They came to Mississippi from Scotland by way of North Carolina, a clan with deep and ancient roots in the Old Country and a sense of adventure aroused by the descriptions of the vast, fertile lands east of the Mississippi.
After three generations settled in North Carolina, the scions of the Johnstone clan-nineteen-year-old John T. Johnstone and his two younger brothers-set off to seek new fortune, and in 1835, John purchased 520 acres that would eventually be christened Annandale, after their Scottish family estate.
A family undaunted.Though tragedy would strike, and John's two brothers would be felled, one by yellow fever and one by highwaymen on the Natchez Trace, and while John himself would die a sudden death in 1848, John's widow Margaret proved to be a resilient and resourceful woman who moved ahead with her husband's dream. Daughters Frances and Helen also helped to carry on the Johnstone family legacy.
After John and Margaret gave 1,400 acres adjacent to Annandale to Frances and her new husband William J. Britton as a wedding gift in 1846, the Brittons built Ingleside, an eight-bedroom mansion festooned with galleries and arches overlaid with hand-carved oak leaves.
At the time of the Brittons' wedding, the Annandale home was still quite simple, essentially a remodeled log cabin, and after John's death, Margaret moved ahead with the couple's plans for something more grand. In 1859 in loving memory of her late husband, she opened the doors to one of the most elaborate mansions Madison County would ever see. The three-story Italianate villa set the stage for a truly remarkable residence: forty rooms appointed with European imported fireplaces, a grand entry stairway large enough for an orchestra, great halls on two floors and a dining room with curved walls. As modern as it was luxurious, the home boasted running water furnished from a copper tank on the third floor.
Though the families would be relieved of food, cattle and horses by both sides during the Civil War, Ingleside, Annandale and Margaret's other cherished project, the Chapel of the Cross, survived the war intact, perhaps because of William's close friendship with Edwin M. Stanton, Lincoln's Secretary of War.
While Frances and William sold Ingleside Plantation in 1865 to move south to Pass Christian, the pull of the land proved strong, and they repossessed the property and mansion in 1870. Both stayed in the family until 1928 when the property was sold for the last time. Though a fire destroyed Annandale in 1924, the legacy of the Johnstone family dream lives on at Reunion.
The Chapel of the Cross
A miniature Gothic masterpiece, a veteran of war and a one-time victim of extinction, the Chapel of the Cross is a piece of living history that has offered inspiration to generations of Mississippians since its improbable beginning as a pet project of the widow Margaret Johnstone. Consecrated in 1852 and today considered one of America's finest examples of 19th century Gothic Revival architecture, the Chapel of the Cross was very much a product of its time: constructed with both slave labor and hired artisans, designed by a noted architect Frank Wills (an Englishman who would go on to become the official architect of the New York Ecclesiastical Society) and built at a cost of $3,000. The bricks of the chapel's two-feet thick walls were "river bottom" bricks, cast on-site from area clay. Three pieces of imported Italian stone formed the baptismal font.
The Chapel survived the Civil War with only a loss of dignity, its bell melted down for Confederate bullets, but in the years afterward, the church suffered from bouts of neglect and abandonment until it was finally declared extinct by the Diocese of Mississippi shortly after the twentieth century began. This in turn prompted a Johnstone family member to intervene on its behalf, when Margaret Britton Parsons, granddaughter of John and Margaret Johnstone, persuaded the Episcopal Dioceses of Mississippi to reactivate the chapel in 1911, and the Chapel opened its doors once again.
In 1956, the chapel underwent a restoration, and in 1979, the United States Department of the Interior awarded a $50,000 grant toward another restoration; Mississippians rallied to the cause with the annual "Day in the Country," and today the Chapel of the Cross is not only a historic treasure listed on the National Register, but also a thriving, welcoming house of worship with an engaged and active congregation.
The little chapel that could-survive, unite, inspire-today stands as a much-loved neighbor of Reunion.