The Story of the Freeman Rowe House, Dublin’s Oldest House
Dublin’s oldest house, the home of Judge Freeman Hugh Rowe, was built a little over one hundred and fifty years ago. One hundred and fifty years ago today, the house became the subject of a short, but bitter, law suit between the owner and the contractor, Francis Rebearer. Over the next century, the home, despite its rather modest state, would become one of Dublin’s more well known dwellings.
Freeman Hugh Rowe, a son of John Rowe of Fairhaven, Connecticut, traveled to Cuba at the age of eighteen in 1834. On his return trip, Rowe made his way through Florida and landed in the dormant town of Dublin. He took up the merchant trade and later was named branch manager of the Bank of Savannah in Dublin. In the 1850s, operating under the firm name of Rowe, Wright, and Robinson, Rowe reactivated the river boat trade along the Oconee River, with his freighter, “The Governor Troup.” In 1852, Rowe was elected Judge of the Court of Ordinary, which was the successor to the old Inferior Court. The court handled probate and estate matters in addition to managing the business affairs of the county.
On May 28, 1849, Rowe hired one Francis Rebearer, an itinerant contractor, for completion of the house, which apparently had been partially constructed on the site at the current southwestern corner of Academy Avenue and Rowe Street. Differences began to arise between Rowe and Rebearer. Rebearer claimed that Rowe refused to furnish materials for the job, a default which Rebearer claimed caused him undue loss of time. In a loquacious and redundant complaint, Rebearer’s attorney ,A. Russell Kellam, complained that Rowe had been negligent in his refusal to provide the contracted materials, leading. Kellam claimed this lead to a great loss of time, as well as profit which Rebearer hoped to derive from the job of enlarging and improving the Rowe home.
In his complaint, Kellam outlined the work done by Rebearer which included a $300.00 price tag for the construction of the house, $50.00 for building a circular staircase - a true sign of wealth in mid 19th century Dublin since few people could actually afford one, $10.00 for a closet under those stairs, $1.50 for a seat on the portico, $75.00 for two extra rooms upstairs, and $4.00 for framing a well under the stairs - it being a common practice to build a house over the well as a convenience for Mrs. Rowe and the servants. Rebearer also built two closets on the first story, a luxury for the time and for many years to follow, and installed sixteen pairs of windows in the house. Rebearer’s attorney claimed that he made a demand and that Rowe refused to pay for the work done. He also refused to pay $45.00 for lost time which his client suffered on account of Rowe’s refusal to have the materials at the site. Rebearer’s bill included two dollars for the building of a coffin, the occupant of which was not disclosed.
As always, there are two sides to every case. Rowe’s attorney, William H. Connelly filed an answer, just as loquacious as the complaint, and a counterclaim against Rebearer, asserting that an important part of the work had not been performed in “a workmanlike manner.” Rowe’s answer stated that the contractor and his assistant, Joseph Hernadez, were hired to build a roof on the piazza, or front porch for those of us in the South. Rowe averred that it was supposed to be one which did not leak, a defect which Rowe claimed caused damages in the amount of $50.00.
Rowe’s counter claim included bills going back to March 18, 1848 for goods and merchandise from his store, as well as room and board for Rebearer, his wife, and family along with a room for Hernandez. Rowe contended that the plaintiff owed him for the services of his buggy and servants during the construction of the house. Many of the purchases came for clothing materials and accessories for Mrs. Rebearer, who was the recipient of a fine hat for a price of $4.50, goat shoes at $1.50 a pair, and a cotton umbrella. The carpenter purchased tools from Rowe, including a seventy five cent pocket knife. Two hundred and twenty seven dollars of the four hundred and twenty six dollars and thirteen and one half cent debt claimed by Rowe was from unpaid loans to Rebearer, including the fifty cents Rowe lent to him at a party on February 3, 1849. Among other purchases by Rebearer were twenty five cents for a plug of tobacco he bought for Boy Joe, twelve cents for a fish line and hooks, and twenty five cents for a bottle of magnesia.
The suit was scheduled to be heard by Judge James Scarborough on the first Monday in September in 1849. The lawyers on both sides worked out a settlement between the parties which was entered in the court’s minutes on March 5, 1850 by Francis Thomas, Clerk. Rebearer agreed to pay Rowe $14.325 cents and all court costs.
On the morning of May 7, 1865, a wagon train approached the store of Freeman Rowe on the southwest corner of the courthouse square in Dublin. It was the main body of the train of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Davis, who remained on the southeastern edge of town near the present site of Dublin Construction Company, never came to Judge Rowe’s store. Rowe, a Connecticut Yankee, but a true southerner by then, graciously offered the hospitality of his home to the President and his wife. Owing to the urgency of the moment, the officer in charge declined the invitation, but accepted Rowe’s kind offer of a freshly cooked Sunday dinner instead. The next morning when a detachment of the Wisconsin Cavalry came into town in pursuit of Davis, Rowe protected Davis by directing the Union soldiers down what is today known as the Glenwood Road, knowing all along that he told Davis’ men to take the Telfair Road to the west of the former route.
Freeman Rowe married Margaret Moore, daughter of Dr. Thomas Moore and granddaughter of Captain Thomas McCall, progenitors of two of Dublin’s oldest and finest families. The couple had only two children, Thomas Hugh Rowe and a daughter, Augusta Rowe, of whom little is known. Their son Thomas was a Captain in the War Between the States, a legislator, and a merchant. His wife, Emma Saxon Guyton was a daughter of Moses Guyton, II and Mary Ann Love, members of two more of Dublin’s finest families. Thomas operated a large farm below his home in the southern part of Dublin. His land encompassed Saxon Street, which was named for Mrs. Rowe and her family. Their children were Maggie, Josie, Freeman Hugh, Mary Guyton, Charlie, Emma, and George. Judge Rowe died in 1890. His wife Margaret followed him in death in 1904, the same year that Emma Rowe died.
Freeman Rowe, the eldest son, was given the home in 1911. A portion of the property was sold to the Masonic Lodge in 1936, but the house remained on the site until about forty years ago. It was then moved to 609 Rowe Street and became the home of the Henry Mason family. Today it remains a relic of Dublin’s glorious past, hidden away and long forgotten by many.