Mississippi Digital News

A Memphis Couple Traded Their 21st-Century Home for a Mississippi Property Built Before the Civil War


Martin and Dawn Donnelly had just started their five-house tour in the 2015 Spring Pilgrimage in Holly Springs, Miss., when the Memphis couple realized they had found their ideal place to live. They were ready to leave Tennessee and their 21st-century house.

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The couple listed their 2005 home in the suburb of Bartlett. Over the following year, they made almost a dozen 40-mile trips to the Mississippi town on the other side of the Tennessee border.

Dawn and Martin Donnelly on their back gallery porch.


Sarah Rossi for The Wall Street Journal

Returning for the following year’s tour of some of the 60 Antebellum homes surrounding the town square, a property that had piqued their interest hit the market.

Three weeks later, they paid $183,500 for Crump Place, a four-bedroom, 3,300-square-foot home built in 1836. They sold their house and moved to town in July 2016.

The one-story home retains much of its original structure. The log cabin—likely built in the early 1830s—with its 14-inch door frame, is now the couple’s bedroom.

“I feel like we’re more caretakers than owners,” said Mr. Donnelly, 56, who flies cargo planes for


about owning the historic building. He said the town’s charm and its friendliness also were draws.

The parlor has a sofa, left, made in the 1850s by Victorian furniture maker John Henry Belter.


Sarah Rossi for The Wall Street Journal

The dining room is 20-by-18 feet with a table that can seat 10.


Sarah Rossi for The Wall Street Journal

During the Civil War, Holly Springs was an affluent, cotton-growing town that supported the Confederacy. When Union soldiers occupied the area, the locals decided to keep the peace and protect their interests.

“Residents knew the better they treated the Union soldiers, the better it was for them,” said Jim Moore, director of the Marshall County Historical Museum.

The home was restored about 20 years ago.


Sarah Rossi for The Wall Street Journal

Many historic homes survived the war. Marty McClatchy, a real-estate agent at Crye-Leike Realtors, said these properties are increasingly popular.

“You have newlyweds, older couples without kids and people with family ties who have moved back and don’t mind restoring a place,” she said of the buyers. She estimated Crump Place today would sell for up to $400,000.

The property that came to be known as Crump Place was purchased by Sam McCorkle—a land surveyor, bank owner and one of the town’s founding fathers—in 1836. The 5 acres included a log cabin built by a settler or Native American, Mr. Moore said.

Mr. McCorkle soon expanded the home, then added a wing. Receipts found in the attic detailed the work.

Crump Place gets its name from Mollie Nelms Crump, a relative of the McCorkles’ son-in-law who moved into the home after her mother died. She moved back into the house as the widow of Edward Hull Crump, who died of yellow fever in 1878, Mr. Moore said.

In 1902, the log cabin was connected to the front side of the home, becoming its main bedroom. By then, the lot had a chicken coop, orchard and carriage house. Hugh Rather, a McCorkle descendant, put together a drawing of the property.

A wet bar was added to the space leading to the new kitchen.


Sarah Rossi for The Wall Street Journal

An exposed wall behind the bar shows the craftsmanship of the early builders.


Sarah Rossi for The Wall Street Journal

Historic records show 96 families owned more than 40 slaves in the county. More than 30 structures can be traced back to use by the slaves. Some of the buildings were incorporated into the main house, others converted into guesthouses or storage, said Mr. Moore.

Today, roughly 79% of the town’s population of nearly 8,000 is Black; 19% is white, the 2010 census shows. Fewer than 10 of the historic cottages are occupied by Blacks, Mr. Moore said.

“Everyone has the same vision,” said Lennell Lucas, a local alderman who is Black. “We understand the improvements needed and work together.”

The town has kept the legacy of the local master carpenter Jim Wells, father of journalist and civil-rights leader Ida B. Wells. He was a slave of the town’s main architect, Spires Boling, who designed in the Greek Revival style the 1870 county courthouse, a church and the crown jewel of the town, the 7,000-square-foot 1859 Walter Place home. That home, listed for $1.7 million, is under contract.

Ms. Wells was born in 1862 in the home built by Boling a couple of years earlier. It now houses the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum.

Crump Place stayed in the family until one of the widow’s three grandchildren sold it in 1962. It was then expanded to include a family room, kitchen and two-car garage.

In 2002, the late David Person bought the property and hired preservation architect Chelius Carter to restore it. Mr. Person sold the property in 2006, and the home changed hands a couple of times before the Donnellys bought it.

Mr. Person’s next home was the 1848 Burton Place. Ms. McClatchy has listed the 5,100-square-foot house for $680,000.

The Crump home is one-room deep. Entering the main door, the living room and main bedroom are to one side. On the other side is the dining room.

The main bedroom retains parts of the original log cabin, believed built in the early 1830s. The bedroom was created in 1902.


Sarah Rossi for The Wall Street Journal

The three additional bedrooms make up the short wing. Each bedroom has a door—10 in all—that opens onto a gallery porch that extends the length of the home. The end bedroom is used by Ms. Donnelly as an art studio.

Mr. Carter, a Virginia resident who also owns the house next door to the Donnellys, exposed part of the original structure of Crump Place. The wet bar he added to the breezeway connecting the wing to the main house has an exposed wall, evidence of the intricate craftsmanship of the masons and carpenters who helped create the estate. (The Donnellys added a new roof.)

Crump Place is now 1 acre, half of which makes up the front yard. Ms. Donnelly said she particularly loves the outdoor space.

“We’ll have dinner a couple times a month on the front porch and enjoy a bottle of wine,” Mr. Donnelly added. “People will come and chat or sometimes have a glass of wine and stay for an hour.”

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