blacking was manufactured with new methods and synthetic materials, and blacking became known as shoe polish.
A. Heywood Mason Comes to Thomasville
James S. Mason had two sons and four daughters. Richard Servetus Mason was born December 14, 1837. A. Heywood Mason was born May 26, 1853. The two brothers did not get along very well. Their father died in 1888 and Richard ran the blacking business. In 1880, his son A. Heywood Mason drove a four-in-hand horse carriage to Thomasville to winter with his wife Anna and six-weeks old son James S. Mason, II. These three photos are courtesy of June Bailey White.
Above is a later picture of the Mason Susina. Notice a door at the back of left porch. At an unknown date between these two photographs, the dining room was extended by enclosing a portion of the left porch. The porch floor was never leveled and the South end of the dining room remains sloped to this day.
The large bush in front of the right porch obscures the number of columns of the right porch at this date. The back porch and a new room above it were enclosed sometime during the Mason period. Notice the dark trim of the windows, dentil molding and capitals, typical of the early Mason period.
Shown above is the big house after the side porches were added. The architect is unknown, but the porches are an excellent complement to Wind's original design, adding both functionality and horizontal balance. Notice that the porch on the south side (left) incorporates six Doric columns while the north porch includes only four. Apparently, the original north rear porch was not enclosed at this time.
Heywood and friends "sort of camped out" there during the winters. There were many freed slaves living on the place, out of work, some well trained servants, so that it was camping in style. There was always a house party when the Masons were at home.
Eventually, A. Heywood Mason retired from James S. Mason Company and Susina became his full-time residence. This picture of him with an unknown dog is reproduced from a Mason family album. Heywood passed away in 1911 from the respiratory ailment that initially brought him to Thomasville.
Pictured in the background is the guest cottage that is extant. The age of the cottage is unknown, but this image indicates the Cottage at least predates 1911. There are indications the Cottage may be as old as the big house.
Heywood's wife Anna spent her time gardening and bettering the life of the negroes. She had a school built for them near Susina on property owned by Arthur Bryant. She passed away at Susina in 1931.
The Third Generation is Born at Susina
A. Heywoods's son, James S. Mason, II, married Rosalie Wilson in xxxx. They are shown above. "He spent his life at Susina attempting to make it productive, raising cattle and pigs, and training horses and dogs. He saved Susina for the next generation through two world wars and the depression. During these trying times, Rosalie actualized the apparent myth of gracious living with her coffee pot and her friendlyness." James and Rosalie had four children, Rosalie (Rodie), Mary Ann, (Pace or Pacie), James (Jimmy) S. Mason, III, and A. Heywood (Hey) Mason, II. Pictured below from left to right are Jimmy, Rosalie, Rodie and Pacie.
The Next Generation
A. Heywoods's daughter, Eleanor, married Henry (Harry) E. Butler. Pictured above is Harry at Susina. Born in 1876, he graduated from Yale in the Class of 1898 and joined the Philadelphia office of Charles D. Barney & Co., a precursor of Smith, Barney & Co. He moved to the firm's New York office and became a member of the New York Stock Exchange in 1905. He ultimately became a senior partner of Smith Barney & Co. He is rumored to have nearly single handedly saved Smith Barney during the great stock market crash of 1929. Harry and Eleanor were active in the New York social scene and owned several properties in area, including the estate known as Sheep's Run, shown in a sketch below by T. Norman. By adding property, they extended Sheep's Run to the Shrewsbury River, directly south of New York City, across Lower New York Bay, in New Jersey. Because of his intense love of boat racing, in 1935, they moved to a waterfront property on the Navesink River in Fair Haven, New Jersey, that had an excellent view of the Red Bank Regatta. They entertained large groups during races.
[ http://www.rumsonnj.gov/history_sheeps_run.php ]
Harry, Eleanor, their five children, and a tutor would come to Susina during quail season, which livened up the social scene. They offered support for Susina and stayed at the Cottage which was about 80 yards north of the big house. In the photo of Heywood above you can glimpse the Cottage in the background. Facts uncovered during a 2003 renovation suggests that the oldest part of the Cottage was probably a rectangular portion that is approximately 36 feet wide and 30 feet deep with a small porch on the rear NW corner. In this photo, a probably newer segment extending to the north is barely seen behind a foreground bush. As mentioned, this photo predates 1911.
