Holly Springs

Holly Springs is a surprising place. Although we had taken a TTTM tour of the town in September 2009, that visit was merely a stopover on the way to Tunica and our riverboat ride up the Mississippi. To keep to our schedule, we’d had to restrict ourselves to a brief tour of Rust College, ogling Graceland Too, and eating a burger at Phillips Grocery. We didn’t see much of Holly Springs, so there were a lot of surprises in store for us this time. We had just turned off Highway 78 when we got our first surprise, such a great “old Mississippi” photo op that we had to pull over. There was a like-new 1937 Chevy parked against a backdrop of kudzu. The car’s owner, who also owned the repair shop where the car was parked, came out and gave a little history of his pride and joy, which he drives to work every day. The entire car is original, including the fan attached to the dash – a 1930s air conditioner. It even comes with its own “owned by a little old lady who only drove it to church on Sunday” story, except that this little old lady only drove it to the grocery store once a week.

1937 Chevrolet, 44,000 actual miles, nothing new except the tires.

The interior was cooled by that original-equipment fan on the dashboard

Once we had thoroughly admired the car, we drove on toward downtown Holly Springs. It has a town square, something we love and wish every town had. And just off that square is the Chamber of Commerce/Tourist Bureau (148 East College Avenue). We hadn’t spent more than a few minutes there talking with Assistant Director Suzann before we realized that Holly Springs is on the ball. Unlike so many towns that effectively closed down when their industries did, Holly Springs revamped itself. The factories may have moved elsewhere, but the historic homes, churches, and businesses stayed put and, as long as they were there anyway, the city marketed them. According to Suzann, who knows such things, Holly Springs has become a destination, a great weekend escape, especially during the annual Spring Pilgrimage (usually the second weekend in April). We can see why – there is so much to do there.
We started our tour with a quick walk around the square, a mixture of charming stores and empty storefronts. The first place we passed was the Court Square Inn, a beautifully restored Italianate building dating to 1865. It’s a Bed and Breakfast featuring three luxury suites overlooking downtown and it’s gorgeous. (The town has a surprising number of B&Bs, by the way.)

Court Square B & B entrance.

This little mystery house is on the square, nestled next to the bank building shown on the left. Exquisite fencing.

Beautiful stained glass over the entrance to Tyson Drug Store.

We stopped by Tyson Drugs, which has sat on the corner of Market Street and Van Dorn Avenue longer than anyone can remember. It was a bank before it was Tyson’s, and before that it was another pharmacy. The floor shows the building’s age – it’s covered in a zillion tiny tiles, a typical old drugstore floor. And the standard soda fountain counter is still there too! What wasn’t around originally was The Funky Monkey, the gift shop attached to the drugstore. It’s full of cute things, several of which hitched a ride home with us, including several Mississippi wine glasses – canning jars attached to a crystal stem. And yes, the metal lid is included.

Booker Hardware

Continuing around the square we passed Booker Hardware, where we were stunned to see a window full of churns. Yes, churns. Big churns, little churns, middle-sized churns – they were all there. Apparently, the national move toward a simpler life is alive and well in Mississippi, and churns are a part of that. At least until the actual churning begins and folks realize how loooooooong it’s going to take that milk to turn into butter.

Butter churns of all sizes....$25 and up.

The original store burned during the Civil War, so this is the “new” Booker’s. There’s no mistaking that the plank floor is original to the new store – down to the squeaks and creaks. In fact, plenty of things about the store are original to that second store, or at least very, very old, including the wooden display and storage cases ubiquitous to all old hardware stores. The folks at Booker’s have been offered thousands of dollars for these beautiful relics, but the drawers in their quaint wooden cabinetry are full of nails and screws and such and they aren’t anxious to part with those cabinets just to have to find somewhere else to put all their stuff.

This 6-sided wooden rotating fastener storage case was still in use.

