The first emperor of Rome is in Southside Virginia. So is a 19thcentury Samurai warrior. A dozen Granada lions from Spain are about, as is a soapstone cooking vessel.
An eclectic collection? That doesn’t begin to describe the treasure trove at MacCallum More Museum & Gardens in Chase City.
Maritime sculptures. Paeans to U.S. Navy battleship anchors. New Orleans architecture. Greek gods. An homage to African American educational heritage. You name it, and chances are it is situated somewhere in the 6 acres surrounding the former home of a prominent chief justice of the Supreme Court of Virginia and his family.
Billy Hudgins, a one-time Navy commander and son of Edward Wren and Lucy Hudgins, the original property owners, is largely responsible for the agglomeration at the gardens and museum.
“In all, the collection is a testament to Billy’s vision,” says museum director and author N. Diana Thorpe. “While he built the gardens as a memorial to his mother, in the final analysis, they are really a memorial to Billy himself and to his travels throughout the world.
“Who else would have thought that a 16th-century wellhead from Italy would live in harmony with U.S. Navy ship anchors, cobblestones from Richmond streets, a marble statue of Caesar Augustus and a replica of a fountain that stands in the Alhambra Royal Palace in Spain?”
The museum and gardens, located in Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative’s service territory, tell the story of the Hudgins family in a way that words cannot.
According to Thorpe, this was “a family whose narrative played out on the state, national and world stages, but whose roots stayed firmly planted in the red clay of south-central Virginia.”
The founder of the estate, Edward Wren Hudgins, was born Jan. 17, 1882, in nearby Buckingham County. In 1908, after graduating from T.C. Williams Law School, he started a law practice in Chase City, winning election to the Virginia House of Delegates in 1916 and to the 34th Judicial Circuit as a judge in 1926.
The Virginia legislature elevated him to the state Supreme Court in 1930, and he became chief justice in 1947. Hudgins married Lucy Wren Morton in 1910. They built their first home directly across the street from the property that now makes up the museum and gardens. In 1929, when the couple moved into their new home, Lucy started the gardens. She named them MacCallum More to honor her Scottish heritage.
She was distantly related to the first Duke of Argyle, Archibald Campbell, and the seat of the head of the Campbell clan was called MacCallum More in Gaelic.
She also had unique qualities.
“One interesting personal fact about Mrs. Hudgins is that she apparently had a skin condition on her ankles, and her physician told her to expose them to the sunlight,” says Diana Ramsey, director of buildings and grounds.
“She used to go up to the attic and take naps with her bare feet sticking out of the third story window, surely creating an unusual sight for her neighbors and other passersby.”
Lucy Hudgins was passionate about genealogy. The late Dr. Joseph Eggleston, former president of the Virginia Historical Society and of Hampden-Sydney College, once described her as “an outstanding Virginia genealogist.”
So it’s no wonder that several of the dedicated plaques in the gardens are tributes to her family lineage. Many local folk tales also portray Hudgins as a free spirit and a oneof- a-kind personality.
Edwin and Lucy Hudgins had two sons, Edward Morton Hudgins, born in 1910, and William “Billy” Henry Hudgins, born in 1915. After World War II, Billy worked directly under President Harry S. Truman and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in a special detail in 1950, and served as a senior aide to Adm. Robert B. Carney from 1951 to 1953 during the formation of NATO.
THE HOME & GARDENS
Built in the Colonial Revival style in 1929 by famed Richmond architect Carl M. Linder, the MacCallum More house has many historically significant features.
The paneled wainscoting in the dining and living rooms and the mantel came from Stoneland, the 1711 home of Revolutionary War Col. Lewis Burwell, rebuilt in 1816 after a catastrophic fire.
In addition, the blue silk damask wall covering in the dining room was once used as a backdrop in the Virginia Supreme Court chambers, while the crystal chandelier with blue Bohemian glass is said to have come from a historic palace in Vienna, Austria.