The cottage underwent several additions over a period of time. In 1925, the Butlers initiated a major renovation, adding a new living and dining room wing to the west, a large kitchen, and a living-quarters wing to the north. The date was revealed by newspapers wrapping water pipes found during the 2003 renovation. Shown below is a photograph taken during the 1925 renovation. The Cottage would eventually become a rambling, mostly single-story structure of 6,000 to 7,000 square feet. Harry passed away in 1947 and Eleanor passed away in 1950.
A fascinating collection of Jimmy's stories about his young life at Susina comprise the chapters of his book Oh, Susina! You may click on a photo to open a larger image. Jimmy is the boy on the far right. Yep, they're holding polecats by the tail.
[James S. Mason, III, Oh, Susina!: Times never forgotten..., Craigmiles & Associates, Inc., Thomasville, 1995]
As mentioned in the Antebellum page, the treatment of slaves at Cedar Grove is unknown. But a story emerges from the Mason family photograph album concerning their relationship with the negroes. Consider the images below.
In the introduction to his book, Jimmy offered a poignant description of the relationship between plantation owner and negroes, including their transition from slave to servant or share cropper. It is recommended reading. And if any doubt remains how the two groups coexisted on Susina, consider the eloquent words of Lucille Glenn Morris, daughter of Daniel Glenn, the Chef at Susina for many years.
"The name plantation symbolizes, for some people, a system of servitude in which workers were subjugated and exploited by this system for economic gain. Susina Plantation, where I grew up, defied that image.
My early life experiences at Susina Plantation can best be described as enriching, nurturing and enjoyable. ...laying the foundation for the supportive and caring environment...was the late Mrs. A. Heywood Mason [Anna]...[whose] educational and charitable works were legion..."
Pictured below at the back of the wagon is Chef preparing food at a picnic. Chef sometimes traveled with the Mason's. Once in Philadelphia, eyebrows raised when the young Chef entered a fine club with Heywood. Sensing the tension, Heywood introduced the well dressed Chef as the Prince of Abyssinia. It worked and a relaxed atmosphere returned. Susina, once honored as a city on the map, now had a Chef who was a Prince.
[T. Brown and J. Hadley, African-American Life on the Southern Hunting Plantation, Arcadia Publishing, Charleston, 2000]
A. Heywood Mason, II, Continues the Tradition of Stewardship
The last of James and Rosalie's children was A. Heywood (Hey) Mason, II, born August 17, 1925. The nanny holding Hey in the earlier picture on this page is Bitha (Bike) Jones. The pictures above of Hey as a baby until Camp Shelby in Mississippi are from his family album. It would be Hey who continued the Mason family tradition of stewardship of the big house.
He served in Italy from 1943 until 1945. After the war was over, he returned home on emergency leave to see his father the night before his father died. In 1946, he married Edith (Edie) King at Mistletoe Plantation on Meridian Road on the Florida border. Roswell King was a retired lawyer who owned Mistletoe at the time. Hey and Edie had met at Birdsong Plantation which was an official spotting site for enemy aircraft that might approach from the gulf.
Susina Makes the Map
A testament to Susina Plantation's economic and social importance to the area during this period is that the US Post Office and name of the community from 1888 to 1906 was Susina, as depicted on this excerpt from a 1908 Rand McNally Atlas. In 1905, this area became Grady rather than Thomas County.
In 1908, A. Heywood Mason traveled from Philadelphia to Thomasville in his 1907 Packard, most likely an easier trip than his initial visit by carriage and team of horses with a six month old baby in tow. A note at the Thomas County Museum of History records the Packard as one of the first ten automobiles in Thomasville. The note also indicated the travel time from Thomasville to Susina by automobile as one hour and twenty minutes. However, all was not peaches and cream with early automobiles, as revealed by the following 1908 letter to Mr. Mason.
