Spend the night at Margaret Mitchell’s Twelve Oaks, the inspiration for Ashley Wilkes’ home in “Gone with the Wind,” before hitting Georgia’s trail of sites related to the movie.
by Judy Garrison
It was Sunday morning – February 12, 1939. Margaret Mitchell scans The Atlanta Journal, her former employer, for the day’s news. She discovers a photo and makes a note: “I like this for Ashley’s home.”
The home, a mere 37 miles from Mitchell’s on Peachtree Street in Atlanta, was built in 1836 by Judge John Harris. The judge’s plantation near Covington, Georgia, became one of General Sherman’s headquarters during his March to the Sea, and his house at 2176 Monticello St. served as his “town house” for entertaining.
Mitchell’s 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “Gone With the Wind” was 3 years old at that time, and the film version was in full swing. According to Hollywood tabloids and newspaper coverage, Mitchell wanted little to do with the screen attempt at immortalizing her South, but upon seeing this photo, made a note and quickly forwarded it to David O. Selznick’s production team in Hollywood.
Her note was considered, and Twelve Oaks rose from the ashes to the screen.
Meanwhile, over the next century, the Covington home exchanged owners many times, and today, the glory that was Mitchell’s inspirational Twelve Oaks lives again with its doors open for overnight visitors, weddings and events.
. . .
Nicole Greer had always marveled at the antebellum homes that lined the oak-draped streets of Covington, wishing that one day, she would be lucky enough to own the one she coveted most.
On her first date with John Munn, Greer walked him past her favorite house, which was empty at the time. “I love this house,” she recalls telling him. “I knew the taxes hadn’t been paid, and it was more than likely going to go through foreclosure, but I knew I wouldn’t be able to buy it at the listing price of $1.8 million,” she says. Munn encouraged her to follow her dream in spite of the cost, and to show his support, walked her to the front porch where they shared their first kiss.
The stars aligned for Greer and Munn, now engaged, and the home’s price dropped drastically. An elated Greer signed the contract on the seven-bedroom, six-bath house in November of 2011.
According to town records, Covington’s old homes were opened to the public for a tour sponsored by the garden club in 1948. More than 2,500 people descended on the town to see these homes and their interiors, including Twelve Oaks. Since then, the home had been privately owned and never before open to guests or fans of “Gone With the Wind.”
Greer had heard the rumors about Twelves Oaks’ ties to “Gone With the Wind” around town, but had no confirmation of their validity when she purchased the house. With the help of Atlanta History Center, she found concrete proof through Mitchell’s note and the photo along with it, which can be seen in the book “David O. Selznick’s Hollywood.”
Due to uncontrollable issues, Greer’s purchase date was delayed seven months, resulting in more than 19 broken windows, significant external damage and a massive water leak producing a gushing river from a third-story window. Twelve Oaks had already sat empty for more than two years, so the house wasn’t in the best of shape, but that didn’t deter Greer.
“I wanted to keep everything the same,” she says. “I wanted the same floor plan and everything historically accurate.”
Although the workers involved with Twelve Oaks’ improvements were often pushed to their limits with Greer’s demands for historical certainty, their handiwork is something to be admired.
“We would open a wall or a pipe, and we never knew what we’d find,” she says. “We ended up replacing all the electrical and plumbing. We tried very hard to hide everything [sprinklers, emergency lighting, etc.] We took care in replacing the broken windows with the original wavy glass. Gas coal sets were built for the original coal crates for all fireplaces. There was only one person in the United States that even did that, and we found him in Washington, Georgia.
“If something was added, we copied from the original,” she continues. “The needle or rib cage shower [pictured] is divine. It looked awful, but I told the plumbers they had to have vision.” The original shower from the 1800s graces Katherine’s Mirror Image Suite along with a clawfoot tub that sits next to the fireplace. “It’s like stepping back in time, only you can turn your fire on with the remote control,” Greer jokes.
From the custom designed window treatments to specialty milled heart pine, reclaimed tile floors and a treasured hand-painted French bed, right down to an old Victrola-horn light fixture, there’s a nugget of Greer’s passion palpable in every room. One of the most enchanting sites is the glass chandelier suspended over the dining room table. Discovered at an Atlanta auction house, Greer purchased it without close inspection, hoping it was Waterford, but learning later it far exceeded the brand in quality and years.
