The Stewart House was a two-story Italianate frame house built in about 1874 and located just northeast of the Holly Springs Courthouse Square. The unassuming house was the site of one of the most awful and tragic episodes of the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878.
Annie and Mary Stewart (d. 1878) were Scot-Irish immigrants who moved to Holly Springs sometime in the 1850s. The sisters were milliners by trade, who designed and sold women’s hats. By 1862, the Stewart sisters were able to purchase a lot just off the town square (Lot 29), and erected a small one-story millinery (see picture below). The sisters, who were likely lower middle class citizens in town, presumably lived in the store. Over the next decade, the Stewart sisters slowly saved enough money to buy a larger house on the same lot. Construction on the Stewart House likely begun in 1874, when they secured a loan for the house.
By the Spring of 1878, the house was fully furnished and the Stewart sisters moved into their home. When the Yellow Fever arrived in Holly Springs in August of 1878, the Stewart sisters refused to leave town, afraid to leave their new home which they had worked years to build. Sadly, Mary Stewart contracted Yellow Fever and died inside the house on September 17th. Her sister Annie, distraught at the sudden and horrible death of her sister, is said to have gone mad and refused to allow the officials to remove her sister’s body. As the plague-ravaged body of Mary began to rot inside the house, Annie began to succumb to Yellow Fever herself. Finally, over a week later, Annie Stewart died of Yellow Fever, and officials were finally able to enter the house and remove both bodies. The Stewart sisters were buried together in Hill Crest Cemetery, though like many Yellow Fever victims, their graves are unmarked.
Elizabeth and Kate Stewart, descendants of the Stewart sisters (their exact relationship to the doomed sisters is unknown) continued to own the house until 1921, when the home was sold to Benjamin Earl McKie (sometimes written as “Mackie”) (1870-1963). During this period, the two-story Elk Lodge (1910) was built just to the east of the Stewart-McKie House, and the Lodge quickly became the social center of town. Soon after, the old Stewart Millinery, located to the east of the Elk Lodge, was torn down. The McKie family owned the house from 1921 until 1933, when the home was sold to Leo Leibson .
In 1937, the house was purchased by Wall and Hindman Doxey, both members of an influential local political family. At the same time, the Doxeys bought many other buildings on the same block, including the Elk Lodge next door. Soon, the Elk Lodge became the Van Dorn Hotel, a hotel and restaurant which was operated by Jesse Rowan (1886-1974) for many years. In the late 1930s or early 1940s, the Doxey family attached the Van Dorn Hotel to the Stewart House, brick veneered the Stewart House to match the Van Dorn Hotel, and expanded the old house, making it more square in appearance. The blocked-off connecting hallways can be see on the west side of the surviving Elk Lodge today (see picture above). The Stewart House was presumably used as additional lodging by the Van Dorn Hotel.
At some point in the 1940s, the Stewart House was destroyed, leaving behind an empty lot. According to local legend, the ghosts of the Stewart sisters are said to haunt both the site of the old Stewart House and the Elk Lodge next door. Nothing remains today of one of the most tragic sites in Holly Springs history.