Athenia, also known as Oakleigh and the Clapp-West-Fant House, is one of the great Greek Revival mansions of Holly Springs. The house was built in 1858 by Jeremiah Watkins Clapp (1814-1898), who arrived in Holly Springs in 1841 and opened a law practice. Clapp was an early supporter of the Mississippi Central Railroad, which came to Holly Springs in the early 1850s. Clapp’s great Greek Revival mansion is likely one of the first Greek Revival mansions built on Salem Avenue, and was built around the same time as the nearby Airliewood. During the Civil War, Clapp served in the Confederate Congress. A popular local legend states that Clapp hid from Union soldiers inside one of the columns at the front of the house during one Union raid of Holly Springs. After the Civil War, Clapp became a local judge, and was a trustee at the University of Mississippi.
In 1866, Clapp moved to Memphis, selling his mansion to James J. House (1828-1898), a former Confederate blockade runner who made his fortune during and after the Civil War. After a few years, House moved across town to Grey Gables, selling this house in 1870 to General Absalom Madden West (1818-1894), a former Confederate general. West became President of the Illinois Central Railroad Company, and in 1884 he ran as Vice President in the national election. T
The West family owned the house until 1902, when the house was purchased by Henry S. Dancy (1846-1933), who owned the home until 1919. Lillie B. Coffey and her daughter Amelia Lacey lived in the house from 1919 until 1927, when Lester G. Fant Sr. (1875-1946) bought the home and renamed it “Oakleigh”. Fant was a prominent local banker and attorney, and the Fant family continued to own the home for nearly 75 years. Fant’s grandson, Lester G. Fant III, owned the house from 1996 until 2001. In 1996, Fant filed an historic preservation easement with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, ensuring the historical integrity of the house for the foreseeable future.
In 2001, Dr. Benjamin F. Martin III (1938-2014) bought the house and again renamed it, calling the home “Athenia” after the old plantation owned by his ancestors. Martin conducted extensive restorations to Athenia during his lifetime. In 2014 Dr. Martin died, and in late 2016 the house was bought by John and Gwen Montague.
Athenia is a two-story brick Greek Revival. It was almost certainly built by Spires Bolling, a local architect who created many of the great Greek Revival houses in Holly Springs. The house is fronted by a monumental tetrastyle portico supported by cast iron leaf columns. The front pediment has a lunette window. There are cast iron lintels above the windows, and a transom with sidelights at the main entrance. The inside of the house is classic Greek Revival, with the highlight of the interior being the main spiral staircase with priceless French Zuber wallpaper. Athenia was built on the same spot as an earlier, largely forgotten house owned by A. B. Bradford for several years before Judge Clapp purchased the property.