The Chandelier Mystery

In the summer of 1950, Alvin Vaughn and wife Muriel (BuBois) Vaughn bought a home on Windle Street here in Livingston, the same home that today is owned by Travis and Angie Dixon. When the Vaughns purchased this home, the dining room had a beautiful cranberry chandelier with twenty-eight sparkling prisms. Originally an oil lamp, many years later, the chandelier was converted to electricity. Every spring, it was the job of the four Vaughn daughters whose names were Marjorie, Mary Alcie, Jean and Joyce, to unhook the prisms from the chandelier, to carefully wash each one, along with the glass globe that stood over the oil wick and the cranberry globe that rested on the brass frame. Many years later, the chandelier was a beautiful addition to the homes of several members of the Vaughn family, and after the ownership eventually passed to Natalie Kelly, daughter of Mary Alcie Vaughn Kelly, everyone was surprised to learn that it contained the date of February 15,1887. In an effort to determine just where the chandelier originated, Mary Alcie Vaughn Kelly asked for assistance from Catherine Gunter to see if she might be able to do some research of county records and hopefully obtain that information for her.

As a starting point, here is what is known about some of the homes on Windle Street. A.J. Mofield and wife Martha Judith (Goolsby) Mofield owned and lived in the large and spacious home that until recently stood on the corner of Mofield and Windle Streets, while several of their married children lived in homes nearby. Catherine Gunter’s search of the records in the Register’s office of Overton County reveal the home now owned by Travis and Angie Dixon on Windle Street was built around 1930. At that time, it was owned by James A. Howard and wife Pauline (Mofield) Howard, daughter of A.J. Mofield and Martha Judith Mofield. Sometime in 1938, it was foreclosed on and bought for the sum of $2,401.00 by Dr. and Mrs. H.B. Nevans of Livingston. According to information passed on to Muriel Vaughn, Virginia Nevans, wife of Dr. Nevans, bought the chandelier from Richard and Lena Hankins, parents of Thomas Ada Hankins Tucker, who once taught at Livingston Academy, and who also later lived just a couple of houses up the street. Thomas Ada was the wife of Rev. Evie Tucker, a Baptist minister in Livingston and one of the founders of Memorial Baptist Church. When Dr. and Mrs. Nevans sold the home in 1949, it was purchased by Frank and Elizabeth Twyman who later sold it to the Vaughn family. In the fall of 1955, Alvin and Muriel Vaughn and their daughters moved back to the Alpine community following the death of Alvin’s father, John Vaughn. In preparation for the move back to Alpine, Muriel had the chandelier taken down and rehung in the home on the farm in Alpine. Following the death of Alvin Vaughn in 1959, Muriel soon afterward purchased a home located at 706 Chestnut Street in Livingston where the chandelier was relocated once again. It remained in that home for the next 37 years.

Following the passing of Muriel Vaughn, the chandelier was swapped back and forth and rehung in various homes of the Vaughn family members. Then in 2001, the discovery that the chandelier contained the date of February 15, 1887 was made. This unexpected information could only mean that the original owners could not have been Richard and Lena Hankins due to the fact that Mrs. Hankins would have just been 10 years old at that time. So where did the chandelier come from and who owned it prior to the Hankins? Whose home did it originally hang in and where was that house? For the rest of the story, we look to additional information as uncovered by Catherine Gunter. Her search leads us to another home, this one now owned by Mark and Beth (McCormick) Geary located at 319 Oakley Street here in Livingston. Here is Catherine’s information:

