Grant’s Holly Springs Headquarters
Will Be Sold At Auction On Oct. 9

By Kathryn Jorgensen
(October 2010 Civil War News)

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HOLLY SPRINGS, Miss. — On Oct. 9 an auction bidder could become the owner of Airliewood, the restored Gothic Revival mansion where Gen. U.S. Grant made his headquarters and had Christmas dinner with his officers and family in 1862.

airliewoodAirliewood, the Holly Springs mansion that saw so much history, and underwent a $5 million restoration, will be auctioned at a low reserve.

Joe and Kathy Overstreet, who spent $5 million restoring and enlarging the home, have set a low reserve of $750,000, “which is what we paid for the house before we did a penny of renovation,” he says.

Joe Overstreet is a native of Oxford, Miss., who loves Civil War history. One day in 2002 he passed Airliewood, which was in disrepair, and saw a “for sale” sign.

They decided to undertake restoring the mansion. “There weren’t that many homes where Grant and others stayed that are left and documented,” he says. “We wanted to restore it as it was in 1858.”

Airliewood, its name since 1938, was built by planter William Henry Coxe. It is a few blocks off the courthouse square in a historic district known as Mansion Row.

The house, with some 5,000 square feet, was the most grand in Holly Springs, sitting on a 15-acre landscaped estate. Its cast iron fence which ran for a hundred yards along Salem Avenue was a duplicate of one at the U.S. Military Academy.

The mansion had mantels of marble and marbleized slate and silver hardware. It had Holly Springs’ first bathroom with running water, which was pumped by hand. Every room had cords for call bells.

Behind the mansion were a carriage house, in the same architectural style, and a servants’ house.

Eighty workers from seven states worked on the renovation. The restoration began with the cast iron fence along the front. The Overstreets added an addition of more than 4,000 square feet and an attached garage.

The addition was built with approval of the city’s preservation committee and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

“Every step of the way from design and construction had prior approval,” Overstreet says. One of the requirements was that there be a distinction between the new and old.

The original house exterior was plaster painted pinkish tan and scored in red to give a look of square stone blocks.

“We confirmed this when we tore down a tacked-on upstairs bath built in probably the 1920s, and found a section of the original wall untouched,” Overstreet says. To make the distinction clear, the addition exterior is not scored.

Airliewood is the Overstreets’ second home. They moved into the new part in 2005 and completed restoration in 2006. The house was officially unveiled at the April 2006 Holly Springs Pilgrimage.

It received the 2006 Award of Merit for Restoration and Rehabilitation from the Mississippi Heritage Trust.

Len Riedel, Executive Director of the Blue & Gray Education Society, which the Overstreets support, says of the restoration, “You can smell the cigar smoke and hear the spurs rattling on the porch in your mind’s eye.”

Riedel imagines Gen. Grant sitting in his office in the double parlor collecting reports and smelling the smoldering fires set during Gen. Earl Van Dorn’s raid a few days earlier.

Union and Confederate forces had skirmished in Holly Springs on Nov. 13 and Nov. 28-29. Grant marched into Holly Springs on the 29th and on to Oxford.

According to the Official Records, on Dec. 3 Grant ordered that Holly Springs be made the main depot for supplies “of every kind needed” except horses, which were to be sent to the front.

After his Dec. 20 raid Gen. Van Dorn reported burning “an immense amount” of stores, cotton and many trains he estimated worth $1.5 million. He also took many arms and 1,500 prisoners.

Grant returned to Holly Springs on Dec. 22, remaining until Jan. 9.

“He had taken liberties Gen. Henry Halleck didn’t like and paid a severe price,” says Riedel. “Still, his mettle showed. He didn’t wilt and quickly made the decision to regroup, return to Memphis and reengineer his campaign against Vicksburg.”

Grant’s stay was not Airliewood’s only connection with the Civil War.

University of Georgia English        professor Hubert H. McAlexander, a native of Holly Springs, wrote a history of the property that can be read at www.airliewood.com. According to him Holly Springs changed hands more than 50 times and the house was likely occupied again.

A local woman noted that soldiers took target practice on the iron fence finials and pried tiles from the porches.

Postwar, the 3rd and 13th U.S. Regiments occupying New Orleans   traditionally escaped the threat of yellow fever by spending the summer and fall camped in Holly Springs.

There was little interaction between the civilians and soldiers until 1875 when local families were suffering financially in the depression following the Panic of 1873. The commanders of the two U.S. regiments were offered rooms for rent in the mansion, beginning a season of social life between the military and residents.

Three years later, according to McAlexander’s history, author Sherwood Bonner published Like Unto Like, a novel set in Holly Springs the summer of 1875, in which the mansion figuring prominently.

The estate passed through several families until it was abandoned in 1896. By then half its land had been sold.

Why are they selling the house after so much expense and effort to restore it? Joe Overstreet explains they live in Memphis, their children are elsewhere and don’t need it as a second home. Once they decided to part with the house they decided an auction was the best way to go.

Had they listed it for sale, the house could be on the market for years. An absolute auction creates a date certain, and that’s what they wanted.

What will the new owner be buying? Six bedrooms, four baths, chef’s kitchen, music room, exercise room, sun room, three porches, 10 fireplaces, a four-car garage and a lot of history.

Photos can be seen at the Morris Auction Group’s Web site, Morrisauctiongroup.com, and www.airliewood.com. Also see the auction ad on page 21.