Magnolia Dale. Ten Governors Proud
Magnolia Dale. South Carolina’s history stems back to the 1663 grant by King Charles II of England to the eight Lords Proprietors who had assisted him in returning to the throne. This grant encompassed all of the land from Virginia to Spanish Florida and included the present states of North and South Carolina and Georgia with the grant extending, theoretically, to the Pacific Ocean. Settlement of the Carolina colony began with the establishment of Charles Town in 1670.Some eighty years later, around the middle of the eighteenth century, settlers began to drift into the area now known as Edgefield County. One of the first families to settle here was the Youngblood family who arrived in 1764. Peter Youngblood purchased a tract of 400 acres on Beaverdam Creek and, with his family, settled the town of Edgefield. Their house was constructed on the site where Magnolia Dale now sits.
Other families moved into the neighborhood in the years following. In 1773 the Youngblood family sold 300 acres of their property to a newly arrived Virginian named Arthur Simkins (1742–1826), who would become known as the “Father of Edgefield.” Following the Revolution in 1785, the South Carolina Legislature, in its effort to establish more convenient and effective local government, divided the backcountry of South Carolina into a number of new counties, of which Edgefield was one. The site of the courthouse and jail for the new county was just a short distance from the Youngblood home. The village of Edgefield Courthouse grew up around these public buildings.
Arthur Simkins’s daughter, Nancy (1769–1843) married Peter Youngblood’s son, George, and had a number of children, including Erasmus J. Youngblood (1800–1887) who inherited the Youngblood house. In 1843, the original house burned and Erasmus Youngblood sold the property to Samuel Brooks of Middlesex, Connecticut, who then built Magnolia Dale. The Brooks family lived in the house until Brooks’s death in 1867.
Brooks’s daughter sold the property in 1873 to Alfred Junius Norris (1839–1900), a former Confederate captain, prominent lawyer, banker, and businessman. Norris enlisted the aid of a local contractor, Austrian immigrant Captain Michael Anton Markert, who enlarged and improved the house. A number of Markert’s architectural features still adorn the house.
Alfred Norris was married to Mary Fox (1839–1935) of Lexington. They had one child, a daughter named Mamie, who was born at Magnolia Dale in 1875. At the tender age of twenty, Mamie married twentysix-year-old James Hammond “Jim” Tillman (1868–1911), a Georgetown University law graduate from a prominent Edgefield County family. Jim’s father, George D. Tillman (1826–1901) was the congressman representing this district of South Carolina. Jim’s uncle, Benjamin Ryan Tillman (1847–1918), known as Pitchfork Ben, had been the governor of South Carolina from 1890 to 1894 and was then serving in the US Senate, where he remained until his death in 1918.
Ben Tillman was known for his strong support of the small farmers of South Carolina, whom he believed were being hurt by state and national economic policies. He was also a staunch opponent of black citizens participating in the political process and exercising their Fifteenth Amendment rights. He believed he was improving the lives of the people of South Carolina and led in the establishment of Clemson University for men, Winthrop University for women, and South Carolina State University for black citizens.
Jim Tillman became involved in politics as well. He served as lieutenant governor of South Carolina from 1901 to 1903. Largely as a result of the successful newspaper campaign against him by Narcisco G. Gonzales, editor of The State newspaper in Columbia, Tillman lost in his bid to become governor of South Carolina in the 1902 election. Deeply embittered by this, on his last day as lieutenant governor, Tillman walked across the street from the State House, where he knew Gonzales would be walking to his midday dinner, and fatally shot Gonzales at point-blank range. In a trial that garnered nationwide attention, Tillman was acquitted of murder. His political career, however, was at an end. He died less than a decade later of tuberculosis.
Mamie Norris Tillman continued to live at Magnolia Dale with her mother. In 1929 she sold the property to the Kendall Company of Boston, Massachusetts, but continued to live there as a tenant. Mamie became the longtime president of the Edgefield County Historical Society and did much to preserve the county’s rich history. In 1959 she succeeded in getting the Kendall Company to give Magnolia Dale to the historical society to serve as its headquarters and house museum. She died at Magnolia Dale in 1962, at the age of eighty-seven.
Throughout the years Magnolia Dale has been used by the historical society to showcase Edgefield’s rich and multifaceted history. Open by appointment, the house museum contains a large number of interesting artifacts dating from the nineteenth century, including important portraits of prominent Edgefieldians, the dining room table and chairs of Governor Tillman, the sideboard of Governor McDuffie, and a document box of Governor Francis W. Pickens from when he served as US ambassador to Russia from 1858 to 1860. Magnolia Dale is truly a must-see for visitors to this part of South Carolina.
Plantations and Historic Homes of South Carolina