The remains of an antebellum home, once the seat of country society, surrounded by flowers, shrubs and cotton fields, and filled with all that money could buy, lie deep in an alcove of trees one mile east of Hazel Green. Elizabeth Evans Dale is no longer the hostess of the home her fifth husband built her. She is no longer the vivacious beauty who longed to be the toast of society. Eerily, to this day, she is remembered as the Black Widow of Hazel Green and the home built to appease her taste for the refined is a charred, haunted reminder of what occurred in the life of a greedy woman between 1812 and 1850.
Routt house was built on an Indian mound where Indians burned ceremonial fires and are reported to be buried. Today, stories circulate among young and old about the auburn-haired beauty who wed again and again, only to bury each husband by lantern light in the dead of night with the help of her frightened slaves.
Elizabeth Dale Evans began her odd journey in Tennessee on a warm day in 1812, the day she was born. Her father, Adam, was an aristocrat with a taste for politics, her grandfather a Revolutionary soldier. With ancestral ties to Lord Baltimore and Cecil Calvert, she was a blue-blooded vixen with unusual beauty, posing a threat to women everywhere when men were scarce and a woman was defined by her husband.
• At 17, she married Samuel Gibbons, a Baptist preacher. That marriage lasted until 1830 when Samuel died of yellow fever, ‘black tongue’, producing swollen, distorted features.
• Her second husband, Mr. Flanagan, (barely anything is known about this man other than the fact he was a wealthy plantation owner), lasted three months before he succumbed to a strange malady.
• In 1835, Elizabeth married Alexander Jeffries, a widower with older children. Alexander was infatuated with his new wife and took her away from Tennessee to his 500 acre plantation in northern Alabama and the four room log cabin he’d built upon an Indian mound. The placement of his cabin provided a panoramic view of the vast landscape he owned. Elizabeth bore him two children, a son and daughter, who died at 7 years old and was buried in a cemetery next to the house. Unfortunately for Alexander, one day his body was found lying in the barnyard after he succumbed to a strange malady that left his body so swollen he was buried the same day, in the same cemetery next to the house.
• Widowed for the third time, Elizabeth, still the vivacious beauty, garnered the attention of dashing widower, Robert A. High, a former member of state legislature, who tried in earnest to hide his balding head. They married in 1839 but spent more time apart as Robert traveled extensively until he died suddenly in 1842.
• On March 16th, 1846, Elizabeth found wedded bliss with Absalom Brown, a New Market merchant. Her fifth husband adored her so much that he built the plantation house that earned her the cruel moniker of the Black Widow of Hazel Green. The house was built on grand scale. Facing east to view the morning sun, it boasted 8 large rooms (4 upstairs and 4 downstairs), 2 stairways and an enormous front door. To stand out from the trees, it was painted white. The L-shaped architecture boasted two broad entrances enhanced by large impressive staircases. It was the most expensive and luxurious home of its time, making Elizabeth the envy of everyone. Sadly, Absalom never enjoyed the home he’d built his wife. He died before the paint dried.
• Life was lonely in the large mansion. Soon Elizabeth married Willis Routt to ease her burdens. But wedded life seemed to constantly elude the dear widow. Willis died shortly after saying ‘I do’.
What does a woman with a mansion do when life has thrown her lemons? She opens her home to boarders and spurns rumors started by a neighboring plantation owner, who decreed that she was a woman ‘around whose marriage couch six grinning skeletons were hung’.
He also complained that her bridal chamber was ‘a charnel house’. Elizabeth filed suit and a large court case inflamed the rumors.
At 60 years old, Elizabeth’s beauty still had not faded. Neither had her desire for another husband, which brought her closer to a local school teacher, D.X. Bingham. Bingham went so far as to spread rumors that her neighbor had murdered two traveling salesmen from Tennessee, to aid her cause. Filing a $500,000 civil suit, her plan to redeem herself backfired. She was accused of killing her husbands and forced to leave town.
Did Elizabeth move to Marshall County, Miss., to live with her son? Locals say she still visits the graves of her husbands, who were buried by lantern light in the middle of the night in unmarked graves among the holly bushes. Many people have seen her auburn-haired wraith gliding in and out of the trees which have long since invaded her distinguished abode after an arsonist burned it to the ground in 1968. All that remains of Routt House is the front staircase and vandalized gravestones, to include the gravestone of Elizabeth’s father, who came to live with her shortly before his sudden demise.
Time has ravaged the once pristine antebellum mansion. Locals believe the area to be haunted. My own son and his friend visited the site one night and came back shaken to the core. When asked what they’d seen, they replied their flashlight revealed glowing eyes 5 ft. off the ground and a dark mass which threatened to approach through the trees if they ventured closer. Imagine a 17 year old literally shaking all over as he told this horrifying tale. Something scared him, there was no mistaking that.
What do you believe? Did, and do, Indian spirits roam the mound Routt House was built upon? Did Elizabeth encounter Indian spirits in her time? Do the spirits of six dead husbands, Elizabeth’s daughter, her father, and countless frightened/abused slaves, inhabit the woods encapsulating the mansion? Would you go see for yourself?