reddish-brick house in the Federal style was built in two
stages, the first in 1830 by
George H. Whyett. The second
stage, ca. 1855, added a twostory kitchen and service wing,
and a two-story porch. In the early months of the Civil War,
house served as headquarters for Confederate General Leonidas
Polk. After the Battle of Shiloh, Union General Ulysses S.
Grant used the house, planning the siege of Vicksburg in the
The mansion also served as a Union hospital from 1863-1865.
A tunnel under the house was part of the underground railroad
which slaves escaped and boarded boats for Illinois. The schoolhouse
behind the mansion was built for the Phelan children and the
family’s slave children; it is the first school known
to have educated blacks in Memphis. In later years the house
occupied by northern teachers sent here to educate newly freed
Located on Memphis's
historic Beale Street and called the city's "best kept secret," this
restored Greek Revival house opened to public tours in the
mid-1990s. Completed in 1832 by George Wyatt, the house featured
architectural flourishes, including an escape tunnel. Eli and
Julia Driver purchased the house from Jesse Tate in 1850. The
couple made improvements, including the addition of a kitchen
ell, landscaping, moving the original front portico to the
side, and constructing a two-story portico of Ionic columns.
Driver's son-in-law, William Richard Hunt, owned the house
through the Civil War. Confederate General Leonidas Polk used
the house as his headquarters while he planned the battle at
Corinth, Mississippi. Before the fall of Memphis in 1862, Confederate
officials provided a boxcar for the removal of family furnishings.
Union General Ulysses S. Grant headquartered in the house from
June 27 to July 12, 1862, and planned the Vicksburg campaign
in the library. Gun emplacements encircled the house, and Union
forces used the tunnel to relay messages.
Between 1863 and 1865 the Union's Western Sanitary Commission
used the mansion as a soldiers' home and housed Freedmen's
Bureau teachers. In 1865 President Andrew Johnson returned
the house to Hunt, who began years of repairs.
In the twentieth century the house passed to Stephen Rice
Phelan, a Standard Oil geologist. Phelan wrote a history of
the house but neglected its maintenance. The house, heavily
coated in gray paint and isolated from the surrounding community
by barbed wire, padlocks, and weeds, slowly deteriorated.
Bill Day, a nephew of the reclusive Phelan, inherited the
house and in the 1990s embarked on an extensive restoration
project. Using old photographs and maps, teams of restoration
architects and artists worked to return the house to its former
glory and reintroduce the Hunt-Phelan house to Memphis. Maintaining
the property has proved difficult, however. In 2000 Day auctioned
most of its furnishings and papers; in early 2001 the property
was on the real estate market, its days as a historic house
museum seemingly numbered.
Now this historic landmark
will become the centerpiece for a unique mixed-use hotel
/ residential project.
The facilities will include a restaurant and bar on the first
floor, bed and breakfast suites on the second floor, a separate
ballroom with kitchen facilities to seat up to 350 people,
a day spa, and commercial space. Eight detached buildings
will be constructed around the house to comprise a total
of 130 residential condominium units.