Distance: 82 miles, one and a half hour drive
When I was in the fourth grade, my school took a field trip to Barnsley Gardens. Nothing more at the time than the ruins of an old manor full of mysterious stories of bad luck, I immediately fell in love with the broken remains of this once stately home, now overgrown with flora and home to the local fauna. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to return as part of my best friend’s wedding many years later, which would turn out to be the most beautiful and fun wedding I have ever attended.
Behind Barnsley Gardens’ storybook setting is a true story filled with as many twists and turns as an actual work of fiction. The Manor House Ruins, called Woodlands, are the remnants of the original 19th century Italianate villa built by British-born cotton broker Godfrey Barnsley – one of the wealthiest men in the southeastern United States – for his wife, Julia.
Situated on land once inhabited by the Cherokee Indians, an older native warned Barnsley that the land was considered sacred, and that anyone who tried to live on it would be cursed. Barnsley ignored the Cherokee’s advice and began construction on the property near Adairsville, Georgia.
Sadly, Julia never saw the home completed. She succumbed to tuberculosis in 1845, having already survived her infant son. In his grief, Barnsley suspended construction on the home. He would later claim to feel Julia’s presence at the site, telling him to finish the house for him and their children. Completed in 1848, the mansion had twenty-four rooms, featured mantels of black and white imported Italian marble, and “unheard of conveniences, such as hot and cold running water.” The magnificent gardens featured every known variety of rose.
Situated directly in the path of General Sherman’s advance, the estate became the site of a Civil War battle in 1864. What could not be stolen was smashed by the occupying Union troops, including windows, china and Italian statuary. Barnsley moved to New Orleans in hopes of regaining his lost fortune, only returning to the Woodlands to be buried there. The roof was destroyed by a tornado in 1906, and the home fell into the ruins that I know and love today.
In 1988, Bavarian Prince Hubertus Fugger (yep, that’s his real name) purchased the estate and began to stabilize the ruins and restore the gardens. The original boxwood hedges still survive, outlining paths and flower beds of the original parterre garden that features over 200 rose varietals. Barnsley Gardens and Museum opened to the public in 1991.
The modern Barnsley Resort is likely everything Godfrey and Julia dreamed their estate might be: luxurious guest cottages, a Fazio-designed golf course, a spa, restaurants, horseback riding, fly-fishing, clay shooting, upland hunting, a saltwater pool and a gym, as well as a 55-room inn and ballroom.
(And if you’re wondering, the curse appears to be broken: my best friend and her husband are still married, with two beautiful children and a third on the way. They have returned to Barnsley Gardens for multiple anniversaries.)
Love the history behind Barnsley Gardens as much as I do? Pay a visit to the Barnsley Museum, which is open daily. Historian and Museum Director Clent Coker will regale you with more stories of love, loss and intrigue that surround this estate.