History

The Livingston Legacy

The 9,100 acre Dixie Plantation is located in the heart of the Red Hills Region, a distinct American landscape of large hunting preserves rich in natural and cultural resources. Straddling the Florida-Georgia border, Dixie Plantation served as the winter estate of Gerald and Eleanor Livingston, heirs to Crawford Livingston II, a railroad magnate and prominent investor in the Northern Pacific Railway. Under the Livingston family, Dixie became a highly regarded wild quail hunting plantation and one of the finest field trial venues in North America, annually hosting the Continental Field Trial.

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Continental Field Trial gallery sometime during the 1930s
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Continental Field Trial gallery in the early 1950s

Gerald Livingston headed the stock brokerage firm of Livingston & Co. in New York’s financial district, and was a governor of the New York Stock Exchange. An avid sportsman, he became acquainted with the Red Hills quail hunting scene in 1910, when he and his friend Sydney Hutchinson of Philadelphia rented a house and shooting privileges on land in northern Leon County.

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Gerald M. Livingston with one of his champion pointers

Livingston purchased the antebellum “Cedars” plantation of General William Bellamy for a reported $8 dollars an acre in 1926, renaming the property Dixie Plantation. By the mid-1930s, with the purchase of adjoining farms, he had assembled over 18,000 acres. An ardent outdoorsman, Livingston loved quail hunting with the finest pointing dogs available. His beloved dog Lucky Strike, posed on point on the cover of Life Magazine in 1946. With his wife Eleanor and daughters Eleanor, Mary, and Geraldine, the family bred show horses and dogs. A life-sized bronze statue of their World Grand Champion Tennessee Walking Horse Midnight Sun, by Florida sculptor Lee Burman, stands in the gardens at Dixie.

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Eleanor Livingston
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Geraldine Livingston poses on her horse during a show horse competition in the 1950s

Since 1937, the plantation has hosted the Continental Field Trial, the nation’s premier field trial event for wild quail pointing dogs. Formed in Chicago in 1895, the Continental attracts national attention and hundreds of visitors annually. Livingston served as President of both the Continental Field Trial and Westminster Kennel Club and subsequently, both his wife Eleanor and daughter Geraldine served as Presidents of the Continental.

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Dog handlers at the Continental Field Trial on Dixie Plantation in 1946
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After the death of her mother in 1977, Miss Geraldine Livingston inherited the Florida side of Dixie Plantation and continued the annual Continental Field Trial on the property.

After Gerald Livingston’s death in 1950, his wife Eleanor maintained the estate, continuing and expanding the Continental Field Trial. After her death in 1977, most of the Georgia half of the plantation was sold and daughter Geraldine inherited the Florida side with the John Russell Pope mansion.

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Miss Geraldine shown with one of her beloved parrots.

Much beloved in the community, Miss Geraldine established a foundation at the time of her death in 1994 to manage her property and continue the field trials. The Suwannee River Water Management District now holds a conservation easement on nearly the entire property.

In 2013, the Geraldine M. Livingston Foundation transferred its assets to Tall Timbers Research, Inc., providing additional research lands and complimenting the nonprofit’s conservation mission to protect the Red Hills Region of north Florida and southwest Georgia.

Dixie Plantation Main House

The centerpiece of Dixie Planation is its Main House, a 14,200-square-foot Neo-Classical Revival mansion designed in 1936 by master architect John Russell Pope. Pope was one of the nation’s most prominent 20th century architects; he designed the National Archives, the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery of Art at the Washington Mall. Dixie was his only Florida design constructed.

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The Dixie Plantation Main House is a classic example of the Neo-Classical revival style.
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John Russell Pope, who designed the Dixie Plantation Main House, is regarded as one of America’s great 20th century architects.

In 1926, Livingston purchased the antebellum “Cedars” plantation of General William Bellamy for a reported $8 dollars an acre, renaming the property Dixie Plantation. By the mid-1930s, with the purchase of adjoining farms, he had assembled over 18,000 acres. An ardent outdoorsman, Livingston loved quail hunting with the finest pointing dogs available. His beloved dog Lucky Strike, posed on point on the cover of Life Magazine in 1946. With his wife Eleanor and daughters Eleanor, Mary, and Geraldine the family bred show horses and dogs. A life-sized bronze statue of their World Grand Champion Tennessee Walking Horse Midnight Sun, by Florida sculptor Lee Burman, stands in the gardens at Dixie.

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Gerald Livingston’s pointer Lucky Strike made the cover of Life Magazine in 1946.
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Life-size bronze statue of Midnight Sun, the World Grand Champion Tennessee Walking Horse that belonged to the Livingstons, as viewed from the west wing of the main house.

Tired of living in the old quail lodge each winter, in 1936 the Livingston’s commissioned Pope to build their three-story brick mansion deep in the interior of the plantation. The house sits on a promontory overlooking Lake Windom and is approached on a scenic dirt drive.

