When a real book person gets really interested in genealogy, it can lead to all kinds of things
Back in 1925, architect J. Alden Twachtman and his brother Quentin, a construction engineer — sons of impressionist painter John Henry Twachtman — built a beautiful Tudor home in midcountry Greenwich. One of two dozen or so houses they would build in our town, it was special then and even more special today. Now that Jan Calloway, widow of former PepsiCo chief Wayne Calloway, has gotten her wish — the addition of a stunning thirty-five by forty-nine-foot oak-paneled library, two stories high and capable of housing 20,000 books.
“People call it my Jesus room,” Jan remarks in her wonderful Arkansan accent, “because they come into the house, take one look and say, ‘Gee-zus!’ ” Not an ounce of tender-loving care has been spared in its creation, from the hand-wrought railings and the inlaid brass on the risers of the stairs to the enormous light fixtures, copies of a chandelier in a stairwell at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. On one of the handsome, custom-built map desks, a book called The Splendor of Antique Rugs and Tapestries lays open to a page picturing the self-same rug of palatial proportions that graces the floor of the room.
In 1983, when Don Kendall asked Wayne Calloway to be CFO of PepsiCo, Wayne and Jan moved to Greenwich from Texas, where he had been running Frito-Lay of Dallas for the company. And Wayne said to his wife: “Jan, I will build you a library when we retire, but please don’t start doing research on genealogy now because I need your help getting acquainted and entertaining.” But everywhere they traveled, if they had a free moment, they’d look at libraries. “I kinda knew what I wanted for my hobby,” Jan recalls. She didn’t want hers to look like a commercial library. At an auction in England, they bought the larger-than-life-size Sir Walter Raleigh figures that now peer down from the second level. “They’d look great sometime in a library,” Wayne had said. Same for the handsome table they found in England. These things went into storage, along with Jan’s books. The architectural model of the Spanish palace would come later.
Fighting prostate cancer, Wayne retired in 1995 and said, “Okay, now let’s start working on this library.” So they lined up Rutherford Architects, who had helped them with an addition fifteen years earlier. (When Joyce Rutherford, a white-haired grandmother, walked in the door the first time, Jan had said, “My Gawd, I didn’t know it was going be a woman! You must have been the only woman in your class at architecture school!” “I was,” she answered.) Then Wayne began to get sicker, so Jan told Joyce to drag her heels. Finally, after he passed away, Joyce called and said, “The town’s getting ready to put in this floor-area-ratio thing. You’ve got plenty of gardens and everything but I think we need to start.”
Jan was ready. But by then, Joyce was semi-retired to California, so Allen Kolkowitz of Kolkowitz Kusske architects in Rowayton took over the project while it was under construction. “It was the perfect time to walk into a project with this level of detail,” Allen points out. “Jan challenged me to present the collection of crafts in this room because she wanted the quality of a classical library.” And they worked magic wherever they could. He found specialists such as the brilliant ironworker who hand-forged the railings based on the design of a tapestry, the bronze caster who managed to get into the Victoria and Albert to do a wax model of a chandelier and, because Jan wanted a room without shadow where she could read anywhere, the man who fabricated the grid ceilings in the book alcoves to dress up the special lighting. Working with Jan was “a great, great experience,” Allen adds. “She’s a prize. This building is such a reflection of her experiences and the richness of her personality.”
Three and a half years later, Jan’s library was finished. At long last, her precious research books were out of storage and at her fingertips.
Genealogy books line the shelves of the ten reading alcoves on the first level — along with a few on art, architecture and history like the Art of Florence, the Lost Worlds of the Renaissance and, of course, a book on famous libraries. On the second level are biographies, novels, movies and a children’s section for her five grandchildren age six to twelve. “My books aren’t first editions or signed copies, like a lot of people in Greenwich have in their major collections,” Jan observes. “Mine are for research purposes. It’s easier to have a book at home than picking up and going to the library. I can go back and refer to it if I’ve found another ancestor and see if they were in that same county. You know, so much of the time, people married neighbors back in the old days when the hormones were right.”
