Before there was Uptown, there was Greenlaw, a neighborhood laid out in 1856 — the first addition to the original city plan.
The brothers Greenlaw moved to Memphis from Virginia, opened a brickyard, and bought property north of town, across the busy Bayou Gayoso. The Wolf River and the bayou were sources of transportation for the many sawmills, blacksmiths, and cotton gins built along their banks. Because of this, the Greenlaws had little trouble selling their lots for new houses.
John L. Saffarans, owner of a lumberyard and a partner in the new subdivision, sold the land for this house in 1859 to Steven B. Costen, who opened a brickyard on North Third Street and completed his elegant Greek Revival house just before the Civil War.
Building in Greenlaw peaked at the end of the 1800s and rapidly declined after three floods in the early 1900s. A flurry of building in the past five years has reinvigorated this area just north of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. One of the new residents bought the Costen house in 2001 and spent two years renovating it.
The original block of the house is a typical story-and-a-half Greek Revival cottage, with two rooms on each side of a center stair hall and two bedrooms above. Usually, the kitchen was in a service ell off the rear. The rear wing was rebuilt during the recent renovation, making it a story-and-a-half also.
The front of the house retains much of its original character. The rooms have 12-foot ceilings and wide-plank, heart-pine floors. A heavy four-panel cypress door and tall, walkout windows connect to the deep, south-facing front porch. These windows were originally shuttered. Restoring the shutters would add a lovely flourish to the facade. A retaining wall lifts the house above street level, where it is framed by two large magnolias. It couldn't be more Southern.
Two original rooms on the main floor are now a spacious master suite. In the bath, an old white-marble vanity top gives the feel of a period washstand. There's also a capacious shower and a footed tub. A walk-in closet separates the bedroom and bath.
The rear addition houses the kitchen and breakfast room. The kitchen has pine cabinets with hard-rock maple counters. The ceiling is outfitted with salvaged antique beams.
The original back porch has been glassed in and a half bath and laundry created at the far end. Two new bedrooms, a full bath, and an office are upstairs. The big backyard has plenty of room for a garage with easy street access.
This distinctive house is one of a very few antebellum houses left in Memphis. Its generously scaled rooms and original elements, coupled with its thorough but sensitive renovation, make this house a Southern classic. •
Approximately 3,300 sq. ft.
5 bedrooms, 2-1/2 baths
Realtor: Crye-Leike, 276-8800
Agent: Anne Marie Upshaw, 301-5391