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Live oak allee leads to the Dixie Main House

Beyond the ornate entrance gate, a beautiful oak allee leads to the stunning main house. Pope adorned the house with a two-story Ionic column portico, broad frieze band and horizontal cornice across the top of the building, uniting the symmetrical structure with its slightly recessed wings. According to Bedford, “The rival of any American Greek revival residence, this was his [Pope’s] most fluid and coherent work since 1925, and it consequently resuscitated the residential side of his practice.” Pope designed only two more domestic projects before he died in 1937 at the age of 63.

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Architectural rendering of Dixie Plantation Main House, 1936-37, by John Russell Pope
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Main House in 1955.

Dixie is believed to have been completed by 1940. A large entry hall on the first floor leads to the south wing with a library, gun room, bar, and living room decorated in wood paneling and ornate moldings imported from an 18th century London house. A screened porch opens to a loggia overlooking the formal gardens designed by noted New York City landscape architect Robert Ludlow Fowler, Jr.

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Detail of carved wooden paneling in the Main House library; pointer is shown in shallow relief.
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Landscape architect Robert Ludlow Fowler, Jr. who designed the gardens at Dixie in 1936.

The north wing includes a formal dining room, breakfast room and kitchen. A wide, graceful staircase leads to the second floor with two master suites and five guest rooms, all with fireplaces. The “attic” housed the servants in five smaller bedrooms. There are 13 bathrooms in the house.

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Dixie Plantation Main House Dining Room
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Grand staircase leads to the upstairs bedroom.

Historic Preservation

The Florida Legislature approved a $350,000 restoration grant for the historic main house at Dixie Plantation in Jefferson County. The phase I grant was part of the Department of State’s Special Category Grant appropriation request that successfully awarded grants to historically significant properties throughout Florida. An $150,000 cash match was made by Tall Timbers to bring the total project budget to $500,000.

According to project coordinator Kevin McGorty, the grant will provide funds for roof and masonry repairs and upgrade the plumbing and electrical systems to the 14,000 square foot building in preparation for installing a centralized heating and cooling system in phase II. The total rehabilitation is estimated to take two years to complete and additional fundraising will be needed.

This is truly a unique project that has ramifications beyond saving one building. Located in the heart of the Red Hills Region, the 9,000-acre Dixie Plantation has tremendous potential to be a regional resource for exemplary land management, conservation, education and historic preservation. Under Tall Timbers’ stewardship, Dixie Plantation will be an important research and educational center. Once restored, the mansion will host conferences, meetings, and cultural events that the public can enjoy while also serving as an attractive guest house. The historic house, designed by noted American architect John Russell Pope, will be returned to its original grandeur. The economy of one of Florida’s more rural counties will be enhanced by a vibrant center of activity.

Tall Timbers is grateful for the support the grant received from the Secretary of State, Florida Historical Commission, and the north Florida legislative delegation. In addition, numerous Jefferson County community leaders, landowners, and organizations lent their support to make the grant possible.

South view of Dixie Main House showing brick exterior in need of repair.
South view of Dixie Main House showing brick exterior in need of repair.

Historical Research

Oral History

Historian Delbra McGriff will be interviewing staff who worked for the Livingston family at Dixie during their residency in the last century; Alpha Bright, who still works doing land management at Dixie, is in his eighties. Delbra will document their lives on Dixie and their relationships with the Livingston family. With these oral histories, we hope to learn about the cultural history of the plantation and hunting plantation life in general.

Alpha Bright
Alpha Bright

Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun holds the distinction as the first stallion to win the World Grand Championship title in Shelbyville, Tennessee during the Celebration in 1945 and again in 1946. Continuing the bloodline of his sire, Wilson’s Allen and dam, Ramsey’s Rena, Midnight Sun’s offspring and succeeding generations continue to dominate the walking horse industry.

The colt that foaled June 8, 1940 gave little indication that this “ugly duckling” would become a great champion. John A. Hendrixson purchased the black colt and named him Joe Lewis Wilson. Charles Brantley bought half interest in the black stallion during a visit to the Hendrixson Farm. Winston Wiser’s first assessment was that Joe Lewis was too big, awkward and too black. However, Wiser took the colt and developed him from the ugly duckling to the beautiful black swan that attracted the attention of Henry Davis.

Henry Davis’s assessment of Midnight Sun resulted in Wirt and Alex Harlin purchasing the black stallion in 1944 and giving him a new name, Midnight Sun. History records the electricity that filled the air during the 1945-46 Celebrations with Fred Walker as Midnight Sun’s trainer and rider. The standard for the Celebration Championship was now in place.

The Harlinsdale Farm sold Midnight Sun to Mrs. Eleanor Livingston and her daughter Geraldine in 1957. The Livingstons stipulated that Midnight Sun remain at Harlinsdale Farm until his death. The stallion was buried at Harlinsdale when he died in 1965.

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Geraldine Livingston commissioned a life size statue of Midnight Sun and presented it to her mother on her birthday in 1972. Midnight Sun stood at Dixie Plantation as a magnificent work of art to perpetuate his place in Tennessee Walking Horse history as the greatest sire until July, 2003. The statue was loaned to the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association where it stood in their Memorial Garden until May 2013, when it was returned to Dixie Plantation.