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Garden History of Georgia (Part 2): The Elms and Esquiline Hill

SOURCE: Garden History of Georgia, 1733 - 1933. Edited by Hattie C. Rainwater and compiled by Loraine M. Cooney. 1933 by the Peachtree Garden Club.


This month, we are highlighting the historic Columbus gardens and their homes that were a part of the publication, Garden History of Georgia, 1733 - 1933, published by the Peachtree Garden Club. They divided up the book into three sections - early gardens, modern gardens, and garden club projects. Columbus has four gardens featured in the early section and four in the modern. Those will be the focus of our spotlights this month.

Today's Spotlight features the final two early gardens - The Elms and Esquiline Hill. While Esquiline Hill has been lost over the years, The Elms is still standing on Buena Vista Road across from the backside of the AFLAC property.

On Buena Vista Road we find The Elms. Built as a country home in 1832 by Hanson Scott Estes of Columbus, it stood on many acres, some of which have gone to the development of a modern suburb (Overlook). Around it this gentleman set out the trees from which it took its name. The central portion of the house built by him is an exquisite Greek Revival cottage. It is oddly companioned by bow window shaped wings added by Lloyd Guyton Bowers of Bowers' Shore, Massachusetts, who purchased the property in the 1850's.

Yet another note is struck by the delightful butterfly design of the box garden. Its form was preserved by brick edgings, as the box borders were dug up a number of years ago (prior to 1933). Now they have been replaced, as has been much of the shrub planting. The parterre formerly filled with roses is in grass. The giant magnolia which dominates house and garden was not a part of the original scheme. At The Elms, the picket fence carried pineapple finials across its front section and enclosed the service yard and buildings. In recent years, the Lloyd Bowers have developed wide stretches of lawn and garden. The Elms as we see it today (1933) is made up of seemingly inconsistent elements molded into a charming whole.

The fifteen years prior to the Civil War was a period of growing prosperity in middle and north Georgia. Fortunes were made and spent. Many handsome homes were built, and many gardens planted. In 1849, Major Raphael Moses of Columbus selected as the site for his home a high plateau some five miles from that city. Here was a fine natural growth of timber, several springs, and a lovely view of the surrounding country. With the building of his house completed, Major Moses turned his attention to the grounds and gardens. Berckmans of Augusta was given carte blanche. He in turn sent to England for Kidd, a noted landscape gardener, who demanded a free hand and three years in which to develop the estate.

In 1860 the task was finished. An avenue of crape myrtle one and a half miles long led from the road to the house. For the formal garden a design of circles and semi-circles was employed. The large beds were hedged in cherry laurel; the small beds bordered by box. In addition, there was a mystic maze. The rose garden contained almost every variety then known, bulbs and garden flowers were in profusion, and rare plants were cared for in a hothouse. Near the dwelling a circular summer house formed of cherry laurel and climbing roses still affords a charming setting for the weddings of the Major's great granddaughters.

The climate of Columbus is favorable to the growth of magnolias, tea olives and camellias. At Esquiline Hill (above sketch is by Mollie Mealing) these flowering trees have reached a mammoth size. A camellia forty feet in height is almost matched by a tea olive. Cedars and holly also grew in the formal garden, beyond which three cork oaks sent to Major Moses from Spain still proudly rear their heads amidst huge pecan and walnut trees.

At the rear of the house a walk bordered by Cherokee roses led to the quarters. A great vegetable garden was nearby, also wide orchards planted in pears, peaches, apples, apricots and figs. The cultivation of white and purple grapes was undertaken and a pergola half a mile long supported the vines. A mile of pear trees with alternate plantings of red and white roses was named Benning Avenue for an admired friend. In 1918 at the instance of Major Moses' daughter, Mrs. Lionel Levy, the neighboring war-time training camp was called after "Old Oak" General Benning. Now as Fort Benning (and now Fort Moore), it is approached by a road which cuts through Esquiline Hill.

The classical taste and the kindly customs of the day combined to give this estate its name. Mr. Forsyth, in thanking his friend Major Moses for a basket of choice fruit and flowers, compared him to Roman Maecenas whose Villa on the Esquiline was famed equally for hospitality and the beauty of its orchards and gardens. He suggested calling the plantation Esquiline Hill.

The devastations of war and the following disastrous economic conditions destroyed much of what has been described. However, enough (in 1933) remains to make Esquiline Hill one of Georgia's interesting survivals of a vanished past. It is pleasant to know that the Levy family, descendants of Major Moses, make the lovely old place their home.

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