Rowan Oak hosts students and events


Haley Renschler
The Oxford Eagle

A historic literary landmark in Oxford continues to inspire lovers of Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner’s work.

Rowan Oak curator William Griffith moved to Oxford in 1992 and was hired by the university to help run Rowan Oak in 1999.

The Illinois native with museum and anthropology experience works on the home’s landscaping and does all cleaning inside.

“It’s a lot, but it’s worth it because I enjoy meeting people from all over and telling them the history of William Faulkner,” Griffith said.

On Oct. 22, Rowan Oak will host the fourth annual Harvest Dinner from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. The event benefits the University of Mississippi Museum and Historic Houses.

Elizabeth Heiskell, manager of Woodson Ridge Farms and Elizabeth Heiskell Catering, said the first year the event was held they were “begging people to come.”

“Now, we had to put a capacity of 600 people, and we have 40 people on the waiting list,” she said.

During the home’s usual operating hours, students from the university help with guided tours of Rowan Oak that focus on Faulkner’s life while he lived there. He completed three renovations while there that were paid for by his literary success. In 1952, he added a “study” in which he wrote his novels.

“We avoid talking about his screen-writing life in Hollywood, and focus on the writings he did in Mississippi,” Griffith said.

The Rowan Oak property sits on four acres and has 29 acres of woods. It has welcomed visitors from all over the world. It is now owned by the University of Mississippi and part of the University Museum.

The large, primitive Greek Revival house pre-dated the Civil War and was built in 1844 by Col. Robert Sheegog. It was originally known as “The Bailey’s Place.”

In 1930, Faulkner purchased the house with his wife, Estelle, and her two children from a previous marriage. It was renamed after the rowan tree that symbolizes security and peace. Over 30,000 people have visited the home.

“A lot of the time, people are doing the Blue’s Trail of the South, and Rowan Oak comes up as a popular site to see in the South,” Griffith said.

During its off hours, Rowan Oak hosts weddings, photography sessions and events. It’s a great place to take a walk in the woods and a quiet place to study.

University of Mississippi freshman Wren Bell heard about Rowan Oak from friends and teachers.

“It was beautiful and well preserved,” she said. “I think every Ole Miss student needs to visit because it is a landmark in Oxford with so much history.”

Griffith said he plans to continue preserving Rowan Oak. And today, Faulkner is still one of the most read authors, second only to Shakespeare.

“I love this place, and I love meeting all the people that come here to learn about William Faulkner,” said Griffith. “You can’t have a serious conversation about 21st century American literature without Faulkner. He is a man respected in Southern literature.”

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