I suspect that most historians have numerous stories and images that never make it into their books. Some of them are turned into articles; most probably stay buried in research notes. In looking through old photographs, I came across some that I took in hopes of using them for the Donelson biography. I never found a way to incorporate them into the book or the articles that I wrote about Donelson, so I decided to put them in a blog post instead of letting them waste away.
Some background to the story is in order first. After selling Tulip Grove, his Nashville home built on land bordering Andrew Jackson’s, Donelson and his family moved to Memphis in the late 1850s. He split time between the city and the plantation that he owned in Bolivar County, Mississippi. This 1,579-acre plantation was located in the Australia Landing/Duncan community.
In June 2005, I made the drive over to the Delta region to try to locate Donelson’s Bolivar County home. I stopped in Cleveland to ask someone at the Chamber of Commerce where the home was located. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, so I assumed that it would be easy to find. Not so. After a few phone calls, the lady at the Chamber gave me directions to a local business, where a longtime resident, Johnny Summers, offered to take me out to the old Donelson place where he used to play as a child.
On the way, we passed over Hushpuckena Creek, which bordered Donelson’s property. To say I was excited at recognizing this landmark would be an understatement.
Mr. Summers drove me out into an expansive field to a clump of trees.
To give a different perspective, here is an image of the field from Google Earth. (The clump of trees is where the home is located.):
It wasn’t until he pointed them out in the trees that I could see the remnants of a fireplace, a well, and some other deteriorating building material.
I was shocked at the poor condition of the home . . . or what was left of it. I was also disappointed that someone went through the trouble to get the home listed on the NRHP register, then let it deteriorate.
The NRHP records for the Donelson home have not yet been digitized. Given its condition, unfortunately, I’m not sure there is much point in trying to preserve what little is left.