Aside from the incessant hunting of all game fit for a table, and some game not commonly found on a table today, there was a deep residing respect for all animal life, from the noble equine to the practical hog, a man to man relationship with the dogs, and room inside the house for a deer and raccoons. Horse and dog training provided some income. At one time or another, to varying levels of success, the cash crops were cattle, rabbits, chickens and chinchillas.
Since Susina was a city on the map, at times during this period, it required all the accoutrements befitting a city including a water system and tower, a Kohler power plant, a baseball field, a par three golf course and a one-room school house - very uptown stuff for a pre-WWII farm!
When Susina became available in 1891, Heywood purchased it from Dr. John T. Metcalfe. The agent was the judge.
The earliest known picture of the rear of the house above is about this time. This photo is before the side porches were added. This and other Mason period photographs are from contact prints of 5X7 glass negatives courtesy of Claudia Mason. The big house includes a rear wing which very likely housed the kitchen as it does today. This rear wing had probably been added or at least modified after A. Heywood acquired Susina. There is a 15 by 17 foot old brick dependency 30 yards southwest of the main house, partially shown at the far left. It had an open hearth above, and what appeared to be a root cellar below ground level, which fits the standard for an antebellum detached kitchen. However, A. Heywood (Hey) Mason, II, holds that this was always a laundry and that the original kitchen was directly behind (West) the house and connected via a short, open, walkway. The earliest photograph of the mansion shows no building at the location of the laundry, thus supporting the claim of Mr. Mason. The water tower with a cypress tank is also visible at the right. Water from a pond 450 yards NW of the house was ram-pumped when water flowed over the dam and pumped by gas motor when required.
The group of images above are scanned from 5 X 7 glass negatives, coutesy Claudia Mason, taken at Susina and Lake Iamonia circa 1890 - 1895. In the middle top image, seated on the right are A. Heywood Mason and (probably) Eleanor Mason. The resolution of the original scan of this negative is so good that you can see that father and daughter are looking at a photo of themselves in the album. These negatives have been invaluable in reconstructing the renovation history of the big house.
In 1881, a daughter, Alice Eleanor, was born to Heywood and Anna at the Mitchell House. Years later, when buying a hat at the Neel's Department Store in Thomasville, Eleanor asked that the purchase be placed on her account. A new sales girl asked if she were known at the store, to which Eleanor replied "Known? I was born over in that corner."
[from a document authored by Rosalie "Rodie" Mason and archived at the Thomas County Museum of History]
A. Heywood Mason was a millionaire twice over. To comprehend what that meant, the United States Federal budget in 1890 was 384 million. If each of the guests staying at the Mitchell House and Piney Woods hotels were as wealthy as Heywood, they could have floated the federal budget.
Initially they stayed at the Mitchell House Hotel. While she nursed young James, he enjoyed the pine scented air while hunting on local plantations. One night, Heywood emptied birds from his jacket pocket into a pile on the floor. After spinning a few yarns with friends, he noticed his birds were gone. Judge H.W. Hopkins's setter had retrieved them for the judge. The two men become lifelong friends and continued to hunt together. The judge, shown on the right, would later be instrumental in Heywood's acquisition of Susina.
Rodie's portion was 1400 acres across Meridian to the south. Rodie married Robb White, III, in 1937. The photo above is courtesy June Bailey White. Robb and Rodie's early life together is told in his fascinating memoir and popular book Our Virgin Island (1953). Robb was born in Baguio, Philippines, in 1909. His father was an Episcopal missionary and later an Army chaplain, so they traveled extensively. He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1931 and worked only briefly as a draftsman before beginning a writing career, which was prolific. In WW II he flew as a pilot and served on battleships, submarines and carriers, retiring in five years as lieutenant commander. He wrote for TV including Perry Mason episodes, and the silver screen, but he was most famous for writing adventure books for youth that were also popular with adults.
In 1940, they built a house on her piece of Susina. The house was constructed with lumber from a decrepit 1840 house given to Robb White's father by Pansy Poe Ireland of Pebble Hill. The house is extant and overlooks Mitchell Pond.
