A Hidden Victorian Gem in Memphis since 1871…
Amos Woodruff came to Memphis in 1845 to expand his carriage business. He bought the property and began construction in 1870. Completed in 1871, the first event held at the mansion was the wedding of Amos’ daughter, Mollie Woodruff. This is significant in that the mansion has a tradition of weddings from 1871 right up to the present. Amos Woodruff was a very successful carriage maker, and not only became very wealthy, but became one of Memphis’ most distinguished builders and supporters during a 25 year period. He was president of the city council, a mayoral candidate twice, organized and presided over two banks and invested in the Memphis & Ohio Railroad. He also presided over the Overton Hotel, the Southern Life Insurance Company, and was in the cotton and lumber business.
Noland Fontaine, was the second owner of the mansion. Noland came to Memphis in 1861 and quickly established himself as a businessman and a Cotton Factor of the very prominent company The High Cotton House of Hill, Fontaine & Co. It was the largest inland cotton and grocery factor business in the United States and the third largest in the world! The Fontaines lived in the home for 46 years until Mrs. Fontaine's death in 1928. In 1929, the estate was sold for $25,000 with the intention of becoming an antique shop; however, that venture was never realized. The house was subsequently sold to Rosa Lee for the purpose of expanding her Free Art School. The art school moved to Overton Park in 1959, and the house remained vacant until 1961, when the Association for Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities saved the mansion through a public fund.
The fascinating artifacts…
The Woodruff-Fontaine mansion is of French Victorian architecture with a Mansard roof. The woodwork is solid cypress, machine carved, and the flooring is mostly cypress original to the house. Embossed design on the hallway ceiling at the top of the third floor stairwell is hand hammered tin in a classical design.
Another fascinating artifact in the mansion is a hidden door which will be opened for your guests to see the many personalized autographs and memories, hand-written by the craftsmen from around the world who built this magnificent mansion.
The mansion is always elaborately decorated every season, reflecting life as it was during the Victorian era, and the unique Museum Shop features unusual treasures at very reasonable prices!