November 13, 2008
Hamilton Seale visits
Alex McCrosky and Ann Yager Hamblin of Kentucky met up with Bea McCrosky Tolsdorf of Jackson, over the weekend. While here, they visited with friends.
Mary Bea Green of Oxford was the weekend guest of her grandparents, Bea and Jimmye Dale Green.
Carole Webb of Nashville, Tenn., and Wesley Webb of Oxford, were the weekend guests of Vicki and Walter Webb. While here they also visited with their mother, Betty Carole Wittjen.
Hamilton Seale of Bentonville, Ark., was the weekend guest of her parents, Ben and Robin Seale.
(To put your news in City Personals, please e-mail email@example.com; mail to City Personals, The South Reporter, P.O. Box 278, Holly Springs, MS 38635 or call 662-252-4261, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Walter Place on Christmas tour December 6-7
By Jorja Lynn
Harvey Washington Walter was very wealthy and newly married when he began what would be the last grand house built in Holly Springs. He worked with local architect Spires Bolling, who at the time was also building the Presbyterian Church.
Both edifices have octagonal towers, which was Bolling’s trademark. The classic Greek revival columns and pedimented roofline were common in town, so the inclusion of the Gothic towers with castle-like battlements made the Walter Place unique in the South.
The floors were all made from huge pine trees, using only the hearts. The wood used in the house was a much-varied mixture since all the trim was to be painted. The shutters were made of cypress with working louvers, for they were functional. The shutters were always kept closed to keep out the varmints (i.e. possums, raccoons, wolves, panther and etc.).
Since window screen had yet to be invented, the open louvers allowed for air flow. The bricks for the house were made on site from clay dug from a pit that now serves as the cellar. The east wall and west walls were built first along with the two interior parallel walls; then, the north and south walls were attached with hollow spaces in them for insulation.
The porch went from tower to tower as did the cast iron balcony on the second floor. This permitted access to the tower rooms without entering the center rooms. The balcony and the lintels over the windows were made locally at the iron foundry, as was the fence. (All of the iron fences and gates all over town were made locally.)
A person could enter one of the tower rooms and walk around the house, exiting the opposite tower room completely circumventing the center hall. The six rooms upstairs were all bedrooms, with the public rooms being downstairs. The kitchen was a classic Greek revival frame house built separate from the main building.
General Grant and Mrs. Grant, son Jesse and her slave Julia were domiciled here in December 1862. When Confederate Gen. Earl Van Dorn made his famous raid on the town, destroying Union supplies and delaying the siege of Vicksburg, they came to The Walter Place with the intention of getting Grant’s campaign papers.
Mrs. Govan, the lady who was keeping the house for the departed Walters, refused him access, saying that it would not be chivalrous to invade Mrs. Grant’s bedroom. They agreed and did not go in. (The papers were there.) When he found out about this, the General issued an order saying the house was to be spared for the duration of the war.
Mrs. Grant talks in her memoir about how Mrs. Govan’s son was a prisoner of the Union army and how she pouted until her husband ordered him released. She also talks about standing on the porch of Walter House and seeing a sea of army tents as far as she could see.
After the war ended, the Walters came home. They would have 11 children over a 25-year period, some before the war and the rest after. When yellow fever hit Holly Springs, Mrs. Walter took her daughters to her mother’s house in Alabama and Col. Walter and his three sons stayed and took in victims of the dreaded disease. They died within four days of each other.
One of the daughters wrote how her mother roamed the halls of Walter “House” for the next 20 years. (She is thought to be one of the ghosts in the house.) When Mrs. Walter died in 1899, her daughter Irene and her husband Oscar Johnson bought the old house from the estate.
Oscar was born in the small community of Red Banks in the county and was a merchant with his brother Jack. They moved to St. Louis to make a better living and started a shoe company that would later become Florsheim shoes. (Johnson Bros., Red Goose, Buster Brown.)
They became tremendously wealthy and built great estates in St. Louis. Oscar and Irene decided to renovate the Walter Place and install modern conveniences, such as bathrooms and moving the kitchen into the ballroom.
They hired a noted architect from St. Louis, Theodore Link to do this work. He designed the Mississippi State capital and the Mississippi Synodical College building that now houses the Marshall County Museum and worked on the restoration and modernization of Vendress Hall at Ole Miss. He was responsible for shortening the porch and balcony and replacing those doors with windows.
The Johnsons also bought three 1834 frame “cottages” that were attached to the Walter Place grounds. These were dug out around the edges, with windows added to make them into the style of English raised-basement cottages. They only used these to house their out-of-town guests which were brought down on the Johnson’s private railroad car when they came down to hunt quail on their plantation west of town.
All three of the cottages and Walter Place bear distinctive details of Theodore Link’s work.
Oscar Johnson’s avocation was horticulture and he planned to develop a major park on this then 40-acre property with a large lake, a huge pavilion and carriage trails. He did install two sets of brick and iron gates, a Japanese pond and bridge and brick walkways. He and Link hired a German landscape architect named Kern and 17 Japanese gardeners to do the work. The intention was to develop this park and give it to the city and name it Johnson Park.
Unfortunately, Oscar Johnson, who weighed 350 pounds and was six feet five inches tall, dropped dead of a heart attack when he was 51 years old, without leaving the park to the city in his will. His wife, Irene, sold everything and went back to her home in St. Louis.
The Walter Place and the three cottages were sold off separately and the new owner of the Walter Place sold off the back lots for a subdivision. The rest of the park was quickly consumed with privet, English ivy, wisteria, grapevine and kudzu and became a jungle. Irene did buy back the Walter Place in the early thirties for her three sisters to live in, part time. She repainted the brick and changed back the things her husband hadaltered to look as it had when she was a girl.
At her death, the house was used infrequently by her sons again as a hunting base. They were in their 80s when Mr. and Mrs. Michael Lynn bought the house.
In restoring Walter Place the Lynns worked with the architect and the Department of Archives and History of Mississippi and the National Park Service and the Department of the Interior. The whole town had been placed on the National Register and was listed with it. It was very important to do an accurate restoration.
Because the house was built in 1858, then remodeled and altered in 1904 and re-restored in 1935, it allowed the restoration to go back to any of those three time frames. All of the plumbing had to be completely redone, as did all of the electrical work. Work was carefully done to make sure that none of this was obvious.
The structure of the house itself was excellent. The shutters had to be remade, but they were able to salvage most of the material. Since Mrs. Johnson had already added closets during her restoration, they were left in place.
She had actually torn down interior walls, installed closets and replastered the moldings. The bathrooms were left where they had been placed in the tower rooms and the kitchen and butler’s pantry was left in the original ballroom.
At that time no restoration had been done to any of the kitchen area. The Lynns were not living in the house, nor did they have plans to, so it was left as a “service” kitchen. The kitchen was completely remodeled in 1993. The screen porch on the west side of the house that the Walter family had used as their summer dining porch was all glassed in. Heat and air conditioning units were installed and another screen porch was added directly to it, making a new addition.
In 1995, the Lynns acquired Featherston and in 2000, they acquired Polk Place. In 2004, they started rebuilding the Park with trails, a 150 foot waterfall and a small lake. That work is ongoing.
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