McRaven House, Vicksburg, Mississippi
© 2017 - Stephanie Hoover, All Rights Reserved
The name McRaven House likely harkens back to its original address, McRaven Avenue, but that street disappeared many years ago when the railway lines first arrived. What has not disappeared, many say, are the spirits of the previous owners.
Like McRaven House itself, the area in which it stands evolved over time. Today it sits in the town of Vicksburg, Mississippi, but this wasn't always the case. Spanish occupiers called this high point overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Yazoo Rivers "Nogales." It is the Spanish word for "walnuts." When the Spaniards left, the town name changed to the English translation: Walnut Hills.
Walnut Hills' earliest settlers - the Hylands, Downs, Steeles, Griffins and others - were more cultured and prosperous than other pioneer families, and many claimed large tracts of land under British grants. Prior to the treaty of 1783, in which Britain granted the land south of the Mississippi River to Spain, there were many deadly conflicts between white settlers and the Native Americans for whom this part of the country had been home. By 1798 both the Spaniards and the native tribes had largely evacuated the area, leaving it to these wealthy families to create large plantations and enjoy what was then the epitome of Southern life.
Many of these landholders were well-educated and previously held either commissions in the British army, or civil posts in the English government. The resulting appreciation for law and order was sorely tested by a group of highway robbers and murderers headed by Samuel Mason and his sons, and Wiley Harp. A $2,000 reward convinced Harp to leave for Kentucky. Mason was shot, and his killer cleaved his head from his body as proof for collection of the reward. This effectively dissuaded other organized bandits from terrorizing river captains and citizens of Walnut Hills and nearby towns.
In 1798, Andrew Glass - described in one local history as an "accomplished gentleman of a family whose influence long swayed [Warren] county" - claimed 408 acres along the Mississippi River. A dispute over the land was settled in his favor when he proved to the Mississippi state supreme court that his premises in Walnut Hills were inhabited and cultivated as early as 1802. Brother-in-law to the powerful Jacob Hyland (via marriage to Jacob's sister Polly), Glass is enumerated as one of Warren County's heads of families in the 1816 county census. It is this man who likely built the first and smallest portion of McRaven House, a brick two-room cottage with a bedroom above the kitchen. Over the years, McRaven legends have characterized Glass as a notorious highwayman, but nothing in the published histories CIM consulted suggests his involvement in such a career. In fact, he is noted as having served as sheriff, and was named executor to the wills of several wealthy friends and colleagues.
McRaven's next owner, Sheriff Stephen Howard, bought the property in 1836. His two-room addition reportedly changed the orientation of the home, making its focal point the Mississippi River. Sadly, this new perspective brought little joy, for his young wife, Mary Elizabeth, died shortly after giving birth there.
The home's subsequent master, Pennsylvania-born John H. Bobb (sometimes "Bobbs," depending on the record consulted), purchased the house in 1849. A slave-owner and supporter of the Confederate cause, just four years before his death, Bobb was worth the astonishing sum of $60,000. It is he who created the third, most ornate, addition to McRaven. This included a formal parlor, a men's changing area, and a Greek Revival facade which was later replaced with a more appropriate design including "Vicksburg pillars."
On the evening of May 18, 1864, Bobb and a friend by the name of Mattingly returned to the home to find several African American Union soldiers picking flowers from his garden. An argument ensued and Bobb, a brickmaker, knocked one of the men down with a hurled brick. Fearing the resulting rising hostility, Bobb visited Union General Henry Warner Slocum to relay these events, and ask for protection of his home. Upon arriving back at McRaven House, however, he was arrested by several of the soldiers and, after being lead into the bayou, was shot in the back. A second shot struck him in the cheek. Bobb's disconsolate widow, Selina, remained in McRaven for five years after the tragedy.
In 1882, Illinois native William Murray bought McRaven House, although it seems he did little in the way of altering or modernizing the home. He died there in 1911. His wife, Ellen, passed on ten years later. Daughter Ida died in the home in 1946, and four years later one of her brothers also died there. Two surviving daughters, Annie and Ella, continued on in the home, their only "modern convenience" being a telephone. When Ella died in 1960, Annie sold the house to the Bradway family and moved into a nursing home. It was these new owners who first recognized the historic value of the home, and took steps to both preserve it and open it to the public.
In 1964, Arkansas's Camden News ran a feature on McRaven House. The article was spurred by a National Geographic magazine feature on the property entitled "Time Capsule of the South," a reference to its nearly perfectly preserved interior and architecture. The Camden News article is itself a testament to a bygone era when reporting was less "politically correct." One hundred years removed from the Civil War, the piece refers to William Murray as the "Yankee soldier who bought the house after the war." Perhaps most interesting, however, are the writer's descriptions of the damage inflicted on McRaven during the siege of the town we now know as Vicksburg rather than Walnut Hills.
Vicksburg sits along a mighty bend in the Mississippi River. Just across the Mississippi lies Louisiana and the southern tip of the Mississippi Delta, a region sometimes called the most Southern place on earth. Musicians know it as the land of the Delta Blues and the bosom of early rock 'n roll. During the Civil War, however, capturing Vicksburg meant one critical thing: the Confederacy would be, geographically, divided into two halves with Union control at its very center.
In May and June 1863, General Grant's armies converged on the town, trapping Confederate Lieutenant General Pemberton and his troops. For 47 days the city was bombarded with shells, mini-balls and musket fire. On July 4th, seeing the futility of the situation, Pemberton surrendered. By then, Vicksburg's homes and civilians already bore countless battle scars. At McRaven, many remain unhealed. A close inspection of the roofline reveals required repairs after a shell - meant for a nearby flour mill - hit the home instead. Bullet holes dot the hall and front parlor. At of the time of the Bradway purchase, heavy rains still unearthed shell casings in the yard. During their repairs, mini-balls were found under the bathtub. Fifteen pounds of them were discovered under floorboards. A shell exploded in the original living room, but remarkably left the plaster walls undamaged. And during and after the battle, McRaven was used as a Confederate field hospital and camp.
The Bradways discovered evidence of former residents' everyday lives as well. Fifteen walnut beds had been stacked in a hallway, and black floorboard paint - thought to be a Pennsylvania German practice - demonstrated northern owners' decorating customs. Toys, whose paint was ironically protected by years of accumulated dust, are now displayed as part of the furnishings. But unfortunately, when the Bradways sold the property, it again fell to neglect.
In August 2015 the house re-opened under the new ownership of Steven and Kendra Reed. Historical tours are scheduled during the day; haunted tours at night. General manager Evan Winschel admits the house "needed a good bit of TLC after years of abandonment and neglect." Its reputation as a home for spirits, however, has never needed resuscitation. In fact, Legends magazine recently ranked it the most haunted house in the southern region.
The most active ghost is said to be Mary Elizabeth Howard, still roaming the middle section of the house where she died. And, the home's use as a stop on the infamous "Trail of Tears" - the forced relocation of the Cherokee, Choctaw and other tribes in the 1830s - is also thought to provoke paranormal activity. But Winschel believes the remaining belongings of the original owners are a primary source of the reported supernatural events. "Our construction workers have felt their legs and arms touched or pulled by something. Doors close and lock without anyone touching them. Toys have the tendency to rearrange themselves. Guests have heard someone speak to them. We are not short of [unexplainable activity], that's for sure," he says.
As to the community, the restoration of McRaven House has been welcomed, regardless of whether or not it might be haunted. "We have received wonderful support from the public, and our visitation has been steady," Winschel reports. "We are always ready to welcome anyone who wants to take a journey back in time to experience not only Vicksburg history, but American history."
For more information, visit http://www.mcraventourhome.com/.