Clock Tower

Out of the Clock Tower

Hello and welcome to the Greene County Archives' blog, "Out of the Clock Tower".  Please join us as we share information on archival issues, news, special events, and highlights from our collection.

Before the archives program began in Greene County in 1996, permanent records were stored in every conceivable space, in basements, garages, and closets. Usually they were in boxes of various shapes and sizes, although seldom adequately labeled, but occasionally they were just in loose piles of books and papers. Most notable were the old records stuffed into the clock tower of the County Courthouse, where they shared their home with pigeon droppings.

Now, there is a clean, environmentally controlled, well appointed location for the county archives, where our historical records are housed in standard sized boxes on steel shelves. We have taken note of their journey in the name for our blog.

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Jun 24

The Doris Duke Trust in Greene County

Posted on June 24, 2016 at 9:02 AM by Elise Kelly

Last week one of our helpful volunteers was preparing an estate file for microfilm and came across this letter from The Doris Duke Trust.
                              Marion Sessums II Guardianship File

It appears Col. John Walker Sessums Jr., guardian of Marion Lyon Sessums was receiving payment from the "world's richest girl." We speculated that somehow this family had to be related to the American heiress who inherited a $1.3 billion fortune.

The Duke Family
 Doris Duke was the only child of the American tobacco baron, James Buchanan Duke and his second wife, Nanaline Holt Inman. The Duke family fortune was made from the tobacco fields of North Carolina.

In 1890, James Buchanan Duke formed the American Tobacco Company, which supplied 40% of the American cigarette market. The Duke family also launched successful textile and hydroelectric generating businesses.

Photo on Right: Statue of James Buchanan Duke in front of Duke Chapel on Duke University's campus.
Image courtesy of Smythe Richbourg via Wikimedia Commons

Before James Buchanan Duke passed away in 1925, he established The Duke Endowment. Some of the funds from this $40 million trust fund went to Trinity College in Durham, North Carolina. The University was renamed Duke University in honor of James' father.

dhdf  Doris was twelve years old when her father died. She and her mother were bequeathed the majority of the estate. Doris used her wealth to travel the world. She had a brief stint as a foreign correspondent in 1945 reporting from cities in war-torn Europe.

She went on to live in Hawaii surfing big waves, conserving gardens in New Jersey and restoring an English manor-style mansion in Newport, Rhode Island.

Left Image: James H. R. Cromwell and Doris Duke Cromwell, 1940 via Wikimedia Commons

We believe that under the original trust created by her father, (which later became the Doris Duke Trust), there were certain stipulations where funds were allocated to Duke family members. Let's refer to a family tree in order to understand how Marion Sessums II acquired these funds.


Doris' father, James had a sister named Mary Duke. She married Robert Lyon and they had a child named Edwin. Edwin Lyon married a woman named Marion Noell and they had a child named Marion.

Marion married a Mr. John Walker Sessums Jr. They had three children, Marion Sessums II, Jean Sessums and John Walker Sessums III. James Buchanan Duke is Marion Sessums II's Great Great Uncle.

Marion Sessums II's father, Major General John Walker Sessums Jr., was a fighter project officer during World War II. He flew 22 combat missions in the Mediterranean Theater and was named chief of staff of the XXII Tactical Air Command in Italy.

sfsf  In 1945, General Sessums was appointed assistant chief of Research and Development at the Air Material Command in Dayton, Ohio.

By 1951, General Sessums was appointed deputy commanding general of the Air Research and Development Command at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Right Image: Gen. John Walker Sesssums Jr. - U.S. Air Force

Throughout the 1940s and the early 1950s, General Sessums' family lived in Bath Township near Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. His children were beneficiaries of the Duke trust.

The funds went towards a governess, school tuition, camp, tutoring, piano lessons, recitals and clothes (See Images Below).
                                      Marion Sessums II Guardianship File
Marion Sessums II Guardianship File
                                     Marion Sessums II Guardianship File
In 1947, when Marion Sessums II was twelve years old, she suffered a school accident where she fractured her skull and injured her eye. This accident resulted in a partial loss of vision permanently. The trust money went towards paying Marion's medical bills.
 For years, the children received the trust money. One of the siblings, John Walker Sessums III, became the operator of Sessums Engineering in Redlands, California. Sessums was known for his knowledge of trains of all sizes and his live-action miniatures for scenes in more than 30 major films.  sdfsdf
                   John Walker Sessums III

Marion Sessums II's estate file initially sparked our interest and led us on a fascinating family journey.

Until Next Time!

This Week's Trivia Question: Who did Doris Duke appoint as the executor of her will?
Answer to Last Week's Trivia Question: Who was Black Hoof? Answer: Black Hoof was the head civil chief of the Shawnee Indians in the Ohio Country


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