Jan’s interest in genealogy was sparked in early childhood by her grandparents and great aunts in the tiny town of Paris, Arkansas. As the eldest grandchild and an only child, she was with them a lot, and they told her stories about how they came in covered wagons from Tennessee in 1895. “It was backwoods, for sure,” Jan notes. She remembers sitting at a huge, round dining-room table and coveting the beat-up silver spoon that her maternal great-grandmother always used. It was all that was left of the family silver after the bushwhackers swept through Arkansas during the Civil War. They had missed it because her mother had been ill upstairs, and it was on the windowsill next to her medicine. Jan would try to put that spoon at her own place at the table but was never successful. “Janice Faye, give me my spoon back!” her great-grandmother would say. “I need it to stir my coffee!” Later, when her grandparents went to sell the old farmhouse, they found that spoon in a drawer and gave it to Jan. Jan went on to the University of Arkansas and a job as executive secretary to the vice president of Texas Instruments in Dallas. She would live in Texas for twenty-five years, eventually meeting Wayne, but before that she married and had two boys. When she was pregnant with her first child, she gave up her job. Then, on a visit back home, while rummaging through a cedar chest looking for her baby sweaters and things she might frame and hang on a nursery wall, she made a discovery: all kinds of notes on family history that she had written for school in sixth grade. “So I thought, you know, I think I’ll check this out and see if it’s true,” she says.
Jan knew that her mother’s family, the Gattises, had come from Scotland via Ireland to Pennsylvania in 1740, then moved on to North Carolina and Georgia before finally settling in Arkansas during the Civil War period. Her father’s family, the Woodwards, came to Virginia from England in 1644, then went on to Tennessee before it was even a state and later into Arkansas. She would confirm that one of her Woodward grandfathers was a surveyor for the king in Virginia, and that “seven greats back,” John Peter Woodward was killed by a falling log while helping build his brother-in-law’s house in the Dinwiddie area. His wife Elizabeth Pegram Woodward then decided to take the children and join her brothers in Tennessee, but had a heart attack and died on moving day; so the older children took the younger ones anyway.
“Thomas Jefferson was big in Virginia then,” notes Jan, “but he wanted to free the slaves because of who we now know was Sally Hemings. Elizabeth needed slaves to run her farm, to make a living. So my family always hated him, unfortunately.” Today, Jan is on the Monticello Cabinet.
Jan had always wondered why her paternal great-grandfather had died so young — the night his youngest child was born — but could never get a straight answer out of Grandma Woodward. Finally, she and a cousin who had helped her document other stories, got hold of an old newspaper article that told the tale. Great-grandfather had gone down to the local saloon to celebrate the imminent birth while the midwife was delivering the baby. Apparently, when he drank, he got “snakes in the boots” and picked a fight with somebody. The owner asked them to leave, which they did, soon to return, go at it again and get thrown outside again. But this time the man knocked Great-grandfather against a wall of the stone tavern and killed him. “I told my grandmother what we had found,” says Jan, “and she said, ‘Don’t ever write a book!’ God rest her soul, she died at ninety-five.”
Ross Smythe, the baby Jan was expecting when she took up genealogy, seems to have followed in her footsteps. He is now at Cambridge working on his doctorate in medieval history.
“He gets his love of history from me,” says Jan, laughing as she recalls the drive from Texas to Arkansas with an excited four-year-old Ross yelling, “Mommy, stop! Stop! There’s a cemetery!” He loved his job of squeezing graphite onto old tombstones and brushing it off with a whisk broom so the writing would show up. Then Jan would take pictures of them. “Oh, I know that’s not good to do now, but that’s the way we did it years ago,” she admits. By the time they were finished, Ross would look like a raccoon, and Jan would have to scrub him down with an old washcloth.
“Very few of my books are valuable, but they mean a lot to me,” Jan concludes. “Eventually, when I die, I’m going to leave them to the Gattis-Logan County Library — the library that Wayne and I named after my grandparents — in my hometown of Paris, Arkansas.”
Too bad they can’t be delivered complete with their remarkable repository.