Honoring Covington’s place in the “Hollywood of the South,” rooms are named after productions that have been associated with the house. On the first floor is the Frankly Scarlett Suite from “Gone with the Wind,” of course, and The Salvator Brother’s Study from The CW’s “Vampire Diaries,” which is currently drawing visitors to town. The house was featured at the beginning of the show’s second season in the fourth episode titled “Memory Lane.” On the second floor are Katherine’s Mirror Image Suite, also from “Vampire Diaries,” and the In the Heat of the Night Suite. The third floor, currently under renovation, has plans for a Suite Home Alabama, plus three others.
Greer confesses to viewing “Gone With the Wind” and looking at both Tara and Twelve Oaks for inspiration, before deciding on the feel of the home. “The draperies with the gold trim are a little bit heavier than I wanted,” she says. “I wanted it to be warm and inviting, not like a museum where you can’t touch anything.”
In October 2012, The Twelve Oaks opened as a bed and breakfast, a historically accurate renovation concluding in a record 11 months. Reservations are available for groups and individuals online and by calling 770-385-4005. Rates start at $159 a night. If you visit this spring, you may even get a glimpse of the wedding nuptials of Greer and Munn. For more information, visit www.thetwelveoaks.com.
Travel the Gone With the Wind Trail
Twelve Oaks isn’t an official stop on Georgia’s Gone With the Wind Trail and neither is Pittypat’s Porch (named for Scarlett’s aunt), which serves mint juleps, fried chicken and Rhett’s Mixed Grill in downtown Atlanta, but the following spots are:
Start out at the Margaret Mitchell House in Atlanta, approximately a 40-minute drive from Covington, where she wrote “Gone With The Wind.” On the National Historic Register, Mitchell’s home – which she called “the dump” – is a three-story Tudor Revival located in downtown Atlanta on Peachtree Street. Operated by the Atlanta History Center, the home is open seven days a week for guided tours. An architectural, sculptural and botanical masterpiece, Oakland Cemetery is located near downtown Atlanta. Margaret Mitchell is buried here along with Georgia governors and city developers.
View one of the most extensive collections of Mitchell’s photographs and personal items, including 73 editions of and 35 translations of GWTW, at Atlanta-Fulton Central Library, located on One Margaret Mitchell Square in downtown Atlanta. See the original Bengaline honeymoon gown worn by Vivien Leigh, along with Mitchell’s personal manuscripts, publicity books, costumes and collectibles at the Gone With the Wind Museum on historic Marietta Square. Open Monday through Saturday, with individual and group tours available, the museum is a 90-minute drive from Covington.
For Rhett fans, the three-dimensional panorama of the Atlanta Cyclorama and Museum captures the struggles of The Civil War. View artifacts, weapons, maps and photographs Tuesday through Saturday at 800 Cherokee Ave. in Atlanta, next to historic Grant Park and Zoo Atlanta. Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park is a 2,923-acre national battlefield that preserves a Civil War battleground of the Atlanta Campaign (forces fought here in June of 1864). It’s located in Kennesaw, about an hour’s drive northwest of Covington.
One of the largest history museums in the nation, Atlanta History Center tells the story of the region’s people, which includes a large Civil War collection. It’s located on 130 West Paces Ferry Road NW, also about a one-hour drive northwest of Covington, in Buckhead. View some of Mitchell’s writings as well as props and costumes from the movie at Road to Tara Museum in Jonesboro, a 45-minute drive south of Covington. A mini-coach tour travels through the city (stopping at Stately Oaks Plantation), providing history of Clayton County or “The Official Home of Gone With The Wind.”
Photo Credits: Home exterior courtesy of The Twelve Oaks; dining room, Mitchell’s note chronicled in “David O. Selznick’s Hollywood” and rib cage shower by Full Circle Fotography; Frankly Scarlett Suite courtesy of The Twelve Oaks; and Margaret Mitchell House and book from Road to Tara Museum courtesy of Georgia Department of Economic Development.
For more information and exact locations of sites on the Gone With the Wind Trail and others related to Margaret Mitchell, download the Deep South Literary Trail App.
Judy Garrison is a travel writer based out of Athens, Georgia. Visit her website to find out more about her and the Seeing Southern project, stories about Southern people, celebrations and family gatherings.