Butler Island Plantation was once one of the most extensive plantations in the South, located just south of Darien, Georgia across the Darien River on what is now U.S. Highway 17. The story of the plantation is a fascinating one, beginning in the 1790s when Major Pierce Butler planted the land on the Altamaha Delta. The area provided the perfect conditions for growing rice. In 1838, the major’s grandson, Captain Pierce Butler, married famous and beautiful British stage actress Fanny Kemble. 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 one of seven children born on July 17, 1867. His father, an Irish-immigrant, was a civil engineer and his mother was a Kentucky school teacher. His early years were spent in Cincinnati before he became a civil engineer alongside his father on the Louisville and Nashville rails. He served as a Captain (where he got his nickname) of Engineers in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Later, Huston was a member of the Sixteenth Engineers during World War I, where he rebuilt roads and railways near the front lines throughout France. He first came to wealth when he remained in Cuba after its independence to rebuild infrastructure and improve its sewer system.
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 America’s favorite baseball teams. 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. Completed in 1923, Huston dubbed it “The House that Ruth Built.”
T.L. Huston retired in 1922 and sold his share of the Yankees to his partner Ruppert for $1.50 million. In 1926, Huston purchased the Butler Island Plantation and constructed the house the following year. He converted the former rice plantation 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 plantation to grow iceberg lettuce. Butler Island became one of the largest iceberg lettuce farms on the east coast within a decade. 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 Plantation 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.
Butler Island Plantation is open to the public for picnicking, fishing and bird watching. The Huston House is currently vacant and not open to the public, last used as offices for the Georgia Nature Conservancy. 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.