When considering the history of Memphis, the name Edward Hull Crump (or E.H. Crump as he was often called) is inextricably tied to many facets; politics and a sense of place being two of them.
There are many facilities, monuments and even one of the city’s major thoroughfares that bear his name, but none are more personal than the home he built at 1962 Peabody. Local attorneys Niel Prosser, and his wife, Sarah, are the current homeowners of the house that Crump built in Midtown. There’s a historical marker commemorating the home’s significance standing in the front yard.
“Due to ongoing interest in E.H. Crump, we’ve had people stop by to inquire about the house,” Niel Prosser said. “We’ve heard the same story from the people who owned the house before us. It is certainly obvious that Crump had an outsized impact on the common imagination. For instance, I’ve been asked by several people if Crump actually built a private tunnel from the house to Overton Park. The idea is absolutely ludicrous, but the reach of his overarching power brings ideas like that to mind. My wife and I have been able to contact some of Crump’s grandchildren and have actually invited them to come back to the house. Most of their stories relate to the home itself.”
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Crump built the house in 1909, using George Mahan, Jr. and Neander Woods as his architects. Crump selected a prominent location on a hill at the end of one of the trolley lines, located near the eastern edge of Central Gardens. He would take office as mayor the next year and there are stories about him leaving his office daily to check on the construction.
“It’s a very dignified-looking house,” Prosser said. “It was built at the same time as the courthouse, with classic Greek Revival features like Doric columns across the front. Construction at that time was very different from what we know today. Every board was cut by hand saw and every nail was hand-hammered.”
“Crump’s granddaughter, Betty Pidgeon, came to the house one time and shared some of her recollections with us,” Sarah Prosser said. “She said that she spent a lot of time at her grandparents and that often her grandfather would wake her in the middle of the night to go with him to check on one of his many projects. The family’s chauffeur lived in an apartment over the garage and he would drive them all around the city. Another story Betty told us explained the tin floor we found in the attic. Apparently Crump had a dream that the house caught fire in the attic. So to make the attic fire-proof, he had tin installed on top of the wood floor. We had to removed the tin when we were installing insulation, then we put it back”
The Prossers purchased the house in 2000 for $365,000.
“Crump died in 1954 and his wife, Bessie, in 1959, and the house was sold after she died,” Niel Prosser said. “This part of Memphis was going into steep decline and the first buyer only paid $42,000 for the house. Along the way, the home was purchased by the Duration Club and became a school for handicapped children. The house reverted back to a private residence in 1978 when James and Sylvia Shepherd bought the property. Their family lived there for 22 years. Then the house sat vacant for a year before we bought it in June 2000.”
The Prossers said they could see the potential for the house to be beautiful again and that they wanted to preserve its history. Also, they felt renovating the house would be a great project that could stabilize the east end of the block.
“We went into our renovation with the mindset that there were going to be problems that would need to be corrected,” Prosser said. “We started doing work on house right away. There was no insulation. We had a very cold December and you could see light through the walls of the back porch that had been enclosed. However, the floors were level and everyone who worked on the house remarked what good shape it was in.”
Vestiges of the property’s days as a school remained. There was a fire escape from the upstairs to the ground, a handicap ramp, and separate bathrooms designated for boys and girls. The showers were child-sized, only four-feet tall. And one-way glass had been installed in the pocket doors of the living room, presumably so teachers could observe students.
“We’ve lived in the house and figured out what we wanted it to be like, so our ideas evolved, instead of having a complete plan all at one time,” Prosser said of the changes they’ve made.
“We took one month and painted everything, in and out,” Sarah Prosser said. “In fact, Niel found it extremely satisfying when we stripped the 100-year layers of paint that had ‘alligatored’ on the front columns and got down to the smooth wood.
“We found where an elevator had been installed,” she said. “Another curiosity we discovered was an asbestos-lined box under the floor of Crump’s bedroom. We assume it was some sort of hiding place for valuables.”
Originally the lot had been a full acre, twice as big as it is today, and ran all the way to Rembert Street. In the 1950s, the lot had been subdivided and duplexes built on it.
“We told our real estate agent, Linda Sowell, that we were interested in buying the lots back if they became available,” Niel Prosser said. “The duplexes went on the market not long after we moved in. We bought them and ultimately sold the land to local developer Ben Duke who tore them down. Now in their place is a house that was moved from down the block on Peabody. It was the former parsonage of Peabody Baptist Church. So, to our delight, we ended up living next door to another historic house instead of something that was brand new.”
Attuned to historic aspects, the Prossers were not enamored with the metal filigree that had been applied to the house and using photographs from after it was completed, realized that they could legitimately take off that wrought iron as they restored the front of the house. Additionally, they added a new garage, a brick fence, and a pool with a terrace around the back.
Now the Prossers say they are ready for a new challenge and have decided to sell the home. As of Tuesday, it was listed for for $950,000.
“It has been a total labor of love and we deeply appreciated the opportunity to save this property that had so much history attached to it,” Niel Prosser said. “We feel like we were able to launch this home into its next 100 years.”
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: House, built by E.H. ‘Boss’ Crump up for sale