23 minutes | Oct 14, 2020

Episode Six: Woodruff- Fontaine House

The Victorian Village is a small neighborhood next to Memphis' Medical District, at the edge of downtown. The area’s most famous characteristic is its collection of 19th-century mansions, which are well-known for their beautiful architecture. If anyone is not familiar with the Victorian architectural styles for which this area was named, it’s really interesting to research, especially if you’re a fan of really pretty buildings like we are. To even brush past all of the Victorian styles that are present in the world, or even in the US, would take a lot of time and much more knowledge than we possess, so we’re just going to point out some of the characteristics of the Woodruff-Fontaine house, since… well, that’s what this episode is about.  Woodruff- Fontaine House Woodruff-Fontaine is considered to be built in Second Empire French-Victorian style, which can be characterized by having elaborate detailing; a heavy cornice (which is decorative trim where the walls meet the roof); a square tower located at the center of the facade; a railing around the top of the roof; hooded or bracketed windows; tall, almost floor-to-ceiling windows on the first floor; and steps leading from the street up to the doorway. If you’ve ever seen the Woodruff-Fontaine house, this should all sound familiar. Symmetry and balance are very important in this style, and there’s a perfect example in the foyer of the house. There are matching doors on either side of the pathway leading through the back of the foyer. One of them functions as a door and the other opens onto a brick wall. It was built there simply to keep the room balanced and symmetrical. (Fun fact, the fake door, that was put in place to create the symmetry, has the names of the builders, I believe, signed on the back of it) Most of the amazing homes that still remain in Victorian Village have now been renovated and, like Woodruff-Fontaine, serve as museums that teach visitors about the Victorian era in the US. One of the homes, the James Lee House, has been turned into a beautiful bed & breakfast, and another one is an upscale, retro-chic bar known as Mollie Fontaine’s. In the mid-19th century, Memphis experienced a period of growth that can be credited to an influx of entrepreneurs, lawyers, and politicians. Some of Memphis’s wealthiest residents built lavish, Victorian-style homes in what was then the outskirts of the city, but is now right in the heart of the city. This area became known as the Victorian Village, and the main street through the neighborhood was nicknamed "Millionaires Row." As the city expanded, this neighborhood became less appealing and less exclusive, and by the end of World War II, many of the wealthy residents had abandoned their mansions and moved to more affluent areas. Sadly, many of the original homes have since been torn down. All of the remaining houses in the neighborhood are safe from this same fate because they are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Woodruff-Fontaine House also has quite an interesting history…   Amos Woodruff and his brother came to Memphis from Rahway, New Jersey in 1845 to expand their carriage-making business. Although his brother returned home to New Jersey, Amos stayed in Memphis and found great success in multiple business ventures. In addition to his carriage-making business, he was involved in establishing two banks, a railroad company, an insurance company, a hotel, a cotton compress firm, and a lumber company. He also became the President of the City Council and ran for mayor twice.  Amos Woodruff In 1870, Amos Woodruff purchased land next to the Goyer House, now known as the James Lee House, paid $12,000 for the plot and began construction on the mansion. The house was designed by Edward Culliatt Jones and Matthias H. Baldwin, who owned a local architecture firm, and would end up costing the Woodruffs $40,000 to build. Edward Jones was the architect behind some well-known churches in M...
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