Thursday, November 22, 2007
Christmas in Holly Springs and Marshall County; Walter Place and Finley Place on holiday tour
There will be ten incredible homes of Holly Springs and Marshall County open to the public December 1 and 2 and December 8 and 9 for you to see and enjoy on the “Holly Springs Holiday House Tour” and the “Christmas in Marshall County Tour.” Seven of the homes are antebellum, dating back to the 1830s and three are new. They are all artfully decorated with the magnificence of Christmas.
Walter Place: In 1857 Col. Harvey Walter decided to build a house. He wanted this house different and he planned towers on each side, giving the house a castle look. The clay for the house was excavated from the house lot. Kilns were on the property and the bricks for the house were made right there.
They first built the four parallel walls, anchoring them eight feet into the ground, so the storms of life would never shake them. The house literally rose from the soil on which it was sitting. It took two years to build this magnificent structure.
No sooner had the house been finished than the War Between the States began. Col. Walter thought of a way to save his house. He invited Gen. Grant and his family to move in here. It was December of 1862. Mrs. Walter and children had been sent to safety -- wherever that was. Mrs. Pugh Govan and daughters were living at Walter Place, as their plantation, Snowden, north of town, had been burned. The Govans moved over and made room for Gen. and Mrs. Grant, their son Jesse and Mrs. Grant’s slave.
Records don’t show how long the Grants were here. They were treated as guests by the Govans. Mrs. Govan invited the ladies of the town over in the afternoon to meet and visit with Mrs. Grant.
Gen. Grant stood on the front portico of Walter Place and proclaimed Edict No. 11, announcing that Jews couldn’t sell to the Army anymore, causing pandemonium to ensue.
Gen. Earl Van Dorn of the Southern Army came to Walter Place at 3 a.m. on Dec. 20, 1862, to capture Gen. Grant. The local story is told that Gen. Van Dorn and an aide went up the winding stair at 3 o’clock in the morning the day of his surprise attack on the town. All the bedrooms were upstairs.
Mrs. Govan met him at the the top of the stairs and inquired, “Gen. Van Dorn, what are your intentions?” To which he replied, “I came for Gen. Grant.” When Gen. Van Dorn started to go into Grant’s quarters, Mrs. Govan said, “No Southern gentleman would enter Mrs. Grant’s bedroom at this hour of the night when the general is not at home.”
Gen. Van Dorn, being a Southern gentleman, turned, went downstairs and placed Confederate guards all around the house to protect Mrs. Grant, Mrs. Govan and the children. During his raid on the town that day, he destroyed millions of dollars worth of federal supplies.
When Gen. Grant returned, he appreciated this chivalrous act so much he destroyed nothing in Holly Springs. He later saved Port Gibson and didn’t burn it because it was the hometown of Gen. Van Dorn. He was returning the war favor.
In 1878 Col. Walter again sent his wife and small children to safety and he and his three grown sons stayed in Holly Springs and opened the house as a refuge hospital for yellow fever victims. Within the week, all four were dead of yellow fever.
In 1900, the Walter’s son-in-law, Oscar Johnson and his wife became the owners of Walter Place. Oscar Johnson had begun a shoe factory in Holly Springs before the yellow fever epidemic. After the epidemic, he moved his shoe factory to St. Louis, Mo., where it became the International Shoe Company.
He planned a park in the back of his property and was planning to give it to the city, but before it was finished, Oscar Johnson died suddenly, in 1917. Mrs. Johnson then sold the house to M.A. Greene. It is now the home of Michael and Jorja Lynn.
Finley Place: The Finley Place was built during the opulent 1850s by Mrs. Rufus Jones, who came to Holly Springs from Georgia. The house is built in the Greek Revival style, but the inside is Federal design.
The designer of the house was the famous Spires Boling, whose trademarks were the majestic octagonal columns on the front of the house.
Originally, the front and the back of the house were identical with columns on each side. Many years ago, the beautiful two-story solarium was built on the back side of the house, in place of the columns.
The wrought-iron balcony on the front was made at the local iron works that later made the first arms for the Confederacy. When the house was built it overlooked what was called the park which is now the public school grounds. It became known as the Shuford Place, when the oldest Jones daughter married Dr. Lee Franklin Brenoid Shuford. During the Civil War, Gen. U.S. Grant’s personal physician and medical staff lived there.
The Finleys bought the house in 1906. The Finley family was one of Holly Springs’ original families.
On the day Gen. Van Dorn made his famous raid on the town of Holly Springs, young Samuel Finley was watching the excitement happening on the square, when the three-story building on the east side was blown up by the Confederates, as it was filled with federal supplies.
Eyewitness accounts say the whole building rose up intact about ten feet off the ground and then exploded. Samuel Finley was struck across the forehead with a flying brick. He carried the scar the rest of his life.
The late Margaret Finley Shackelford gave the house to the Audubon Society of America. The Mississippi Audubon headquarters are in this house.
You may purchase tickets for the tour at the Marshall County Historical Museum at 111 Van Dorn Avenue on the Square in Holly Springs or order them by telephone at 662- 252-3669. The tickets cost $25 if bought in advance and cost $22 if bought in groups of 10 or more. Joint tickets for both tours may be bought for $42 if bought in advance. The week of the tour all tickets are $30.
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