This grand home has more than a few stories. If these walls could talk, they would tell you of historic battles, literary genius, football fandom and love-filled family gatherings. The postbellum treasure, which sits atop a hill on University Avenue in the heart of Oxford, Mississippi, was built by Andrew Jackson Baker in 1878 after the Civil War came to an end. Baker was a captain in Company A of the 11th Mississippi infantry of the Confederate army, otherwise known as the "University Greys" because the group was made up of University of Mississippi students. Baker led his troop into Gettysburg, where they suffered 100 percent casualty; all soldiers were either injured or killed. Baker was captured and wounded there, and eventually retired in Oxford after the war to build this home.Baker didn't stay in the home long, but its storied past continued when it came into the hands of Elma Meek, a former student of University of Mississippi who is credited with dubbing the school, "Ole Miss," in a contest to name the university's yearbook in 1897. The home is now casually referred to as "The Elma Meek House" because of her famous ties to the school, because she lived here for quite some time and ran a boarding house.
However, most would argue that one of her tenants was slightly more famous than she.Nobel Prize laureate and premier Southern author William Faulkner lived in The Elma Meek House with his wife in the 1920s. Within these walls, he authored As I Lay Dying and “A Rose for Emily," two of the writer's most lauded works. Many visitors take a moment to bask in what might be left of the presence of such an important literary figure. (In fact, the homeowners have preserved all of Faulkner's bathroom fixtures in the upstairs guest bath.) The history of the home continued to evolve as it changed hands over the years, eventually going to the Duvalls, who owned a well-known dress shop in town; and then to its current owners, Beth and Richard Doty, who bought the home in 1999. Beth and Richard both studied at Ole Miss, moved to Jackson, met and married, and moved back to Oxford in 1985. They lived in a small Victorian house down the street from The Elma Meek House with their two children, Laura and Graham, who also eventually both attended Ole Miss.
The Dotys had just completed plans to add on to their Victorian home when they were serendipitously invited to consider purchasing the home that they had been in love with for several years. Although their son, age 11 at the time, was a little nervous about the ghosts that could exist in such a historic home, they signed on the dotted line and immediately began renovations. By the time the Dotys had moved in, significant improvements and restorations had taken place. With the help of local contractor Joel Little, the Dotys added central heat and air, configured four full baths and two half baths, redid all of the plumbing, and upgraded all of the lighting and molding. One significant task was clearing all of the gallant transom windows that crowned the passages from room to room in the house — they had been painted over for privacy when the home was used as a boarding house, but now they let light circulate through the tall ceilings of the first floor. "It would have been easier to buy a new house, but we love the location and we love this house," said Beth Doty about the renovation. "It has been a blessing to raise our family in a home and a town with such love, tradition and history."
Doty spends much of her time in the kitchen area, as she loves to cook and entertain, especially during football weekends. The kitchen and keeping room are entirely reconfigured from existing space, and the previous kitchen is now used as a butler's pantry. The gourmet kitchen boasts beautiful cherry cabinetry by Paul Wilburn from Grenada, Mississippi, along with sleek, stainless steel Viking appliances. Next to the kitchen is a cozy keeping room with an eclectic art collection and a conveniently hidden television. French doors surrounding the area open up onto two separate porches—one of which becomes party central on game day, enabling the family to cram about a hundred Ole Miss fans in the area for tailgating. The adjoining dining room is adorned in a regal, red-striped wallpaper and luxurious silk draperies, both of which were selected upon advisement by interior designer Sara Lovelace. With a touch of neoclassicism, the decor invokes an air of formality, but also gives a nod to the significant history of the home.
In fact, the humble, yet gorgeous, lighted China cabinet in the corner of the dining room is but one of the home's original architectural features retained to serve its intended purpose. Another feature that seems to take you back in time are the original windows in the living room and study on the front of the house. These tall windows open all the way up to allow anyone to walk easily out onto the porch. It's simple to imagine Captain Baker enjoying a chat with a friend and a glass of tea on the spacious veranda while watching passers-by head down the street into town. In total, there are more than 8,000 square feet of space in this four-bedroom home. From the vaulted ceilings to the heart-of-pine floors, the house is full of intricate details and enchanting stories ... its timeless beauty perhaps even serving as inspiration to a young writer you might have heard of once or twice.
Artifacts & ANECDOTES
With ties to the Civil War, William Faulkner and nearby Ole Miss, this stunning Oxford home offers a healthy helping of history.
Story by Cara Sievers
Photography by Terry Sweeney
At Home | January 2014
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