Wallace Family Papers, 1832-1999
| Manuscripts Gifts 2007 | Front Page 2007 | Previous Issues | Friends of the Library |
A gift to SCL Manuscripts Division announced in 2007
This collection of eighteen and three-quarter linear feet of letters, journals, estate papers, photographs, and printed items, 1832-1999, is a virtual history of the South Carolina pine-belt community of Mars Bluff in eastern Florence County - and of the city of Florence - as revealed through the lives and times of five generations of members of the Wallace and associated Gregg, Pearce, and Mellichamp families. But the story unfolds through other connections as well - the Harllee, Ellerbe, Parker, Passailaigue, Sigwald, Gordon, Sallenger, and Vernon families and the places in South Carolina, the wider South, the nation and the world which produced them or brought them forth: Marion County, Charleston, Columbia, Cheraw, Wilmington, Atlanta, Baltimore, Florida, California, Iowa, Alaska, Europe and South America. | Manuscripts Gifts 2007 | Previous Issues | Endowments | Friends of the Library |
At the heart of the collection are Amelia Mellichamp Wallace (1900-1994) and her husband, Walter Gregg Wallace (1896-1971).
One of ten children born to Annie Pearce Mellichamp (1869-1957), of the Claussen community of Florence County, and Joseph Capers Mellichamp (1864-1941), of Charleston, Amelia was reared in Atlanta, where in the 1890s her father had been an official of the Cotton Exposition and later established a highly successful jewelry business on Whitehall Street and subsequently sold real estate. Amelia Mellichamp and Walter G. Wallace were married in 1923 and settled down on Wallace family property in the Mars Bluff community. When the Florence Civil Court was established in 1929, she went to work as court stenographer and stayed for thirty-seven years, retiring in 1966. During this time she combined homemaking and club and church work with a dual career as court reporter and as secretary to the postal inspector in Florence.
In addition to correspondence, topical files reveal the extent of her many interests and commitments beyond being a wife and a mother to two daughters - Louise “Lou” (b. 1924) and Amelia “Mimi” (b. 1926). The collection contains material relating to her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution (principally the Samuel Bacot Chapter in Florence), the National Society Colonial Dames XVII Century, and the United Daughters of the Confederacy. The files document her volunteer work with the local chapter of the American Red Cross and with the American Legion Auxiliary which she served for forty years. Several files show her commitment to the Republican Party from 1978 to 1992. But the most extensive files are those pertaining to the Henry Timrod Club, 1932-1990. Through her membership in and leadership of this organization, she attempted to address local problems and to bring about change. Principal among these were the “open house” movement to reveal conditions in the Florence city and county jail facilities in 1967, efforts in 1972 to save the old county court house from demolition, and in 1989-90 the project of reforming the Henry Timrod House after its damage by Hurricane Hugo.
Letters from Amelia’s mother, Annie P. Mellichamp, daughter of Dr. James Pearce (1836-1916) and Sarah Elizabeth Harllee Pearce (1846-1879), comprise a sizable segment of the collection’s correspondence and reflect her role in the patriotic, cultural, religious and civic organizations of the city. They relate principally to the activities of her large family, especially her surviving children - J.C., Jr. (“Jobe”), Emile, Louise, Duncan, R. Gaillard (“Yardy”), Stiles, Sara, and Amelia - and grandchildren and to her club work and many activities. She was an active member of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the National Society Colonial Dames XVII Century.
