Barbara Mayer

Senior Gardener

Some of My Works

American Design History
"Mindful of detail but never boring. . guides the reader through the Arts and Crafts Movement." -
-Home & Garden Magazine
American Cultural History
"Mayer demonstrates a talent for bringing to life the people who built Reynolda"
-Winston-Salem Journal
A sampling of work by the author

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Reynolda: A History of an American Country House

From Chapter One

On her tenth birthday in November 1890, Katharine Smith received a gift of a gold bracelet from her 40-year-old second cousin, Richard Joshua Reynolds, who once jokingly promised to marry her some day. She spent the next twelve years growing up, while R.J., as he was called by family and acquaintances, devoted himself to developing his business.

Their paths crossed again in a meaningful way in 1903. On March 12, eleven days after his 78-year-old mother died in bed at their home, R.J. wrote to Katharine, gently chiding her for not attending the funeral. After all, he reminded her, his mother was her paternal grandmother's sister and her great aunt. "Your Winston relatives were disappointed in your not stopping. . .I hope you will arrange to come soon."

Less than a week later, R.J., now a bachelor of 52, invited his sister, Nannie Critz, and her daughters to accompany him to New York. Whether he suggested that Katharine join them or Nannie Critz, her good friend, invited her is not known. But the trip gave R.J. an opportunity to observe Katharine as a young woman, and he must have liked what he saw, since an offer of a job as one of his secretaries followed. She accepted the offer and soon was one of three secretaries (the other two males) at his now flourishing chewing tobacco manufacturing company in Winston-Salem, N.C.

He had brought a whiff of excitement into her life as a child. Now R.J., whose reputed net worth of three million dollars made him one of the richest men in North Carolina, was making it possible for her to experience a wider world than that of her home town of Mount Airy, N.C.

The relationship of the cousins blossomed, and on February 27, 1905, Katharine Smith and Richard Joshua Reynolds were married in an early-morning ceremony in her parents' parlor. The room was lavishly filled with roses, a gift from R.J. Immediately after the wedding, he whisked his bride away in a private railroad car bound for New York. The couple then embarked on a four-month European honeymoon.

Despite the difference in age between them, their union was a natural one. R.J. and Katharine's father, Zachary Taylor Smith, were good friends. Beyond family ties, they had geography and outlook in common. They grew up about forty miles apart, she in the North Carolina piedmont, he in the hills of Virginia. Both were children of tobacco men in comfortable circumstances, but not of great wealth, and both had been trained to find pleasure in a life of purpose. Both had a down-to-earth manner, but a commanding presence and a penchant for organizing enterprises and and it was said especially about Katharine people.

There was no reason to imagine that they would build one of North Carolina's premier country estates one that would endure as a legendary place of repose at the end of the twentieth century. But there was much in their personalities to indicate that any project they started would be carried out on a grand scale. Each welcomed challenges and had a progressive outlook. Most important, R.J.'s business success could provide the wherewithal to make an expensive undertaking like Reynolda Estate possible.