Historic Woodruff-Fontaine House

 ... famous old Memphis Home     


Rising from ancient magnolia trees, the Woodruff-Fontaine House stands as a reminder of an era long gone.  This beautiful French-Victorian mansion was built in 1870 along "Millionaires Row." in Memphis.  The mansion, home to two prominent Memphis families, was deeded to the city in 1936 and stood vacant for several years.  The Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities rescued the house in 1962 and restored it to its former splendor.

 -  From the Woodruff-Fontaine House website

This is the story of the grand Woodruff-Fontaine house located at 680 Adams Avenue in Memphis






The Woodruff Family...

Amos Woodruff and his brother came to Memphis from Rahway, New Jersey in 1845 to expand their carriage-making business. His brother returned home, but Amos remained and became a very successful entrepreneur. In addition to his carriage-making business, he was involved in two banks, a railroad, an insurance company, a hotel, a cotton compress firm and a lumber company.  In 1870, Woodruff purchased land adjoining the Goyer House for $12,000 and began construction on a 5-story French-Victorian mansion located in "Millionaire's Row", on the outskirts of Memphis. Amos Woodruff, his wife Phoebe and four children occupied the mansion from 1871 until 1883.  Old Tax Records have determined that this "grand house" cost him $40,000 to build in 1870.   Amos and Phoebe raised their four children in the home - Sallie, Mollie, Frank and Cora.   After 1883, the Woodruffs moved into the Fontaine's old  house at 103 Madison Avenue.

Amos Woodruff   


Phoebe High Woodruff

Sarah "Sallie" Mary Louise "Mollie"

Cora Belle

Frank Leath       


The Rose Room was Mollie's bedroom and also the room where she lost a young child shortly after childbirth.  Three months after the death of the child, Mollie's husband Egbert Wooldridge also died in the Rose Room, possibly of pneumonia, but more probably from a staph infection with pneumonia-like symptoms.   Mollie was devastated but eventually remarried in 1883  (James Henning) and moved to a home on Poplar Ave. where she lost a second child.   Legend says that Mollie's ghost returned to her father's home and still roams the halls.  Reports of haunting activity such as, a smoke formed apparition of Mollie have been reported by staff when they have tried to update or move furniture in the mansion. Mollie apparently becomes upset making her dislike of the re-decorations known by slamming doors and breaking things. Mollie has also been reportedly seen, sitting on the bed of the second story Rose Room.

The Rose Room


The Fontaine Family ...

Amos Woodruff sold his house to Noland Fontaine in 1892.  Noland had  come to Memphis from Louisville, Kentucky when he was in his early 20s.   In 1864 he married Virginia Eanes from nearby Raleigh.  They had 10 children - Mollie, Williamson, Emma, Virginia, Noland, Edward, Martha, Seward and Elliott.  Noland's business,  Hill-Fontaine & Company,  became the 3rd largest cotton supply in Memphis.  The Fontaine's became famous for their lavish parties held at their home.  One political fundraiser with over 2,000 guests was in honor of Adlai Stevenson, VP Candidate for Grover Cleveland.  Red Japanese lanterns lit the lawns and John Philip Sousa's band performed. Tennessee governors, visiting governors, and President Grover Cleveland,  attended parties here.

Noland Fontaine

Virginia  Fontaine


To be added

To be added

Mollie Fontaine

Williamson Fontaine Emma Fontaine Virginia Fontaine

Noland Fontaine II


To be added

Edward Fontaine

Elliott Fontaine

Martha Fontaine Seward Fontaine              3 Nolands

In 1886 Mollie married Dr. William W. Taylor in a grand wedding on Valentine's day at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, followed by a home reception inside the Fontaine ballroom.  Noland Fontaine presented the newlyweds with a "Victorian Valentine" house he built directly across the street.  It took 4 years to build it, during which time Mollie and Dr. Taylor lived on the second floor suite inside her father's home.  Mollie lived in her house until her death in 1936.  Today the home is the "Mollie Fontaine Lounge".  Another Fontaine daughter, Virginia had a home wedding. 


Mollie's House

Noland's Obit

The Woodruff-Fontaine House ...

Built in 1870, the "princely Woodruff mansion"  is a five story French-Victorian with colorful mansard rood and elevated basement.  High windows were topped outside with terra cotta lintels and inside, folding shutters recessed into deep niches.  A central tower extended well above its three full floors.  There were eighteen large rooms, besides three great halls, and two tower lookouts on fourth and fifth floor levels.  The floor plan followed the traditional Southern pattern of a broad center hall on each floor, reaching from front to back, with spacious rooms on each side opening into the halls.  Ceilings on the first floor are sixteen feet high; fourteen feet on the second floor, and thirteen feet on the third.  Solid cypress millwork with many varied scroll carvings and rope motifs, decorate the molding on doors and framing.  Arabesques adorn many ceilings.  The stairwell ceiling at top of the third floor is of hand-hammered tin in classical designs of wreaths, garlands, and winged cherubs.   It was - and is, a grand house.  

The group of photos in this section, are from William Bearden's outstanding "Legacy Project" at the Memphis Public Library.






Fireplace Parlor Stair



Dining Room   





The Architect ...

