The Godfrey-Barnette House, which has at times been called Linden Tree Manor, was built in 1918 on land that belonged to George McCoy Hixson. The house was constructed in the English Manorial style, which includes features such as clipped gables, rounded and arched windows, and exposed rafters. The large tree in the front yard is a silver linden tree and was likely planted close to the same time as the house’s construction. The stone fence encircling much of the property was built at the same time as the house. A local story says that it was built for well-liked schoolteacher Jennie Estes Godfrey with stones that her students brought to her; no historical evidence was found to prove the story to be true. The type of stonework used for the home was in fashion around Brevard for many years in the early 20th century and resembles other historical buildings, but there is no record of who built the home. Although some have speculated that it was the famed stonemason Wright brothers of Hendersonville who, along with their team, constructed the Brevard College wall and St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, but they did not arrive in Transylvania or construct any buildings here until years later than Godfrey-Barnette was constructed.
The hyphenated home name comes from both the first residents of the home and the family that occupied it the longest. This article will focus on the first occupants, the Godfreys. Jennie Estes Godfrey, her husband Orrin W. Godfrey and his daughter Elizabeth from a previous marriage moved to Brevard in the early 1900s. Orrin was part of a group of investors who all seem to have arrived in Transylvania County from New York state around the same time to capitalize on the growing industry of the area. C.M. Doyle, O.W. Godfrey, B.G. Estes, Geo. Mc. Hixson, and many others created the Southern Stock and Farm Company (SSFC), which sold farming implements and supplies. In 1912 the group also invested in real estate development, selling off plots of land off South Broad and Country Club roads from the “Athenoikon Tract” that they themselves also built houses and lived on. The plot that Orrin Godfrey bought is not the same plot as where the Godfrey-Barnette house is today. Real estate records indicate that the Godfreys were on a smaller plot on the opposite side of the street and slightly further down. George McCoy Hixson owned the Godfrey-Barnette plot originally, though it wasn’t filled with a house or occupied by residents until later.
Orrin Godfrey worked in the storefront of SSFC, as seen on the 1910 Census which lists his occupation as “hardware merchant”. Jennie was a teacher and began instructing elementary school students in 1908 before progressing to more and more advanced grade levels. She eventually served as school librarian, and even as interim principal of Brevard High School for one year. Due to the timing of federal Census records, it’s not certain exactly which year the Godfreys moved to Brevard, but they first start appearing the social column of the newspaper in 1908, which is also when Jennie Godfrey began teaching. It seems that daughter Elizabeth attended Converse College from 1907-1911 but would often visit her parents in Brevard. She may have had temporary employment because an August 20, 1909 news clip from the Brevard News states that someone else had been hired to fill the vacancy left by Miss Elizabeth Godfrey at the depot. It does not state what her job position was, however.
After Orrin Godfrey passed away in 1916, Jennie continued to teach, and once Elizabeth graduated from college, she returned to Brevard to live with her stepmother and found work in the secretarial field. The Census lists her as a bookkeeper at the tannery, and other documents indicate that she was Joseph Silversteen’s personal secretary. A boarder began to stay with the Godfreys as well, likely to help with paying the bills in the absence of Orrin’s income. Many other boarders seem to have been hosted by the Godfreys over the years as well, with some staying for several months during the summer.
Although construction details are a bit hazy, it seems that George Hixson built the Godfrey Barnette house in 1918. He conveyed the house and property to Jennie Estes Godfrey on August 10, 1920 for “$10 and considerations.” Just a month before that, Jennie sold the cottage on the opposite side of the street that she and Elizabeth had been living in. Though it hasn’t been confirmed, it seems likely that current 496 South Broad Street could be that cottage. It’s in approximately the right location of where the Athenoikon tracts were sold, and the similar stone wall encircling the property could have been built at the same time as Godfrey-Barnette house across the street.
Discovering this transaction brought to mind questions about why Hixson would have given Jennie Godfrey the house and land for such a small sum. Hixson was a member of the SSFC that widowed Jennie’s deceased husband had been a part of as well, which shows a business connection. Delving into genealogical research shows that there was most likely a family connection between the two, though not necessarily biological. Jennie’s maiden name was Estes, and her brother Benjamin George Estes was an investor in SSFC. Benjamin had bought and lived on Athenoikon land. To further solidify the connection between the Estes, Hixson, and Godfrey families, the 1910 Census shows that Philip V. Hixson was living with Benjamin George Estes with a relationship listed as “uncle.” Philip was George Hixson’s father—the same George Hixson that sold the house to Jennie Godfrey. Additionally, another person living in Benjamin’s household in 1910 was his mother-in-law, Almeda Hixson Ward. Based on her maiden name, it seems more likely that Philip (and thus son George) was related to Almeda and not directly to Benjamin (and thus sister Jennie). However, because genealogical research shows that Almeda had no brothers, it doesn’t seem that Philip was hers. It’s possible that the title of “uncle” was more honorary than biological. Regardless, the families had a strong connection, and since George Hixson never married and had no children, it’s possible that Jennie and her daughter were like family and treated as such with the real estate transaction.
Jennie and Elizabeth lived in Brevard until 1926. During their time, they were both very involved in the community. Jennie hosted several book clubs and must have been a skillful singer, because she and “Mrs. Estes” were frequently mentioned in the social columns for their performances at ladies’ club meetings and church gatherings. The fact that the two ladies were so often socially out together (presumably Mrs. Estes is Jennie’s sister-in-law) further cements the connection between these families. Elizabeth was the vice-president of the Music Lover’s Club and very active with friends. In 1926, Elizabeth got a job with “Dr. Briggs in Asheville.” Shortly after that, it seems that Jennie moved with Elizabeth to Asheville. They rented out the house for a couple of years, and then sold it in 1929 to the Stokes family. Next week, the Stokes family and further history of the Godfrey-Barnette house.
Photographs and information for this column are provided by the Rowell Bosse North Carolina Room, Transylvania County Library. This article was written by Local History Librarian Laura Sperry. Sources available upon request. For more information, comments, or suggestions, contact NC Room staff at [email protected] or 828-884-1820.