Springfield Paranormal Research Group
Myrtles History !
Since the Myrtles was built by David Bradford in 1794, it has allegedly been
the site of the scene of at least 10 murders. In truth, only one person was
ever murdered here but as has been stated already, some of the people who
have owned the house have never let the truth stand in the way of a good
story. But as you will soon see, the plantation has an unusual history that
genuinely did occur -- and one that could (and has) left its own real ghosts
David Bradford was born in America to Irish immigrants and was one of
five children. In 1777. He purchased a tract of land and a small stone house
near Washington County, Pennsylvania. He became a successful
attorney,businessman and Deputy Attorney General for the county. His
first attempt to marry ended only days before his wedding (nothing is
known about this) but he later met and married Elizabeth Porter in 1785
and started a family.
As his family and business grew, Bradford needed a larger home and built
a new one in the town of Washington. The house became well known in the
region for its size and remarkable craftsmanship, with a mahogany staircase
and woodwork imported from England. Many of the items had to be
transported from the east coast and over the Pennsylvania mountains at great
expense. Bradford would use the parlor of the house as an office, where
he would meet with his clients.
Unfortunately, he was not able to enjoy the house for long. In October 1794,
he was forced to flee the house, leaving his family behind. Bradford
became involved in the infamous Whiskey Rebellion and legend has it that
President George Washington placed a price on the man’s head for his role
in the affair. The Whiskey Rebellion took place in western Pennsylvania and
really began as a series of grievances over high prices and taxes forced on
those living along the frontier at that time. The complaints eventually erupted
into violence when a mob attacked and burned down the home of a local
tax collector. In the months that followed, residents resisted a tax that had
been placed on whiskey and while most of the protests were nonviolent,
Washington mobilized a militia and sends them into suppress the rebellion.
Once the protests were brought under control, Bradford left the region on
the advice of some of the other principals in the affair.
After leaving Washington, Bradford first went to Pittsburgh. Leaving his family
in safety, he traveled down the Ohio River to the Mississippi. He eventually
settled near Bayou Sara, near what is now St. Francisville, Louisiana. Bradford
was no stranger to this area. He had originally traveled here in 1792 to try and
obtain a land grant from Spain. When he returned in 1796, he purchased 600
acres of land and a year later, built a modest, eight-room home that he named
“Laurel Grove”. He lived there alone until 1799, when he received a pardon
for his role in the Whiskey Rebellion from newly elected President John
Adams. He was given the pardon for his assistance in establishing a boundary
line, known historically as “Ellicott’s Line” between Spain and the
After receiving the pardon, Bradford returned to Pennsylvania to bring his wife
and five children back to Louisiana. He returned again to Pennsylvania in 1801
to try and sell his home but after two years passed with no buyers, he finally
agreed to trade the home and property for 230 barrels of flour that were to be
delivered to his home in Bayou Sarah. At the time, New Orleans was suffering
from a shortage of flour and he thought he could sell the barrels and make
back any money that he had lost in the trade. However, until the day that he
died in 1817, he never received the shipment of flour. He tried repeatedly
for years to settle the debt but it simply never happened.
While living in Bayou Sarah, Bradford occasionally took in students who
wanted to study the law. One of them, Clark Woodrooff, not only earned a
law degree but he also married his teacher's daughter, Sarah Mathilda.
Clark Woodrooff was born in Litchfield County, Connecticut in August 1791.
Having no desire to follow in his father's footsteps as a farmer, he left
Connecticut at the age of 19 and sought his fortune on the Mississippi River,
ending up in Bayou Sarah. He arrived in 1810, the same year that citizens of
the Feliciana parish rose up in revolt against the Spanish garrison at Baton
Rouge. They overthrew the Spanish and then set up a new territory with its
capital being St. Francisville. The territory extended from the Mississippi
River to as far east as the Perdido River near Mobile.
Still seeking to make his fortune, Woodrooff placed an advertisement in the
new St. Francisville newspaper, the Time Piece , in the summer of 1811.
He informed the public that "an academy would be opening on the first
Monday in September for the reception of students." He planned to offer
English, grammar, astronomy, geography, elocution, composition,
penmanship and Greek and Latin languages. The academy was apparently
short-lived for in 1814, he joined Colonel Hide's cavalry regiment from
the Feliciana parish to fight alongside Andrew Jackson at the Battle of
New Orleans. When the smoke cleared and the War of 1812 had ended,
Woodrooff returned to St. Francisville with the intention of studying law.
He began his studies with Judge David Bradford and soon earned his degree.
