Monday, December 13, 2010

The Reynolda Illusion

Reynolda Estate

If you are a visitor to our Salem, or a resident unfamiliar with the history of the R.J. Reynolds family, it is probable that you share in the Reynolda Illusion. The Illusion is that the historic Reynolda Estates was the fairytale home of local tobacco Baron Richard Joshua Reynolds (1850-1918). Perception and reality are seldom in agreement and often confused by intended or unintended illusion. The story of our wonderful Reynolda Estate is no exception. Please understand that this post is not intended to belittle what Reynolda has become. As a student of the life and times of Richard Joshua Reynolds, and his family, few could possibly enjoy the experience more than I. Although somewhat ignored in earlier years, should you raise question about any of what is addressed in this post it will not be sidestepped by today's informed Reynolda staff. It will also not be addressed in great detail when you inquire or be blatantly placed before your face by staff to adversely affect the illusion.

To begin with Reynolda was not the fairytale dream of Mr. Reynolds, as I understand she chose to call him, but that of his young bride Katharine Smith Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds referred to the land being acquired by his bride as "The Farm". Yes, the complete estate was owned by Katharine Smith Reynolds (1880-1924), it was not held in the name of her renowned husband. He considered it her estate, not his! There was good reason for this in the drastic thirty year difference in their ages and the fact it was her project from start to finish. With exception of providing his vast wealth to fund Katharine's little project he left everything to her. Without doubt Mr. Reynolds knew that there was little chance he would live long enough to gain much pleasure from his brides wonderland and, as it turned out, he was very correct in his judgment.

R.J. Reynolds Home 666 West Fifth Street
Unfortunately, the Reynolds family's life became more of a nightmare at their wonderful Reynolda rather than a fairytale. There life had been somewhat of a fairytale existence during the early years of assembling the land and constructing what would become Reynolda. That existence was at a completely different and little know home located at 666 West Fifth Street. Mr. Reynolds had constructed this home from a mail order design (a popular method at that time) about 1893 (Katharine was a 13 year old living in Mount Airy, NC with her parents). Prior to his marriage he occupied the home with his mother, brother Will and Will's wife Kate. Mrs. Reynolds died shortly before their marriage and Katharine moved into the Fifth Street mansion, Will and Kate moving to a hotel. Four lively children were born and would bring joy to the aging Mr. Reynolds life in this Fifth Street home. During their time together as a family this was their home and fairytale existence, not Reynolda Estate!

You will find the story of Katharine Smith Reynolds and her Reynolda Estate in "A World of Her Own Making" by Catherine Howett. "...with almost unlimited wealth...She envisioned the founding of a model community that would emphasize health, modern technology, mixed-crop scientific farming, education and rural beauty...inspired in part, by the rural landscape of England...The estate eventually expanded to cover more than 1,000 acres." 

The R.J. Reynolds Family
For simplicity and the sake of brevity I will offer the life of Mr. Reynolds and his family in outline form by date and let you decide if my position is correct that Reynolda is an illusion as the home and estate of R.J. Reynolds.

- 1890 - Mr. Reynolds gives his 10 year old cousin Kate Smith, daughter of his mothers sister, a gold bracelet with a joking promise that when she grows up he would marry her.

- In her youth Kate suffers from an aliment, possibly rheumatic fever, leaving her with a chronic heart condition causing issues throughout her life.This condition caused bearing of children to be very dangerous and she experienced ongoing issues with her health throughout her life.

- June 1902 Kate now called Katharine graduates from Sullins College in Bristol, Virginia where interestingly Mr. Reyonlds sister Lucy had attended many years earlier.

- December 1902 it appears that Katharine had entered into a new relationship with her fathers friend and first cousin once removed "Dick" Reynolds. "Dick's" mother and Katharine's mother were sisters. Mr. Reynolds was three years older than her father, five years older than her mother and at 52, thirty years older than she, at twenty two. Mr. Reynolds had already exceeded the average life span of an American man at the turn of the Century.

- Spring 1903 Mr. Reynolds beloved mother, Katharine's aunt dies. She and another young female cousin accompany Mr. Reynolds on a trip to New York. He offers Katharine a job as one of his secretaries in his Winston office. The only female secretary! She accepts and leaves home for Winston within a month.

- October 1904 Katharine is engaged to marry this most desirable, wealthy bachelor and man about town. Mr. Reynolds has a reputation as a sporting man who liked cards, gambling, strong drink, horses and the company of women. 

Katharine Smith Reynolds
- February 1905 they are married in her parents Mount Airy, NC parlor and they leave for an four month, spare no expense, tour of Europe.

- 1906 Shortly following their return to Winston planning begins for starting a "farm" on the outskirts of Winston as she is involved with improvements to the Fifth Street property. The first track of 104 acres is acquired. During the course of this work she would do much traveling and have four children at, the typical for the time, two year intervals. Their first child Richard Joshua "Dick", Jr. is born April 4th 1906. There are later rumors of her health problems.

