Goodlett Manor: Old house, new purpose

By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – When Stephen Thompson was 21 years old, he walked by the old Goodlett home in downtown Tupelo one day and said aloud, “I sure would like to own that house one day.”
And today, he does.
Thompson, an interior designer, and seven other investors bought the property in 2006 from some members of the family who had occupied the home for 100 years.
When the group bought the home, they had no idea what they were going to do with it. They knew they weren’t going to tear it down – there had been enough old homes in Tupelo razed over the years, not counting the ones destroyed in the tornado of 1936.
“Some people thought we were going to make offices out of it and I guess that was a possibility,” Thompson said. “And then Roger Wicker asked us if he could use the house for his daughter’s wedding reception and that started a chain of things happening. We decided to go with the flow, rather than fight the tide.”
Once known as the Goodlett House and as Aeolian Grove, the 7,000-square-foot mansion is now called Goodlett Manor. It is an event site for weddings, receptions, parties and banquets.
“We can do huge events or intimate ones,” Thompson said. Rental prices vary, depending on the month, the day of the week and the length of the event.
Restoration and renovation work began on the house soon after it was purchased. Central heat and air were installed; floors were refinished; walls were painted; leaks were repaired.
“We have a little more work to do and I have no idea how long that will take,” Thompson said. “I never dreamed it would take this long to get this far. The house is not a fragile house, but at over 100 years old it takes a while to bring it back to its grandeur.”

A family with history
In order to understand the history of the house, one first has to understand the history of the family. According to family members, newspaper articles and historical notes, it goes something like this.
Col. John Allen Blair had a daughter named Julia Oliver Goodlett Blair. In April 1903, Julia (folks called her Miss Ollie) married R.F. Goodlett, part owner of Leake and Goodlett Inc.
Miss Ollie and R.F. had three children: Frank Oliver Goodlett, Etta Josephine Goodlett and Robert Goodlett, who died as a young child.
Frank Oliver Goodlett, a language professor at Mississippi State University, never married and had no children.
Josephine Goodlett married Cecil Clark “Dooley” Strain in 1927. They had one son, Clark Goodlett Strain, a Tupelo insurance salesman. Clark and his wife, Suzy, had two children, Josie and Gray.
R.F. Goodlett died in 1940 and Miss Ollie died in 1959. The house passed to their son, Frank Oliver, who lived there until his death in 1992. From there, the house passed to his only nephew, Clark Strain.
Clark and Suzy lived in the home from 1993 until Clark’s death in 2006. Suzy and her children sold the home to the group of investors later that year.
“After Clark died, I didn’t want to be in that big old house by myself,” Suzy Strain said. “My only stipulation was that they not tear it down. And they didn’t. I think Grandmother and Grandfather (Ollie and R.F.) would be pleased that the home is open for parties and entertaining, since they so loved to entertain themselves.”

A house with history
Depending on who you talk to and what old newspaper articles you read, the house has various and contradictory dates of inception.
A Daily Journal newspaper article from 1992 indicates some type of home was built at the corner of Jefferson and Broadway in 1888. Thompson said he, too, had heard a Victorian-style home was built there in the late 1880s.
Suzy Strain said the home was built by Col. John Allen Blair and that his daughter, Miss Ollie, was born there. Strain said R.F. tore down the house in which Miss Ollie was born in 1917, and built a Tutor Revival home.
The Daily Journal article from 1992 says the original home was built in 1907 and was a simple, four-square house, but that R.F. had grander ideas for it.
“He sent the family to a resort near Sewanee, Tenn., while he moved the house and he hired a man who moved houses to turn the house and place it in the middle of the two lots that he owned,” Frank Oliver Goodlett is quoted as saying. “At that time house moving was a much more common practice than it is today and after Leon Parchman with his team of mules and workers had pulled the house to the south, not even the plates on the mantel had moved.”
Frank Goodlett then went on to say that after the house was moved, R.F. commissioned an addition to be built onto the north side of the house and had the exterior bricked. The design that finally emerged is the Tudor Revival architecture we see today, he said.

Fond memories
Suzy Strain said she never dreamed she’d live in a home as large and lovely as the Goodlett home, but her husband, Clark, did.
“Before Clark and I married, we’d gone there for dinner one evening,” she said. “We drove up in the yard and Clark said, ‘One of these days, we’re going to live in this house.’ And we did. Almost 14 years.”
Strain recalled visiting the home often when Uncle Frank owned it.
“The family had this maid named Lula Barfield, but everybody called her Dinah,” Strain said. “She was family. She went to work there when she was 18 and stayed until her mid-70s. She took care of that house like it was hers. You didn’t touch anything or move anything without her permission.
“And she was such a good cook. We loved to be invited there to eat. The kitchen had a little bitty sink and a little bitty stove. Grandfather was a little stingy with the kitchen. I don’t know how she turned out the wonderful meals she did. I always thought a stick of dynamite would have fixed that kitchen.”
Dr. Gene Murphey of Tupelo, a longtime physician, was Miss Ollie’s attending doctor.
“I used to make house calls there – that was back when doctors made house calls,” he said. “And occasionally, I’d take my two young sons with me. They must have been, oh, 4, 5 or 6 at the time. And Miss Ollie had this elevator that went from the first floor den up to the second floor that the boys just loved. Miss Ollie would say, ‘Boys, you can play on that elevator all you want, but if you break it, your daddy is going to have to pay for it.’”
Bobby Wilson of Tupelo grew up across the street from the Goodlett House. He and Clark Strain were classmates and they both attended All Saints’ Episcopal Church.
“We used to go over to the Goodletts to play and Miss Ollie would let us in the house ever once in a while,” Wilson said. “She’d feed us cookies and lemonade. One thing I remember that’s not there anymore was a fountain on the inside of the house. In the sunroom. That’s where I remember it being.”
Wilson’s wife, Tomicene, recalled being invited to the home for a graduation tea when she was a senior.
“We were all there in our hats and gloves, seated around the table and Miss Ollie was at the head of the table,” Tomicene Wilson said. “I don’t remember what we had to eat, but we needed forks. At the end, she asked us all to pass our silver down to her and she counted it to be sure it was all there. I guess she thought it was accidentally going to get thrown in the trash.”

Hope for the future
Thompson and his fellow investors are hoping the home’s grandeur, its history and its massive rooms will attract people to rent it for special occasions.
The downstairs features a wide central hall, a grand staircase, a huge living room, a paneled dining room, a study with a working elevator, a sunroom, a breakfast room, a kitchen, a butler’s pantry, a powder room and a back staircase.
The second floor has a large master bedroom, two additional bedrooms, a sleeping porch, a den and two bathrooms. The landing between the first and second floors is 4 feet wide and 22 feet long.
The second floor also features a “hidden” room, Thompson said.
It seems that one of the investors, Hoyet Pitts, was walking around the outside of the home one day when he spied two small windows that he couldn’t recall seeing on the inside of the home.
After tearing out an old closet, he discovered a room hidden in the eaves on the south end of the home.
And that’s not all that’s hidden. A garden behind the home, filled with cast iron plants, palm trees, boxwoods and bricked walkways, is tucked away amid brambles and overgrown plants.
“This is an area that through the years is going to be brought back,” Thompson said. “And the house will take time, too. My goal is to stay true to the architectural form and make it presentable in a romantic way. The lines are so spectacular already. I’m trying to bring those out, rather than cover them up. We want to restore the house and the grounds as they once were.”

To learn more about Goodlett Manor, call (662) 231-5519 or write stephen@goodlettmanor.com or visit www.goodlettmanor.com.