Edwin and Lucy Hudgins made MacCallum More their home until their deaths in 1958 and 1964, respectively.
In 1965, Billy Hudgins, long retired from the Navy, and having just logged his second million miles of travel as a senior cruise director with Matson Cruise Lines in San Francisco, became the sole owner of the property.
“It was under Billy’s ownership that the gardens became something truly unique,” says Thorpe, noting that he expanded the original 1.24-acre tract by purchasing adjacent lots as they became available.
He then stocked the garden with an untold number of statues, sculptures, artifacts and architectural examples imported from Europe, obtained from local area houses and from demolished buildings in Richmond and Norfolk.
Today the home, gardens and the museum, which was established in 1996, all sit on a combined 6 acres. All are assembled into an indescribable mix that renders the word “eclectic” obsolete and brings about visions of what it might have looked like if Charles Foster Kane had opened and displayed the contents of every crate shown at the end of the movie “Citizen Kane.”
Many of MacCallum More’s artifacts also have hidden or secret histories in addition to their artistic merits, such as the cornstalk ironwork embedded in the wall adjacent to the home’s walkway gate.
According to Thorpe, the legend is that a man from Iowa took his bride to live in New Orleans. She soon became homesick for Iowa, and he commissioned the iron cornstalks so she could see them every day and feel more at ease.
Nearby, an enamel tile with a lily on it is embedded in a stone wall. The foreign minister of Italy gave it to Billy Hudgins. “The lily is similar to one that was the inspiration for costume jewelry made for world-renowned writer Fanny Hurst, who was a close friend of Billy’s,” Thorpe says.
One of the most prominent features of the gardens is the wrought iron and stone “moon gate” which Billy commissioned in Alabama as a replica of a similar one he saw in New Orleans. The granite cap stones around the circular gate came from the arched gothic windows of the Porter Street Presbyterian Church in Chesterfield County, Va.
“Stonemason Clifford Dodson recut them so that they could be used for circular capping,” Thorpe says.
In addition to the man-made artifacts, the MacCallum More gardens also feature an arboretum consisting of more than 90 species of trees, flowers and plants, including mature boxwoods from old homes in Southside Virginia.
The overall garden area is made up of several individual gardens: a white garden, a pink garden, a rose garden and an herb garden — plus an array of fragrant dogwoods and azaleas throughout.
The MacCallum More Museum, initially built in 1996 to house the Arthur H. Robertson Collection of Native American Artifacts, today houses four permanent exhibits.
The largest is Robertson’s collection of prehistoric fluted-point arrowheads, spearheads and stone tools, all found in and around Mecklenburg County. It has been described by some experts as one of the most comprehensive Native American collections of its kind in the world.
The museum also houses the “Though Silent Yet I Speak” exhibit, which showcases the story of the Thyne Institute, founded in 1876 in Chase City as a school for Blacks.
“In its establishment, the Thyne Institute reflected the hopes of Presbyterian missionaries and of the freedmen that education would be a means through which African Americans could improve themselves and lead productive lives,” Thorpe says.
“At Thyne, students learned academic skills and values that would enable them to eventually qualify to earn college degrees. The institute also trained many of the Black public school teachers who taught in Mecklenburg County and in surrounding counties in Southside Virginia.”
The museum, nearly as eclectic as the MacCallum More gardens, also houses a life-sized 19th-century Samurai warrior statue and a 19th-century cigar store Indian, as well as a visual history of some historic Chase City businesses, such as the Estes Express Lines, which started operations there in 1931.
“When the Great Depression came along, farmers were especially hard-hit,” says Thorpe. “In 1931, W.W. Estes bought a used Chevy truck and began hauling livestock to market for his neighbors. Pretty soon, he was hauling farm supplies and other goods across the commonwealth. The rest, as Billy Hudgins would have likely said, is ‘History that should be remembered.’”
For more information, go to mmmg.org or call 434-372-0502.