- August 1908 Daughter Mary is born

- May 1910 Daughter Nancy Susan is born

- 1910 Henrietta van den Berg who the children refer to a "Bum" is hired as live in nurse for the children. "Bum" will become a major influence in all of their lives literally running the household and "The Farm" in Katharine's many business, pleasure and heath related absences. 

- November 1911 son Zachary Smith called "Smith" is born.

- 1911 Kathrine hires Charles Barton Keen to design their "Bungalow" as the Reynolds referred to their new 64 room home. Construction of numerous buildings proceed over the next few years. Drawings would have the name "Mrs. K.S. Reynolds Estate" Not R.J. Reynolds or even Mrs. R.J!

- 1912 Construction of the "Bungalow" begins and takes five years.

- 1917 In the absence of Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds, who were convalescing in different hospitals in the North, she dealing with her heart condition, and he with what would later become known as Pancreatic Cancer, care of the children, completion of the "Bungalow", the move from Fifth Street and decorating their new home for Christmas was supervised by "Bum".

- December 1917 A few days before Christmas the Reynolds return and Mr. Reynolds, with nursing staff moves into a hospital bed in his first floor office of the "Bungalow" arriving from John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. Apparently, he was ill enough that dealing with the steps to his second floor bedroom wasn't possible.

- May-June 1918 Mr. Reynolds returned to the hospital in Baltimore until June 20th when he returned by train to Winston and Katharine's beloved Reynolda.

- June 29th 1918 Richard Joshua Reynolds 68 dies at Reynolda. From happy marriage through four children in only 13 years and slightly over six months after they occupied their new home at her Reynolda Estates. His brief time at Reynolda was spent convalescing in a hospital bed in his first floor converted office or in the hospital at Baltimore. It appears he never slept in his new second floor bedroom.

The Scandalous Libby Holman - Something to Remember Her By- Over the next few years Kathrine will marry a younger man, Ed Johnston, in controversy with the Reynolds family who weren't invited to attend the small Reynolda ceremony, spend little time at Reynolda, have a child die in childbirth, and die on May 23, 1924 of an embolism shortly after giving birth to a son. After their mothers death there is much controversy surrounding the stepfather and children. He moves to Baltimore with his son and the family spends very little time at their mothers beloved Reynolda. The new son is never a welcomed part of the Reynolds family and is raised by his father in Baltimore far from Reynolda and the children of R.J. Reynolds. Smith is later involved in a "shot gun" wedding to a textile tycoons daughter which doesn't last long. A daughter is born, he marries renowned torch singer Libby Holman and dies at Reynolda following a gun shot wound to the head on June 5th 1932. There is much world wide controversy over whether a murder by his new wife and/or his best friend or a tragic accident. She and Smith's best friend are prosecuted for his murder. Libby is found to be pregnant and Will Reynolds presses for the charges to be dropped. Smith's son is later killed in a mountain climbing accident at 18 years old.

Does this sound like a Reynolda fairytale to you? I don't think so!

Forsyth County Public Library
What happened to the real 666 West Fifth Street fairytale home of the R.J. Reynolds family?  This site was donated to Forsyth County by Mr. Reynolds son R.J. "Dick" Reynolds, Jr. for use as a county library which now occupies that site. The fairytale home of the Reynolds family is gone and the fairytale transferred to Reynolda Estates where it never existed.

1 comment:

  1. Intriguing narrative of Reynolda. At age 15 my wife's father, Irving S Disher, went to work for RJ around 1910. On March 11th, 1951 an article by Frank Jones in the WS Journal , details how Disher received 50 cherry trees in 1918 from Andoria Nurseries near Philadelphia. Disher goes on to describe staking the Magnolia's lining Reynolda Rd to make them grow straight and tall. He speaks of the owners were very generous in permitting the public to walk among the flowering trees, but having to post guards in blooming season to prevent sightseers from taking samples from the trees.

    The Disher family was a part of the life at the Bungalow, living near the campus in a home which once sat at the present location of Wait Chapel. From there they lived in the farm house now housing WFDD radio and eventually a home on Indiana Ave.

    All of the Disher children spent much of their lives in the gardens and greenhouse with son Dennis taking over for his father as supervisor of the greenhouse.

    Mr Disher's younger sons Frank and John laugh about toting big rocks out of the field off Bethabara Rd to till the land for gardening and now someone has carried them all back to form the foundations of old buildings in a settlement called Bethabara.

    My 95 year old mother in law, Mary Mozelle Disher talks about cat sitting Katherine's kitty only to have it disappear the day before Katheine was to pick it up. Panic was the word. But eventually the cat showed back up and everyone was instructed to act normal.

    The Disher's eventually moved west to a farm near Lewisville. Mr Disher commuted to Reynolda and retired shortly before he died in 1961. He is buried at Union United Methodist Church a couple miles east of the Shallowford across the Yadkin.


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