Gone with the Wind's Tara replicated in Milford
Up Route 1, about one mile past the Milford overpass, is the 10th Street turnoff. A short distance to the left on 10th is the gated entrance to Sunnybrae Mansion Farm. Another left down the 1,000-foot-long oak- and maple tree-lined driveway brings into view Delaware’s version of Tara, the plantation home of “Gone with the Wind” fame.
This 6,800-square-foot Georgian revival-style mansion, commanding 90 acres of farmland, exudes “plantation charm.” It features a herringbone brick portico and 20-foot-tall fluted pillars with Corinthian-style cornices. Lynn McColley and his wife, Karen, are the owners of Sunnybrae — a name derived from the Scottish, meaning “from the sunny slope.”
Karen McColley enthusiastically describes the extensive renovations after she and her husband acquired the mansion in 2002. The original owner — a lobbyist and close friend of the du Pont family — had modeled the structure after du Pont residences in New Castle County, such as Eleutherian Mills and Nemours. The McColleys purchased Sunnybrae to run as a business and make it available for group events, such as meetings, parties and weddings.
To add to the Civil War-era aspect, the McColleys constructed the columned portico that creates a Southern plantation atmosphere. Other improvements include black fencing with golden spires, a fountain, gazebo and hundreds of trees and shrubbery.
The Sunnybrae interior features the Abraham Lincoln room and Robert E. Lee sitting room. The Rhett Butler bar and Scarlett O’Hara powder room in the basement add to the “Gone with the Wind” theme. Brass plaques on the door identify these various rooms.
Lynn McColley traces his ancestry back to James H. McColley, a man whom President Lincoln appointed as a diplomatic consul in South America. Another ancestor, Hiram McColley, served the government in a Civil War-related post in the Milford area.
Not far from the left front of the mansion is a bronze equestrian statue that stands watch over a serene setting. This mansion and monument are two of the best kept secrets in Lower Delaware.
In keeping with the renovations to the household, the McColleys decided the statue would lend a sense of elegance to the property. After thoroughly researching equestrian monuments at various Civil War battlefields — particularly Gettysburg National Military Park — the McColleys decided that H.K. Bush Brown’s sculpted monument to Union commander Maj. Gen. George G. Meade at Gettysburg would serve as an appropriate model.
Lynn McColley contacted Tao Ze Feng, an American artist of Chinese descent, who recommended, mainly for financial reasons, that the statue be manufactured in China. Tao arranged with youthful sculptor Jie Me in Beijing to create a 16-foot-high monument that would grace the fields at Sunnybrae, resting on a 6-foot concrete base faced with slate that originally served as a walkway near the mansion.
Perceived difficulty with the logistics of transporting this 5,000-pound cargo once it arrived on the East Coast from China resulted in shipment to the United States in two parts, for eventual assembly at Sunnybrae. It passed through the Panama Canal on the way to the port of Camden, N.J., where it was off-loaded onto a flatbed truck for shipment to Milford.
Upon arrival at Sunnybrae, local workmen in the Milford area took on the task of seamlessly welding the two sections and hoisting the bronze behemoth onto its permanent base. For stability, the concrete base extended 6 feet underground, enabling the monument to withstand up to 120 mph winds.
On Nov. 19, 2006 — the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address — during a ceremony that historians and officials attended at Sunnybrae (including a Lincoln reenactor), McColley christened the statue the “Freedom Watch Soldier,” in honor of all Americans who served in the armed forces throughout the country’s history. It has particular relevance to the Civil War; however, because the rider on horseback is an officer in Union army uniform.
Lynn McColley takes special pride in the quality of the design that resulted in a realistic rendering of the mounted officer. Plaques on opposite sides of the base display the Gettysburg Address and a brief history of the statue’s construction.
There is an aura of distinction about the monument, which rises some 23 feet off the ground. While stately, it is not overpowering. After dark, lights flood the statue in an amber glow.
Other than the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Wilmington, Freedom Watch Soldier is the only statue in the state of Delaware that honors Union forces. Unfortunately, few people are aware of it because it resides on private property. However, the McColleys welcome visitors to enter the grounds to enjoy and photograph this imposing example of fine art, as well as the mansion itself.
Tours of the mansion and grounds, including ghost tours and “Who Done It” mystery shows, are available to interested groups. You can make arrangements by calling (302) 393-1468 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out their Web site at www.sunnybraemansion.com.
Thomas J. Ryan is a Civil War author and speaker and former president of the Central Delaware Civil War Round Table in Dover. He lives in Bethany Beach. Contact him at email@example.com.