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VOL. 128 | NO. 174 | Friday, September 6, 2013

Historic Magevney House to Reopen Saturday

By Bill Dries

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After closing to the public eight years ago, the Magevney House, one of the oldest residences in the city, reopens to the public Saturday, Sept. 7, on a once-a-month basis.

The historic Magevney House, closed since 2005 because of city budget cuts, is reopening this weekend. At first, the opening will be once a month.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The historic site will be a work in progress at least until next spring, when its restored kitchen garden and arbor begins to bloom again.

“For right now, it’s a good start,” said Jennifer Tucker, manager of historic properties for the city parks division’s Pink Palace Family of Museums. “Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to increase that. It’s a good start and we’re happy to at least be able to offer that now.”

The house on Adams Avenue east of Third Street was closed by the city of Memphis in 2005 as a casualty of budget cuts.

The hours on the first Saturday of every month are 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.

The small antebellum house, circa 1830s, was home to Eugene Magevney and his family.

Magevney originally rented a room in the house when he came to Memphis, and he later bought the house and added a front porch and back rooms.

Magevney wasn’t the city’s first schoolmaster, but he was the best-known in the early history of the city, which was founded less than 20 years before the house was built. After eight years as a teacher, Magevney started a real estate business and became wealthy. His first real estate holdings were properties he accepted as payment for his services as a teacher.

He was the city’s first prominent Catholic, with the home being the site of the city’s first Catholic mass, baptism and wedding. Magevney was also an early arrival in several waves of Irish immigrants whose influence on the city’s early history was substantial.

When the city closed the home to tours in 2005, smaller historic artifacts were moved to the Pink Palace Museum for archival storage and safekeeping. The house was cleaned periodically but got another thorough cleaning last month as the items in storage were moved back to the Magevney House.

But Tucker and others working on the restoration had a new factor to consider: the federal Americans with Disabilities Act, requiring access for the disabled and handicapped in most public facilities.

Because the house is on the National Register of Historic Places and because of its small size as well as its grounds, it was exempted.

“Given the nature of the house, its size – it’s a relatively middle-class, small house, and then the fact that there are historic walls that surround the property on all sides – we had it evaluated by the city’s ADA consultant,” Tucker said. “Their conclusion was there was not a way to make the site or the house compliant for physical access without doing damage to the historic integrity. … You don’t want to do something that can’t be undone.”

But the museum system is in the process of producing a video that takes viewers on an identical tour that visitors to the house get. It will be shown at the Mallory-Neely House, another city-operated museum that offers a similar video tour of that house’s second floor, which is not ADA-accessible either.

For generations of Memphians for whom a visit to the Magevney House has been a rite of passage, part of the experience is the garden in the home’s tiny back yard.

The kitchen garden is still a work in progress, with a volunteer master gardener about to begin work on a restoration plan.

“It is important to show that people at that time did have kitchen gardens and herb gardens as well as flower gardens,” Tucker said, noting that the home’s grape arbor is being rebuilt as well. “The grape arbor did have to come down. It was very deteriorated and beyond repair itself. That will be rebuilt.”

The arbor was where an old muscadine grapevine that some gardeners traced back to Magevney’s lifetime thrived for decades.

“Last winter we found that it, at the root level, had been subject to insect damage that was killing it,” Tucker said. “But we do have remnants of that same grapevine, cuttings and such, that are flourishing and will be ready soon to have a new arbor structure to grow on. It was very fortunate that we did have the original vine.”

PROPERTY SALES 40 220 16,417
MORTGAGES 28 85 10,172
BUILDING PERMITS 161 826 39,370
BANKRUPTCIES 29 136 7,733