The stately John Haywood Jones House (Coman Hall) on South Clinton Street has witnessed over 170 years of Athens history and has been at the center of several historic and many interesting moments. The house had been set to go to auction but the auction has since been cancelled by current owner, William Carl Hatchett III.
Construction began on the home began in 1849 by John Haywood Jones, son of wealthy attorney John Nelson Spotswood Jones of Greenbrier. Haywood Jones married Sallie Collier, niece of Governor Collier of Alabama.
Due to the Civil War, it is said that the house was not completed as Jones had planned. The Jones family did occupy the home during the war and according to Frank G. Westmoreland’s article “When Walls Talk,” the family was home when Union troops arrived. The war and crop failures led to Jones being financially ruined.
Westmoreland wrote, “According to tradition, he went to Memphis in despair and checked into an inn. There he proceeded to drink himself into a coma.”
Jones, 40, was brought back to Druids Grove in Greenbrier. The event was chronicled in The Athens Weekly on Aug. 23, 1866.
“...he returned almost in death, and sent for his absent family, who arrived an hour later.
“A few friends stood around his dying couch, and to a brother, he committed his last requests; to him he recounted his penitence and sorrow for any misconduct and wrongs done to his fellow man and for offenses against his God, and asked Christian forgiveness and pardon. All who knew Haywood Jones, with his vehement impulses, will feel the sincerity of his dying words.
“In the prime and vigor of life he died admonishing all that the ‘race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong.’”
Jones’ friend Joshua Prout Coman, a judge and doctor, along with his son James Lindley Coman became the next occupants of the home that came to be known as Coman Hall. Life events took them away from Athens, and eventually the home stood empty.
In 1897, Dr. Theo Westmoreland purchased the house. He made several improvements including those to the front porch passersby see today.
“He extended the front porch to the length of the house and installed the four huge columns, which reach all the way to the roof line. He added a balcony that can be entered from the upstairs front hall and installed electric lights, running water, and other modern conveniences as they became available. He closed the inside entrance to the basement in order to add the downstairs bathroom. He had concrete floors laid in the basement along with plaster walls, such that the large room became a ballroom. The two story porch that extended across part of the rear of the house was enclosed to create a downstairs kitchen and another upstairs bedroom,” Frank G. Westmoreland said.
After the death of Dr. Theo Westmoreland in 1912, his wife, May Lane Westmoreland became owner of the home until her death 1931. The house was put up for sale and the City of Athens considered purchasing the big house to be used as a school but decided against doing so.
In 1933, Mrs. E. Pearl Booth became the owner but as the Great Depression continued, so did the difficulty in maintaining the big house. Booth made the decision to convert the house into apartments and renters occupied the home until 1945 when the house was sold to Miss Mary Ellen Clarke and her sister, Margaret (Clarke) Hatchett.
Westmoreland said, “Mr. Hatchett replaced the deteriorating wooden floor of the front porch with concrete and he had the rear wooden steps replaced with attractive steps of brick that closely matched the original bricks of the walls of the house. The cupola had deteriorated beyond repair so it was removed when the roof was replaced.”
When Miss Mary Ellen Clarke passed away, she left the house to her niece, Mrs. Julia Clarke Hatchett Nelson. She worked to restore the home and to fill it with beautiful antique furniture in keeping with the style of the home.
“It is now more beautiful than it has ever been in the eyes of any living person,” Westmoreland wrote.
Mrs. Julia Clarke Hatchett Nelson passed away in 2020 leaving the house to her nephew, William Carl Hatchett III.
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