Memphis Press-Scimitar; March 15, 1961
By Mary Raymond, Press-Scimitar Editor
Long before smooth, broad highways and modern bridges linked Memphis and Arkansas for easy travel, a young Memphis man, back from World War I, was flying a Jenny plane over the “lost lands” in Arkansas. Spread beneath him was a beautiful curving lake, shaped like a horseshoe, rimmed by heavily timbered land – an almost virgin forest.
This was the way Robert B. Snowden “discovered” his home-to-be from the air.
He went back to Memphis, told his father, the late Brinkley Snowden, that he had seen the property he wanted, property then owned by Russell Gardner of St. Louis, part of it used as a hunting preserve as it abounded with game.
On a bitterly cold January day when the Mississippi appeared almost frozen over, with big blocks of ice floating in the water, he went back into the Horseshoe Lake section by boat, found a few acres cleared there, and an old-fashioned house that still stands on the Snowden plantation.
The property was purchased, and in 1920 a home was completed and given to Mr. Snowden and his charming wife, the former Grace Mountcastle of Knoxville, by his parents.
The city-bred young couple, who had never lived in the country made the transition.
They went by Mississippi steamboat to Bender’s landing, where a wagon and mules were waiting to take them to their Arkansas home – to start farming without a strip of bacon in the house, Grace Snowden remembers, — a lake at their front door and a wilderness all around.
In 1948, the cycle that had begun in 1918, when Horseshoe Lake was surrounded by woods and muddy wagon trails, was completed in the remodeling of the home. Rather, building upon their first house, the present splendid Louisiana Colonial style residence, its balconied front overlooking the lake, the curving steps leading up to the second floor. Everett Woods was the architect. Practically all farm labor was used in building the home—which is in the raised basement style of architecture.
Like many old Southern homes, you enter at the back, reached by a driveway bordered with box. Lofty columns, made on the place, lift to the second floor, the wide doorway with its high fanlight, flanked by old carriage lamps of brass and German silver.
The columns were made with a brick core and plastered over with cement, the way they have been made for years for plantation homes near a river.
Inside the entrance hall, a Colonial stair winds to the second floor, with its forma living room, elegant dining room and other rooms on this level, and then continues its climbs to rooms on a third level.
If guests go the Horseshoe Lake expecting to “rough it” they are in for a surprise.
Here is the hospitality of old plantation life, the gentle manner of the Old South. Here, finger bowls are used every day.
Many friends and notable visitors have been entertained in the Snowden home. Among them, Lord and Lady Halifax of England. A framed picture of the English nobleman, a former Viceroy of India, and his wife (with Horseshoe Lake in the background) is on the table in the reception room upstairs. The wide windows of this room look out upon a balcony, its lacy ironwork framing the lake and its moods: Sometimes serene under sunny skies and again roughened and foam-crested by heavy winds.
Downstairs in the entrance hall, is an exquisite crystal chandelier that once shone down upon Napoleon Bonaparte in one of his palaces. The hall is two-storied to the ceiling, and there a mechanical device in the attic permits the chandelier to be lowered to the floor for periodic cleaning of its dazzling prisms.
This treasured piece was a gift from the late Mrs. Brinkley Snowden, one of Memphis’ loved “first ladies.” She also gave the large antique gold leaf mirror and the Carrera marble mantel below. There are many antiques of Chippendale and Sheraton in the home, Oriental rugs on the polished floors, and rare ornaments.
Portraits of Owners
On the walls of the dining room are portraits of the owners, Mr. Snowden’s painted while he was in Italy, by the famous Russian artist Ellie Shoumatoff. Later, she came to Horseshoe Lake to paint the portrait of Mrs. Snowden.
This is the artist who was painting President Roosevelt at Warm Springs, Ga., at the time he died.
Another painting prized by Mr. Snowden, who served in two World Wars, I and II, is of a Revolutionary War sea battle in which one of his far-back “great” grandfathers, had the principal role. A brass plate on the painting tells that Capt. Elisha Hinman of the U. S. Ship, 32 gun, “Alfred” is shown engaging two British ships, the Ariadne and the Eres.
One of the most lived-in rooms of the Snowden home is downstairs. A big family room, where a log fire blazes in winter. The floor is of concrete and the walls, on which are many Audubon prints of birds and flowers, are white brick. Nearby are the dressing rooms for the swimmers. For the children grew up, and the grandchildren are growing up, as much at home on the water as on the land.
AS for the land: Long since, the wilderness gave way to the plantation’s groomed acres—1000 of them—geared for soybean growing, operation of an alfalfa dehydrator and pellet mill (one of the newer developments of agriculture to “pelletize alfalfa). And of course, there is the South’s No. 1 crop, cotton. A big pecan grove has provided an annual yield of the large papershell variety for market.
Cottages Spring Up
Along with the development of the Snowden plantation, something was happening to the entire Horseshoe area. Summer lodges and recreation cottages have been springing up all around, and the entire section is rabidly being transformed by more intensified farming.
Two daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Snowden – Edith (Mrs. Craft Dewey) and Dorothy (Mrs. Frank Jones Jr.) live in Memphis. Sally, (Mrs. H.R. McKay) lives in Bradley, Arkansas.
A huge leather-bound volume has the family lineage, including the Snowdens, Brinkleys, Overtons, and Days – Tennesseans whose lives and achievenments are part of the state’s history.
Mr. Snowden was named for his grandfather, General Robert Bogardus Snowden who married Annie Overton Brinkley. Their home, century old “Annesdale” on Lamar, was a gift from her father. Mr. Snowden’s uncle, Bayard Snowden, lives in this stately residence with his son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Thomas H. Todd.
With roots in the city and their hearts in the country, the Robert Snowdens enjoy their dual existence – going back and forth between Memphis and their Arkansas plantation.
With farming a primary interest, Mr. Snowden has had an active part in The Press Scimitar’s “Save Our Soil” program, the Commercial Appeal’s “Plant to Prosper” activity; the Wolf River Watershed. He is a leader in “Survival, U. S. A.”
He is dedicated to the preservation of American ideals and the American way of life, which he sees as endangered in a troubled, turbulent, and changing world.
“He loves the land,” says his wife.
The words of Goethe, framed on the wall, are his creed, she says:
“Nature understands no jesting. She is always true, always serious, always right. The errors and faults are always those of man. Those incapable of appreciation she despises, and only to the apt, the pure, the true, does she resign herself and reveal her secrets.”
Mr. Snowden has never failed in appreciation: Seeing the beauty in the lake that stretches nine miles from point to point; his woods and the incredible miracle of recurring spring; his stately oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, and the gnarled cypress trees that have “always been there.”