Greenhouse Drama at IntheOaks

by Gillian Cobb, intern

InTheOaks, also known as the Terry Estate, was a 240,000-square-foot private estate in Black Mountain built between 1919 to 1921 to resemble a Tudor country manor. Owners Franklin and Lillian Emerson Terry lived on the estate with Lillian’s daughter – also named Lillian. Franklin, the first VP at General Electric, lived there until his death in 1926. After her husband’s death, Lillian Emerson continued to live on the estate until she was killed in a car accident in Florida in 1954. Her daughter, then Lillian Boscowitz, donated the property to the Episcopal Diocese of western North Carolina in 1957. 

The Swannanoa Valley Museum has a collection of lawyer correspondences for this transaction. While going through the letters, museum staff and volunteers couldn’t help but laugh at some of the content. For eight months, two lawyers, Kingsland Van Winkle and Max Chopnick, tried to solve an issue regarding a greenhouse that seemed to slip through the cracks. We found it quite entertaining that a single greenhouse could cause so much trouble in the transfer of an entire estate.  I have taken the liberty of making a timeline of the greenhouse matter and Van Winkle and Chopnick’s friendship.

June 23, 1959: Van Winkle wrote to Chopnick about some confusion about a greenhouse that belonged to the Terry’s, but on land that was owned by Mr. Eckles. A buyer had offered to buy the greenhouse from Eckles, but he did not own it. Neither lawyer had any record of a greenhouse being included in the transaction of property.

Lillian and Lillian

July 9, 1959: Chopnick wrote back that Mrs. Boscowitz was in Europe and could not be contacted. He was unable to find anything describing a greenhouse in the transaction papers. Chopnick expressed his regrets that he did not meet Van Winkle at the American Law Institute meeting. He asks if Van Winkle plans on being in Miami for the American Bar Association Convention so they would be able to meet.

July 16, 1959: H.F. Manning writes to Van Winkle that he had gone to the property to investigate. He found that the greenhouse was originally on the InTheOaks property, until Mr. Eckles had moved the entire greenhouse to Highway 70. Eckles claimed he had to rebuild part of the greenhouse, the furnace, and replace some windows. According to Manning, Eckles made “no claims of ownership” and that he would not be opposed if the owners wished to have this greenhouse returned.

Little greenhouse, big problems

July 18, 1959: Van Winkle wrote to Chopnick to relay Manning’s information about “the greenhouse in question.” He found an appraisal of InTheOaks which described a 15 x 72 greenhouse located outside of the Parker house on the property. Van Winkle sends his regrets that he will not be in Miami for the American Bar Association Convention. He explains that his wife is ill and that he “expect[s] my traveling days are about over until I take the long journey.”

July 20, 1959: Chopnick thanks him for his “further investigation of the greenhouse situation.” Chopnick is “doubly sorry” that they won’t be able to meet in Miami. Though he states “perhaps I shall have the opportunity of getting to Asheville in the not too distant future and I will then look forward with keen pleasure to meeting you.”

July 23, 1959: Van Winkle describes in detail an old case of his that is quite similar to the whole greenhouse situation. He tells Chopnick that he doesn’t golf, but he would arrange for Chopnick to be able to play on the Biltmore Forest Course.

September 30, 1959: Chopnick writes that Mrs. Boscowitz has finally returned from Europe. They have “reviewed the complicated and mysterious problem of Eckles and the greenhouse.” Boscowitz wishes to gift the greenhouse, so Chopnick wants to appraise the greenhouse again before she signs a letter of gift.

November 24, 1959: Van Winkle receives a letter from the appraiser, William G. Adams, that the greenhouse’s value was $850.

November 25, 1959: Van Winkle sends the appraisal to Chopnick and thanks him for his “interest in this matter.”

December 3, 1959: Chopnick responds for another letter from the appraiser explicitly stating that the appraisal is the present fair market value.

December 10, 1959: Van Winkle sends Chopnick the letter he asked for and tells him to have “a pleasant Christmas and a prosperous New Year.”

The greenhouse was officially turned over to the Diocese in March of 1960. It’s comical to think about the impact one greenhouse had on the transaction of property. After transferring a whole estate, one would believe that transferring a greenhouse would be easy. Seeing the eight months of struggle between lawyers really puts the reality of legal work into perspective. Sometimes the seemingly smallest issue is going to cause the most problems. 

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