Museum uncovers story of how a greenhouse delayed the 1959 sale of the estate InTheOaks

A greenhouse located on Terry Estate, also known as InTheOaks, delayed the sale of the property in 1959. Staff at the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center uncovered correspondence between the attorneys tasked with sorting out the matter.

by Gillian Cobb, intern

The Terry Estate, also known as InTheOaks, is a 24,000 square foot private estate built in Black Mountain between 1919 to 1921 by Franklin Silas Terry, the first VP at General Electric, and his wife, Lillian Emerson Terry.

Modeled after a Tudor country manor and second only in size to the Biltmore House in the area, the home contains a recreation wing with a swimming pool, bowling alley, and gymnasium.

In 1957, after both Franklin and Lillian Emerson had passed away, Lillian’s daughter, Lillian Boscowitz, who lived in New York, donated property to the Episcopal Diocese of Western North Carolina.

Many of the original documents related to this donation found their way into the permanent collection at the Swannanoa Valley Museum & History Center, located just up the road from the former estate, which is now owned by Montreat College.

While sorting through the collection, Museum staff and volunteers couldn’t help but laugh at some of the content.

For eight months, beginning in June 1959, two lawyers, Kingsland Van Winkle (from Asheville) and Max Chopnick (from New York City), tried to solve an issue regarding a greenhouse that seemed to have slipped through the cracks during the original property transfer. We found it quite entertaining that a single greenhouse could cause so much trouble in the transfer of an entire estate.

The greenhouse was first mentioned in a letter dated June 23, 1959, from Van Winkle to Chopnick. Van Winkle was confused about a greenhouse located on land owned by a Mr. Eckles. A buyer had offered to purchase the greenhouse from Eckles, but Eckles reported that he did not actually own it – it belonged to the Terrys. Van Winkle had no record of a greenhouse being part of the Terry’s property.

On July 9, 1959, Chopnick wrote back that Mrs. Boscowitz was in Europe and could not be contacted to ask about the greenhouse’s ownership. He was unable to find anything describing a greenhouse in the transaction papers.

Then on July 16, 1959 Van Winkle received a letter from H.F. Manning, who had gone to the property to investigate the greenhouse issue. He found that the greenhouse was originally on the In-the-Oaks property, but Mr. Eckles had moved it to his property on Highway 70. Eckles had offered to buy the greenhouse from Mrs. Boscowitz, but she declined, and told him that he could move it to use on his property. Eckles claimed he had to rebuild part of the greenhouse as well as the furnace and replace some windows. He had planned to go into business with a man named Radcliff, who would raise and sell flowers from the greenhouse. The partnership fell apart, and Eckles claimed the greenhouse had not been in operation since January 1, 1959. According to Manning, Eckles made “no claims of ownership” and stated that he would not be opposed to returning it.

 

Van Winkle relayed this information about “the greenhouse in question” to Chopnick in a letter dated July 18, 1959. Additionally, he had found an appraisal of InTheOaks which described a 15 x 72 greenhouse located outside of the Parker house on the property.

Chopnick was finally able to report on September 30, 1959 that Mrs. Boscowitz had returned from Europe, and he had “reviewed the complicated and mysterious problem of Eckles and the greenhouse” with her. Boscowitz decided that she wished to gift the greenhouse to the Diocese. Chopnick wrote that he wanted to have the greenhouse appraised again before she signed a letter of gift.

On November 24, 1959, Van Winkle received a letter from the appraiser, William G. Adams, that the greenhouse’s value was $850. The following day, November 25, 1959, Van Winkle sent the appraisal to Chopnick and thanked him for his “interest in this matter.”

On December 3, 1959, Chopnick responded, asking for another letter from the appraiser explicitly stating that the appraisal was the present fair market value. The greenhouse debacle finally came to a close in a letter dated December 10, 1959. Van Winkle sent Chopnick the letter he asked for and told him to have “a pleasant Christmas and a prosperous New Year.”

The greenhouse was officially turned over to the Diocese in March of 1960.

The Swannanoa Valley Musuem & History Center archives are open to researchers during normal operating hours and by appointment.

With the help of volunteers, the Museum is adding new materials to their online digital collections every week. Visit swannanoavalleymuseum.org for more information.

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