Restored Rowan Oak, home of Nobel Laureate William Faulkner, to be dedicated May 1
April 25, 2005
By Tobie Baker
OXFORD, Miss. - One of Americas greatest literary geniuses is rumored to have dug potholes in his driveway to keep gawkers away. The potholes are long gone, and William Faulkners home Rowan Oak has reopened to the public after a $1.3 million, three-year restoration.
Hundreds of guests, including many who knew Faulkner, are expected to attend when the University of Mississippi dedicates the restored home of the Nobel Prize-winning author Sunday, May 1. The 12:30 p.m. ceremony is free and open to the public.
Author John Grisham is scheduled to give the keynote address, and Faulkners daughter, Jill Faulkner Summers, is expected to be among the special guests. No parking is allowed at Rowan Oak for the dedication. Visitors are asked to park at the Oxford Mall and use a free shuttle service provided by the university.
“Rowan Oak was a refuge for Mr. Faulkner, and today it remains a sanctuary, a quiet place of contemplation,” said Chancellor Robert Khayat. “Ole Miss is thrilled to reopen one of Americas great treasures.”
The authors daughter sold the house and the 31-acre estate to the university in 1972. It is operated as part of University Museums.
Rowan Oak is distinctive among the preserved homes of American writers because the greater part of what stands today is Faulkners handiwork. Charged with planning the two-year restoration, Howorth and Associates Architects of Oxford aimed to maintain much of the homes original character.
“The Rowan Oak renovation was especially challenging,” said principal architect Tom Howorth. “We were restoring to a particular period the way the home was at Faulkners death (in 1962). We werent looking for a new and pristine home.”
One specific renovation effort was applying new wallpaper in the entry hall, parlor, guest bedroom and Mrs. Faulkners bedroom. Rowan Oak curator Bill Griffith said the replica wallpaper is an exact match to the original, but visitors will notice differences.
“Prior to the renovation, the wallpaper was shabby and worn, and the paint was faded and chipping,” Griffith said. “Today, it looks as if it has been freshly painted.”
Throughout the effort, none of the color schemes, wood moldings or floor plans were altered.
The three-phase restoration was made possible by private gifts and grants from the state of Mississippi; U.S. Department of Interior, Parks Service; and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“When we set out four years ago to restore Rowan Oak, it seemed like a monumental task,” said Campbell McCool, Rowan Oak Society co-chair. “Now were preparing a grand dedication. Its incredibly rewarding.”
It was at Rowan Oak that Faulkner accomplished one of the more remarkable feats of American literature. From Absalom, Absalom! to As I Lay Dying, he wrote a series of novels set in his “native soil” of Yoknapatawpha.
In 1970, some of Faulkners early writings were discovered in a broom closet beneath a staircase at Rowan Oak. The authenticated 1,800 pages are handwritten and typescript drafts of poems, short stories, film scripts and novels, written by Faulkner in some of his most creative years, between 1925 and 1939. Described as “one of the greatest finds of modern literary manuscripts,” the Rowan Oak Papers are housed at Archives and Special Collections in the universitys J.D. Williams Library.
Directions to Rowan Oak: From the 1300 block of North Lamar Avenue, turn west onto Old Taylor Road. The property is located on the north at the hard curve. The historic marker is half-hidden in the trees.
Rowan Oak is open to visitors 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Guided tours are available by calling 662-234-3284.
Take a virtual tour of Rowan Oak by visiting www.olemiss.edu/depts/u_museum/rowan_oak/interactive.html.
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