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Memphis Memento

Circa 1860s Victorian at Buntyn Station.

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How often do you find a relic intact? Or find one you can call your own? Maxwellton, located just west of the University of Memphis, is the Sneed-Ewell family home. It is on the market for the first time since Judge John Louis Taylor Sneed bought it in 1874.

Sneed was born in North Carolina in 1820 and raised in Hardeman County, Tennessee. He studied law there and relocated to Memphis in 1843. After serving in the Mexican War and Civil War, he returned to practice law and was elected to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1870. He left that post to found and serve as president of the Memphis Law School from 1887 to 1893. He bought Maxwellton (which he named) from Levi Joy and lived there until his death in 1901. He and his wife are buried at Elmwood.

Maxwellton is sited along the original LaGrange and Memphis rail line, which was begun in 1835. Originally only six miles of track were laid from downtown Memphis near Victorian Village out to Buntyn Station. Buntyn became an early truck and dairy farm supplying Memphis. The area now inhabited by the Pink Palace and Chickasaw Gardens was called Buttermilk Town.

Buntyn Station was named for Geradus Buntyn, who built a grand home there in the 1860s. It was two stories, with deep verandas running around all sides. The house became the first home of the Memphis Country Club, until it burned in 1910. Maxwellton faces this property and is one of the two oldest surviving homes in the area.

Maxwellton is called a "piano box" Victorian because its flanking wings evoke a Victorian grand piano, with the long, central porch located where the keyboard would be. There are five main rooms, each with a fireplace, and an entry hall. The house is built with local poplar; the floors and doors are heart of pine. Ceilings are 12 feet high, and the original rear porch has been enclosed and made into a kitchen and bath. Historically, the kitchen was detached, and there were numerous out-buildings, including an office for Judge Sneed.

The judge's wife, Mary Ashe Sheppard Sneed, had rose gardens west of the house, and a sunken, brick cold frame (that would have had south-facing glass) still exists. A diminutive arbor surrounded by boxwoods stands nearby. Maxwellton is on the south side of the Southern tracks on a quiet, dead-end street. It has a circular drive shaded by cedars and hollies.

The five main rooms are stunning. Only the parlor trim and doors are painted white; all others have their original stain. The plaster is in good condition for being 150 years old. One of the fireboxes has deteriorated, but all of the mantels are intact.

The modernizations in Maxwellton are, however, minimal. The basic kitchen and baths are all on the enclosed back porch, with floors that slope! Small gas heaters are an improvement over the fireplaces, but air-conditioning is still provided by opening the windows. There is no evidence of insulation.

A complete renovation is needed. It would seem logical to add new matching wings to the rear of the house; one for kitchen and bath, the other for a master bath and dressing area. A gracious screened or glassed porch could then be constructed between the wings looking out to the rear yard. Details such as insulation, central heat, and air-conditioning could be included.

Don't kid yourself. There is definitely work to be done here, but it's increasingly rare to have the opportunity to live in one of the earliest mementos of Shelby County. Maxwellton was the first single residence designated as a Historic Preservation District by the city of Memphis in December 1996. This protects the house in perpetuity and requires that any exterior alterations visible from the street be approved by the Memphis Landmarks Commission.

3106 Southern Avenue (Map this location)

Approximately 2,000 square feet

3 Bedrooms, 2 Baths

$100,000

FSBO Susan and Boyce Curtner 619-6935

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