After 138 years of being in the family, Faye Montgomery made the hard choice to sell her home, the Montgomery House, to the city of Madison, who will in turn transform the land around the home into a community botanical garden.
“I felt I gave the city a gift when I sold it to them.”
Faye Montgomery married into the Montgomery family in 1966. She grew up in Mississippi and moved to Jackson when she married. Though she didn’t grow up in the house, she remembers how her husband, Hugh, talked about the cold winters he endured there.
“I always loved the house and Hugh would remember how cold it was in the wintertime. It really had beautiful things, beautiful wallpapers in it,” said Montgomery.
“The house has remained in one family for a long time, and that’s about the only reason that it has stayed in place. Besides that, until my husband’s father lived there no one had any children. So, the furniture and things stayed there and that’s why there is so much of the original paintings and furniture.”
The house was listed in the National Register of Historical Places (NRHP) in 1984. It is rumored to have been built before the Civil War, in 1852, by architect Frank Wills. But, according to Faye, she never was able to track down the deeds that confirmed this.
Curiously, Wills is also credited with building Chapel of the Cross Episcopal church in Madison around 1850 - 52.
“I loved Madison. There were not very many people there when I moved to Jackson. At the time, his mother was still living there, and he had to be talked into moving up there later and he loved it.”
“I would go and love to mow the yard and about the only people that were there then were the Sledges. Mr. Sledge—he had a service station in it with hoop cheese and a few cans of sausage and crackers or something like that—otherwise, you drove into Ridgeland, and there was a Piggly Wiggly store, to get any food. It was very, very small at that time.
“It was wonderful in its way and very shocking to see how it’s grown. But it has grown into something good.”
Montgomery and her husband lived in Jackson for 29 years before they moved into the family home in 1995, towards the end of the year. Before they moved in full time they would go to help around the house.
The city recently received a $25,000 grant from America In Bloom (AIB). They were able to match the money with their own, creating $50,000 for the project. Their plan is to turn about six acres of the property into a community botanical garden with labeled flowers, vegetables, trees and a walking path.
“I’m excited about the English garden. It’s going to be beautiful. I wonder if they’re going to be able to do it without English weather, a little rain every day. When I think of an English garden, I think of a variety of things all growing in mass. But there are formal English gardens, too. They’ll have fun. My husband had a garden up there and my mother who lived in the house for a while had a wonderful vegetable garden.”
The late Hugh Montgomery, Faye Montgomery’s husband, was the last family member to grow up at the house. Faye remembers him being a religious man.
“Hugh remembered growing up there when it was so small that they didn’t have a pastor sometimes. So he went to the Baptist church one Sunday and then a Methodist church the next.”
The house is now a relic of a past time and the city of Madison intends to celebrate this.
The city purchased the Montgomery house in 2020. They plan on making a focal point for the city. It’s antebellum character will enhance the city’s southern charm.
But besides history, the house taught a lot to the people who lived in it for over a century.
“I remember cutting down a beautiful old piece of bedroom furniture to make a table chest thing out of it and look back now and people should go very slowly when redoing old things. Oh, all the stuff I did wrong,” Montgomery said, “but I did some things right, I could say that the house taught me enough about what not to do.”
Work on the garden will begin this spring, and is expected to come together over the next couple of years.