Mansions of Elk Garden
The Stuart Family
Leads to Politics
Henry Carter Stuart was named after
two of his famous ancestors, Patrick Henry, and “King” Carter.
He was born in 1855 in Wytheville, Virginia where his father was
working with the bank. Honoring the family affiliation with
Emory and Henry College, Henry got his undergraduate degree
there, and then moved on to the University of Virginia Law
School. A financial depression hit the country in the 1870s and
Henry's father, William Alexander Stewart, suffered significant
financial losses. Henry quit law school to return home to help
his family recover their financial position.
Henry's father died in 1893. The Stuart
empire in Russell County grew greatly under Henry's leadership.
As a child he had initially lived in the Thomas Price Mansion,
but as an adult he moved to the old Thomas Hendrick’s mansion of
1806 at the Elk Garden Mill. After building West Rosedale he
moved there. Henry
showed no great interest in politics, but in 1893 did serve on
the Russell County Electoral Board.
The Stuart family connections got Henry
involved in state politics. Fitzhugh Lee, the nephew of Robert E
Lee, had been a General under the overall command of Henry's
uncle, Jeb Stuart. Fitzhugh Lee had recaptured the governor's
mansion from the reconstruction Republican Party, and was
running for the national Senate. At this point in time Senators
were elected by the General Assembly. A relatively unknown C&O
Railroad attorney named Thomas Martin was able to capture the
county courthouse political machinery traditional of the
governing elite of Virginia, and with the aid of significant
sums of railroad money, was elected Senator.
This greatly upset the former Confederate ruling class in
the Commonwealth, and the state Democratic Party split into two
factions. Thomas Martin rapidly converted his political
organization into a very strong political machine, which
controlled the electoral process in Virginia for many years.
Stuart started a drive in favor of the popular election
of United States Senators, an effort that succeeded.
Henry had incorporated the family’s farming
interests into the Stuart Land
and Cattle Company, which was the largest cattle farm east of
the Mississippi. This circumstance automatically made Henry
popular with the farming class of the Commonwealth. The state
Democratic Party further divided along lines with one faction
supported the farmer’s interests, and the other those of the
railroads. It is natural that the Martin machine ran
interference for the railroad interests. In 1901 the
Commonwealth undertook the rewriting of the state constitution,
a process that was finished in 1902.
Stuart made himself well
known in the Commonwealth through his activity in this
constitutional convention. There were two provisions in the
Constitution of 1902 that particularly had Stuart’s influence on
them. The first was a series of ...