After a good look around Booker’s, we walked two blocks down to 220 East College Avenue to the Marshall County Historical Museum, three floors of memories that could easily fill a museum five times the size. The 1903 building was originally a dormitory at Mississippi Synodical College, the first women’s junior college in the state and surely the college with the most unfortunate name ever. We were escorted on this tour through time by the lovely Lois Swanee, the tiny ball of fire that oversees – and is intimately involved in – every single aspect of the museum, from its origin to the most obscure donation.

Understandably, the museum allowed no pictures inside.

This marker is in the front yard of the museum -- history is everywhere in Holly Springs.

There is no way to adequately describe this museum. Each room in the house is dedicated to one or more topics, and while there are usually a few random objects thrown in for good measure, there’s a method to the madness – it’s actually quite well organized and the items themselves are in excellent condition and lovingly maintained. There are display cases at every turn and items hang, quite literally, from floor to ceiling. But, while the museum is stuffed to the gills, things don’t appear to be junky as much as crowded. This is possibly due to the fact that Lois genuinely values each and every donation, including things like the senior class compilation photos from schools that no longer exist or haven’t the room to keep decades of these photos, glimpses back in time that would probably have been thrown away if not for Lois.

Several years ago, the museum’s roof leaked so badly that the entire building had to be evacuated for repairs, and it took months to clear out the place. Literally, like six months. Lois and helpers moved her favorite exhibits into a store on the square that served as the temporary home and the rest went into storage for the duration. Lois, meanwhile, busied herself penning a letter to Warren Buffett (No, she didn’t know him, and no, he has no ties to Holly Springs.), asking if he would fund an elevator for the building to make it more accessible. He did it! So, they installed the elevator, fixed the roof and the damage, and moved back in. The museum’s War Room is exceptional. There are uniforms and memorabilia from ten wars in this one room, most of which belonged to a son or daughter of Holly Springs. There’s also a Library full of ancient books, a Doctor’s Room full of yesteryear’s medical supplies, a School Room that takes you back 100 years or so, a Toy Room with one of the very first tricycles and an incredible collection of doll houses and dolls, a room dedicated to native animals (stuffed bears, armadillos, etc.), an Indian and Cowboy Room, and so on and so on. And, while these rooms give some idea of the range of exhibits, they don’t begin to describe the uniqueness of some of the items. The Indian and Cowboy Room, for example, contains mementos from Holly Springs native George Anderson, Admiral Byrd’s pilot to Antarctica. In the collection of women’s fashions is a paper swimsuit distributed by Holiday Inn when they opened the first indoor swimming pools and discovered that no one thought to bring a suit except in summer. There’s an original Gibson Girl dress. And a 20-star American flag (and 42-, 46-, and 48-star flags too!). And dancing rocks from Iuka – round rocks that really move. According to Lois, Mississippi has the fewest rocks of any state except Louisiana.

Most memorable, possibly, is the Vaseline Glass display near the elevator. In the same case there is a lemonade serving set that glows in the dark (and in the light!) because it contains uranium. Yes, people used to enjoy a little radioactivity with their lemonade. And their lamps. And their vases. Incredibly, people don’t do this anymore.

And then there’s the museum’s display of Hair Art. Did you know people used to cut their hair to use it for artistic purposes? Well they did. Whole families used to cut off their hair and wrap it around thin wires that could be molded into flowers and such. Then they passed these lovely objets d’art down through their families. Incredibly, people don’t do this anymore either.

We could have amused ourselves in the museum forever – it has to be seen to be believed – but we were soon starving and had much more to see in Holly Springs, so we each purchased a jar of Kudzu Blossom Jelly from the museum’s gift counter and set off for Annie’s, reputed home of the best fried chicken in town.
Annie’s (198 North Memphis Street) is a buffet, a little bit of Southern heaven. We were greeted with a hug from Annie herself. It took us a bit by surprise, but apparently everyone is greeted with a hug! Despite all that hugging, Annie looks like she just stepped off the set of her own television show, dressed to the nines. We each chose fried chicken, boiled okra, limas, corn bread and chow-chow from among the many options. We also tried Annie’s cooked cabbage, which has to be – seriously – the best in the world. And neither of us really likes cooked cabbage, or didn’t before this anyway. We were stuffed but still managed to polish off a bowl of pecan cobbler. It was wonderful. (This place is one of my favorites -- Southern cooking heaven.)