He also succumbed to the charms of the Bradford daughter, the lovely Sarah
Mathilda. Their romance blossomed under the shade of the crape myrtles that
reportedly gave the home its lasting name. The young couple was married on
November 19, 1817 and for their honeymoon, Woodrooff took his new bride
to the Hermitage, the Tennessee home of his friend, Andrew
After the death of David Bradford, Woodrooff managed Laurel Grove for his
mother-in-law, Elizabeth. He expanded the holdings of the plantation and
planted about 650 acres of indigo and cotton. Together, he and Sarah
Mathilda had three children, Cornelia Gale, James, and Mary Octavia.
Tragically though, their happiness would not last.
On July 21, 1823, Sarah Mathilda died after contacting yellow fever. The
disease was spread through a number of epidemics that swept through
Louisiana in those days. Hardly a family in the region went untouched by
tragedy and despair. Although heartbroken, Woodrooff continued to manage
the plantation and to care for his children with help from Elizabeth. But the
dark days were not yet over… On July 15, 1824, his only son James, also
died from yellow fever and two months later, in September, Cornelia Gale
was also felled by the dreaded disease.
Woodrooff's life would never be the same but he managed to purchase the
farm outright from his mother-in-law. She was quite elderly by this time and
was happy to see the place in good hands. She continued to live at Laurel
Grove with her son-in-law and granddaughter Octavia until her death in 1830.
After Elizabeth died, Woodrooff turned his attentions away from farming to
the practice of law. He and Octavia moved away from Laurel Grove and he
left the plantation under the management of a caretaker. He was appointed to a
judge's position over District D in Covington, Louisiana and he served
in this capacity until April 1835. On January 1, 1834, he sold Laurel Grove
to Ruffin Grey Stirling.
By this time, Woodrooff was living on Rampart Street in New Orleans and
had changed the spelling of his last name to "Woodruff". He had also been
elected as the president of public works for the city. During this period,
Octavia was sent to a finishing school in New Haven, Connecticut but she
returned home to live with her father in 1836. Two years later, she married
Colonel Lorenzo Augustus Besancon and moved to his plantation,
Oaklawn, five miles north of New Orleans.
In 1840, the Louisiana governor, Isaac Johnson, appointed Woodruff to the
newly created office of Auditor of Public Works and he served for one
term. Then, at 60 years of age, he retired and moved to Oaklawn to live with
Octavia and her husband. He devoted the remainder of his life to the study
of chemistry and physics and died on November 25, 1851. He was buried in
the Girod Street Cemetery in New Orleans.
An interesting side note to the story concerns this cemetery. The graveyard
fell into great disrepair and was eventually abandoned. In the 1960's, the city
hoped to renovate this part of the city and sent out a notice to families that the
cemetery was going to be moved to a new location on Canal Street. The
bodies that were not claimed were gathered and placed in large drums, then
buried in a mass grave under the Hope Mausoleum. Clark Woodruff was
one of those who was not claimed. The old Girod Street Cemetery was once
located under the present-day site of the New Orleans Superdome.
In 1834, Laurel Grove was purchased by Ruffin Grey Stirling. The Stirling's
were a very wealthy family who owned several plantations on both sides of
the Mississippi River. On January 1, Ruffin Grey Stirling and his wife, Mary
Catherine Cobb, took over the house, land, buildings and all of the slaves
that had been bought from Elizabeth Bradford by her son-in-law.
Since the Stirling's were so well thought of in the community, they needed a
house that was befitting their social status. They decided to remodel Laurel
Grove. Stirling added the broad central hallway of the house and the entire
southern section. The walls of the original house were removed and
repositioned to create four large rooms that were used as identical ladies and
gentlemen's parlors, a formal dining room and a game room. Year-long trips
to Europe to purchase fine furnishings resulted in the importation of skilled
craftsmen as well. Elaborate plaster cornices were created for many of the
rooms, made from a mixture of clay, Spanish moss and cattle hair. On the
outside of the house, Stirling added a 107-foot long front gallery that was
supported by cast-iron support posts and railings. The original roof of the
house was extended to encompass the new addition, copying the existing
dormers to maintain a smooth line. The addition had higher ceilings than
the original house so the second story floor was raised one foot. The completed
project nearby doubled the size of David Bradford's house and in keeping
with the renovations, the name of the plantation was officially changed to the
Four years after the completion of the project, Stirling died on July 17, 1854
of consumption. He left his vast holdings in the care of his wife, Mary
Cobb, who most referred to as a remarkable woman. Many other plantation
owners stated that she "had the business acumen of a man", which was high
praise for a woman in those days, and she managed to run all of she and her
husband's farms almost single-handedly, for many years.
