In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, we look at the history behind a few Memphis mansions. Hear from Caitlin about Ashlar Hall’s many lives and the history behind the Woodruff Fontaine House. Then hear Rebecca tell a little history and description of the Annesdale mansion which could be your next wedding location.
Robert Brinkley Snowden grew up in Annesdale with his parents, Robert Bogardus Snowden and Annie Overton Brinkley Snowden, who lived in the Annesdale mansion because Annie’s dad bought it for them (learn more about Annesdale from Rebecca later in the show!) He went to Princeton to study architecture and returned to Memphis in 1896 to build everyone’s favorite 11,000 square foot local castle at 1937 Central Avenue – Ashlar Hall!
This quote that Creme de Memph dug up from Memphis: An Architectural Guide about the Gothic Revival Mansion was simply delightful: “one wonders what books about medieval castles Snowden brought back with him from Princeton, or perhaps the whole may have been influenced by a too-early reading of Ivanhoe.”
The three-story, 8-bedroom mansion only cost $24,900 to build, which is $683,767.48 in today’s money. Inside are six bars, five bathrooms, and a swimming pool. Rumor has it there are two secret passages under the mansion—one passing under Lamar to the Snowden mansion in Annesdale and the other leading under Central to the University Club’s pool area.
Snowden would go on to take over the Peabody Hotel when it relocated in 1925, as the original one was started by his great-grandfather, Colonel Robert C. Brinkley, back in 1869.
After Robert died in 1942, the place went into disrepair and became a Grisanti’s restaurant called Conestoga Steak House at some point in the ‘60s. In 1970 it became Ashlar Hall Restaurant. In 1983 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
The mansion’s next life began in the ‘90s when Prince Mongo turned it into a nightclub called the Castle for a few years before abandoning it. Sometime around 2013, ownership started switching around for Ashlar Hall and the property fell further into disrepair. There are links below for the latest on its current life.
This mansion of Memphis is located at 680 Adams in the heart of Victorian Village.
In 1845, Amos Woodruff and his brother arrived in Memphis from Rahway, New Jersey, with the intent of expanding their business of making carriages. Although his brother went back to New Jersey, Amos found great success with carriages in Memphis and his other ventures: the Overton Hotel, two banks, a cotton compress firm, a lumber company, running the Memphis & Ohio Railroad, and the Southern Life Insurance Company
In 1870, Woodruff spent $12,000 on land in “Millionaire’s Row,” in what was then the outskirts of Memphis. It’s now known as Victorian Village, and it was here that he started building his five-story French Victorian mansion at a cost of $40,000. He also built a carriage house on the property alongside beautiful gardens and fountains. He lived in this 18-room mansion, with its three great halls and a three-story tower, with his wife, Phoebe, and their four children: Sallie, Mollie, Frank, and Cora.
Many believe that the Woodruff-Fontaine house is haunted by Mollie Woodruff’s ghost. Some haunted moments include staff seeing Mollie’s form in smoke, seeing her sitting on the bed in her former childhood room, and her demonstrations of anger like slamming doors and breaking items when anything gets moved or redecorated. Supposedly, her bed is sometimes dented as if someone has been lying there…. even though it’s roped off from all visitors. One paranormal website said she once told museum docents how they should have the furniture arranged. So of course we have to tell you more about her in this episode!
In the 1960s, the mansion was in danger of demolition. So the Memphis chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities started raising funds to renovate the property. They outfitted it for modern times, restored antique elements, and even found a fresco on one of the ballroom’s ceilings! It opened back up in 1964, although it wasn’t quite finished up at that point yet. Many people donated the furniture and stuff that’s inside, and how it’s a proper museum showing 1800s life in Memphis!
The Annesdale mansion was built in 1850 on Lamar Avenue which, at the time, was called Pigeon Roost Road. The home was originally built by Dr. Samuel Mansfield, a wholesale druggist from Maryland, on 200 acres on the outskirts of Memphis. Nineteen years later, Colonel Robert Brinkley, the guy who built the Peabody Hotel bought the estate as a wedding gift to his daughter Annie and it was named Annesdale, for Annie’s Dale.
Since 1869, Annesdale has been home to the same family for at least 7 generations.
Annie married Col. Robert Bogardus Snowden. And for 160 years, members of the socially prominent Snowden family lived here. It is Italian Villa in style, built with bricks made on the site. It has a four-story tower which overlooks the current seven and a half acre park-like setting.
The Annesdale is an 1850 antebellum mansion nestled amongst seven and a half acres of elegant lawns and gardens. It holds a grand parlor, spiral staircase, and a marble entryway.
A great description can be found in a Memphis Magazine article which states,
We were told that the +17,000-square-foot home has 13 rooms, five bedrooms, and four and a half baths. The downstairs public spaces have 14-foot ceilings, and the period details include: 11 fireplaces, pocket doors, carved walnut paneling, intricate needlework panels over the windows, stained glass, painted ceilings with exquisite figural details, ornate plasterwork and lustrous oak floors. Ken Robison is the one who purchased the home and estate in 2010 and rennovated and reopened the mansion as an event space. He says the Snowdens have been extremely gracious in helping him buy back antique pieces from family members that were original to the home. He has found additional items that once belonged there through other sources. In particular, he is especially proud of the portrait of Annie Overton Brinkley which hangs in the music room. As history tells us, when Annie married Colonel Robert Bogardus Snowden, her father, Colonel Robert C. Brinkley, made Annesdale a wedding gift from her father. And as the new owner likes to say, ‘Annie has come home at last.’
A later discovery…
In 2016 a bone fragment, possibly human, was found in the grate of a boarded-up fireplace inside the mansion when a photographer came across it during a photoshoot. It went under investigation but Rebecca couldn’t find if a verdict was ever made aside from knowledge that it was very very old, likely from the Civil War era which would make sense since the mansion did serve as a hospital during that time. If anyone knows of any updates on the discovery, please tell!
For Ashlar Hall photos:
Spooky Pictures Show the Crumbling Remains of a 19th Century Castle Converted Into a Nightclub by Eccentric Millionaire – http://www.mediadrumworld.com/2017/04/20/7120/
For videos of Ashlar Hall:
Listen to our episode about the Peabody Hotel that we reference here.
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