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Brookland anchored a vast estate

The Hendersonville Historic Preservation Commission has recommended Brookland for historic landmark status locally. The Hendersonville Historic Preservation Commission has recommended Brookland for historic landmark status locally.

Brookland, built in 1836 as a summer home, is now surrounded by subdivisions of much newer homes yet still isolated on its own 9½-acre site atop a gentle rise.


Built by Charleston businessman Charles Edmundston, the home has a rich and varied history from its architectural to the people who have called it home for 177 years.
It has served as a summer retreat, the residential headquarters for a "model farm based on scientific agriculture," the home of Confederate Maj. Theodore G. Barker, one of the largest land owners in Henderson County at the turn of the last century; the home of prominent Charleston lawyer Henry H. Ficken; the home of Dr. Marion Ross and his wife, Ann B. Ross, the author of the popular "Miss Julia" novels; and since 1977, the year-round home of Christopher Eugene "Gene" Staton Jr., a retired Hendersonville banker, and his wife, Deborah Holmes Staton.
The Statons hosted the Hendersonville Preservation Commission members one Saturday in November for a tour of the home. The commission endorsed the couple's request to designate Brookland a local historic landmark. That board and the Hendersonville City Council will hold a public hearing on the request before acting on the application. With a tax value of $511,000, the designation would make the owners eligible for a tax break of $1,312.25 a year.
Staton, a longtime banker with First Citizens Bank, has a long family connection to the property. His grandfather was a caretaker for the family that owned Brookland after 1918.
Charles Edmondston, who may also have designed Beaumont, owned Brookland for only five years before he sold it to Edmund Molyneux, a British consul based in Savannah, who expanded the estate and planted the farm.
Born in Liverpool, Molyneux had been appointed consul and sent to the Georgia port, where he maintained official government residence until 1862. When Molyneux bought the property in the 1840s, the area was still very much oriented to Flat Rock, the so-called "little Charleston of the mountains."
A devout Episcopalian, Molyneux joined the vestry of St. John in the Wilderness and also made a $1,000 donation toward the founding of Calvary Episcopal Church in Fletcher.
Molyneux and his wife, Eliza Herriott Johnston, "spent the 'sickly season' near Hendersonville" until the outbreak of the Civil War forced his return to England. After his death, Eliza sold the property to Maj. Barker, a Charleston lawyer who had served as second in command to Gen. Wade Hampton, the Confederate Cavalry leader who later served as governor of South Carolina.
Abandoned and in disrepair, the house and property were in need of the revitalization that a man of Barker's means could provide. Using his own money and an inheritance, Maj. Barker restored and greatly expanded the estate over 10 years. He had married Louisa Preston King, the daughter of Judge Mitchell King, who donated the land for the original city of Hendersonville. Barker became one of the largest landowners in Henderson County. (Local history writers Sadie Patton and Frank L. FitzSimons both have reported that Maj. Barker was the largest landowner in Henderson County.)

"Barker made numerous changes to the house, including the various Colonial Revival embellishments and application of pebbledash to the exterior walls," according to the 1984 National Register of Historic Places nomination. (Both Brookland and Beaumont are on the National Register; under state law a local body must designate a property a historic landmark in order for the owner to apply for a historic designation tax credit.)
"Barker constructed the first dairy barn in the county, one built with a concrete floor and stanchions," the National Register report said. "By importing purebred Devon cattle, he improved both the milk and beef production of local stock."
He named it all Brookland Manor.
He was an innovator — and clever opreator — in other ways too. After he donated land for the Southern Railway between East Flat Rock and Hendersonville, "the favor was returned by the establishment of a flag station" at his driveway. "Guests to Brookland Manor were very nearly dropped off at the door, making Barker's home an unofficial passenger depot," the National Register report said.
He also was one of the first in the area to have running water, which he achieved by raising the roof to install a cistern. At his death in 1917, Barker left the home to his wife. Executors W. Huger FitzSimons and Dr. W.B.W. Howe (Louise Bailey's father) deemed it necessary to sell part of the estate. They sold 161½ acres to Henry Ficken, yet another prominent Charlestonian, and his wife Julia Ficken. (They called the property the Brookland House and today it's known simply as Brookland.)
Among the caretakers for Brookland was John F. McGraw, who is Gene Staton's grandfather. His grandmother, Jannie Lee Gurley, was raised on the estate. She walked down the driveway and set out along the present-day Spartanburg Highway to school at East Flat Rock, Debbie Staton said.
The Statons have done more than preserve the home; they have restored parts of it to its original construction. They removed the pebbledash siding of the main house to expose the original wood siding. Inside, as part of a remodeling job, they tore out a wall to expose an upstairs fireplace.
A few years ago, a granddaughter of the Fickens gave the Statons the original key to the home. They have visited the graves of the past owners of the house, including the elaborate monument to Edmund Molyneux in London.
The couple is working now with Historic Flat Rock Inc. to place a preservation agreement on the 5,380-square-foot house and what remains of one of the community's earliest large estates.
"We want to make sure the 9½ acres is never developed," Deborah Staton said.