McCarroll Place is a small Greek Revival cottage in Holly Springs that has been the subject of an enormous amount of mystery, legend and tall tales over the last 180 years. According to the most common story, the earliest incarnation of the house was built in 1836 (some sources even claim a construction date as early as 1833) by Byrd Hill, on a lot one half mile south of the home’s present location. In 1840 the house was supposedly bought by Hill’s brother-in-law, John R. McCarroll (1803-1873), who moved the home north to its present lot.
In reality, after stripping away much of the legends associated with the origins of this house, it seems McCarroll Place is not quite as old as the sign outside the house would suggest. McCarroll Place sits on Lot 363 of Section 6. Before 1836, all of Section 6 was owned by John and Delilah Moore, who received the Section from the Chickasaw Cession of 1832. In 1836, the Moores sold most of this land, including Lot 363, to land speculators Claiborne Kyle and Beverly Mitchell. On December 14, 1839, Kyle & Mitchell sold both Lot 363 and 362 (the lot located directly to the south of McCarroll Place) for $360 (about $9,000 in 2020 dollars) to Jesse Lewellen (1800-1864), an early settler and Mayor of Holly Springs who lived in Lewellen-Brown-White House (Tarkio) (1854), and James Alderson (d. 1850), another early settler to Holly Springs.
Byrd Hill never owned Lot 363, and the deed transferring McCarroll Place and the surrounding land to John McCarroll has been lost, or else it was never officially recorded. The exact date that John McCarroll purchased this property and McCarroll Place itself was built is unknown, though there are clues hidden in more recent deeds, in the Marshall County tax rolls and in the house itself.
In the 1842 Marshall County Property Tax Records, located in the Digital Archives at Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Lots 363 and 362 are owned by a John Wilson, and are valued at $1,800. This tax valuation means it is highly likely that some structure was located on the lot by 1842. The next time McCarroll Place appears on the tax rolls is in 1858, when the lots are owned by John McCarroll and valued at $3,500.
In a deed (Deed Book 87, Page 333) recorded in 1950 between Gerard Badow and the Priests of Sacred Heart concerning the Strickland Place (1838) located next door to McCarroll Place, Lots 359 and 362, the lots located directly behind McCarroll Place’s Lot 363, are mentioned as having been purchased by John McCarroll on July 29, 1847. All three lots have traditionally been owned and associated with the McCarroll/Francisco family. It seems very possible that John McCarroll also received Lot 363 at the same time (1847) through a now-lost deed.
An examination of the structure itself offers some clues to the age of McCarroll Place. What looks like one house is in fact three separate structures that have been connected to each other over many years. The “original” home consisted of two separate log cabins that were connected by a long ell porch. At a later date, the current front Greek Revival facade was added to the north of the house, facing Van Dorn Avenue. At some point, likely in the 1840s, the original log cabins were clapboarded and given Greek Revival styling. Based on the original log cabins, it seems likely that the earliest version of the house was built no later than 1840, when log cabins in Holly Springs went out of fashion, being replaced by timber-framed and brick houses. Whether Jesse Lewellen and James Alderson, John Wilson or John McCarroll built this early version of the house remains unknown.
Whether McCarroll Place was built in 1836, 1840 or 1847, John McCarroll and his descendants were associated with the house for over 170 years. McCarroll was the Sheriff of Marshall County between 1846 and 1850, then again from 1854 to 1869. He served as sheriff during the early years of the town, throughout the Civil War and during Reconstruction. In 1838, McCarroll was one of the commissioners of the Holly Springs and Mississippi River Turnpike Company, an organization created to insure continued communications with the Mississippi River and its lanes of commerce. In 1851, McCarroll also ran for the position of Probate Clerk.
During the Civil War, two notable events happened at the house. During Van Dorn’s raid, in 1862, a Union soldier was mortally injured and died inside the house. The McCarroll family, fearing reprisals from the Union army, buried the soldier behind the house in an unmarked grave. Also during the Civil War, Sheriff McCarroll’s niece, Ludie Baugh, lived in the home. Ludie used a diamond to etch her name in one of the window panes, which can supposedly still be seen today.
Sheriff John McCarroll died in 1873. After McCarroll’s death, McCarroll Place was inherited by his daughter, Amelia McCarroll Leak (1842-1909). Eventually, Amelia’s daughter, Betsy Leake Francisco (1869-1931) inherited the home from her mother, and after marrying Edgar W. Francisco Sr. (1867-1940), the Francisco family moved into the old McCarroll Place. The Francisco family would be associated with the house for the next 125 years. After Edgar Francisco Sr.’s death in 1940, the house was inherited first by his son, Edgar W. Francisco Jr. (1897-1966) and then later by his grandson, Edgar W. Francisco III (born 1930).
In 2018, after 178 years of continuous occupation and ownership by the same McCarroll/Francisco family, the house was sold to Harvey Payne, the current owner.
In recent years, McCarroll Place has become the center of a good amount of controversy in the literary world. In 2010, Emory University professor Sally Wolff-King, in her book Ledgers of History: William Faulkner, an Almost Forgotten Friendship, and an Antebellum Plantation Diary, relied on the memories of Edgar W. Francisco III, in claiming that his father (Edgar W. Francisco Jr.) was close personal friends with William Faulkner, and that Faulkner based many of his stories on the Francisco family and McCarroll Place. Though it is possible Faulkner visited McCarroll Place on one of his many visits to Holly Springs and it is true that the Ludie Baugh etched window pane is similar to many recurring themes in William Faulkner’s works, many other Faulkner scholars, including noted local author Hubert McAlexander and Mississippi professor Jack D. Elliot Jr. have rejected the claims in the book and believe that the Francisco’s claims are nothing but a hoax.
McCarroll Place is a single-story, flanking-gable frame Greek Revival house, and originally consisted of two log cabins connected by a porch. The house was eventually clapboarded. There is a central pedimented portico supported by Tuscan piers, exterior end chimneys and a transom of the door. The house originally faced west. The brick kitchen and slave quarters behind the house were built in the 1850s, and are some of the few surviving slave quarters in Holly Springs.
McCarroll Place was listed on our 2016 List of the Most Endangered Historic Properties in Holly Springs, due to recent neglect of the house and the fact that it has remained empty for several years.
Thank you to Dr. Hubert McAlexander advice and support and Professor Jack D. Elliot Jr.’s excellent article on “the Faulkner Controversy”, which discusses McCarroll Place and can be read here.