One of three sons of Joseph Wilds Wallace (1861-1928) and Sallie Edwards Gregg (1869-1956), Walter G. Wallace (1896-1971) was described by an editor of the Florence Morning News, 4 July 1971, as a “gentle, quiet man” who, though able to live pretentiously, did not, “valuing rather the simple and true virtues of which the good life consists.” A 1917 graduate of The Citadel, Wallace served abroad in World War I as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Field Artillery before returning to live and work on his ancestral farm at Mars Bluff. In 1959 Walter and Amelia Wallace, along with Walter’s brother Joseph Wilds Wallace (1900-1971) and their daughters Louise and Mimi, donated a hundred acres in Mars Bluff to the University of South Carolina to establish a branch campus of the university. They continued to reside on the campus, which eventually became Francis Marion University. A unit of one and a quarter linear feet in the collection provides the history of the original land transaction, of the life of this school as it evolved from a USC satellite campus to a major institution of higher learning in South Carolina. Among other land matters addressed in the collection are those pertaining to right-of-way transactions with the Seaboard Air Line Railroad and the establishment of the Florence Air Base on the old Smiley Gregg home place in 1942. Furthermore, in 1977, Amelia donated property just off the old Marion Highway in the Quinby area for use as a baseball park, which was named Walter Wallace Field.
Joseph Wilds (“Jay”) Wallace (1900-1971) was described by the late James A. Rogers, editor of the Florence Morning News, as a “maverick, non-conformist, eccentric,” but also a person “of keen, educated mind with a clear appreciation for the meaning of land and the worth of people and heritage.” J.W. Wallace attended The Citadel, graduated from the University of South Carolina law school in 1924 and, with his brothers, acquired and managed vast land holdings in the Mars Bluff section as well as other areas in Florence and adjacent counties. In addition to some of the land donated to USC-Florence, Joseph also gave his mansion to the campus and it became known as “Wallace Hall” in his honor. It is now the President’s House of Francis Marion University and is called “Wallace House.” This building is well-documented in the collection, as is Mount Hope Cemetery, whose association he served as president from 1928-1952. Among J.W. Wallace’s papers are several letters from or about his friend Melvin H. Purvis, the Timmonsville native who as a Department of Justice agent captured the notorious John Dillinger in Chicago. On 20 May 1937, on “S.S. Normandie” stationary, Purvis wrote to “Jay,” “It was a fine pleasure to see you again and you cannot know how good it made me feel to have you meet me in New York. I appreciate everything you did for me but most of all being with you even for a short time was worth so much to me. I only wish that you were here with me. We would have a great time.” Purvis goes on to state, “I have not yet decided at what point I will leave the ship - England or France.” He continues, “However I do know that I am going to both those countries and from them on into Germany for a while. I keep thinking how great it would be if you were with me. I have met several nice people and am enjoying everything but our discourse is naturally not the eye to eye kind that you and I would have.”
Walter and Amelia Wallace’s daughters, Louise and Mimi, wrote home faithfully when they were away, signing their letters “LYGM” or “LYGL” (“Love You Good Lou” or “Love You Good Mimi”). Both wrote postcards home from the University of South Carolina when they were students there between 1942 and 1945. Then the postcards flowed home from Mimi as she pursued studies as a cadet nurse at Johns Hopkins, 1945-1947, and then became a lieutenant in the Army stationed at Camp Hood, Texas. A newspaper clipping from the Atlanta Constitution, 23 January 1953, announced the forthcoming marriage of Amelia Wallace to Dr. Robert Gordon Vernon in St. John’s Episcopal Church, Marion, Iowa. In 1993 Mimi Wallace authored African Americans at Mars Bluff, South Carolina, a book that uncovered evidence of rice farming in Florence County in small, garden plots of approximately one quarter of an acre.
A large part of the correspondence in the collection is from Mimi Wallace Vernon and from her children - Walter Benson (b. 1954), Robert Gordon (“Gords” or “Gordy”, b. 1956) and Jane Hamilton. Her husband, Dr. Robert Gordon Vernon (b. 1923), and two other children, Laura Pearce (b. 1955) and Andrew Gregg (b. 1961) died in an airplane crash in Colorado in 1978. The correspondence embraces not only the exuberance and vitality of youth and the various loyalties, discoveries, and celebrations, but also the ordinary routines of members of the family going about their daily lives. It also reveals the disasters, losses, and tragedies the family experienced.
