The Wheatley-Dougherty-Tyson House, also known as the Tyson Apartments, is a large housing complex located on Gholson Avenue which hides a much older history. This structure began its life as a two-story frame Greek Revival house built in 1854 by Isaac Wheatley (1818-1868), a wealthy merchant who seems to be best known for building this house and for being a party in an interesting lawsuit that made its way to the Supreme Court of Mississippi in October of 1856. The lawsuit stemmed from a dispute over ownership over a young slave named Kate, and involved several different parties, individuals and estates spanning four states (Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi). The Supreme Court of Mississippi found in favor of Wheatley.
As originally constructed, the Wheatley House was a two-story Greek Revival frame house with a two-story pedimented portico supported by square columns, a second-story colonnaded balcony and exterior end-chimneys. Fire insurance maps show that the house had a large one-story rectangular ell with its own balcony (see map below). The house was very similar to other two-story frame Greek Revival houses in town, including Finley Place (1859) and McCrosky Place (1841).
Wheatley and his wife Martha (1823-1859) lived in the house for fourteen years, until Isaac’s death in the home in 1868. The Wheatley’s daughter, Sarah “Fannie” Wheatley Dougherty (1841-1878) inherited the house and in 1872 Sarah became the second wife of 70-year-old local doctor John R. Dougherty (1802-1886). The Doughertys continued to live in the Dougherty House (1851) and it seems likely that the old Wheatley House began its long history as rental property during this time. Sadly, Sarah died during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878. Dr. Dougherty passed away eight years later. Sarah and John’s daughter, Mabel Dougherty Johnson (1872-1938) inherited both the Dougherty House and the Wheatley-Dougherty House.
Mabel married local photographer Lemuel H. Johnson (1861-1947), and the couple continued to reside in the Dougherty House. In 1909, after more than fifty years, the Wheatley House left the Wheatley/Dougherty family when the home was sold to sisters Kate Tyson (1881-1949) and Lucy Tyson (1883-1961). Kate and Lucy belonged to a large family who had lived on the west part of this block for several decades. Throughout that time, the Tyson family, including Kate and Lucy, had run a hotel out of the nearby Tyson House and Hotel (1900). After purchasing the Wheatley-Dougherty House in 1909, the Tyson sisters renamed the home the “Tyson Apartments” and began using the old home as an apartment complex.
In about 1928, the Tyson sisters began a massive renovation of the Tyson Apartments, enlarging the original antebellum house and reconfiguring the interior to better suit a multi-family configuration. Much of the original frame house was either hidden beyond a brick veneer or altered beyond recognition. Portions of the original antebellum can still be seen in the front facade (though the original pedimented portico was removed in the renovation and replaced with large two-story brick piers and a full second-story porch) and the exterior end chimneys. Another survivor of the original antebellum house seems to be the south elevation on the property, which was never veneered and appears to incorporate parts of the original home.
The Tyson Apartments were owned by the Tyson family for nearly 70 years, until it was sold in the late 1970s. The home is still used as apartments today, and the building’s antebellum heritage remains hidden under the bricks.
I grew up in Holly Springs and remember this house very well. In fact my grandmother Amelia Lacey and her brother Thomas B. Coffey had separate apartments there. Uncle Tom lived upstairs while Grandmother lived downstairs in the apartment on the southwest corner. She and Isabell Tyson were fast friends. Grandmother died from a stroke in 1961 while Uncle Tom stayed there until his death in the late 1960s.