In May 2014 I wrote a post here on Old Homes of Copiah County, Mississippi. I wrote “This house has similarities to the one shown in Crimes of The Heart movie. It was written by Beth Henley as a play. I understand she grew up in Jackson Mississippi but had relatives in Hazlehurst. It is in Hazlehurst, Mississipppi where Henley’s movie is based. Three sisters come together in their grandfather’s home after one of the sisters has shot her husband. It starred Diane Keaton, Sissy Spacek, Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard. I saw the movie so long ago but when I saw it I kept thinking about this house. But certainly this home is much grander. Today we are revisiting this grand old home.
Clearly this home is not the home that was seen in the movie. This home is known as The Ellis House. It has its own story and history to tell. History that does not include a movie being made.
The Isaac Newton Ellis House is situated on a prominent hill on the northwest corner of Extension and Fair Streets in Hazlehurst, Ms. In 1882, Isaac Newton Ellis and Major R. W. Millsaps founded the Merchants and Planters Bank of Hazlehurst. Mr. Ellis served first as cashier and later as president, the position he held at the time of his death in 1930. In 1884, Mr. Ellis purchased a plot of land and in 1890 the house was constructed by George F. Barber, an architect from Knoxville, Tennessee.
Franklin Barber (July 31,1854 – February 17,1915) was an American architect best known for residential designs. He learned architecture through mail order books, namely George Palliser’s American Cottage Homes and technical books published by A.J. Bicknell and company. He marketed his designs world wide through a series of mail order catalogs. One of the most successful domestic architects of the late Victorian period in the United States, Barber’s plans were used in all 50 U.S. States and nations far away as Japan and the Phillippines. Over four dozen are individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places and several dozen more are listed as part of historic districts.
Mr. Ellis was said to be one of the leading businessmen in the county, and he also was active in community affairs. The home holds special significance for many in Hazlehurst: it was constructed for Isaac Newton Ellis in 1891. It was said Ellis went on to help Major Reuben Webster Millsaps found Millsaps College. Ellis and his relatives lived in the Queen Anne-style home for decades after that.
The following is excerpted from the nomination of the Ellis House to the National Historic Register, which was accepted and listed in November 2, 1987: The Isaac Newton Ellis House derives its architectural character being the best remaining example of the Queen Anne Style in Hazlehurst and one of the best in Copiah county. The steeply hipped roof, panneled chimneys, projecting bays, corner towers, shingle surfaces, wrap around porch with corner pavilion balconies, spindlework and Palladian window combine to create an excellant example of domestic Queen Anne architecture. The interior has such significant features as a highly decorative three- flight, open-well stairway; ornamental sprandels; eleven fireplaces with ornate mantel pieces; oak parquet floors with inlaid borders; original wallpaper in the parlor; ceiling medallions; molded woodwork; and original hardware.
Generations later Miss Nell Ellis is the sole heir. John Epperson shared his memories of growing up in Hazlehurst and visiting the Ellis House. “The Ellis House, as it was called, was built in 1891. It was 125 years old. And it was where my beloved piano teacher Miss Lillie Viola Mullen lived with her companion Miss Nell Ellis. Nell was the last Ellis to live there, I believe.”
“From a young person’s point of view the house was especially grand. The front yard was lined with enormous magnolia trees and between two of the trees started an elegant curved drive up to a covered side entrance to the house. The house was on a corner on a bit of a hill and if you were driving south on Extension Street it was like a beautiful woman preening and showing off her grandness. There were rumors it contained gold furniture. And when it became apparent I was a well-behaved teenager the two ladies allowed me entry. We had meals there and as memory serves, there were indeed two chairs that seemed to have gold plating.”
“On a nice day, the two ladies would sit in a swing in a side plot of land while I cavorted in the yard. Sometimes neighbors and friends would join us. I never went upstairs but of course there were stairs. However, Miss Nell and Miss Lillie V. only occupied the first floor, as far as I could tell, and perhaps in the wintertime the two older ladies didn’t even use the living area since it was quite large and probably not easy to heat.” When she died, Miss Lillie V. was not able to stay in the house and moved in with a friend in Hazlehurst.”
Many friends shared their comments on the Ellis House. “The Ellis House was known through out the area. Many had fond memories of the last Ellis to live there. – What a unique house for very unique occupants. Everyone knew Miss Lillie V. because of her music. Everybody knew “Uncle Nell” because of her eccentricities and her driving and parking! If she didn’t like the music at the church, she always would put her finger in both ears! Frank Ellis (her brother) was an accomplished organist, and responsible for the First Baptist Church having its fantastic 3-manual E. M. Skinner organ–the RollsRoyce of pipe organs. The family long gone and now the mansion. The little-used organ still remains. What a huge loss of history. I miss them all.”
“Nell would also beat her cane on the floor if Brother Holcomb preached too long. And she made the funniest faces. It would disrupt the “youth” section of church. I think we egged her on. They were just hilarious. Two typical old maids from the south. Loved them!!”
“And supposedly if Nell wanted the preacher to wind up his Sunday morning sermon and get things moving she’d rattle her keys from the back row. I think Nell and Lillie V. must have met because of the music connection, since Frank(Nell’s brother who also did not marry) could play and LV could too, of course. Nell was only a listener, as I understood it. Thinking about Frank makes me so sad.”
“It’s said Isaac (Isaac Newton Ellis) rode a white horse to work at M&P (Merchants and Planters Bank) every day & home for lunch. They had every delicacy (seafood, watermelon,etc) delivered by train. So many amazing stories sprang from that house.”
“The house was a registered landmark. It’s an enormous loss of beauty and history and sentiment. Just across the street from the back yard of the house is a graveyard for unknown Confederate soldiers. The graves are all inside a little fence. Just outside the fence are a few other unmarked graves. Supposedly those are the graves of unknown Union soldiers.”
Photo: Therese Apel via Lisa Taylor
Photo: Therese Apel via Lisa Taylor
“It was comforting to see your memories. I used to worry about the two old ladies being there in case of a fire. You’re right-they only lived in one room. Miss Lillie V taught lessons in another room until Nell died. Several of us took lessons there. They were alone to the end–knew nothing about cooking. After Hub Grill closed (it delivered meals to them) they ordered groceries like Hilton’s Oyster Stew, and soup & canned asparagus. After Hart’s stopped delivering I picked up their groceries sometimes. They knew nothing about the stove except heating something up. I was fearful for them then, either from fire or thieves. The house was still full of the same valuables you noted.”
The Ellis Home burned down February 27th of this year. The home is gone but as you can see by the memories shared, the Ellis House and its’ former owners won’t be forgotten soon.
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