The Boling-Gatewood House, now known as the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum, was built in 1860 by Spires Boling (1812-1880), a famous local architect who built several homes in Holly Springs in the mid-19th century. This was the location of a much older home, owned by the founder of Holly Springs, W. S. Randolph. In the 1850s, this first house burned, and Randolph sold the lot to Boling, who built this house in 1860. Boling, originally from North Carolina, arrived in Holly Springs in 1845, and by 1860 he was considered a master builder and architect. Boling is responsible for many other houses and buildings throughout Holly Springs, including Athenia (1858), Montrose (1858), Wakefield (1858), the now destroyed Pointer House (c. 1858), and his most famous building, the majestic Walter Place (1859), among several other buildings. Spires Boling also created and ran a distillery, called Johnson’s Mill, located at Randolph’s Springs directly behind this house, in today’s Spring Hollow Park .
In the 1870s, the Boling family lost this house in foreclosure, but the new owner, Judge Gordentia Waite (1811-1891) allowed the family to continue living here until Boling’s death in 1880. Gordentia Waite McClain (1867-1940) owned the house from 1891 until 1901, when he sold the house to Lafayette Gatewood (d. 1914) and his wife Mary Walker Gatewood (d. 1916). The Gatewood family lived here for almost 100 years. After the passing of Lafayette and Mary, their son Henry Gatewood (1875-1953) owned the house, and after his death in 1953 the house was owned and maintained by his daughters Mary Walker Gatewood (1920-2016) and Frances Gatewood (1922-2016). Henry Gatewood’s son Henry Gatewood Jr. (1918-1956) served during World War II as a pilot, and was held as a prisoner of war in Japan at Taihoku Prison, enduring torture and great suffering for a year before being released after the end of the war.
In 1997, the Gatewood sisters deeded the house to Brian K. Frazier, who deeded the house to the City of Holly Springs in 2000. Soon after, the Boling-Gatewood House became the home of the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum. Ida B. Wells (1862-1931) was likely born on the property of this house in 1862, as a slave of Spires Boling. Her father, Jim Wells, was a skilled craftsman who helped construct the Boling-Gatewood House. Though Wells was born into slavery, she was freed just a few months later when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Wells grew up in Holly Springs, before her family perished in the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878. Wells later moved to Memphis, where she refused to give up her seat on a railway car, nearly 70 years before the similar action by Rosa Parks.
In the 1890s Wells went to Chicago, where she married Ferdinand Barnett and became a prominent figure in the anti-lynching movement. Wells was also an early Civil Rights and women’s suffrage leader, and was an important figure in post-Reconstruction America, working with other important figures of the time including Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, and Booker T. Washington. Today the Ida B. Wells-Barnett Museum is dedicated to Wells’ life and works.
The Gatewood-Boling House is a Greek Revival single-story flanking-gable frame house, with a tetrastyle pedimented portico supported by octagonal columns, which is a trademark of the architect, Spires Boling. There is a flushboard tympanum with a prominent lunette window.