In the spring of 1979, during the sixteenth annual Oxford Pilgrimage, two homes were added to the list of homes to be viewed by visitors to Oxford. One of them was the oldest home shown during the twenty-two year run of the pilgrimage. The home known as “The Little House” was constructed in 1837. It was not one of the large antebellum homes or one of the palatial Victorian homes. It was a simple four-room frame dwelling built of heart pine. The other home was a Carpenter’s Gothic home built by a Swedish immigrant to Oxford in 1872. It is known as the Theora Hamblett Home on Van Buren Avenue.
The subject of this week’s column will be the small, not so glamorous home that was built during the first years of the formation of Oxford and Lafayette County. This was the period just shortly after the Chickasaw Cession when new settlers were coming into the newly opened lands in north central Mississippi. Most of my previous columns have been about the townhouses or Greek Revival homes that were constructed by such people as William Turner. These are large, four columnar portico homes that were built for wealthy planters and businessmen. The home known as “The Little House”, that has survived from antebellum days until today, is just what the name implies.
The home was probably built from pine hand-cut and planed from pine trees growing on the property. The majority of the home was made from the heart of the tree that is known as heart pine. It is considered the hardest part of the tree and therefore would be wood that would last for a long time. This is quite apparent since the home has lasted from 1837 until today. The home is only four rooms upstairs and down and at one time it was known to have a cedar shake roof.
The home was constructed by the McLarty family and still remains in the possession of a relative of the original owners. Maralyn Bullion lives on the land of where the home is located, just east of Tommy’s Antiques on Highway 6 East near the area of Old Campground Road (CR 217). This was the old Pontotoc Road, which is now East Jackson Avenue.
Her aunt, Hattie Mae Burt, married into the Dallas McLarty family. When the McLarty side of the family died out, Bullion and the Hubert Stewart Family inherited the property. Stewart was a long time Oxford barber and they were both related to the McLarty family. She would later purchase the Stewart family’s interest in the property. One interesting fact about Bullion is that she was the first female president of the Ole Miss student body while a student in the 1940s.
In the 1960s, Hattie Mae and Gayle McLarty decided that they wanted to construct a more modern home then the little heart pine home in which they were living. They wanted their new home to be constructed on the site of the old family home but they also wanted to save the heritage of the McLarty family.
At great expense they moved the home down a little incline from its original site. The home was still in fairly good shape although the roof had been changed from cedar shakes. The home had caught fire at an earlier date, but all that burned was the wife. It had been replaced with a tin roof. Now comes another interesting point about the home—how it became part of the Oxford Pilgrimage.
In 1976, local interior designer, the late Tim Hargrove, was in an Oxford antique store looking for a homemade carpenter’s plane. While he was in the store Hattie Mae McLarty, who was known to but and sell antiques, struck up a conversation with Hargrove since they both had an interest in antiques. He told her what he was really looking for, instead of a handmade carpenter’s plane, was a handmade home. Luck shone on him that day as McLarty had just such a house waiting to be leased.
Hargrove went to look at the home and decided that it was just what he was looking for. He leased the home and set about decorating it with antiques that he had collected from trips throughout the world. Some of the antiques that he used were from the period in which the home was built and also earlier periods. Some even dated back to the 1600s and 1700s. During the three years the home was open to visitors, Hargrove was fond of saying that “the home had not been restored it had been readapted”.
The uniqueness of the Oxford Pilgrimage was enhanced with the addition of “The Little House” to the list of homes. Although some like to think that Southerners were all part of a plantation system that provided townhouses and magnificent Greek Revival mansions, such as those in “Gone with the Wind.” The reality was a different lifestyle for many Southerners, the one of the common folk.
Jack 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.