Sitting regally on a hillside overlooking 32-acres of lovely landscaping, Hills and Dales in LaGrange, Georgia, is known to locals simply as the “Callaway Home.” Yes, we are referring to members of THAT Callaway family who created Callaway Gardens. But while Callaway Gardens is known near and far, Hills and Dales Estate is almost a well-kept secret outside of the area. Yet this historic landmark that includes the Fuller E. Callaway family home and Ferrell Gardens has been receiving visitors for over 175 years! Why not visit yourself and experience the southern charm of “days gone by!”
The Vision for a Garden:
The history of Hills and Dales began in 1832 when Nancy Coleman Ferrell planted a small formal garden on her LaGrange property. Her daughter, Sarah took over the care of the garden in 1841. Sarah was a visionary who scratched out garden design ideas in the dirt and slowly expanded the space to include formal boxwood parterres on six terrace levels. Slave-masons built steps and retaining walls out of native stone. Sarah rooted her own boxwoods and scoured the region for plants, especially unusual and exotic ornamentals.
Sarah Ferrell welcomed visitors from near and far to her garden, and local residents could often be found wandering the pathways and the maze. One young businessman in the textile trade, Fuller E Callaway was a frequent visitor who expressed his admiration for the garden masterpiece Sarah Ferrell created. According to local lore, Mrs. Ferrell encouraged Fuller to purchase the site after her death. Fuller and Ida Cason Callaway did indeed purchase the property in 1911.
The Vision for a Home: Ida Callaway renamed the estate “Hills and Dales,” and Fuller Callaway envisioned a new home at the crest of the hill in the footprint of the old Ferrell homestead. Noted architect, Neel Reid, designed a Georgian Italian villa to be the centerpiece of Sarah Ferrell’s gardens. The home was completed in 1916 and is considered “a landmark of the American Renaissance.”
The Callaway home encompasses 13,000 square feet with 30 rooms on three levels. There are nine bathrooms, nine bedrooms, a music room, library, billiard room, formal dining room, large kitchen and butler’s pantry.
While it is a large mansion, it is a very comfortable, livable space and served the needs of many Callaway family members over the years. Fuller E. Callaway Jr. and wife, Alice Hand Callaway, began residing and caring for the estate in 1936. (An interesting tidbit is that Fuller Jr. and his brother, Cason, both married sisters – Alice and Virginia Hand. Cason Callaway opened Callaway Gardens in the early 1950s).
Alice Callaway redecorated the interior of Hills and Dales in 1948 and many of these mid-century pieces as well as family heirlooms are still part of the home’s furnishings.
In 1998, Fuller and Alice Callaway bequeathed Hills and Dales Estate to the Fuller E. Callaway Foundation. The estate was formally opened to the public in 2004. Until recently you could only tour the gardens and the first level of the home. After restoration work was completed, the second and third floors were opened for tours in May, 2011. The second floor was the private living space and bedrooms of the family and the third floor is a spacious game room.
Acclaimed Garden: Four amazing women helped to nurture Ferrell Gardens, one of the most acclaimed gardens in the South. Nancy Coleman Ferrell and daughter Sarah Ferrell created the gardens and Ida Callaway restored and expanded the space. Daughter-in-law, Alice Callaway took over the care in 1936 and gardened there for over 60 years. Each of these women added their own personal touches but maintained the integrity of the original gardens.
My friend, Sue Memmer, and I were fortunate to tour Ferrell Gardens with Horticulture Manager, Jo Phillips, who worked for Alice Callaway until Alice’s death in 1998. “Alice was quite an accomplished gardener, recalls Jo. “She collected magnolias, orchids and maidenhair ferns. She grew a variety of plants and had something in bloom in every season, which is a tradition we continue today.”
You will be enchanted by the many theme gardens including Lover’s Lane, Magnolia Walk, Sunken Garden, Herb Garden, Ray Garden and Church Garden. The most significant signature plant in the garden is the dwarf English boxwood (Buxus sempervirens ‘Suffruticosa’) that provides the structure of the 2 ½ acres of formal boxwood parterres. Some of the boxwoods are shaped into mottos, including “God is Love.”
During the fall, Hills and Dales is open Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 5:00 pm. Admission is $15 to visit the house and gardens or $8 to view the garden only. Your visit begins at the visitor center which features an exhibit gallery, orientation theater and gift shop. The house will also be decorated for the holidays to get you in the spirit! For more information, visit the website at www.hillsanddalesestate.org.
Where to Eat and Stay in LaGrange:
Hills and Dales Estate is only an hour drive southwest of Fayette County. LaGrange is such a charming town that you might want to plan an overnight stay. There is a wonderful selection of eateries for every taste. I enjoyed a casual lunch at Taste of Lemon, 204 Morgan Street, a quaint restaurant housed in an old church. It features outstanding southern country cooking, including a ten-vegetable plate that is “to die for!” For more upscale dining, check out C’Sons, 120 Main Street, known for seasonal “new American” cuisine. Continue to enjoy the “days gone by” experience by spending the night at Thyme Away Bed and Breakfast, 508 Greenville Street. The home is Greek Revival and the rooms are furnished with beautiful antiques and include gas fireplaces, refrigerators, and private bath with whirlpool tubs. A gourmet breakfast is included with your stay.
With cooler weather, why not plan a trip to enjoy the beauty, tranquility and history of Hills and Dales Estate!