off state highway 110, Mt. Meigs, Montgomery County
The house itself was begun in 1835 by John T. Ashurst, a landed and prospering young planter. His father, John Ashurst, brought his family to the newly opened Indian lands from Virginia, by way of Georgia. He was said to have built the first frame house in Mt. Meigs. Evidence is strong that the younger Mr. Ashurst died rather suddenly in the midst of building and furnishing his home, in an 1837 malaria epidemic. One old lilac‑chaste tree, still on site, is said to have been brought from Georgia and planted by him. Invoices indicate that it was a very fine house, for its day, and well furnished with expensive things, including two uncataloged paintings by Thomas Sulley.
Dr. Thomas Burge Taylor purchased the plantation in 1842 from a court authorized estate auction for $1750. Trained in a Philadelphia medical school, Dr. Taylor was part of a prestigious migration from South Carolina that settled in this area. In 1838, he had married Harriot Pinkney Raoul. The Raouls were French Huguenots from the Charleston area. Both of them were industrious, hardworking, benevolent, and inventive. About 1850, Dr. Taylor added two large rooms at either end of the back, and the long verandah around the sides and front. It is from this time, that the plantation began being called “Chantilly,” reflecting Mrs. Taylor’s French background and a connection with Napoleon.
Mrs. Taylor is said to have installed the landscape with the aid of a French gardener from Charleston. The civil engineering task she undertook is very typical of the French style. The house faced north, atop a gentle slope, that fell away more to the east than the west. She divided the front slope into three 100 foot terraces, which were leveled into the hillside. The eastern side had to be filled in more than the western side, so that the terraces would be level. The carriage drive rises gently from the lower level to the front of the house. Berms were constructed to the outside of the drive, between the middle and top terraces. The top terrace appears to have been for flowers and shrubs. The middle terrace, with flanking summer houses was covered with grass, and the lower level was supposed to be a reflecting pool, but due to a fluke of nature, it never held water! The topography of 2 acres was modified to accomplish the design, at one point, almost 5 feet above original grade.
The Taylors had no children and the house passed on to a nephew, William T. Charles, and remained in the Charles family until it was willed to Florence Charles Hall. Today, her son, Lester H. Hall, owns this lovely house. It is currently leased as a fine evening restaurant and Mr. Hall, like his mother before him, is dedicated to preserving this lovely property.
“Chantilly” is significant for several reasons. First of all, the family preserved voluminous documents, so that it could well be one of the best documented sites in Alabama. It could also be the earliest garden in the state, that can still be seen. Last but not least, it is the most ambitious in the state. I am not aware of any garden in state where so much earth was moved to develop the landscape, so early!
The above information was taken from research for a National Register Nomination done by Marilyn Sullivan Thorington.