The Reynolds Era, 1906-1924

Richard Joshua Reynolds was a key player in the industrialization of the New South. He established his own plug tobacco factory in Winston, North Carolina in 1875. The business grew steadily and was incorporated in 1888 as the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. The company launched Prince Albert smoking tobacco in 1907 and Camel cigarettes in 1913. Introductions of new tobacco blends and pioneering advertising propelled both brands to first place in the industry. Not only did Reynolds open doors to economic development in the region, he also began a legacy of family charitable giving that continues today.

In Katharine Smith, his first cousin once removed, he found an astute partner and a loving wife and mother. Though thirty years his junior, she was a capable business woman with a vision for her home and the betterment of her community. A college graduate who had worked as his private secretary, Katharine married R.J. in 1905. Following a wedding trip to Europe, they settled into a Queen Anne-style house located on West Fifth Street in Winston, only a mile west of the tobacco factories. The couple had a genuinely affectionate and close relationship, and R.J. respected Katharine’s judgment and sought her advice on both business and private matters. As the wife of the wealthiest man living in the state, Katharine took on many social and civic responsibilities. In addition, between 1906 and 1911 she gave birth to four children, Dick, Mary, Nancy, and Smith.

Katharine proved equal to her husband in drive and initiative, playing the dominant role in the creation of a self-sufficient country estate. Though her husband’s fortune financed the purchases, her name alone stands on the deeds—altogether she acquired twenty-five tracts of land totaling 1,067 acres.

Reynolda was part of a national trend known as the American Country House movement through which affluent Americans created estates for healthy living outside of cities. Katharine’s ideas were influenced by and contributed to this phenomenon, which embraced large houses in park-like settings with dairies, model farms, and extensive recreational facilities.

New York landscape engineers Buckenham & Miller drew up the master plan, locating the lake, formal gardens, barns, and main house. As the land was undergoing transformation, Katharine selected Philadelphia architect Charles Barton Keen to begin the plans for her village, farm buildings, and the large-scale bungalow she envisioned as her home. These were to be designed in a unified style, which was the custom among country estates of this period.

In its reinforced concrete construction the Reynolda bungalow exemplified the use of the most up-to-date building materials, and its interior displayed the finest craftsmanship available, merging the Arts and Crafts aesthetic with the Colonial Revival style. The bungalow featured a low, sweeping roof overhanging broad porches, shed windows, thick Tuscan columns, and an open floor plan. The historic house, including the attic, main and second levels, and basement, totaled 26,387 square feet. With later additions of an enclosed breezeway, indoor pool, and squash court, the total historic area contains 33,619 square feet. Of the sixty rooms, there were eight bedrooms, many with an adjacent sleeping porch.

The Reynolda landscape was as carefully designed as its buildings. Thomas W. Sears, another Philadelphian, created vistas of gently rolling lawns in the English tradition, and designed the formal gardens in the fashionable Classical Revival style. He also provided landscaping plans for nearly every building on the estate. 

Well before the Reynolds family moved to Reynolda, in December of 1917, the village became a thriving community of farm supervisors and workers and their families. Katharine hired experts in areas such as agriculture, dairying, and horticulture, all of whom contributed to the maintenance, appearance, and well-being of the estate. Most residents found nearly everything they needed at Reynolda—abundant food, schools, places of worship, a post office, and recreational facilities.

The only black employees living in Reynolda Village were domestic workers with lead roles in the house: the major domo John Carter and his wife Marjorie, and the chauffeur Cleveland Williams. Other African American employees who did not live in town lived on Five Row, a cluster of clapboard houses on the other side of Reynolda Road. The Five Row community had its own school and church.

At Reynolda, Katharine Reynolds established a model farm where local farmers could learn the benefits of soil analysis, crop rotation, and other progressive agricultural methods not widely known in the region. She grew a wide range of vegetables and fruits, encouraging her neighbors to do the same, as health and nutrition were very important to her. Methods proved so successful, much of the excess produce went to market or was sent to local lunch rooms, hotels, and cafes.

In addition to produce, Katharine introduced two herds of Jersey cattle, one for milk and the other for show. At the beginning of the 20th century, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the United States and was spread through milk from infected cows. The Reynolda dairy, one of the most modern in the country, was established in response to a statewide call for greater production of clean milk. In addition, Tamworth hogs, Shropshire sheep, and poultry provided the Reynolds family with a varied supply of meat, while the Jerseys and Percheron horses were bred to improve the stock in the region.

Extensive outdoor recreational facilities were another feature of turn-of-the-century country estates. Reynolda supported a full range of sporting facilities, including stables,  an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, and a golf course. Canoeing and fishing in Lake Katharine were especially popular with village residents.

The Reynolds family moved into the bungalow in December 1917. R.J. was already seriously ill with pancreatic cancer, and the first public event that took place at Reynolda after they moved was his funeral on July 29, 1918. As a widow with four children still under the age of twelve, Katharine sought company among the teachers she had hired for her newly founded Reynolda School. Seeking to memorialize her late husband, she donated land for a new high school named for R.J. Reynolds and paid for a new auditorium, designed by Charles Barton Keen and landscaped by Thomas Sears.

Common interest in education drew Katharine to the Reynolda School’s principal, J. Edward Johnston, who became her second husband in 1921. While continuing to support her flourishing model farm, dairy, and schools, Katharine and Edward added a new dimension to the activities on the estate. For a brief period it became a setting for pageants, musical recitals, and large social gatherings. As polo became popular, crowds gathered at the new Reynolda polo field to watch Winston-Salem Polo Club matches

Katharine Reynolds died in 1924 following the birth of a son, J. Edward Johnston, Jr. Not long thereafter Edward and the baby moved to Baltimore, and for the next ten years the Reynolda estate was held in trust until all the heirs came of age.

Learn about The Babcock Era.