Thursday, January 20, 2005

Holly Springs tourism gets boost
•Historic home restorations on schedule

Staff Writer

Polk Place and Featherston Place are undergoing extensive restoration this winter and the historic homes will be open for this year’s Pilgrimage April 13-17, according to owners Jorja and Mike Lynn.

Phase I construction of a botanical garden behind the houses is also underway and will be ready for the tour this year. Walking trails, a 150 foot serpentine waterfall and a natural pond are featured in the botanical garden.

The Lynns are rejoining properties that once were a part of the Walter Place estate. They are restoring two homes and creating three botanical gardens.

The restoration of Polk Place and Featherston involves using many materials and furnishings that were in storage. Extensive use of wallpaper copied from the periods when the homes were built will give tourists the feel of taking a step back in time.

Without the history, there would be no point of restoration of the homes or the construction of botanical gardens, Jorja Lynn said.

“We are trying to go back to the period of 1903 when additions were made to the 1836 cottages,” she said.

Historical perspective
Oscar Johnson of Red Banks and his brother and uncle operated a mercantile business in Holly Springs in the late 1800s before the Spanish American War broke out in 1898. Times were hard in Holly Springs and Johnson and his brother moved to St. Louis and became involved in the manufacturing of footwear known as Johnson Shoes.

Before the war broke out, the Johnsons secured a contract with the U.S. Military to make combat boots. The contract made the Johnsons’ company very successful.

Owners of Roberts, Johnson & Rand Shoe Company, a footwear jobber organized in 1898 in St. Louis, merged their company with Peters Shoe Company in 1911 to form International Shoe Company. Subsequent purchases led the company to become the largest footwear manufacturer in the country - a reputation it enjoyed for 50 years.

The company manufactured and sold brand name shoes - Johnson shoes, Buster Brown shoes, and Red Goose shoes. Ultimately International Shoe Company acquired other footwear manufacturing companies like Florsheim Shoes and put St. Louis on the map as a city of “Shoes, Booze and Blues.”

Oscar Johnson was married to Irene Walter, the younger daughter of Col. and Mrs. Walter, the builders of Walter Place.

Oscar Johnson wanted to build a park in Holly Springs.

The Johnsons bought Polk Place and Featherston and “gussied them up,” Lynn said, “with the help of their friend Theodore Link.”

Link was a renowned architect who designed the St. Louis Station in 1894, the Beaux Arts Style Mississippi Capitol in 1901-03, the Tibbe Power Plant in Washington, Missouri in 1904, the International Shoe Company in St. Louis, and most of the buildings Louisiana State University when it was relocated in the 1920s. He designed over 100 buildings and is known for being the first to use electric light decoratively.

Lynn said without Link’s embellishments, the cottages of Polk Place and Featherston would have been plain 1836 style cottages - consisting of three rooms, a center hall and a back porch.

“These houses are examples of English Raised Basement Cottages,” she said.

Construction involved digging a moat around the outside perimeter of the cottage and adding windows to bring in light.

The rooms which would have been used as cellars or a simple basement were used for a kitchen and dining area.

Link came to Holly Springs in 1903 while he was working on the state capitol building and designed a west wing for Polk Place and added other improvements.

He also helped with the restoration of Ventress Hall at Ole Miss, Lynn said. Ventress was built before the Civil War and used as the University’s first library.

Johnson’s dream of building a park on the 40-acre estate was cut short by his sudden, untimely death at age 51. In the Great Depression that followed his death portions of the estate were sold off by subsequent owners who purchased Walter Place.

The Lynns have invested in the property to restore the homes back to their original design and true to detail for the period where possible. It will fulfill Oscar Johnson’s dream for a park. When completed three historic homes and three botanical gardens will all be interconnected by scenic walking trails with water features throughout.

Some interesting features of Polk Place, when it is restored, include an upstairs bedroom outfitted with Irene Johnson’s furniture that has been at Walter Place. The bedroom will have two identical Victorian three-quarter size beds, one original and another copied. Irene Johnson had a copy made from the original in 1936 by a local furniture maker.

A mirror from Walter Place was added above the fireplace in the upstairs sitting room of Polk Place. Rooms have been restored with documented wallpaper patterns including the Winterthur pattern used in the DuPont Mansion in Wilmington, Deleware.

“These wallpapers are documented copies of old wallpapers of the period and reproduced for sale,” Lynn said. “So, it’s true to the period. We are taking the house back to where it had been added on, to make it look like the house would have looked in 1903.”

A painting studio once built for Mrs. Carey (Jim) Tucker when she owned Polk Place is being restored. Some of Tucker’s paintings, including a self-portrait, have been found in the loft of the carriage house.

“Oddly enough, when the Walter Place was being used as a boarding house during and before the Depression, Tucker, one of 10 children, lived there with her parents,” Lynn said.

An existing fireplace in the second floor bedroom at Polk Place has been reopened and a mantel from the basement of Featherston has been placed above it. Federal-style doors stored in the attic of the carriage house have been used where doors were missing in Polk Place and Featherston.

The property will be named The Walter Place Estate, Cottages and Gardens, Lynn said.

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