A driving tour of antebellum homes/churches was next on our agenda, using the CD Suzann had given us. It’s beautifully and professionally done and includes a bit of local history along with interesting descriptions of various sites. Holly Springs has a rather unique history. It, along with Jackson and Vicksburg, was occupied for a record ten years after the Civil War (referred to hereafter as “the war”). For various reasons, the city wasn’t burned during the war, or, at least, houses weren’t, so there are an incredible number of antebellum homes near downtown – which is even more amazing considering that these fine homes were often located on plantations miles from town. The downtown area was torched by Confederates in an effort to destroy stockpiles of Union supplies and, historically speaking at least, no one seems to hold this against them. In fact, one of the Confederate descendants' groups dedicated a marker to honor Confederate General Van Dorn and his brave troops for doing the burning! Shortly after the occupation ended, a yellow fever epidemic struck the town and wiped out more folks than the war had, so generally speaking, the late 1860s – 70s were tough times for Holly Springs.
Airliewood as it is currently pictured on Loopnet.com. It's offered for $1.4 million. The home was auctioned off in October 2010 after $5 million worth of renovation.

The homes on the tour, while not open (with one exception, they’re only open during Pilgrimage or during the Christmas tour) are worth admiring from the street. Most are in the Federal or Greek Revival style, but a couple are unique: Airliewood, where General Grant established his headquarters, is a pink Gothic Revival, and Grey Gables is a stunning Italianate. But the most astounding home on the tour is Walter Place, a house so grand that it was where General Grant housed his wife and child during the war. And his wife’s slave. Yes, you read that right. The head of the Union army’s wife brought her slave. Hmmm. Well, as they say, history is written by the victors.

We had planned our day around a visit to Walter Place – it’s open daily (except Sunday) for one tour at 1:00 pm. The present lady of the house is…drum roll please…Lois’s daughter! (For the record, Lois lives in an antebellum home too.) The daughter and her husband bought Walter Place years ago and have restored it and it’s incredible gardens to their former glory, but her husband hasn’t been well of late and Lois had warned us that sometimes her daughter had to cancel the tour. Unfortunately, it was one of those days. Oh well, we’ll be back. (Marian --The grounds and the Walter Place home are said to be exquisite -- I can hardly wait for the opportunity to see this place.)

This is the picture of the Walter Place on Trulia.com website. $15 million will get you a fine antebellum estate in the heart of Holly Springs -- monthly payments of just under $90,000.

Hillcrest Cemetery

Charlie died at 4 years old. Such an odd headstone...so sad.

We had to console ourselves with a visit to Hillcrest Cemetery, a wonderful old cemetery but no Walter Place. Then we drove over to Graceland Too, the shrine to Elvis Presley we tried to visit the last time we were in Holly Springs (no one answered the door).

There is just no way to describe this place. I found myself humming "Blue Christmas." The house is surrounded by these pots of funky blue Christmas trees.

We had planned to visit this trip, but the house has recently been painted honkin’ blue with black trim and it’s…it’s…forbidding. Scary even. (Marian -- After enjoying Holly Springs so much, I just couldn't go into Graceland Too...I just couldn't.) So we finished the driving tour and drove a few miles out of town to Strawberry Plains Audubon Center. antebellum Davis House sits on the property, and it was the last of the Davis family who entrusted their home and its 2,500 acres to the Audubon Society. It’s now famous for its annual hummingbird migration. Each year in September, millions of hummingbirds stop at Strawberry Plains on their way south. We missed the big to-do by a week or so, but plan on making a concerted effort next September. (http://strawberryplains.audubon.org/ shows this beautiful place) And when we do, we also plan to visit more of the sites we had to miss this time, among them the Ida B. Wells Art Gallery and the Kate Freeman Clark Museum and maybe Graceland Too. Maybe.