Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mansions of Victorian Village Memphis Tn.

Victorian Village -Memphis Tn.

by Angela Lucius, MSSPI Oct 31, 2009

Victorian Village, Memphis

Memphis is a city in the southwest corner of the U.S. state of Tennessee, and the county seat of Shelby County, Tennessee.

Memphis rises above the Mississippi River on the 4th Chickasaw Bluff just south of the mouth of the Wolf River ....and borders our great State of Mississippi.

Many of us in North Mississippi are familiar with Memphis and the historic significance of the city's history and culture.. Some of us, myself being one of them, were born in Memphis. It's history, music and culture are very much apart of the lives and heritages of many North Mississippi residents.

The Victorian Village is located in the eastern quadrant of Downtown Memphis, Tennessee, located on the Mississippi River between Interstate 40 to the north and Interstate 55 to the south.

History of The Victorian Village

19th century

During Memphis' early period of growth in the mid 1800s, a few wealthy Memphian's, built grand, Victorian-style homes in what was then the outskirts of the city. Edward C. Jones, one of Memphis's most significant Victorian-era architects, and his partner, Matthias Harvey Baldwin, built the Woodruff-Fontaine House (1870) and renovated the Harsson-Goyer-Lee House (1871).


Some of these three and four-story mansions now stand near the city's downtown along Adams Avenue. While most of the original homes are now gone, several remain as museums.

Woodruff-Fontaine House

History of The Mansion

In 1845 Amos Woodruff arrived in Memphis from Rahway, N.J. He and his brother were expanding the carriage building business they had started in New Jersey. He became President of the City Council, Organizer and president of two banks, a railroad company, a hotel company, an insurance company, cotton compress and lumber firm. In 1870, he commissioned the building of the 16 room mansion at 680 Adams, paying $12,000 for the land and $40,000 for the residence.

He, his wife and 4 children lived in this French Victorian mansion from 1871-1883.

In 1883 Woodruff sold the house to Noland Fontaine, a Memphis cotton factor. The Fontaines lived in the house for 46 years, rearing 8 children to adulthood. Following Mrs. Fontaine's death, the children sold the house. The home was sold to Mrs. Rosa Lee of 690 Adams and she expanded the James Lee Art Academy to include both buildings. The Memphis Academy of Arts moved in 1959 and the house, willed to the city , stood vacant and vandalized.

In 1961 the Memphis Chapter, Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities, presented restoration pledges of $50,000 to the City of Memphis and signed a five year lease with the city.

In 1964 the restored mansion was opened to the public as a house museum, unfurnished. Generous Mid-Southerners donated gifts of furniture and furnishings. A.P.T.A. members are all volunteers who serve as hostesses year round in order that guest may enjoy the gracious atmosphere of the late 1800's which pervades this home.

Haunting Claims

Legend says that Molly Woodruff Henning, daughter of the original owner and the first to be married in the Mansion, still roams the halls. She is known as " The Lady of the House"

Reports of haunting activity such as, a smoke formed apparition of Molly has been reported by staff when they have tried to update or move furniture in the mansion. Molly apparently becomes upset making her dislike of the re-decorations known by slamming doors and breaking things. Molly has been reportedly seen, sitting on the bed of the second story Rose Room.

The Rose Room was Molly's bedroom and also the room where she lost a young child, who some reports claim died in the yellow fever epidemic that swept its deadly hand across Memphis in the 1870's. Three months after the death of the child, Molly's husband, Egbert Wooldridge died of pneumonia in the Rose Room. Molly was devastated but eventually recovered from the tragic loss and remarried and moved from the house with her second husband, to a home on Poplar Ave. where she also lost a second child. There are conflicting reports as to how this child died. some claim the child died at birth and other's claim a child, possibly Molly's was drowned by the child's nanny. I will make an attempt to clarify this claim.

Other claims of paranormal activity include strange noises, unexplained footsteps, cold spots, ghostly forms , voices and the smell of cigar smoke. Molly died in 1917.

MSSPI had the pleasure of touring the Woodruff Fontaine Mansion on October 30th, 2009. We were invited to the event by Paranormal Inc. of Memphis, who along with APTA members, hosted a Haunted Tour and presented some of their research and EVP clips. The mansion was beautifully decorated by the volunteers of APTA. After the presentation and tour , the MSSPI team had wine and appetizers in the Carriage House, behind the mansion. We had a great time and appreciate Paranormal Inc. for the invitation to this event. All proceeds from the event were to benefit the ongoing efforts of APTA and the Woodruff Fontaine Museum in preserving this beautiful piece of Memphis history and we were grateful to have the opportunity to be a small part of that preservation effort.

James Lee House

Built in the mid-1800s, this Victorian home is another in a collection of such homes in an area known as Victorian Village. The elaborate mansion was once home to riverboat tycoon James Lee.

This photo does not do justice to the massive size of the Mansion and if you think it looks creepy in the daylight , you should see it at night!


Mallory-Neely House

This 25-room, three-story Italianate mansion dates to 1852 and contains most of its original furnishings. Hand-painted ceilings and stained-glass windows from the 1893 Chicago World's Fair frame what once was the home of an affluent Memphis family.

A.P.T.A is a non-profit organization operating the Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum.

If you would like to find out more information about how you can become a member of AFTA or help support the upkeep of the Woodruff-Fontaine House Museum call 901-526-1469 for further details.

Association for The Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities
680-690 Adams Ave, Memphis Tn. 38105

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