Published: March 2016
Come On In: Five Southern Homes to Tour  


The South is a historic home lovers dream. Nearly everywhere you go, you can discover one or two, or a collection of them. And they all have a story or two (or more) to tell.

Many are open to the public year around for tours, providing a glimpse into the South's rich history. All it takes is one visit, and you'll realize just how quaint and different the region's historic homes are.

Here are five add to your itinerary.

1892 Bishop's Palace
Galveston, Texas

Located in the East End Historic District in Galveston is the 1892 Bishop's Palace, the city's grandest and best-known property.

bishoppalaceThe Victorian-style "castle" was built during 1887-92 for wealthy entrepreneur Walter Gresham and his family by prominent Galveston architect, Nicholas Clayton at the cost of $250,000. Today, it would roughly cost $8 million to build the 20,000-square foot, three-story 52-room home.

Withstanding Galveston's Great Storm of 1900, the property was purchased by the Galveston-Houston Catholic Archdiocese (still the current owners) in the 1920s as a residence for Bishop Christopher Byrne. It was turned into a museum around 1962 and remained under the Galveston-Houston Catholic Archdiocese until it was sold in 2013 to the Galveston Historical Foundation.

Hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Sunday through Friday; and 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. on Saturday. Guided tours are held at 1:30 p.m. daily, however during September - March guided tours may not always be available during the week. Self-guided  audio tours are available every day from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. There is also the monthly Basement-to-Attic tour. Admission is $12 per adult and $7 per child, age 6-18.

Melrose Plantation
Melrose, La.

A part of the Cane River National Heritage Area in north-central Louisiana is Melrose Plantation; and much like the state itself, it has an interesting and intriguing history.

Recognized as the largest plantation in the country built by and for free people of color,yucca Melrose Plantation was developed by Louis Metoyer, son of Marie Therese Coincoin and Thomas Pierre Metoyer (the founding family of Isle of Brevelle Creole Community in the Cane River Region) in 1796. During this time, the Yucca House, the African House and a large barn were built. For a time, the Yucca House (right) was the biggest structure, until the Big House (Melrose) was built in 1833.

While the plantation changed ownership a few times, it was around the turn of the century that the Henry family, in particular, Cammie Garrett Henry ("Miss Cammie") established Melrose Plantation as a retreat for artists and writers. The plantation hosted such names as William Faulkner and Rachel Field, among others. It was here Lyle Saxon wrote Children of Strangers.

It was also during the Henry era that self-taught primitive artist Clementine Hunter emerged. Using leftover paints, she told "stories" about plantation life in her works. In 1955, Hunter in her late 60s would start on her greatest work ever - the detailed nine-panel African House murals installed on the second floor of the African House.

Guided tours are held 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Tuesday - Sunday. Tours begin at 15 minutes past the hour, with the last tour at 4:15 p.m. Admission is $10 per adult, $5 per student. Self-Guided Garden Walk (House Tour not included) is $5 per adult, $3 per student.

Biloxi, Miss.

beauvoirIt is said the second owner of the Biloxi, Miss.-based Orange Grove (ca. 1852) gifted the property with its permanent name. Upon seeing the view from the front porch, Sarah Dorsey was so taken by it that she decided to call it "Beauvoir," French for "beautiful view."

In 1877, when Jefferson Davis, the former leader of the Confederacy, was visiting Biloxi in search of a retreat where he could live and write in peace, Dorsey offered him use of a cottage on the grounds. After accepting her offer and paying an agreed upon sum for rent, Davis would eventually fall under the spell of Beauvoir. In 1879, he purchased it from Dorsey and became the sole owner after her death. It was here that he wrote his memoirs of the Civil War titled The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government. He resided at Beauvoir until his death in 1889.

The property was passed on to his daughter and then to her mother; and in 1903, Beauvoir was sold to the Mississippi Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans under two stipulations. The group (which remains to this day the current owners) could use the home for living Confederate veterans, and once there were no more, the property would become a shrine to Jefferson Davis.

Open daily, tours of the mansion run every hour and starts at 9:30 a.m., with the last tour at 4:15 p.m. Prices are $12.50 per adult, $10 per AAA, military and senior and $7.5- per child, age 6 - 18. 

Hills and Dales Estate
LaGrange, Ga.

In 1911, textile magnate Fuller E. Callaway, Sr., purchased the property formerly known as Ferrell Gardens in LaGrange, Ga. Best known for their terraced boxwood garden, the previous owners Nancy and Mickleberry Ferrell had opened their gardens to the public for the residents of the city to enjoy. Callaway remembered playing there when he was a young boy and walking and talking with Sarah Ferrell, their daughter who maintained the gardens until her death in 1903.

Even though the gardens were showing sign of neglect since Sarah's death, Callawayhillsanddales4 wanted to save and preserve them. In 1914, he commissioned well-known Georgia architect Neel Reid with Atlanta-based Hentz & Reid architect firm to design a home that would flow into the gardens. Located on a rolling hill, it would become known as

Located on a rolling hill, Hills and Dales Estate, completed in 1916, is a 13,000-square foot 30-room Georgian Italian Villa. The estate served as the residence for Callaway, Sr., his wife, Ida and their children, and then for his second son's family. As for the gardens, they were maintained and expanded by both Ida and her daughter-in-law, Alice.

March through June hours: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday; 1 - 6 p.m., Sunday. July - February hours: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Select either a guided house and garden tour ($15 per adult and senior, $7 per student, age 7 to college ID) or a garden tour ($8 per adult and senior, $4 per student, age 7 to college ID.)

Riverview at Hobson Grove
Bowling Green, Ky.

Atwood Hobson selected a hill overlooking the Barren River in Bowling Green, Ky., to build the Italianate-style home for his family.

Even though construction on Riverview at Hobson Grove began in the 1850s, it tookbgky nearly 15 years to complete due to the outbreak of the Civil War. While the unfinished structure was spared, it played a role in the war. The Confederate Army placed a temporary roof over it and used the basement for storing munitions.

Finished in 1872, the Hobson's implemented some forward-thinking ideas for the period into their home, like a water recycling system to provide water to the upstairs water closet, and an oculus as part of the home's ventilation system.

Descendants of the Hobson's resided here until the early 1950s. Changing ownership a few times and eventually damaged by fire, the home was abandoned and condemned in 1965. The city purchased the property with plans to tear it down and build a golf course. In 1966, a group of civic-minded ladies came together to save the structure and restore it to a Victorian dwelling.

Hours are 10 a.m. - 4 p.m., Tuesday - Saturday; 1 - 4 p.m., Sunday. The last daily tour starts at 3:15 p.m. Admission is $7 per adult, $5 per veteran and active military, $2.50 per student, K-12 and $14 per family.

photos from personal collection