The spirit, the tone - and much of the substance of this collection - are summed up in the words found on a postcard sent 27 October 1993 written by Gordy Vernon to his grandmother Amelia Mellichamp Wallace: “Mummum, when I am history and you are history, I want you to know I loved you.”
Some of the collection’s most interesting and unusual material is to be found in the two and a half linear feet of letters, journals, programs, photographs, and printed items relating to the life of Marie Passailaigue Gordon (1878-1976), or “Cousin Marie,” as the Wallace and Mellichamp families called her.
Born and reared in Charleston, she was the daughter of J. Emile Passailaigue and Louisa A. Sigwald Passailaigue, half-sister of Joseph Capers Mellichamp. Her striking beauty as a young woman is apparent in the many photographs taken of her during her brief career as a professional actress, especially those made in 1910 in Columbus, Ohio, apparently during the national tour of David Belasco’s production of “Heart of Maryland.” A handwritten note on the back of a picture indicates that in 1909 she had graduated with honors and as the only American in her class from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. The postmark on an envelope addressed to “Virginia Randolph,” her stage name, attests that she was in London in October 1908. Her papers also reveal that sometime during this period she had married journalist George Hoyt Smith (d. 1944), who had been in Aiken, S.C., and from 1896 to 1908 had been city editor of the Charleston News and Courier.
Later divorced from Smith, she met and, in 1913, married Philip Kearney Gordon (1868-1925), a railroad executive, realtor, and clubman from San Francisco where Marie then established her residence with her husband. After vacationing every summer at Carmel on the Monterey Peninsula, the couple finally built there a seaside Spanish-style villa, designed by San Francisco architect Ted Ashley and called “La Casa del Mar Azul” where they established their permanent residence. From then on, Marie was instrumental in the development of the cultural life of the resort community, especially in the establishment of a musical tradition which eventually culminated in an annual festival. She also acted in local theatrical productions, in one of which, as early as 1918, she may have met her lifelong friend Hudson Strode (1892-1976).
Among her papers is a surviving unit of letters, printed items, and photographs, 1924-1970, which this writer, lecturer, traveler and University of Alabama professor and his wife, Thérèse, sent Marie during the course of their long friendship. On 24 January 1955 Strode informed her: “I have just finished and signed the ‘Introduction’ to my biography of Jefferson Davis - a labor of love three-and-a-half years in process…This for Volume 1.” On 1 August 1961 he reported on outcome of having had his portrait painted (commissioned by Marie for presentation to the University of Alabama) by a presumed Carmel acquaintance of hers, South Carolina artist Richard Lofton (1908-1966). Later that year, on 16 November, he mentioned the knighthood that King Gustav IV of Sweden had had bestowed upon him at the Swedish Embassy in Washington, D.C., the week before. The following year, 29 June 1962, he wrote Marie about his research for volume three of Jefferson Davis and a new edition of Sweden: Model for a World: “I had a delightful hour and a half with the King in the [summer] palace and down in his superb ravine garden with the rhododendrons at their full glory and taller than a house....I have seen almost everyone of importance from the Prime Minister to Marcus Wallenberg, the noted banker. I have enough material to write twenty new chapters but I shall add only two.” He concludes by noting: “I went one day to Denmark to lunch with Isak Dinesen (Baroness Blixen). She is extremely frail.” And on the back of a black-and-white snapshot in the collection, Strode has written: “Hudson with Isak Dinesen[.] The last picture ever taken of her. At her home Rungstedlund, Denmark June 20, 1962.” From Tuscaloosa, 28 February 1965, he informed Marie of the “prolonged five-weeks Literary and Arts Festival of Town and University,” during which time there were many events “I felt compelled to attend, and we had to ask old friends like Louis Untermeyer and Eudory Welty to tea. There were dinners and parties….I had to speak once….So it goes in the provinces sometimes, and it is all disrupting.” “Domestically there are the usual complications,” he added. “No buses over, because of the Negro boycott, seven months duration already. To get a servant here for a day is a troublesome uncertainty.”