Boxwood: An Antebellum Garden
An Antebellum Garden with Deep Southern Roots
Just off Interstate 20, one hour east of Atlanta, lies a gem of an antebellum town named Madison, tucked away in history, a town thought by General William Tecumseh Sherman “too pretty to burn,” so the legend goes. Actually, the town didn’t get off scot-free. Union forces did burn the industrial and railroad facilities there. Madison lay directly on the Georgia Railroad path connecting Atlanta with Augusta and the Eastern theater, and was an appetizing target, but Sherman was somehow swayed by the plaintive appeals of Madison’s prominent resident Joshua Hill, a Union sympathizer who had recently lost his son Legare at Cassville, and who had met Sherman when he went to retrieve the body in Atlanta. And so the historic downtown was saved from destruction, including an exquisite house and garden known as Boxwood, also known as the Kolb-Pou-Newton House, and, with it, one small memento: In the ruby-colored glass surrounding the front door is the mark of a Union officer who simply couldn’t resist etching his name in the glass, where his signature remains today.
Madison was founded in 1809 and named in honor of our fourth president, James Madison, who negotiated a treaty with the nearby Creek Indians. The early settlers, many of whom had served during the Revolution, planned their town with a geometric regularity that reflected their Colonial background. During the cotton boom the town prospered, and circa 1850, at the height of Georgia’s antebellum wealth, a man named Wildes B. Kolb built Boxwood, a magnificent house with a double façade (one side Italianate, one side Greek revival) and twin parterre gardens enclosed by a white picket fence. The property was purchased in 1869 by Louis W. Pou, whose family occupied it until 1906, when it was bought by John Thomas Newton, whose descendants have faithfully cared for it ever since. Boxwood, which is listed in the Historic American Buildings Survey, is now maintained by Floyd and Jean Newton.
I arrived in Madison on a beautiful spring Sunday afternoon and made my way down its quiet, sun-dappled streets past stately white-columned homes in search of Boxwood. I was happy to have left the interstate behind. In the five minutes it took me to drive from I-20 to downtown Madison, I felt as if I were being catapulted back in time, away from the traffic and concrete and the pre-fab gas stations, and into some fairy world where time had slowed to a gorgeous halt. I found Academy Street, and immediately recognized the great expanse of clipped geometric boxwoods from the few pictures I had seen in books. A housekeeper ushered me inside through the great central hall and into a drawing room to wait for Mr. Newton, who was working in his study. The interior of the house was comfortable but stately, with 14-foot ceilings, period furniture, fine paintings, and towering French doors. Mr. Newton agreed to take me on a tour of his grounds, accompanied by his brother-in-law, Sonny Hunt.