Sunday, May 22, 2022

Oxford Residents Open Their Homes to Pilgrimage Visitors

In late April and early May of 1964, Oxford residents opened their antebellum homes for the inaugural Oxford Pilgrimage that would last for the next twenty-two years. During this twenty-two year period, twenty Victorian and antebellum homes would be open for thousands of visitors to Oxford. There were also several churches and various university buildings that would be opened to visitors, along with various artistic and cultural events during the long history of the Oxford Pilgrimage.

Ammadelle Mansion
Ammadelle Mansion

The first pilgrimage consisted of seven antebellum homes. They were as follows: Ammadelle, Fiddler’s Folly, Isom Place, Memory House, Lindfield, Cedar Hill Farm, and Cedar Oaks. All of these homes had been constructed before the Civil War. With the exception of Cedar Oaks all of the homes were owned by Oxford residents which was unlike other pilgrimages around the state that had some homes with out of state owners.
The story of Cedar Oaks was the reason for the Oxford Pilgrimage.
In November of 1962, an article in the Oxford Eagle notified the citizens of Oxford that a local landmark was to be demolished to make way for a Holiday Inn. The shocking news was reported with the headline “Antebellum Home to be Demolished To Make Way For Modern Hotel”. Local businessman Hassell Smith wanted to use his property on the corner of Jefferson and North Lamar as the site for the new hotel.
Smith offered to antebellum home, built by pre-Civil War builder William Turner, first to the University of Mississippi if they would move the home from its site. Due to financial problems arising from the enrollment of James Meredith in October of that year, the university declined the offer. Smith next offered the home to the City of Oxford, but they too declined the offer. It now seemed that the well preserved home, with a long history in Oxford, would be lost to demolition.
Fiddlers Folly
Fiddlers Folly

A group of women from the Centennial Study Club, the Cosmopolitan Club, and the Reader’s Guild decided that something had to be done to save the historical landmark. At the same time these women, of the Federated Women’s Clubs, were looking for a community improvement project to enter in a contest sponsored by the Sears Roebuck Foundation. They came up with the idea to move the home and start an Oxford Pilgrimage that would fund the cost of moving the home and filling it with antique furniture of the antebellum period.
Another local businessman came to their rescue and offered the ladies two building lots in a non-existent subdivision on which to place the home.
T. E. Avent owned land south of Highway 30 and east of Park Drive. The area is now known as Ridgewood Manor. The ladies formed a nonprofit corporation, the Oxford-Lafayette Historic Homes, Inc., to which Smith deeded the house and Avent, in memory of his wife Zillah Holmes Avent,
deeded the land.
Isom Place
Isom Place

Avent also held one of his famous quail dinners to fund the necessary $1,500 to sign a contract with the best house movers in Memphis to handle the moving of the home. The women also needed funds to pay the balance of the house moving and the set up of the home at the new local. They were able to convince the First National Bank to make them a loan.
The club women were now ready to move the house two and one-half miles to the property Avent donated. The home was cut in half and moved out North Lamar to Highway 30 and into the property on a road that the Board of Supervisors had provided. The next task was to form the Oxford Pilgrimage to repay the bank loan.
It was a gigantic task for the ladies to educate the Oxford citizens that the city could hold a pilgrimage. They enlisted the university, the Oxford Eagle, and a local radio station to help with the publicity. Many local citizens came forward to help out the ladies. The owners of six other homes stepped up to open their homes to the public for the pilgrimage. The ladies were able to secure funding for the purchased of furniture for the home now renamed Cedar Oaks. They also arranged to borrow a few pieces of furniture for Cedar Oaks to be used only during the pilgrimage. Also a scrape book was submitted to the Sears Roebuck Foundation that won the first prize money. It enabled the ladies to purchase the beautiful antique dining table now in the home.
Next week the Oxford Pilgrimage becomes an asset to the Oxford community. In subsequent weeks I shall write about the history of the homes that were part of the Oxford Pilgrimage over the twenty-two year period.
Memory House
Memory House

Shadowlawn
Shadowlawn

Mayfield 34Jack Lamar Mayfield is a fifth generation Oxonian, whose family came to Oxford shortly after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832, and he is the third generation of his family to graduate from the University of Mississippi. He is a former insurance company executive and history instructor at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs, South Panola High School in Batesvile and the Oxford campus of Northwest Community College.
In addition to his weekly blog in HottyToddy.com Oxford’s Olden Days, Mayfield is also the author of an Images of America series book titled Oxford and Ole Miss published in 2008 for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for restoring the post-Civil War home of famed Mississippi statesman, L.Q.C. Lamar and is now restoring the Burns Belfry, the first African American Church in Oxford.

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