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Barnsley Gardens
Photos and article by Kathleen Walls - American Roads Travel Magazine

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The magnificent ruins tower over Barnsley Gardens.

The Barnsley story, as well as the history of Adairsville, begins with Godfrey Barnsley, an Englishman who moved to Savannah as a penniless youth of eighteen. There he made his fortune as a cotton broker. There too, he met the love of his life, Julia Scarborough, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and shipbuilder. He and Julia were married on Christmas Eve 1828. They soon began a family and by 1841 have six children. On the surface, it looks like a fairy tale life. But the fates were lying in wait.

By 1841, Julia’s health was in decline. Godfrey decided to move his family to the healthier climate of north Georgia. His discriminating eye was caught by a beautiful parcel of land in the small village of Adairsville. In particular, an acorn shaped hill on the 10,000 acres was his choice of the perfect place to build his beloved Julia a home worthy of their love.

An old Indian shaman who worked for him warned Godfrey not to build on this particular site he told him the site was sacred to the Cherokee and anyone who tried to live there would be cursed. But Godfrey was a sophisticated man and ignored the old Indian. He began the construction of his beautiful mansion there. He chose an Italian Villa style with twenty-four rooms.  Everything was to be the finest workmanship money could buy. He designed the gardens in the style of Andrew Jackson Downing and filled it with every kind of rose he could find. His Julia deserved the best.

Fickle fortune who had smiled on Godfrey for so long now turned away. His infant son died. Before the home could be completed Julia passed away. Devastated, Godfrey lost all desire for the home that had been his passion. He threw himself into his business and on his infrequent trips home, he sat among the untended roses in the garden he had hoped to share with his beloved.

Then in a letter that is preserved by the estate, he told of “seeing” Julia in the garden. She spoke gently to him and told him it was her wish that he get on with his life and finish the home she was so proud of as a legacy for their children.

Godfrey was imbued with new spirit. Work began again on the mansion. But fate continued to withhold her favor. His oldest daughter, Anna, married and left to live in England. The second daughter died in the house in 1858. Then the Civil War began. Godfrey’s fortune was in the cotton he brokered and that was no longer sellable. It rotted in New Orleans warehouses. In 1862 his oldest son, Howard, who had become a ship’s captain, was killed by Chinese pirates while sailed in the Orient. Barnsley’s other two sons, George and Lucian, had enlisted in the Confederacy military. His daughter Julia had married Confederate Army Captain James Peter Baltzelle who had insisted his wife refugee to Savannah.

Still Godfrey was obsessed with finishing the castle. He accumulated art and furnishings from Europe for his home. When the War finally came to Woodlands, Union troops found Godfrey alone with his treasures and his still incomplete mansion. The day was May 18, 1864. A friend of Godfrey, Colonel Robert G. Earle of the Second Alabama Light Cavalry, rode to Woodlands to warn Barnsley of Sherman’s troops approach and was shot down within sight of the house. He was buried there at Woodlands and still remains in the garden perhaps in spirit as well.

The Federal officer commanding the troops, Gen. McPherson, forbade looting of the unfinished mansion but his orders were blatantly disregarded. Godfrey’s costly furnishings were destroyed; an Italian statuary was smashed in a search for hidden gold; what could not be consumed or carried away, was broken and smashed.

By the end of the war, Godfrey was almost destroyed financially. He moved to New Orleans to try and salvage something of his brokerage.

George and Lucian refused to sign the oath of allegiance to the Union and emigrated to South American where their descendants live to this day. Godfrey left his son-in-law James Baltzelle and daughter Julia to manage Woodlands. Julia was a strong woman who some say Margaret Mitchell modeled her famous Scarlett after. She led the servants out into the fields and woods and searched out wild edible plants to keep them from starvation.

Baltzelle started a timber business but was killed in 1868 by a falling tree. Julia and her young daughter, fled to New Orleans to join Godfrey. Julia later met and married a German ship captain named Charles Henry Von Schwartz

After Godfrey died a broken man in 1873, Julia returned his body to Woodlands where her new husband also died.

 Adelaide grew up at Woodlands and married a chemist named A. A. Saylor. Saylor too fell prey to the Barnsley curse and died while their two sons, Harry and Preston, were very young.

Times grew very dark for the young family. A tornado in 1906 destroyed the roof of the main house and forced the Saylors to take refuge in the only intact part of the home, the kitchen wing.

The two boys grew very different as they matured. One, Preston used his body to earn a living and became a nationally known boxer under the name K.O. Dugan. Harry became somewhat of a schemer and became involved with a group of men who wished to divide up Woodlands and sell it to developers. The brothers fought bitterly over what was best for them and their mother. Harry influenced by his cronies induced their mother to sign a mortgage on Woodlands. He also had Preston committed to an insane asylum supposedly because he had become unbalanced due to blows to his head suffered in the ring.

The power struggle came to a head in 1935 when Preston, finally released from the asylum, shot and killed Harry in the small kitchen wing where he and Adelaide still lived. Preston chased his brother down and kept firing until Harry fell and died in his mother’s arms. The bloodstain is still there permanently embedded in the dark wood of the floor. Many say Harry’s spirit is still there as well.

Preston turned himself in and was sent to prison. The governor who knew much of the circumstances surrounding the murder pardoned Preston after he had served less than seven years but it was too late for Woodlands.

Adelaide had struggled valiantly to keep the mortgage paid but when she died in 1942 the estate and what she had not sold piecemeal of its furnishings were sold at auction for a fraction of their value. Preston did not get out of prison until a few months later and by then all was gone. The property was used for farming and the once magnificent home left to the encroaching kudzu.

It would seem that Godfrey’s dream was finished. But fate again turned her head and smiled. In 1988, Prince Hubertus Fugger and his wife Princess Alexandra, Bavaria, purchased Woodlands, which was now called Barnsley Gardens.  Clent Coker, a neighbor who had grown up obsessed with the Barnsley story and unwilling to see such a historic treasure lost, went to the prince and told him of the history behind the ruins. The prince agreed that the estate had to be restored and its history honored. Between them, that has been done. Clent continued the research he began a boy interviewing the elderly residents of Woodlands and had preserved the Barnsley's story in his book, Barnsley Gardens at Woodlands: The Illustrious Dream. He is currently the historian for Barnsley Gardens.

The Prince brought in gardeners to salvage the gardens and restore them to their former glory. He build cottages to match the historic feel of the old castle and turned the ruins into a showplace.

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Cottages at Barnsley Gardens.

Present management does not play up the supernatural elements of their resort yet they cannot deny them. Stories of apparitions dot the long Barnsley history and persist today around the ruins. Godfrey’s statements about seeing and even speaking with his dead wife in the gardens are well documented by his letters. He was not the only one to report seeing Julia there.  Julia Barnsley Saylor, her granddaughter, also told of having seen her grandmother in the gardens so frequently that she came to view it as natural. Mrs. Saylor had another paranormal experience that she documented. The night her Uncle George died in Brazil, he appeared to her at Woodlands.

Would Godfrey’s life been different if he had heeded the words of that old Indian and built his home in any other spot than that acorn-shaped hill? Like a Greek tragedy, the one decision made with hubris shapes the inevitable future.


Barnsley Gardens Resort
597 Barnsley Gardens Rd.
Adairsville, Georgia 30103
Phone: (877) 773-2447 >


This is an excerpt from my new book, Hosts With Ghosts: Haunted Historic Hotels in the Southeast. It will be released in mid October at $19.99. If you would like to preorder an autographed copy prior to Oct., 15, 2007 at the advance price of $15.99 pls $2 S & H, click here. You may pay by PayPal, check or credit card.

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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