Edward Culliatt Jones was the Master Architect of the Woodruff House.  He had become noted in his native Charleston, South Carolina for designing residences, public and commercial buildings.  He moved to Memphis in 1866, and during his time here, he designed the Central Baptist Church, 1st Beale Street Church, 1st Presbyterian Church, and 2nd Presbyterian Church.  He and another architect, Mathias Baldwin, later designed the final enlargement in 1871 of the Goyer-Lee Residence with a third floor, ornate tower, and elaborate tinwork around windows and cornices.  In addition, Jones designed the first skyscraper in Memphis - now known as the D. T. Porter Building.


Central Baptist

1st Beale Baptist 1st Presbyterian 2nd Presbyterian-Clayborne Goyer-Lee Additions

Porter Bldg


The Woodruff-Fontaine has been identified by the Library of Congress as one of this nation's historic treasures

The James Lee Memorial ...

Rosa Lee

Rosa Lee was a patron of the fine arts and a close friend of Goyer's granddaughter Florence McIntyre, who lived across the street from the James Lee House.  In 1925 Rosa established the James Lee Memorial Academy of Art, and Florence was made Director of the Memphis Art Association, which administered this.  In 1929, Rosa donated to the City of Memphis the Lee Residence and its carriage house to be titled in perpetuity the "James Lee Memorial."  In 1930, Rosa purchased the next-door Woodruff-Fontaine home and immediately donated that to the city, for future free art school expansion.  The Carriage House became the first home of the Memphis Little Theatre.  In 1942 the Memphis Art Association moved across the street to the McIntyre home, and the Memphis Academy of Art continued operations at the Lee House until 1959.


The Renovation ... In 1960 the Memphis Chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities began public efforts to save the Lee and Woodruff-Fontaine buildings from demolition.  With their initial fund drive of $50,000.00, restoration of the Fontaine House began in 1961.  Modern plumbing, wiring, heating and air conditioning were concealed wherever possible to maintain the "old" look.  Missing shutters, stairway balusters, flooring, wainscoting and plaster were repaired.  Sometimes entire replacements were required.  A beautiful fresco painting on the ceiling of the west ballroom was discovered and restored.  Labor, materials, services, public and private funds flowed in.  After only two years, the Woodruff-Fontaine home opened in 1964.  It was still unfinished, but was glorious in its restored splendor.  There was also a planned restoration for the next door Lee House in 1972.  After the beginning, it fell apart and the house was abandoned until 2012 when the City Council unanimously approved the transfer of the James Lee House to Jose Velazquez, who renovated the grand old house to become an upscale Bed and Breakfast.

The Woodruff-Fontaine Museum ...

In 1964 the restored Woodruff-Fontaine mansion opened to the public as a museum - unfurnished. Generous Mid-Southerners donated gifts of furniture and furnishings. A.P.T.A. members, who were all volunteers, served as hostesses in order that guests could enjoy the gracious atmosphere of the late 1800's which pervades this home.   Today the Woodruff-Fontaine museum stands as a symbol of what a prosperous Memphian's house was like in a golden age of lush growth.  The museum is open 5 days a week, from noon to 4 PM, Wednesday through Sunday.




Tea Party House

Carriage House


Today, the Woodruff-Fontaine house can be reserved for wedding receptions, and/or children’s parties. The front lawn of the house is a beautiful place to say "I Do."  From spring until November the grounds are in bloom and the scenery is enhanced by nature.   Wedding receptions can be held in the rustic Club Room or in the Carriage House.  Children's birthday parties can be held at the Gingerbread Tea Party House. 

To visit the Woodruff-Fontaine Museum website ... Click here




Landmarks of the James Lee Memorial ...  This booklet was originally published in 1968 by the Tennessee Historical Quarterly.   It was revised in 1977 and is now in the collection of Maureen Thoni White.


Cover Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 Page 4

Page 5


Page 6 Page 7 Page 8 Page 9 Page 10

Page 11


Page 12 Page 13 Page 14 Page 15 Page 16

Page 17


Page 18 Page 19 Page 20 Page 21 Page 22

Page 23

Page 24 Page 25 Page 26 - -


The future ???

Old historic buildings are never safe in Memphis.  One cannot relax and rest on their laurels - or suddenly the city may quietly label a property "unstable" and put it on "the list to be demolished".  Apparently, all one can do is keep a careful eye on what the city plans, and learn to read between the lines, especially in case a developer should become interested in a property.  A Victorian Village McDonald's?  Just what Memphis needs.  But then a new bronze marker can always be added to replace that demolished historic building.  Sadly, it does appear that Memphians simply accept this type of behavior from their government?


Woodruff-Fontaine House Memorabilia

W-F Postcard

Fontaine Oil painting

Fontaine Pheasant Platter

Amos Woodruff

Phoebe Woodruff



Noland Fontaine II

Elliott Fontaine Elliott's Obit     Noland-Edward-Elliott   Mollie-Sallie W.


 Thanks to A. J. Northrop of the Memphis Woodruff-Fontaine House-Museum, for his gracious help during the development of this page and to William Bearden for his outstanding Legacy Project at the Memphis Public Library.




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