Huston House: step inside this abandoned home on Butler Island, Georgia

Tillinghast L’Hommedieu (T L) Huston, the famed co-owner of the New York Yankees, was instrumental in the team’s ascension to the top of Major League Baseball. Huston utilized the funds from the sale of his stock in 1922 to build a beautiful clapboard home in Georgia, which is now in ruins. Take a tour of the lonesome property, captured by photographer Leland Kent of Abandoned Southeast, and learn about its tragic past.

Overseas success

Bain News Service / Library of Congress / Wikimedia

T L Huston (nicknamed ‘Cap’) was born in Buffalo, New York in 1867 and studied as a civil engineer before serving as a captain in Cuba during the Spanish-American War of 1898. During the war, Huston stayed in the nation to restore its infrastructure, amassing a small fortune while supervising the development of highways, ports, and sewage systems.

Yankees Purchase

Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty

In 1915, Huston teamed up with Jacob Ruppert to purchase the failing New York Yankees baseball franchise for £369,000 ($460k) – £9.4 million ($11.7m) in today’s money. The duo lavished money on new players, and the team’s fortunes began to improve dramatically.

Major signing

Irwin, La Broad, & Pudlin. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The pair’s crowning triumph came in 1920, when they purchased famed outfielder George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth from the Boston Red Sox for £100,000 ($125k), which comes out to £1.3 million ($1.6m) after inflation. The purchase, widely considered as ‘The Bargain of the Century,’ secured the Yankees’ prosperity and then some. By 1921, the team had gathered enough funds to construct its own gleaming new stadium in the heart of the Bronx.

Stake Sold

Heritage Auctions

The first day program for ‘The Cathedral of Baseball’ is shown here. Huston, seen on the cover, sold his interest to Ruppert in 1922 for £1.2 million ($1.5 million), equivalent to a stunning £18 million ($22.5 million) in today’s money.

Plantation purchased

Abandoned Southeast

Huston used the proceeds of the sale to purchase Butler Island Plantation outside Darien, Georgia, and began construction on a magnificent clapboard home. The previous rice farm, on the other hand, had a tragic background. Founded in the 1790s by Founding Father Major Pierce Butler, the estate housed hundreds of enslaved individuals from West Africa who were forced to live and labor in the most inhumane conditions.

Horrific conditions

Reb1981 [Public domain] / Wikimedia Commons

Pierce Mease Butler, Major Butler’s grandson, spent the winter of 1838/39 at the estate with his wife, the British stage actress Frances Anne ‘Fanny’ Kemble, and their two daughters. Kemble, an ardent abolitionist, was horrified by what she observed and kept a journal documenting the enslaved people’s horrific treatment and the awful conditions they had to suffer.

The Weeping Time

Bubba73 / Wikimedia Commons

The couple divorced in 1849, largely due to their opposing views on slavery. Butler went on to accumulate large debts. In order to avoid starvation, the unscrupulous slaveholder staged the greatest single auction of enslaved individuals in US history in March 1859. The Great Slave Auction, also known as the Crying Period, divided families and caused much anguish. Kemble went on to publish her anti-slavery newspaper, which was praised by abolitionists, in defiance of her ex-husband.

Ruins of a dark past

Judson McCranie [CC BY-SA 3.0]

Butler attempted to run the plantation with free labor after the war and the abolition of slavery, but was unable to make a profit. The Butler family owned the estate until 1926, when it was purchased by T. L. Huston. The only original plantation facilities that have remained to the current day are the chimney of the rice mill and the brick kiln, which serve as harsh reminders of the estate’s terrible history.

A new beginning

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In 1927, Huston’s home was finished. The retired colonel chose typical Colonial architecture with a pitched roof, dormer windows, brick chimneys, thin clapboard siding, and two classic porches. Photographer Leland Kent recently snapped the property, which now appears on the intriguing Abandoned Southeast website.

Spacious estate

Abandoned Southeast

The massive three-story timber-framed house includes 11 huge rooms, including many big reception rooms, six bedrooms, and three-and-a-half baths – more than enough space for Huston, his family, and the many visitors that stayed there.

High-profile guests

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Nevertheless, Huston frequently entertained guests at the estate, and having maintained strong ties with the New York Yankees, he hosted some of the team’s players, including Babe Ruth. Outfielder Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Athletics is also claimed to have stayed at the residence. Yet the property was more than simply a place to unwind.

Dairy farm established

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Never one to rest on his laurels, Huston was eager to earn a profit from the estate, arranging for the erection of a dairy barn for growing Guernsey cattle. Locals are claimed to have enthused about the milk’s quality, which was thought to be the best for kilometers around.

A penchant for persistence

Abandoned Southeast

Despite this, Huston struggled with the dairy farm, which was most likely owing to the estate’s hot and humid environment. Huston gave up in 1932, selling the remaining cows to the highest bidder. His second endeavor, an iceberg lettuce farm, was more successful. The estate quickly became one of the largest iceberg lettuce fields east of the Rocky Mountains.

Sudden death

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Huston died on March 29, 1938, at his desk in the mansion’s study, of a heart attack. After WWII, tobacco heir Richard J Reynolds Jr purchased the farm, which included the profitable iceberg lettuce-growing industry. Vegetable production has halted by the 1970s. The once-grand property fell into ruin and was finally taken up by the Wildlife Division of the Department of Natural Resources.

Faded grandeur

Abandoned Southeast

Walk inside, and the grandiose history of the home is clearly visible. While the entry hall is in disrepair, its vast dimensions would have been stunning in its prime. Paint is flaking off the ceiling and the hardwood flooring is dull and foggy, all of which appear to be caused by rising humidity – the property is located in one of the most humid sections of the Country, after all.

Not beyond rescue

Abandoned Southeast

However, the entry hall appears to be readily recoverable, with major aspects such as the staircase and wall paneling in good shape. It shouldn’t be too difficult to return the area to its previous splendour.

Ornate interiors

Abandoned Southeast

Huston definitely didn’t skimp on the inside design of his attractive clapboard residence. The walls of the parlor are adorned with beautiful wood paneling and built-in bookcases, and the pièce de résistance, a gorgeous marble fireplace, is in superb ornamental condition.

Marble masterpiece

Abandoned Southeast

The brick hearth has been blackened over the years by layers of soot, and it appears to have warmed the house through many a Georgia winter, but the marble fireplace surround has retained its white outside, which is a plus. We’re sure it’ll look as good as new with a little restoration and cleaning.

Elegant proportions

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It’s easy to see this opulent mansion hosting some of society’s most famous athletes. This area, with its exquisite double glass doors and stunning warm wood paneling, has undoubtedly seen its fair share of soirees.

Property in peril

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The Huston Mansion and old plantation have been included to the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s 2019 list of Sites in Peril. It’s unclear whether the publicity surrounding the home will lead to increased preservation efforts, but several sites have been spared from destruction after appearing on the trust’s list of endangered structures.

Exterior damage

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Externally, the side porch is in rough repair, having been destroyed by storms and other severe weather. The glass is broken, the screened door has fallen off its hinges, and the brick pavement is in desperate need of repair.

Vacant property

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So, what’s next for this ancient residence? The Georgia Nature Conservancy, a recognized organization, recently utilized the mansion as offices, but it is now unoccupied. The grounds are available to the public and are popular with picnickers, fishermen, and bird-watchers, but the house is completely off-limits.

Balanced on the brink

Abandoned Southeast

With no long-term rehabilitation plans, the Huston House’s future is dubious, and a string of recent hurricanes in Georgia has put the property in even greater jeopardy. One thing is certain: seeing such a historic relic destroyed to ruins would be a horrible waste.

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