They had three children, Robb IV (Bengie), Barbara Mason and June. They divorced in 1964 and he moved to California while she remained on the home place. Robb, IV, was a Thomasville boat builder and wrote How to Build a Tin Canoe: Confessions of an Old Salt (2003). June Bailey White wrote Mama Makes Up Her Mind (1993), Sleeping at the Starlight Motel (1995) and Quite a Year for Plums (1998). More recently she has been a Thanksgiving day commentator on NPR. Bengie is deceased while Barbara and June still live on the home place.
Pacie's portion was immediately north of the big house. It included a home called Rosemary about 680 yards NE of the big house in Land Lot 375. The Hayes home place was never a part of Blackshear's Cedar Grove. It was acquired from Robert Hayes by A. Heywood Mason circa 1900. The photo of Rosemary above, circa 1917, is courtesy of June White. This home burned and was replaced with a new home on the old foundation sometime around the Great Depression.
Pacie married Otis Hawkins of Jacksonville, Florida. They had three children, Mason, James (Rusty) and Rosalie (Sis). Pacie and Otis lived and died at Rosemary, operating her piece of Susina as a pine plantation. In 2003, Mason Hawkins attained stewardship of the Hawkin's land at Rosemary. He also reacquired the portion of Susina that had been sold by his two uncles to a timber company and some additional adjacent land. He named the plantation Rosemary, after the Hayes homeplace. All of the Blackshear land, and land added by his grandfather a century before, was together again for the first time since 1950. It is operated as a quail hunting preserve, protected by a conservation easement
Shown above, courtesy of June White, are Hey and Jimmy at Susina around 1936. Jimmy left for the Asheville School for Boys, and later after serving in WW II, he returned to Thomasville. After brief stints as a cattle rancher in Florida, and owner of a road construction company, he settled back in Thomasville, dissassembling about five rooms from the far northern portion of the Cottage to use as material for his house on Gordon Avenue. Jimmy and Hey both sold their pieces of land at Susina to the Great Southern Paper Company.
In Oh, Susina! Jimmy reminiscinces about his boyhood life at Susina. It is a vivid picture of life in the rural south in the 1920s and 1930s, and the relationship between plantation owners and the former slaves, now servants and a part of the family. The dust covers of his book are reproduced above.
Hey and Edie conducted renovations in 1951 and 1967, but the layout and exterior remained unchanged. Like his grandfather and father before, Hey's stewardship of Susina was thoughtful and sensitive. Maintenance, and modernizations necessary for comfort, were handled without compromising the sense of this architecturally and historically important house.
In 1980, Hey and Edie sold Susina and 115 acres to Ann Marie Walker who began a bed and breakfast. The Masons moved across Meridian road and built a new home where they lived for years. Later, they moved to Lloyd, Florida, on property where there daughter Sherry operated an equestrian center, and where the animal loving traditions of the Masons still prosper. The Mason stewardship of the big house at Susina was a rare accomplishment.
Edie unknowingly and unpretentiously began the modern tradition of hosting great entertainers at Susina. A loved family servant had just died and Edie was neither in the best of spirits or as well dressed as was typical. Faye Dunaway, who wanted to study an archetypal southern lady in preparation for her role in Hurry Sundown, was brought to Susina to see Edie. Being ever gracious, Edie reluctantly saw Faye, who secretly recorded their conversation. After Faye left, her daughters asked, "Mom, do you KNOW who THAT was?", to which Edie replied, "Yes, Kay Donahue".
Hey and Edie had four children: Edith (Edie), Sharon (Sherry), Roswell (Bruzz), and Claudia. Hey operated a large commercial chicken and egg business and a feed store in Cairo. Laying hens that were no longer productive were sold to the Campbell Soup Company. Hey and Edie were both active and revered community members. Many events and benefits were held at Susina. The letter bellow exemplifies the feelings of the community concerning Susina and its hosts.
In 1950, when Susina was divided among the heirs, Hey acquired the interest of his brother and two sisters in the big house and immediate dependencies. Roswell King and his wife sold Mistletoe and moved into the Cottage, which then became known as King's Cottage. King's Cottage is pictured below in its heyday.
The Land at Susina is Divided
In 1950, the land of Susina Plantation passed to James and Rosalie Mason's four children.