Today’s post is a reprint from Mrs. N.D. Deupree’s “Some Historic Homes of Mississippi,” from Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. VII (1903). The West House in Holly Springs is now known as “Oakleigh” or the Fant-Clapp House, and according to the MDAH Historic Resources Database record, it was built in 1858. I’ve supplemented Mrs. Deupree’s photo with a few photos from the Historic American Building Survey. You can see more photos at the Library of Congress/HABS website.
The West House
Among the historic homes of Mississippi none are more beautiful than the West home in Holly Springs. It is an old colonial mansion, set far back in a grove of stately oaks, many of them luxuriantly draped in ivy. The house was built in 1842 by Judge J.W. Clapp, who superintended the construction so carefully that it is said he saw every brick and piece of timber that went into the structure. If a workman ever succeeded in slyly putting an imperfect brick or piece of timber in, he only made double work for himself, for he surely had to take it out. The outer walls are two and a half feet thick, and between the outside and inside layers of brick there is a layer of charcoal which effectually excludes dampness. The plastering, the same put on when the house was built, has scarcely a crack, and is white and polished and marble. The hall is unusually spacious and opens into rooms of almost lordly dimensions. The double parlors and library are each twenty feet square, with ceilings eighteen feet high. On each side of the folding doors between the parlors, there are fluted columns reaching from floor to ceiling. The walls are ornamented with rich cornices done in fleur-de-lis with borders of Greek key-work; the mantels are of marble exquisitely carved in grapes and leaves. The dining-room at the end of the hall is oval in shape, thirty feet long, lighted by four long windows which open on the gardens and lawn. This magnificent ante-bellum home, with its spacious dining-room, broad halls, double parlors, stately library and handsome furnishings, surrounded by grounds perfected by years of cultivation, was an ideal place for the dispensing and enjoyment of Southern hospitality; and it is much to be regretted that we cannot give the details of at least one of the distinguished gatherings that so often graced the home in the golden age of Mississippi. A broad curving stairway, adorned with statuary in niches placed at intervals, leads to the second story hall of the same dimensions as the one on the first floor. There are four large bedrooms on this floor, each with a dressing-room and bath-room attached. A wide veranda extends around three sides of the building; across the front it is covered, the roof supported by Corinthian columns with Medieval capitals. On the east are extensive grounds filled with shrubbery and carpeted with grass; on the west, is the garden of roses.
Judge Clapp was elected a member of the Confederate Congress, and when war was declared a price was put upon his head. He was a small man, and had the zeal which usually belong to small statures. Twice, when on short visits home, his residence was raided by Federals in search of him. Once he made his escape from the back of the house, and through the orchard while his son held the enemy at the front regaling them with buttermilk. The next time the house was surrounded befor the family were aware of the invasion; but the judge, rich in resources, climbed to the attic and crept out along the eaves of the porch and hid in the capital of one of the massive Corinthian pillars which support the roof. So much for being small and agile.
The house was occupied by General Smith of the Union army at the time General Van Dorn made his famous raid into Holly Springs in 1862. [An account of this raid may be found in Vol IV. of the Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society.] Out of the house the Yankees came tumbling, rushing through the yard, down the lane, over the orchard fence, on into the woods they went half clad, as it was just daybreak.
After the war, Judge Clapp moved to Memphis and the beautiful mansion became the home of General A.M. West, one of the noblest sons of the old State. General West spent his life in planning for the upbuilding of the State. In politics he was a Whig; in 1847 he was elected by an unprecedented majority to the State Legislature, where he served for ten years. He was twice elected Senator from a Democratic district. When Mississippi seceded, A.M. West went with her and was one of the first to organize a brigade; he was commissary, qurtermaster and paymaster of the Confederate army, with the rank of major-general. He was brigadier general of the Mississippi troops at the outbreak of the war. He was nominated for governor by the Whigs at the time the Democrats nominated and elected Charles Clark. In 1864, General West was elected president of the Mississippi Central railroad. This road was used alternately by Federals and Confederates during the war, and at its close the roadbed was a wreck, the stock unfit for use, the company without money or credit. However, through the tireless energy of the president, the road was soon rebuilt, newly equipped and ready for work. This is looked upon as the crowning work of General West’s life. Without his solicitation and while making these almost herculean efforts for the restoration of the railroad, the people elected him to the United State Senate, but he and his colleagues were refused seats by the reconstruction party. He was twice nominated for vice-president of the United States.
Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. VII (1903), pp. 340-342.
This post is part of a series taken from Mrs. N.D. Deupree’s “Some Historic Homes of Mississippi,” published in 1903. Want to read others in the series?
- Eagle’s Nest
- Mount Salus
- Shirley House (Wexford Lodge)
- Jacob Thompson House
- Blue Mountain
- Ford House
- The Hill
- Bonner Home (“Cedarhurst”)