In spite of this, the family was often visited by tragedy. Of nine children,
only four of them lived to be old enough to marry. The oldest son, Lewis, died
in the same year as his father and daughter Sarah Mulford's husband was
actually murdered on the front porch of the house after the Civil War. The
war itself wreaked on the Myrtles and the Stirling family. Many of the family's
personal belongings were looted and destroyed by Federal soldiers and the
wealth that they had accumulated was ultimately in worthless Confederate
currency. To make matters worse, Mary Cobb had been invested heavily in
sugar plantations that had been ravaged by the war. She eventually lost all of
her property. She never let the tragedies of the war, and others that followed
after, overcome her however and she held onto the Myrtles until her death in
August 1880. She is buried next to her husband in a family plot at Grace
Church in St. Francisville.
On December 5, 1865, Mary Cobb hired, William Drew Winter, the husband
of her daughter, Sarah Mulford, to act as her agent and attorney and to help
her manage the plantation lands. As part of the deal, she gave Sarah and
William the Myrtles as their home.
William Winter had been born to Captain Samuel Winter and Sarah Bowman
on October 28, 1820 in Bath, Maine. Little is known about his life or how
he managed to meet Sarah Mulford Stirling. However, they were married
on June 3, 1852 at the Myrtles and together, they had six children, Mary,
Sarah, Kate, Ruffin, William and Francis. Kate died from typhoid at the age
of three. The Winter's first lived at Gantmore plantation, near Clinton,
Louisiana and then bought a plantation on the west side of the Mississippi
known as Arbroath.
Twelve years after the death of Ruffin Stirling, and after the Civil War,
William was named as agent and attorney by Mary Stirling to help her with
the remaining lands, including Ingleside, Crescent Park, Botany Bay and
the Myrtles. In return, Mary gave William the use of the Myrtles as his home.
Times were terrible though and Winter was unable to hold onto it. By
December 1867, he was completely bankrupt and the Myrtles was sold by
the U.S. Marshal to the New York Warehouse & Security Company
on April 15, 1868. Two years late however, on April 23,the property was
sold back Mrs. Sarah M. Winter as the heir of her late father, Ruffin G.
Stirling. It is unknown just what occurred to cause this reversal of fortune
but it seemed as though things were improving for the family once again.
But soon after, tragedy struck the Myrtles once more. According to the
January 1871 issue of the Point Coupee Democrat newspaper, Winter was
teaching a Sunday School lesson in the gentlemen's parlor of the house
when he heard someone approach the house on horseback. After the
stranger called out to him and told him that he had some business with
him, Winter went out onto the side gallery of the house and was shot.
He collapsed onto the porch and died. Those inside of the house, stunned
by the sound of gunfire and the retreating horse, hurried outside to find
the fallen man. Winter died on January 26, 1871 and was buried the
following day at Grace Church. The newspaper reported that a man named
E.S. Webber was to stand trial for Winter's murder but no outcome of the
case was ever recorded. As far as is known, Winter's killer remains
unidentified and unpunished.
Sarah was devastated by the incident and never remarried. She remained
at the Myrtles with her mother and brothers until her death in April 1878
at the age of only 44.
After the death of Mary Cobb Stirling in 1880, the Myrtles was purchased
by Stephen Stirling, one of her sons. He bought out his brothers but only
maintained ownership of the house until March 1886. There are some who
say that he squandered what was left of his fortune and lost the plantation
in a game of chance but most likely, the place was just too deep in debt for
him to hold onto. He sold the Myrtles to Oran D. Brooks, ending his family's
ownership. Brooks kept it until January 1889 when, after a series of transfers,
it was purchased by Harrison Milton Williams, a Mississippi widower who
brought his young son and second wife, Fannie Lintot Haralson, to the house
Injured during the Civil War, in which he began service as a 15 year-old
Confederate cavalry courier, Williams planted cotton and gained a reputation
as a hard-working and industrious man. He and his family, which grew to
include his wife and seven children, kept the Myrtles going during the hard
times of the post-war South. But tragedy was soon to strike the Myrtles again.
During a storm, the Williams' oldest son, Harry, was trying to gather up some
stray cattle and fell into the Mississippi and drowned. Shattered with grief,
Harrison and Fannie turned over management of the property to their son
Surget Minor Williams, who married a local girl named Jessie Folkes and
provided a home at the Myrtles for his spinster sister and maiden aunt Katie.
Secretly called "the colonel" behind her back, Katie was a true Southern
character. Eccentric and kind, but with a gruff exterior, she kept life interesting
at the house for years.
By the 1950's, the property surrounding the house had been divided among
the Williams heirs and the house itself was sold to Marjorie Munson, an
Oklahoma widow who had been made wealthy by chicken farms. It was at
this point, they say, that the ghost stories of the house began. They started
innocently enough but soon, what may have been real-life ghostly occurrences
took on a "life" of their own.