Colonel Harvey Washington Walter is the man who brought the Walter Place Estate to life. Col. Walter (1819–1878) was an American lawyer who served as the President of the Mississippi Central Railroad. In 1857, he hired architect Spires Boling to begin construction on the mansion, weaving a distinct blend of Greek Revival and Gothic revival architectural flares within the estate.
During the Civil War, Col. Walter gladly opened the doors of Walter Place to the family of Union General Ulysses S. Grant. While Grant conducted military operations in Mississippi, culminating in the siege and ultimate surrender of the city of Vicksburg, his wife and son—Julia and Jesse—took up temporary refuge within the walls of Walter Place. (That tale alone is rich in historic significance, so stay tuned as we post more stories from Julia and Jesse’s experience at Walter Place.)
When the troops of Confederate General Earl Van Dorn assailed Holly Springs in what’s now known as the 1862 “Holly Springs Raid,” the Walter Place was targeted to be ransacked in the hunt for Julia Grant. Though there are conflicting accounts, the story goes that it was the bravery of Mrs. Pugh Govan, the caretaker of the estate during the Civil War who had befriended Julia, that thwarted the attack on Walter Place. Ultimately, only the carriages of Julia Grant were burned and her horses taken, but the remainder of the estate was spared.
Now fast-forward to 1878, the height of a yellow fever epidemic. Col. Walter stood as one of the few souls willing to take in yellow fever patients. He sent away his wife and youngest children, and he and three of his sons turned Walter Place into a makeshift hospital. That same year, Col. Walter and all three of his sons died of the disease.
Col. Walter is buried at the Hillcrest Cemetery in Holly Springs. His legacy lives on through Walter Place and through those who work to memorialize his heart of gold that endured during some of the darkest hours of American history.
Below: We are excited to announce that we have tracked down a series of incredible historic documents original to The Walter Place Estate, including the personal diary of Col. Harvey Washington Walter himself. Donated to Wilson Library, an avid collector of regional historic documents, by a Memphis native in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Col. Walter’s diary has been safely maintained over the decades. We couldn’t be more grateful to the library for allowing us to share this treasure with you, and we can’t wait to share more finds as we go. (The Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.)
Anne, one of Col. Walter’s daughters, was perhaps one of the most unique historic figures who lived within these halls. In short, Anne became a doctor (a notable feat as a woman at this point in American history) who journeyed to China on a temporary posting in 1893…and remained there for 40 years. Here are details that unravel how the unlikely events of this brave woman’s life took her from the very grounds of this estate to the furthest reaches of the globe…
After the Civil War tugged to a torrential end, Anne and her siblings grew up in Holly Springs. She came from a family line rich in legacy and cultural clout: while her father stood as Judge Advocate during the war, her mother, Martha Fredonia Brown, descended from pioneers who had hacked their way west through the rugged American landscape in 1788.
Anne was just thirteen years old when yellow fever crept upon the town of Holly Springs and her father chose to open the doors of Walter Place as a makeshift hospital. For their own safety, her father sent her, her sisters and her mother away while he and three of his eldest sons remained on the estate to tend to the ill. That was the last she saw of her father: the lives of Col. Walter and her brothers were taken by the plague.
After her father’s death, Anne and what survived of her family faced brutal financial challenges. Two of her sisters married influential men of wealth, which ultimately saved Walter Place and the legacy of the Walter family—and while Anne, no doubt, was expected to follow in their footsteps, this was the crossroads at which her life took a fascinating turn.
From the age of twelve to sixteen years old, Anne enrolled as a student at the Charlotte Female Institute. It was there that the inspiration to become a doctor took root in her heart. Accounts relay that, upon announcing this intention to her family, her mother threatened to disown her. The fibre of Anne’s being wasn’t easily bent, however, and she left for the Cooper Medical College in San Francisco regardless of popular opinion. In 1893, she graduated the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania.
At this time period, however, women who earned qualifications as doctors were not always granted opportunity or social acceptance enough to practice. So, when a medical colleague of Anne’s left for China to work in a missionary hospital overseas, it’s no surprise this Walter descendent, whose life already proved her fortitude, quickly found herself based at Suzhou hospital (also known as Mary Black Hospital), approximately 60 miles west of Shanghai. At the time of her arrival, travel between her home-base and Shanghai took three days via the Suzhou Creek…in other words, Anne was in a world entirely disparate from the small town in which she grew up.
Fourteen years later, Anne could still be found at this hospital, having earned her way up the ranks to perform a variety of specialized operations, open additional wards, deliver babies (accounts state she ultimately delivered 6,017 babies), and expand the practices of the base. She even helped found a medical school for Chinese students.
In 1896, she married a missionary physician by the name of Dr. John Burrus Fearn, himself a Mississippi native. Though there was initial professional rivalry between the couple—in Anne’s words, her husband was "dominant and born to give orders, just as definitely as I was born not to take them,” which perhaps summarizes Anne’s personality more beautifully than we ever could—they went on to lead a successful marriage and jointly enrich their careers.
Their daughter, Elizabeth, was born in 1897 and would have been one of Col. Walter’s granddaughters had he survived the earlier yellow fever epidemic, but sadly, she died of amoebic dysentery before she reached the age of six. This situation, in part, brought Anne and her husband back to the United States on temporary furlough. In retrospect, their child’s illness saved their own lives in what could have been a brutal time period in Suzhou, as the Boxer Rebellion that ended in mass executions in and near their hospital coincided with their journey overseas.