“Upon property believed to have been once owned by John W. Hall, a Mexican War veteran who called Overton County home, stands a house with a rich history. This large 3,900 square foot 2-story brick home, located at the intersection of Zachary and Oakley Street in Livingston, is currently owned by Mark and Beth Geary, who purchased the house and 1.20 acres in 1998. Overton County tax records show the house as being built in 1900, which indicates it was built sometime in the late 19th-early 20th century, but the exact date of construction is unknown. At some point, portions of the house were sub-divided into apartments and rented out. From 1943-1998, the house and property was owned by Charlie and Maggie (Martin) Wilborn and it is through their names that the house is generally known. Charlie and Maggie were the parents of Bill Wilborn, Elena Maxwell, and Ada Dean Stone. The Wilborns purchased the property from J.C. Taylor and wife Winnie Taylor who bought the property at foreclosure in 1939 from Union Bank and Trust Company, which had been formed only 7 years earlier. Many people will remember Mr. Taylor as being a principal at Livingston Academy, and at that time, the school was located next door to the property. Perhaps the true history of the house actually begins with Richard H. Hankins and his family who owned the property from October, 1903 until Mr. Hankins’ death in 1938. From information obtained by a descendant of former owner Richard Hankins, the house was originally clapboard. Mr. Hankins was the person responsible for bricking the home as well other modifications that are still in use today. Mr. Hankins was the owner of a milling company by the name of Livingston Heading Company as well as a part owner in Hankins Brothers Contractor and Builders. It has been said that Mr. Hankins built many homes in the Livingston area during his lifetime. A section of the town of Livingston that includes a portion of Third Street, West Fourth Street, College Street and Medlock Street will be remembered by many as Hankins Town. Richard Hankins was married to Lena Coulson and was the father of Lilly May Hankins, James Clarence Hankins and Thomas Ada Hankins. Thomas Ada Hankins and husband, Evie Tucker, had two daughters whose names are Lena Kate and Sarah May Tucker. The Hankins family bought the property in October, 1903 from W.R. Officer, a prominent lawyer in Overton County at that time. It is unknown if Mr. Officer and his family actually lived on the property although tax records seem to indicate an improvement being erected on the property during his ownership. W. R. Officer acquired the property by purchasing a portion of the 12-acre farm of James Harvey Speck and Rebecca Lea Speck in September,1896. James and Rebecca Speck, parents of Burr Speck and Nora Speck Dale, resided in what was later known as the Nora Dale home on East Broad Street in Livingston, a home that once stood between what is today the office of John Mark Windle and the residence of Kelly and Emily Sells. The Specks had acquired the property from John W. Hall and his sons, John C. Hall and James W. Hall, and wife, Martha N. (Roberts) Hall in 1893. John W. Hall, a carpenter by trade, was said to be a veteran of the Mexican War, was one of the early settlers of Livingston and Overton County and one of the largest landowners of his day. It is difficult to determine at this point from whom John W. Hall acquired this particular piece of property. Based upon research done on adjoining properties, there is a good likelihood that Pleasant H. Armstrong and wife, Mary (Cullom) Armstrong, (who happened to be the daughter of Circuit Judge and State Representative Alvan M. Cullom and the granddaughter of District Attorney General and U.S. Representative William Cullom), and Spencer McHenry and wife, Elizabeth (Cullom) McHenry, were probably the prior owners of this property.”

Although the history of the Hankins/Wilborn/Geary home contains information that would more than likely be left undiscovered, we are left to wonder … did the chandelier once hang in this home? The story was told that even though Richard Hankins at one time was one of the more prosperous businessmen in this area, times were especially hard during the depression, and because of this, the chandelier eventually ended up being sold to Mrs. Nevans. Or is it possible the ownership of the chandelier might date back to the Officer family or maybe even as far back as the Hall family? The date of 1887 would indicate either family may have originally owned the chandelier. However it’s sad to say there is probably no one living today who can provide the answers to the many questions brought about by this story.

Today, the chandelier once again hangs in the home of Mary Alcie Vaughn Kelly in Cary, NC with the understanding that it will one day pass on to one of her granddaughters. A friend of Mary who is an interior decorator discovered the 1887 date on the chandelier while cleaning the lamp for Mary’s daughter, Natalie, and that friend wonders if possibly the chandelier might have been a husband’s Valentine’s Day gift to his wife. The February date along with the beautiful cranberry colored globe indicate she might possibly be right. In February, 2019, the chandelier probably twinkled a little brighter as it celebrated over 130 years in existence. That’s an unusually long life for something than began as an oil lamp, a life that includes a lot of different homes with various families where it seems to have always held a most important place. Can you imagine all the wonderful and interesting stories it could tell and, at the same time, answer the question of just exactly where did this chandelier come from.

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