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Remains salvaged from pre-Civil War mansion

Wednesday, March 5, 2008 | 10:05 p.m. CST; updated 10:54 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008
The remains of the Crestmead Mansion still stand south of Pilot Grove after a fire destroyed much of the house Monday afternoon. The house was built in 1859 and was on the National Register of Historic Places. The fire burned for 13 hours from Monday afternoon into Tuesday morning, but neither of the house's residents was injured.

COLUMBIA — Ann Betteridge was sitting in her son’s house down the road from her mansion Wednesday afternoon carefully removing crystals from a Victorian kerosene lamp.

“I’ve been working to soap these,” she said. “The firefighters told me the smoke film wouldn’t come off with dish soap, but it did.”

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The chandelier was one of the few historic treasures saved from Crestmead Mansion, which was destroyed in a fire Monday that owners Ann and Robert Betteridge are attributing to faulty electrical wiring.

The pre-Civil War mansion, located in Pilot Grove, was built in 1857 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The fully restored house was also a museum of sorts. Betteridge’s collection of dishes, books and furniture included pieces from the colonial era, the Civil War and the Victorian era.

“We’re just devastated by it,” said Cooper County Historical Society President Jeanette Heaton on Wednesday. “It was one of the historical treasures of our county. It’s one of the few (pre-Civil War homes) that are left.”

Volunteer fire fighters from Pilot Grove, Clifton City, Otterville and Cooper County, as well as about 25 neighbors, battled the fire that began around 4 p.m. Monday and burned throughout the night.

When firefighters deemed it safe, neighbors broke the windows and entered the house to salvage whatever antiques they could. They were given three opportunities of about 15 minutes each and were able to recover most of the china, including a 500-year-old Persian bowl, and historical books.

“It was a cold, cold miserable night,” neighbor David Brumback said. “The mist from the fire hoses was coming down on us. It froze on my coat solid.”

Brumback and his wife, Joy, returned Tuesday to Crestmead to go through the debris and look for any other valuables that could be rescued. Joy Brumback said there were still hot coals under a drawer she was going through on Tuesday night.

David Brumback estimated about 50 neighbors participated in the clean-up effort Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the front facade of the house remained somewhat intact. The columns, porch swings and window frames were still in place. Two brick fireplace flues were exposed, resolutely standing where the second floor once was.

The walls that remained standing inside were coated with a thick layer of char. Water dripped from pieces of the ceiling.

The staircase in the main hallway hung limply against the wall, its railing having burnt away.

As of Wednesday, Ann Betteridge had not seen the extent of the damage or which items were saved; neighbors took most of them directly to a storage facility. The Betteridges were at home at the time of the fire but were not injured.

“My family doesn’t think I’m quite ready to see the whole house yet, and I’m probably not,” she said.

If she had a second chance, Ann Betteridge said, she probably would have tried to save the original land grants for the Crestmead property that were signed by Andrew Jackson. Some of the other pieces of history she wishes had survived include a clock that is more than 200 years old and the diaries of the women who have lived in the mansion since 1904, including her own.

Ann and Robert Betteridge lived in Crestmead for 28 years. During that time, they restored and renovated the mansion, doing many of the projects themselves. For example, Ann Betteridge individually stripped and scrubbed the 88 spindles on the grand staircase in the main hallway. Their latest renovation, replacing the roof, cost $6,000.

“Fixing the house every year, that’s my cruise and vacation,” Ann Betteridge said in an interview in November 2007.

Ann Betteridge said she plans to use rescued pieces of the house, such as the molding in the parlor, the bracket trims around the roof and the wooden front doors, in her new house, which she plans to build on the same location.

“I want a dining room like the one I had, but I’m going to make the kitchen a little larger and put in an island.”


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