Butler Plantation was once one of the most extensive plantations in the South. The story of the plantation is a fascinating one, beginning in the 1790s when Major Pierce Butler planted rice on the Altamaha Delta. In 1838, the major’s grandson, Captain Pierce Butler, married Fanny Kemble, a famous British stage actress. Kemble, who was not familiar with the reality of slavery, immediately became very opposed to the treatment of slaves. She eventually published a book called “Journal of a Resident on a Georgia Plantation,” which some say helped persuade the British to oppose slavery and the Civil War.
Colonel Tillinghast L’Hommedieu (T.L.) Huston, nicknamed “Cap,” was born in Buffalo, N.Y. on July 17, 1867. His father, an Irish-immigrant, was a civil engineer and his mother was a school teacher. His early years were spent in Cincinnati before he became an engineer alongside his father on the Louisville and Nashville railroads. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, Huston served in the U.S. Army as a captain of the 16th Regiment of Engineers during the fighting in Cuba. His first Army stint is where Huston earned his nickname, ‘Cap.’ He remained in Cuba after the war, establishing his fortune by helping the newly liberated country rebuild and improve its infrastructure.
In 1913, Colonel T.L. Huston partnered with fellow Colonel, Jacob Ruppert Jr., and purchased the American League Baseball Club of New York. Two years later, they bought a lowly Yankees team from Frank Farrell and William Devery, who were responsible for bringing the franchise to New York City. Under Ruppert and Huston’s ownership, the New York Yankees won two pennants, quickly becoming one of the nation’s favorite baseball teams. As owner of the Yankees, Col. Huston was instrumental in signing and retaining Babe Ruth, at the time considered “The Deal of the Century.” He also supervised most of the $2 million construction of the original Yankee Stadium which was completed in 1923. Huston dubbed it “The House that Ruth Built.”
In 1922, Huston retired and sold his share of the Yankees to Ruppert for $1.50 million. In 1926, he purchased the Butler Island property and built the house the following year. He converted the property into a dairy farm and attempted to raise cows. Locals proclaimed Huston’s Dairy produced the best milk east of the Mississippi. However, the dairy farm proved to be a challenging endeavor. Huston hauled off the cows in 1932 and found success using the land to grow iceberg lettuce. Within a decade, Butler Island became one of the largest iceberg lettuce farms on the east coast. On March 29, 1938, Col. Huston suffered a heart attack and died instantly while at his desk. Tobacco heir R.J. Reynolds purchased Butler Island after Huston’s death. By the 1970s, all operations on the grounds had ceased.
The Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division currently owns Butler Island Plantation which is open to the public for picnicking, fishing and bird watching. However, the Huston House is currently vacant and is not. There are no long-term plans for use or maintenance of the home. Changing climate conditions and recent hurricanes have exposed the house to the elements. Without a plan in place, these threats will lead to the continued deterioration of the home. In 2019, the Huston House was placed on the Georgia Trust for Historic Preservation’s “Places in Peril” list.