On a late wintery day back in January, I drove down the lesser known section of Memphis’ world famous Beale Street to the house sitting at 533 Beale. There in the late afternoon sun less than a mile from the famous clubs on Beale sat the historic Hunt-Phelan House.
I had previously toured this house in the late 1990’s, when everything inside of the house was still all original and very historical. The tour was during the Christmas season and the house was incredibly beautiful, especially swathed in only candlelight.
Construction on the house, by mostly enslaved labor, began around 1828 and was completed in 1830 by George H. Wyatt and is a great example of Federal-Style Architecture. The house was expanded in 1851-1855 with the addition of a 2-story kitchen and service wing plus a 2-story porch.
The home was owned by George Hubbard Wyatt until 1845 when it was purchased by his cousin Elijah Driver. Driver’s daughter Sarah Elizabeth, and Sarah’s husband, Confederate colonel and land surveyor William Hunt, lived in the home during the Civil War and the yellow fever epidemic of the 1870s. The mansion was occupied by Colonel Hunt’s descendants for six generations, and in 1993 was inherited by Bill Day from his uncle, a member of the Phelan family. Day began extensively restoring it, discovering among other family memorabilia a remarkable collection of Civil War-era letters by Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest, and others. He partnered with Elvis Presley Enterprises in 1995 to make it a 10,000-square-foot museum and tourist attraction, furnished as it was with family heirlooms. In the long run, this was not the financial success all had hoped for, and Day sold the house and auctioned its contents in 2000. It was converted to a bed and breakfast establishment, then to a “wedding and events” venue, and in 2019 is for sale for $2.75 million. [https://www.memphisheritage.org/hunt-phelan-house/]
Significant Happenings at the Hunt-Phelan House:
- After the Battle of Shiloh, General Ulysses S Grant stayed at the house for several days and it is alleged that he planned the Battle of Vicksburg during his stay
- General Leonidas Polk also visited the house in the early years of the Civil War
- The house and grounds served as a Union hospital from 1863-1865 for over 19,000 soldiers
- Several hundred enslaved persons with taught english at on on-site schoolhouse by members of the Freedmen’s Bureau
- Other notable visitors were Confederate President Jefferson Davis, US Presidents Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Martin Van Buren, and Grover Cleveland