The Falkner House, also known as the “Italian Villa”, was one of the most spectacular houses in Ripley, Mississippi, and owned by one of the town’s most famous (or infamous) former residents. The original house was a small one-story home owned by R. J. Thurmond (1829-1907) before the Civil War. After the War, Thurmond sold the house to his future arch-nemesis, Colonel William C. Falkner (1825-1889).
Falkner’s family was originally from North Carolina, and Falkner was born on the family’s trip west, towards Missouri, in 1825. Falkner spent his early years with his family in Missouri, but at age 17, in 1842, he came to Mississippi, settling first in Pontotoc, and then later in Ripley. Falkner likely came to Mississippi because of his uncle, Colonel Thomas Jefferson Word (another infamous figure in Mississippi history who lived for a time on the site of the Old Presbyterian Manse (1855) in Holly Springs) and his aunt Justinia Word Thompson, who lived in Ripley with her husband.
In 1846, Falkner enlisted in the army at the beginning of the Mexican War. Though he never saw combat during the War, Falkner earned the rank of Lieutenant before returning to Ripley and beginning his Law practice. Over the next 10 years, Falkner grew in wealth and local prominence. At the same time, Falkner began amassing enemies. In 1849, Falkner killed Robert Hindman in a fight on the Ripley Square. Hindman supposedly pulled a gun on Falkner, who killed Hindman with his Bowie knife. Falkner was tried for murder but was acquitted. A few years later, in 1851, Falker shot and killed Erasmus Morris. Another murder trial followed, and then another acquittal.
During the Civil War, Falkner formed his own group of Confederate volunteers, who fought in several battles in Virginia. Falkner earned the rank of Colonel in the army before returning to Ripley after the War. During the 1870s, Colonel Falkner owned a thriving Law practice, a large farm outside of town, and this house in town. Falkner was one of the founders of the Ripley Railroad in the 1870s.
During the 1880s, a long-simmering feud with the former owner of his house, and partner in the Railroad business, R. J. Thurmond, erupted into open hostilities between the two men. For the moment though, Colonel Falkner enjoyed life. He wrote several novels, including his most famous novel, a murder mystery called “The White Rose of Memphis”. In 1883, he embarked on a European vacation with his daughter. After returning to Ripley, Falkner completely redesigned his house, turning it into a large two-story “Italian Villa” which became the most prominent house in Ripley. Colonel Falkner lived in the Villa for five years, until 1889, when his past finally caught up with him. On November 5th, 1889, Colonel Falkner was shot and killed by his old enemy, R. J. Thurmond. This time, Thurmond was charged with murder, but was acquitted after a long trial.
Colonel William Falkner’s influence was felt long after his death. A large statute of Falkner was erected in the town Cemetery. Falkner’s life and death later inspired his great-grandson, William Faulkner, who based his character of Colonel John Sartoris on his great-grandfather. And the Falkner House, or Italian Villa, stood for many more years.
After Colonel Falkner’s death in 1889, his widow continued to live in the house until 1902, when the house was sold to Lynn D. Spight (1870-1957). The Spight family lived in the house for several decades, before the House was sold to Walter Tate in about 1930. In 1937, the house was demolished to make room for the new Ripley Post Office. One of the most unique homes in north Mississippi was lost forever. The old Post Office, now itself 80 years old, still stands, though it is used as office space in 2018. A historic marker outside the post office is the only reminder of the legendary Colonel Falkner and his grand Italian Villa.
Much of the preceding history and historical pictures come courtesy of local Tippah County historians Tommy Covington and Jack D. Elliot Jr.