A House of Heritage At Rayner And Walker, by Paul R Coppock

Clipped from Memphis Newspaper some time ago

Eli Rayner was a prosperous cotton planter near Oakland in Fayette County —-1853, when he concluded his children needed the schools of Memphis. So he —-d a strip of suburban woods and — and built a home.

On the north side were the Memphis & Charleston tracks, now the Southern —ay. The M&C was being built eastward and although it was 1857 before through trains ran to the Atlantic Coast, –ars were running on the Memphis.

On the South side of the place he bought was Pigeon Roost Road, which has since been renamed Lamar and straightened to leave several pieces of the road, officially misspelled “Pidgeon” on the city map.

On the east the Rayner place narrowed down almost to the point where the end slanted across the tracks as it still does. The west side was broader almost as —toward town as the Coward .Place, now known as “Justine’s”

Eli Rayner’s farm near Memphis had somewhat less than 2000 acres. He grew cotton here, kept his Fayette County farm with a manager in charge and later added a third farm in Arkansas.

He had been born in Bertie County, N. C. in 1815. His slightly older cousin Kenneth Rayner won fame during six years in the House of Representatives.

Eli moved to Fayette County as a young man and sent back such enthusiastic reports that several relatives followed. He married May A Jones stepdaughter of Marcus B Reagon who had some prominence in Shelby County.

He was doing very well before he moved to suburban Memphis. He had sent a bale from his 1850 crop (of cotton) to the British Consul in New Orleans who was so impressed with the whiteness, softness and —–ty of the fiber that he sent it on the — London Industrial Exhibition. The Rayner bale won a prize, which delighted the Memphis Daily Appeal as a challenge to the British to find its equal in India.

There is some indication he began to build ———— took time to build a fine two-story home. There were four pillars at the front door topped with a lotus design from Egypt in recognition of the name of Memphis. There were 13 foot ceilings. The kitchen was a separate building, slightly to the east on its own brick foundation. The home faced the railroad tracks from a grove of tall trees across a wide front yard with a big heart-shaped flower bed and a fence.


Yet it was a comfortable home, instead of a mansion designed for show or a huge house for entertainment of numerous visitors. In it lived a gentleman of culture, who was able to speak French. He also was interested in mineralogy and had a cabinet of fine geological specimens.

In a time when it was customary to use up the natural richness of the soil and then move on to newer regions, he kept up with the scientific farming of his day and demonstrated its profits.

He had greenhouses in which he grew oranges and lemons as well as an abundance of hyacinths, camellias and japonica. It was his pleasure to provide the flowers for Easter church services. He was a Baptist, but his floral offerings were ecumenical, including Calvary Episcopal Church. He also had an orchard of apples, pears and plums, and he had homegrown vegetables the year round.

The Rayner home was near Gill Station on the railroad which was handy both for getting into Memphis on the commuter service which was popular for many years and for getting most of the way to the Oakland farm without having to use the roads of mud. The modern street number is 1020 Rayner, which is the northeast corner of Rayner and Walker.

War came to the Rayners when the oldest child Juan, enlisted as a private in the 154th Senior Infantry. Later in the war he took a fine horse with him for mounted service with Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest.

He rode back into Memphis with Forrest for a few hours in August of 1864 and was one of the raiders who rode their horses into the lobby of the Gayoso House with Capt Bill Forrest. (Juan wrote about his personal experiences on the raid in 1926, which was published in the West Tennessee Historical . . . . . . . .

His full name was Juan Timoleon Rayner, usually written “Juan T.” to distinguish him from another Juan Rayner. He was only about 19 when he took part in the Memphis raid.

The Yankees took control of Memphis early in the war, June 6, 1862 and used the town for a supply depot, a hospital center for the wounded from a wide area and a garrison where troops could be assembled and dispatched where needed. The railroad in front of the Rayner house was of high importance for all of these purposes, except when Forrest stopped the trains by tearing up sections of the tracks. Troop trains often passed, even when challenged by one of the younger Rayner boys who climbed up on the gatepost and yelled “Hurrah for Jefferson Davis” at the passing cars of soldiers in blue.

War damage to the Rayners was small. The grove around the house made a fine campground for a post of soldiers. The war and politics were put aside as the Rayners invited officers to dine and mutual courtesy reached the level of the officers telling the family what to do about their uncouth troopers.

On this expert advice, Rayner jewelry and silver were put in a box under flowerpots in a greenhouse. But one night some soldiers broke into the greenhouse to smoke and a boot accidentally kicked a box that rattled. That was the only war loss.

The Rayner cotton-growing returned to routine during the Reconstruction era. The Rayners had two daughters and both married well, Irene became the wife of Thomas Battle Turley, who became a prominent lawyer and a U S senator (1897-1901). Louisa married a well-known physician Dr. W R Hodges. (Mrs. Ceylon Frazer was her grand-daughter.)

But the biggest yellow fever epidemic (1878) brought changes. The Rayner grove was again in demand as a campground for refugees from Memphis. Louisa and her small children had an excellent retreat in her father’s suburban home, but Dr. Hodges felt obligated to stay in town with victims of the plague which killed him.

Eli Rayner took up responsibilities as head of his daughter’s household. He moved to her home at 191 Wellington (old numbering) His other daughter lived across the street. Mrs. Rayner was dead.

Rayner rented out the suburban place and for the rest of his life lived with his children, especially with Mrs. Hodges. His son and namesake became well-known as a riverboat gambler.

Rayner built Rayner Street through the —– from the railroad to Pigeon named for Mrs. Rayner’s family, but the name has been changed to Willett. He also sold part of the farm west of Rayner.

When he died Feb 28, 1892, the Rayner place was still suburban, outside the city line. He lived his final days in the Hodges home on Wellington. He was in his 77th year.

The Public Ledger said he was noted as a charming conversationalist who associated with younger men.. . . . . .(He was survived by his) children, Mrs. Hodges, Mrs. Turley, Juan, Eli, and Whit.

[The clipping was missing an edge in spots]

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