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A gated entrance just like the original

South Boston News
The restored gate at MacCallum More / October 18, 2017

Several years ago, McCallum More Museum director Joseph Epps discovered a rusty piece of metal protruding from a pile of debris at the back of the gardens.

As he dug away at the dirt and leaves, he uncovered a large hand-forged ironwork, with its scrolled finials and once-gold plated “M’s.” Epps soon realized he’d found the gate that once marked the entrance to the gardens at Berry Street and Morton Mews.

Years of neglect had all but destroyed the once majestic and ornate Edwardian iron piece. But Epps and then-museum president Diana Ramsey wondered if the gate could be repaired and how much would it cost.

They reached out to local sculptor Fred Cartwright.

Cartwright, who used to make similar iron structures for large estates in California, was confident that he could restore the piece, but the cost might be out of reach for the small museum. He said it would cost around $10,000.

Several small parts of the design work were missing and he would have to build jigs and find the tools to recreate metalwork that, at the time it was made, was shaped by pouring molten iron into a mold.

Epps also reached out to his longtime friend and philanthropist Jessie Nola Davis Bennett, and asked for help with funding for the restoration project. She generously donated $50,000 for maintenance, upkeep and development of the museum and gardens — of which $10,000 was earmarked for the restoration of the existing gate.

On Sunday, June 15, the newly restored gate with two side panels was dedicated in honor of Jessie Nola Davis Bennett. Sadly, Bennett died in 2008, but four family members were at the dedication in her stead.

The woman whose philanthropy made the restoration of the gate possible grew up in Chase City. She was the youngest child of William E. Davis and Dorcas Pettus Davis.

After graduating from the Thyne Institute, she enrolled in Virginia State College (now University) where she earned a teaching degree and met her husband, George Bennett.

Together, they traveled the world for George’s job with the United Nations, and when they weren’t traveling, Jessie would teach.

Jessie first learned about McCallum More in 1999 while visiting her brother Edwin, who was still living in Chase City and serving as the treasurer for the Thyne Institute Memorial.

Epps introduced her to the gardens and its board of directors, and she was so impressed with the work gardens that she made the $50,000 donation, part of which paid for the restoration of the gate now named in her honor.

It took Cartwright more than two years to complete the restoration and to forge two new side gates to match the original piece.

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