In the town where Booker T. Washington and Dr. George Washington Carver flourished, Rosa Parks was born and the Tuskegee Airmen thrived, there is even more history to appreciate. Just meander down South Main Street and see the vestiges of a bygone era; flashbacks to a time when southern aristocrats ruled Tuskegee and projected their wealth through their stately homes.
Today, new owners are buying these old estates, including Sandy Taylor and her husband, Harvey Mattox who spoke about what it means to own their historic property. “We believe it speaks more about the third migration of African-Americans which we are in the midst of. Unlike the two previous migrations, which began in 1916 and again in 1940 and resulted in African-Americans migrating out of the South to the North, the West and the Midwest, the current migration is of African-Americans moving to the South. A recent comparison shows that since 1980 more African-Americans are moving to the South than to the North. Using that as a backdrop we believe it is inevitable that the grandchildren and great grandchildren of the people who cleaned the houses and worked the lands are now returning to own those properties.”
Their house, which was built around 1855, has 8 fireplaces, 5 bedrooms and 4,876 square feet of living space. “When we first purchased the house there were some individuals that told us we had lost our minds; those individuals happened to be our adult children. Our six-year old granddaughter said the house felt haunted. Another one said it was too big for us. The third grandchild was content to slide down the banister over and over. One friend wanted to know if we ever hear or see anything spooky. His 15-year-old daughter wanted to know if anyone had ever died in the house. Four years later the comments are more along the line of, “This is a beautiful home and it feels so warm and inviting” or “You guys have done a wonderful job.”
Historical records describe the house as a mansion. One thing is for sure—it is not a museum. “We have hosted community meetings, Christmas parties, candlelight dinners and a tea party for our 6-year old and 8-year old granddaughters. We are always open for a good gathering for weekend football games.”
Harvey hand-stripped all the floors then brought them back to life with a gorgeously dark satin finish. The multi-colored walls and ceilings are an extension of the couple’s passions. “Harvey is an avid gardener and I enjoy decorating, his favorite season of the year is Spring and mine is Fall. We looked at each room in the house as a jewel box. We love to go through the house and enter each room knowing we will feel energized by its furnishings and color. Each room provides a different experience. So to incorporate our interest and the beauty of not being bored, we included a variety of color in the decorating design. Very much like a garden. We especially love the dining room where the walls are painted in two different shades of lavender and the ceiling was done in silver leaf. The color of the dining room also reinforces part of the name of our home…The Lavender Inn, Tuskegee’s Historic Cobb House.”
Harvey retired from work several years before his wife took the plunge, departing from the National Park Service in 2018. Recognizing the shortage of hotels in Tuskegee, they plan to convert their home into a Bed & Breakfast in 2019.
In the meantime, they are savoring the moments they spend alone or with company at their home, which is a wonderful blend of old and new.
Though Tuskegee is a specific locale in the Deep South, this community personifies the complexities of the southern states. The content we will provide showcases the resilience of the people and their unrelenting will to do better, often in spite of tremendous odds. With more and more Northerners returning to their roots or choosing to move South for the weather, cheaper housing and cost of living, these transplants also will find a rich culture and powerful history. At the request of Booker T. Washington, the Harlem Renaissance poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote the Tuskegee Song” in 1906 as an anthem for Tuskegee University. The lyrics praise “Tuskegee, thou pride of the swift growing South.” Tuskegee is still a special place with a story that mirrors the evolution of the Deep South. That is the essence of my contributions under the heading “Tuskegee Spirit.”