Richard Joshua Reynolds, founder of the tobacco company that bears his name, was a key player in the industrialization of the New South. He established his own tobacco factory in Winston, North Carolina in 1875, eventually becoming enormously successful from the sale of Prince Albert tobacco and Camel cigarettes. He married Katharine Smith in 1905, and they had four children, Dick, Mary, Nancy, and Smith.
Katharine Smith Reynolds proved equal to her husband in drive and initiative. She played a dominant role in the planning of a self-sufficient estate just outside the city limits of Winston, for which she began acquiring land soon after her marriage. Working with architect Charles Barton Keen and landscape architect Thomas Sears, both nationally known, Katharine created a 60-room bungalow for her family, formal and informal gardens, a lake and other facilities for healthy recreation, a school, a model farm for demonstrating the most current farming and dairying practices, and a village to house workers.
The Reynolds family relocated to Reynolda in December 1917. Katharine operated the estate until her own death in 1924. In 1934, Mary Reynolds Babcock, R.J. and Katharine Reynolds’s second child and older daughter, acquired the estate. She and her husband Charlie Babcock used the house as their vacation home until 1948 at which time they moved permanently to Reynolda.
In 1965, Charlie Babcock established Reynolda House as a non-profit institution dedicated to the arts and education. In 1967, under the leadership of Mary and Charlie’s daughter Barbara Babcock Millhouse, Reynolda House became a public museum that would be the setting for a premier collection of American art, beginning with nine paintings including works by Frederic Church, Gilbert Stuart, Albert Bierstadt, William Harnett, and William Merritt Chase. The collection continued to grow and now boasts paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculpture dating from 1755 to present.
Today, works by Georgia O’Keeffe, Grant Wood, Stuart Davis, and Jacob Lawrence hang on the walls of the restored historic house, while changing exhibitions are featured in a 3,000 square-foot-gallery completed with the addition of the Mary and Charlie Babcock Wing in 2005. Decorative arts and archival objects complete the Museum’s three collections.
Much of the original estate can still be explored today on foot. In addition to the house, twenty-eight of the original thirty buildings remain. To the west lie the restored formal gardens, noted for their Japanese cryptomeria and weeping cherry trees. The sixteen-acre lake behind the house has reverted to wetlands, which provide a home for a variety of wildlife. Many of the buildings in the village are now occupied by shops and restaurants. A short walk across the dam leads from the village to Wake Forest University built on land donated by Mary and Charlie Babcock. Reynolda House and Wake Forest University formally affiliated in 2002.