Georgia Travel Articles
A Garden for the Ages
Article and photos by Kathleen Walls
The original gardens grew out of a timeless love story. Hetty Jane Dunaway was one of the East coast's finest actresses during live theater's golden years of the "Roaring Twenties." She fell in love with and married prominent Atlanta booking agent, Wayne Sewell. When Wayne moved his base from Atlanta to his family's ancestral plantation in Coweta County, Hetty was daunted by the prospect of living in the middle of nowhere. He promised her she could make the home and grounds into a theatrical center.
Hetty went about it with a vengeance. She transformed the acres into a garden filled with springs, pools, rock outcroppings and an outdoor amphitheater. She built Honeymoon House for lodging and the Blue Bonnet Tea Room for dining.
Celebrities and soon-to-be-celebrities were drawn to the beauty of the picturesque gardens. Walt and Roy Disney enjoyed many a meal at the Tea Room. Sarah Ophelia Colley, better known by her stage name, Minnie Pearl, fresh from graduation at Ward-Belmont College, began her career there as head instructor at the drama school. Tallulah Bankhead visited often.
After Hetty's death in 1961, the gardens deteriorated. The Tea Room was the victim of arson all that remained was the stone chimney. The rock walls crumbled. The sun-loving plants were overshadowed by large shade trees. Kudzu enveloped the site. It appeared beyond restoration.
Then a modern-day Hetty appeared in the person of Jennifer Bigham. She saw potential hidden beneath the ruin. But Josh pointed out even Jennifer didn't see the whole picture. She wanted it as a family getaway. Then she, her family and 20 workers began the slow restoration, some days covering only feet of excavation. They would probe the earth with metal rods and determine by the sound what lay beneath the ground.
As the rock outcropping, stone walls and walks, the original amphitheater and the huge hollowed rock swimming pool emerged, she realized this was too big for just one family to cherish. Hetty's dream had to be shared with the world.
Today, Dunaway Gardens is once again the scene of concerts and events. If anything of Hetty is still watching over her dream, she is a happy spirit.
One of the celebrities who visited the Gardens in its heyday was a strange physic who called herself the Oracle of the Ages. Amanda Mayhayley Lancaster had been born ?under a veil.? At birth, her face was covered with a thin membrane. Old legends claim any child born thusly will have the gift of ?second sight? or clairvoyance as we refer to it today. This gift made Mayhayley a wealthy woman if not a happy one. She never married and dressed flamboyantly often wearing a man's World War l hat and an army coat. She was missing her left eye and sometimes inserted a red marble in the empty socket. Still seekers flocked to her with unanswered questions.
At one point she was at Dunaway Gardens telling fortunes. Wayne was not happy with this strange looking psychic hanging around and he asked her to leave. She offered to tell his fortune first. Predicting an automobile accident where he would break his arm driving to his old barn.
When things came to pass just as Mayhayley predicted, Wayne invited her back to tell fortunes at the Gardens.
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