Memphis, Tennessee is a destination for vintage lovers for a variety of reasons. Elvis fans? Memphis. Historic foodies? Memphis. Jazz and blues fans? Memphis. American history geeks? Memphis. But who knew that a picturesque Victorian village was hidden in the heart of this American city known for so many other things?
Memphis has been a Vintage HQ staff-favorite location for years but it was only on a recent exploration of the city that Victorian Village was discovered and what a treat! Located just a half mile from where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, B.B. King and so many other music greats made their early records at Sun Studio lies Victorian Village, a small enclave of 19th-century mansions.
This historic area was once referred to as “Millionaire’s Row” for the extravagant homes and their wealthy banker/politician/railroad tycoon/cotton merchant-type residents. Many of the original homes from the mid-to-late 1800s still stand today. There are fourteen properties listed on the Victorian Village website that have “survived prosperity, war, yellow fever and urban renewal” and twelve of those buildings are actually listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The functions of several of these homes have been re-purposed to museums, bed and breakfasts and lounges which is great for those who’d love to explore the insides of these breathtaking old homes. We’d like to highlight a few of these gems then leave the rest for you to explore next time you’re in the “Home Of Blues, Soul & Rock ‘n’ Roll!”
The James Lee House, circa 1848, was originally a two-story farm house. In 1852 it was sold to a family with 10 children and expansion was needed. One addition was made in 1853 and later a third floor and tower were added. In 1890 the house was sold to James Lee, Jr. and when the property became his daughter Rosa’s she donated it to the city of Memphis to be used as the James Lee Arts Academy (which later became the Memphis College of Art). It housed the art college from 1925 to 1959 when it moved to Overton Park. It has gone through some extensive renovations to restore it to grandeur and is now The James Lee House Bed and Breakfast. This historic, luxurious accomodation has received worldwide recognition and is not to be missed when visting Memphis. www.jamesleehouse.com
The Mallory-Neely House, circa 1852, is one of Memphis’ treasured historic sites. It was built as an Italianate, two-story home in 1852. In 1883 the Neelys bought it for them and their five children. They added a third floor as well as an additional level for a tower. “The decor and furnishings date to circa 1890 and include pieces the family bought at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and later from the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.” The home was preserved by Frances Neely Mallory who was the last family member to live there until her death in 1969. In the 70s the Mallory family gave the house and contents to the DAR who opened it as a museum then later gifted it to the city of Memphis. It has continued as a historic house museum since 1987. One thing that makes this property so special is that “it retains all of its original, historic interiors, furniture, and artifacts almost exclusively. It offers a visceral experience walking through the home and lives of a family from over one hundred years ago.” www.memphismuseums.org
The St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral and Chapel, circa 1857, was founded by women of the Calvary Episcopal Church. The first structure built was a small, wooden, Gothic building. The present structure, which was developed over time throughout the late 1800s to early 1900s, is modified English Gothic. In addition to the church in the 1870s the sisters of St. Mary’s established a school for girls there. When the 1878 yellow fever epidemic struck Memphis several nuns, priests and doctors stayed behind to tend to the sick and dying, raising their risks of contracting the painful disease. The Episcopal nuns’ superior, Sister Constance, three other nuns, and two priests are known sometimes as “Constance and Her Companions” the names of the nuns who died during the epidemic are inscribed on the alter steps. There is a historical exhibit inside the cathedral for those who wish to know more about this historic church. www.stmarysmemphis.org
The Woodruff-Fontaine House, circa 1871, was home to two prominent Memphis families. The beautiful French-Victorian mansion was deeded to the city in 1936 and stood vacant for several years. In 1962 the house was under the threat of urban redevelopment demolition and was, thankfully, rescued by the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities and restoration began to restore it to its former splendor. In 1964 the mansion opened its doors for architectural tours. Slowly they were able to furnish and accessorize the three floors with artifacts and heirlooms from families in the area. Today they continue to thrive by giving tours (yes, even ghost tours) as well as hosting events and making the mansion available as a venue rental (what a gorgeous wedding location!). www.woodruff-fontaine.org
To get more information on Memphis’ stunning Victorian Village visit www.victorianvillageinc.org.
Photos: Vintage HQ staff