Oxford's Olden Days: William G. Turner, Cedar Oaks and the Vineyard

“The South’s ideal image of itself portrayed country gentlemen as practicing the arts of gracious living, hospitality, leisure, the ride and the hunt, chivalry toward women, honor toward equals, and kindness toward inferiors. The Yankee, on the other hand, appeared as a nation of shopkeepers—always chasing the almighty dollar, shrewd but without honor, hardworking but lacking the graces of the leisured class. ‘The Northerner loves to make money,’ said a Mississippian, ‘the Southerner to spend it.’” (This was a quote from James M. McPherson’s Ordeal by Fire.)

The Mississippian was speaking of a time before the War Between the States. Or as Miss Robie Eades, long time Oxford schoolteacher, was fond of saying, “The War of Northern Aggression”. Local planter and builder, William G. Turner was a man that will always be known as the builder of some of Oxford best and most beautiful antebellum dwellings. One of these included the home I wrote about a few weeks ago that was cut in half and moved two and a half miles and put back together. This was built for his family and originally sat on the corner on North Lamar and Jefferson Avenue where the Oxford Inn is presently located. Turner was a man that could assist the local planter or businessman in building his “dream home”
and several are still in use in Oxford today.

Turner came to Oxford with his parents in 1840 from North Carolina, as did a number on the founding residents of Oxford. He started building homes in Oxford in the late 1840s. He built Robert Shegog’s home, which is now known as Rowan Oak, the Compson House, Ammadelle, and The Magnolias. He is also thought to have been responsible for building several of the antebellum structures on the campus of Ole Miss.

Turner was also one of the six founders of First Baptist Church in 1842. His home originally had a widow’s walk on the roof of the home. It was said that Jacob Thompson was standing there when the Yankees entered Oxford in early December 1862 and then rode off out of town, south towards the Yocona River. Also according to Turner’s daughter, Pinkie Shinault, in her father’s home their were two interior staircases, one in the hallway and another connecting a bedroom upstairs with the master bedroom downstairs. This was so if his sons wanted to leave their bedrooms during the evening hours, the only way out was through their father’s bedroom.

Grant had several officers that billeted in Turner’s home during the occupation in 1862. Turner had planted a large orchard around the home. There were peach, apple, pear, quince, cherry, and plum trees in the orchard. The service building for the home consisted of a detached kitchen, smokehouse, woodhouse, and stables.

In August of 1864, when the Yankees were again in Oxford, General A. J. Smith ordered his men to set fire to the Turner home as they were leaving Oxford. They were unable to wait around to see if their Yankee torches were able to burn the house down. Luckily Turner’s recently war widowed sister was in the home and she was able to put out the flames with the assistance of some of their faithful servants.

After the war, Turner built a fine two-story home, with a large raised brick basement in the country, two and a half miles from town. On the farm he planted a new orchard and established a vineyard from which he produced a popular wine that was shipped as far as Memphis and New Orleans. He also planted a hillside with many daffodil bulbs. Later Cedar Oaks would be moved to this exact place after the home had long since been torn down and the bricks from the basement were used when Cedar Oaks was put back together. The daffodils are still there, just like clockwork, every March or so.

One of the more interesting stories about Turner concerned his vineyard and the religious beliefs of his church, First Baptist. Members were reprimanded from time to time in the church minutes for consuming liquior and the fruit of the vine. Turner dismissed this problem with a Bible verse that he considered an answer to the church elders. His justification was the Bible reference, “a little wine for the stomach’s sake”. I am not so sure that is a verse in the Bible.

Over the years Cedar Oaks would change from one owner to another. The Matthews family was one. Matthews was the local sheriff for a long time. Then the Smith family purchased the home in 1920. The son, Hassel, would be the owner when the fourteen local ladies got together and talked him into giving them the home in late 1963 and early 1964. This of course was the start of the Oxford Pilgrimage.

Next week, another of the homes in the First Annual Oxford Pilgrimage.

Mayfield 34Jack Lamar Mayfield is a fifth generation Oxonian, whose family came to Oxford shortly after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832, and he is the third generation of his family to graduate from the University of Mississippi. He is a former insurance company executive and history instructor at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs, South Panola High School in Batesvile and the Oxford campus of Northwest Community College.

In addition to his weekly blog in HottyToddy.com Oxford’s Olden Days, Mayfield is also the author of an Images of America series book titled Oxford and Ole Miss published in 2008 for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for restoring the post-Civil War home of famed Mississippi statesman, L.Q.C. Lamar and is now restoring the Burns Belfry, the first African American Church in Oxford.

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