The intercultural intricacies of Anne’s life, as she split her time between the United States and China, continued to thread her life into a fascinating web of historic significance and impact. Anne went on to involve herself in various missions: from assisting the Miss Cornelia Bonnel’s shelter for girls and the Margaret Williamson Hospital for Chinese women and children, to hosting receptions for delegates at the International Opium Conference in Shanghai, organizing countless additional social events across China, joining the American Women’s Club in Shanghai and elected as its corresponding secretary, founding facilities for visiting U.S. sailors and projects to improve conditions for Chinese workers, overseeing a quick stint as an obstetrician in Japan and a physician in the Foreign Women’s Rescue Home in Shanghai, attempting to practice in Moscow and London at the onset of the first World War, founding her own Fearn Sanatorium, and more…the lasting impact of Anne’s life and work can still be felt today. As a particular testimony to Anne’s character, during the revolutionary period of 1913, she and her husband worked with refugees amidst stray bullets and shells that landed around them from conflict at the Kiangnan Arsenal.
There is far more we could say about the feats Anne achieved—and how the importance and urgency of her work often overshadowed her concern for her own safety and landed her in war-torn corners of foreign nations—but to keep this historic entry from evolving into a novel, we encourage you to go read about Anne’s life in her own words.
Ultimately, Anne returned home in 1938 and put pen to paper, compiling her memoirs My Days of Strength just before her death in California in 1939 at the age of 71. She dedicated her book to Irene “my sister and friend” and her remains were returned to Shanghai for interment. Now, she is honored with the title of Dr. Anne Walter Fearn and paintings of her along with stories from her life that historians and our team are piecing together memorialize her larger-than-life legacy.
Below: Photographs of Dr. Anne Walter Fearn from her more than 40 years spent as a physician in China. Source: My Day’s of Strength: An American Woman Doctor’s Forty Years in China by Anne Walter Fearn, M.D.
During the Civil War, as the military exploits of Ulysses S. Grant dragged him across the country, his wife Julia supported her husband and travelled as much as she could with him. In early December of 1862, this landed her in Holly Springs, Mississippi, with their son Jesse. Though accounts contradict slightly in the details of this time period, the story goes that as her husband conducted military operations across Mississippi, ultimately resulting in the siege and surrender of the city of Vicksburg, the doors of the Walter Place Estate were opened warmly to Julia and her son.
In wake of his absence fighting in the war, Col. Walter left his estate in the hands of a caretaker, Mrs. Pugh Govan. The two women—Julia and Pugh—became close confidants in the short time they spent together at the estate, and according to Julia’s memoir, their sons "played amiably together as warm friends." Julia wrote that she felt Pugh "was a fine, noble woman" whose hospitality often helped her forget she was in enemy territory. In fact, the two women became such friends that when Pugh’s husband, Captain Jack Govan, found himself on death’s door near the end of the war, as it had been demanded that no confederate prisoner of war be paroled, Julia convinced her husband to grant the captain parole in direct opposition to orders—and the Govans were spared. (Julia wrote that she quite literally gave her husband the silent treatment, until he agreed to parole Captain Govan.)
In what’s now known as the 1862 “Holly Springs Raid,” when troops of Confederate General Earl Van Dorn ransacked the town, the Walter Place was a prime target for attack in the hunt for Julia and her son. However, Julia’s memoir states that she and Jesse had already escaped the vicinity and, due to the bravery of Pugh who adamantly turned the troops away, the estate was pardoned. Only a few belongings Julia had left behind were destroyed—her carriages were burned and her horses taken.
According to Julia’s journal, she looked back on her time at the Walter Place and Holly Springs with fondness for years to come.
Note: Photos are credited to Grant, Mrs. Ulysses S. The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant. Ed. J. Y. Simon. New York: Southern Illinois University Press, 1975. Print.
Since Walter Place was first built in the 1850s, it has since changed hands many times…and each life who has walked this Estate has left an imprint. From a rose bush on one corner of our Estate dug up generations ago by the grandmother of Jorja Lynn and carried with her from South Carolina to Mississippi in a covered wagon; to brickwork and bridges designed by 17 Japanese gardeners the Johnson family brought in from St. Louis to restore the central garden; to twisted cedar salvaged from trees in the 1994 ice storm since molded into railings for the treehouse near the mansion… when you walk through the Walter Place grounds, you’re quite literally witnessing the intersection of hundreds of lives throughout history.
One of our most treasured possessions that expresses this so beautifully is a map, dated in the early 1900s, of the Walter Place Estate…a map we wouldn’t have if a neighbor hadn’t dug it out of the trash when he was a child! Read this fascinating story below, from an excerpt of an article written in the spring of 2006:
“When architect Spires Boling built Walter Place in the 1850s for Colonel Harvey Washington Walter, the grounds covered 40 acres. In 1901, Oscar Johnson, who had married the colonel’s daughter, bought the home and used it to lodge his St. Louis quail-hunting buddies. They arrived in droves by private railway car, necessitating more lodging, so Johnson bought Featherston Place, Polk Place, and another nearby home called Alicia.
Theodore Link, the prolific architect who designed the Mississippi Capitol building and St. Louis’ Union Station, was hired to restore the three antebellum cottages and was asked to turn what was largely a horse pasture behind them into a public park…
When [the Lynns] bought Walter Place, a neighbor had given the Lynns an India-ink sketch on linen, confessing that as a child he had taken it from the trash when previous owners moved out. The drawing, dating from the early 1900s, was Theodore Link’s original garden plan!”