Thursday, November 18, 2010
Walter Place estate on holiday tour
In 1857 Colonel 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 is sitting.
It took two years to build this magnificent structure. No sooner had the house been finished than the War Between the States began.
Colonel Walter thought of a way to save his house. He invited General 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 General Grant, 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.
General Grant stood on the front portico of Walter Place and proclaimed Edict No. 11, announcing that the Jews couldn’t sell to the Army anymore causing pandemonium to ensue.
General Earl Van Dorn of the Southern Army came to Walter Place at three o’clock in the morning of December 20, 1862 to capture General Grant.
The local story told is that General Van Dorn and an aide went up the winding stair at three 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 top of the stair and inquired, “General Van Dorn, what are your intentions?” to which he replied, “I came for General Grant!”
When General 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 isn’t home.”
General Van Dorn, being a Southern gentleman, turned, went downstairs and placed Confederate guards all around the house to protect Mrs. Grant and the children.
During his raid on the town that day, he destroyed millions of dollars worth of federal supplies. When General 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 home town of General Earl Van Dorn. He was returning the war favor.
In 1878 Colonel 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 from 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, 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 suddenly died in 1916. Mrs. Johnson then sold the house to M.A. Greene.
It is now the home of Michael and Jorja Lynn. Mike Lynn revived and rebuilt a park between Walter Place, Polk Place and Featherston Place a few years ago.
It was a thrill to uncover the century old plants from Oscar Johnson’s garden and have them come alive again. The original garden plans were created by Theodore Link, one of the world’s most famous architects of the time, but when Oscar Johnson died suddenly at age 51 in 1916, all plans came to a halt and didn’t emerge again until 2003 when Mike Lynn uncovered the beautiful garden for all the world to see.
Lynn also added his fantastic touch by adding waterfalls, a pond with an island and a finishing touch of huge gold fish. He did the garden in phases I, II and III, but hasn’t gotten to IV yet.
Lynn has done all of this for Holly Springs as he could see the fabulous potential of Holly Springs if it continued to be developed. He is a real philanthropist right here in our midst and we aren’t used to having living legends who are great men in our presence. He is so generous and has opened all three of his houses and his park for you to see and enjoy.
Advance tickets for this wonderful “Christmas In Holly Springs” tour cost $15 each, if you buy 10 before November 27, and $18 individually. During the week of the tour all tickets are $22. Tickets may be purchased at the Marshall County Historial Museum at 220 East College Ave. in Holly Springs. Call 662-252-3669.
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