By Jessica Mozo
In a society where dishwashers, televisions and master baths are the norm, it’s hard to imagine life circa 1850, when cooking was done over an open fire and the nearest bathroom was in the backyard.
That’s why Davies Manor Plantation in Brunswick invites people to discover the pioneer life in a two-story log frontier house that’s the oldest home in Shelby County (home of Memphis).
“People are always interested in the way of life from those times, and some of our older visitors remember those things from their own childhood,” says Betty Brown, historic buildings administrative assistant at Davies Manor Plantation. “School kids are especially fascinated by it, because it’s all new to them. They can’t imagine not having bathrooms, and they love the inventiveness of the people who lived back in those times.”
Built between 1807 and 1837, Davies Manor is located on a 640-acre Revolutionary War land grant and was named a Century Farm in 1976. It was the home of brothers Logan and James Davies, who purchased the property and the log house in 1851 and raised their families there. Logan’s granddaughter, Ellen Davies Rogers, died in 1994, but she had the foresight to create the endowment and association that oversees the manor today.
“We offer docent-led tours of the house, and there are pictures of the whole Davies family lineage in the front hall,” says Nancy McDonough, historic director at the Davies Manor Plantation. “We show visitors how life was for them. Water and electricity were put in the house in the 1950s, but we’ve taken most of the modern things out.”
All the furnishings in the home are from the 1830s through the 1850s, and the plantation desk and sugar chest are original to the house.
“The kitchen furnishings are turn of the century, because that’s when the kitchen was added to the house,” McDonough says. “Other furnishings include a lot of Davies family pieces that came from different members of the family.”
One of the things that impresses visitors the most is nearly all of the original logs are still part of the cabin’s construction, with the exception of a few that were replaced during a restoration in the late 1990s.
“It’s miraculous that these logs that were cut in the early 1800s have survived all this time,” McDonough says. “We believe the home’s survival is due to the Davies’ selection of excellent materials. They chose poplar logs, which are termite and rot resistant, and the home was well-maintained by the family and never sat empty for long periods of time.”
Davies Manor Plantation manager Randall Langston is 62 and started working at the plantation with his father at age 14. He knew Ellen Davies Rogers well, so if a visitor has a historical question about the property, chances are Langston has the answer.
“My grandfather used to build log houses, so I’ve always enjoyed working on this old log house,” Langston says. “I was with Miss Ellen ’til the day she died. I guess I stayed here so long for the loyalty of it.”
The log cabin isn’t the only historic structure on the plantation. There’s also a cattle barn that’s been transformed into a community center that hosts weddings nearly every weekend, and two other historic cabins were moved to the property in 2006.
“They were donated by various families, and we’re almost done renovating the first one,” McDonough says. “The additional cabins will allow us to expand our displays on early farm life.”
The plantation also includes displays of historic farm tools like the Davies family would have used.
“We also plant a cotton patch every year for kids to see, and we grow heirloom plants in a vegetable garden,” Brown says. “This is a working farmhouse, so people can relate to it better than the typical plantations that belonged to wealthy families.”
Today, the plantation is surrounded by the upscale Davies Manor subdivision, where more than 800 homes are situated on streets named after members of the Davies family. But despite its modern surroundings, the plantation remains an island of historic refuge.
“Walking on the property is like walking back in time,” McDonough explains. “A strange peacefulness comes over you as you walk under the 150-year-old white oak tree and the massive 85-year-old magnolia tree. There’s also a herd of white-tailed deer that live here. It’s a very enjoyable environment to work in and visit – stress just melts away.
Travel Back in Time
Located just outside of Memphis, the historic Davies Manor Plantation is open Tuesday through Saturday from 12 to 4 p.m., April through mid-December. Tours are $5 for adults and $3 for students. Group discounts are available.
Annual events include a community picnic in May and a quilt show in November. For more information, visit www.daviesmanorplantation.org or call (901) 386-0715.