COTTON PLANT – A nearly 100-acre piece of history – the heart of the once-sprawling estate of millionaire playboy Paul Rainey – is for sale.
Rainey, a New York industrialist, adventurer and bon vivant, fell in love with the Hill Country after attending a 1901 national bird dog competition in nearby Grand Junction, Tenn.
He amassed land holdings in Tippah and Union counties, reported by various sources to be from 16,000 to 30,000 acres, to host his high-society friends and, occasionally, local residents as well.
Hugh and Shelby McLarty, the owners of the estate’s core for nearly three decades, moved back to New Albany two years ago for health reasons.
“Maybe somebody would buy it and make a Paul Rainey museum,” Shelby McLarty said.
After establishing “Tippah Lodge” as his Southern retreat, Rainey became a one-man industry for nearby New Albany. He owned a bank and built the area’s first garment plant, a soft drink bottling plant, an ice plant and, to accommodate his overflow of guests, one of the most luxurious hotels in the state.
Tippah Lodge had its own siding on the railroad and even a landing strip for Rainey’s plane.
Original and renewed
Rainey expanded the existing home on his first Mississippi land, just north of the Tippah-Union line on what is now State Highway 15. After his death in 1923, the home passed to his sister.
Tippah Lodge eventually deteriorated, and Dr. Ronnie Medlin replaced it with the current impressive two-story plantation home in the early 1980s. Several other buildings on the place date back to Rainey’s time.
“The ballroom is the original ballroom that Paul Rainey held dances in,” McLarty said. “We brought the last of the servant houses from near the barn and fixed it up. The chicken house is still there, and the blacksmith shop where they put shoes on horses.”
The brick cistern house with its massive pump furnished water to the house and to servants’ quarters, along with the indoor heated pool. Another surprising building is a brick barn whose circular shape accommodates 28 horse stalls.
“This is just an incredible place,” said Sue Gardner, the Tupelo Realtor with whom Tippah Lodge is listed. “I feel like I’m at Tara when I’m up here.”
The estate is ideal for a bed-and-breakfast combined with equestrian enterprises, she suggested.
“It’s just going to take a unique person,” she said.
McLarty hopes a new owner will appreciate not only the house and its setting but the estate’s unique history as well.
“I don’t think I’ll ever quit missing the Rainey place,” she said. “I would definitely love to see someone buy it who would love it as much as I have.”
Life in the fast lane
As beautiful as the Tippah Lodge home and property are, what makes the estate most interesting is Rainey himself.
“He’s probably one of the most mythical characters I’ve run into in Union County,” said Jill Smith, director of the Union County Heritage Museum. “He was so terribly wealthy, his interests so varied. He’s really bigger than life.”
Having inherited millions from his father, Rainey became a businessman and philanthropist in his own right. A world-renowned hunter and adventurer, he made movies of African hunts and provided live animals for American zoos from both Africa and the Arctic.
Rainey, whose hunting trophies lined the walls of the Tippah Lodge ballroom, was also enthusiastic about other sports, including car racing, polo, steeplechase riding and yachting.
It was on an ocean voyage to hunt in South Africa that the playboy bachelor died – some say of a cerebral hemorrhage, others say of too much drink. The most dramatic theory was that a dark-skinned Oriental man on the ship had cursed Rainey to die before sundown on his next birthday, which was, coincidentally, the very next day.
With a burial at sea, the Rainey myth only grew. Some locals – especially those who had worked for him – were reluctant to accept that their benefactor was really gone. For years, every plane overhead created an anticipation that the boss was finally coming home.
“Around here it created almost an Elvis effect,” Smith said. “People kept expecting him to come back.”
Contact Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where: 530 Hwy. 15 South, Blue Mountain
The home: Built 1983, with several outbuildings that date back almost to 1900
Specs: Five bedrooms, four baths in 5,019 square feet; 98 acres of rolling hills
Asking price: $1.5 million
Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal