Built in 1898 by architect Frank Trimble, the 5,500 square foot “Captain Harris House” is one of the oldest houses in Cooper-Young. The Harris family purchased the American Queen Anne
Victorian styled home shortly after it was built in 1900. The family lived there for several generations, dividing the massive property into a multiplex to house their growing family.
The Harris family name has long held weight in the region. In the late 1880’s, Mr. Harris, his son-in-law R.J. Thurmond and Colonel W.C. Faulkner, great- grandfather of Nobel Prize winning author William Faulkner, successfully connected Memphis to the family’s original homeplace of Ripley, Mississippi via railroad.
However, by the late eighteenth century, the partners’ railroad business fell on hard times. They drew lots to see which one would abandon the business and sell off shares. R.J. Thurmond lost. Falkner soon gathered the money to buy him out, supposedly gloating of his luck to the malaise of Thurmond. The tension soon escalated, and on November 5, 1889, Thurmond shot Falkner dead.
Harris hired Zacharias M. Stephens, a high-profile attorney, to defend his son-in-law. Thurmond was acquitted, but the people of Ripley eventually ran the Harris family, including Thurmond, out of town. They resettled in Memphis.
According to Chip Armstrong, who has owned the home since 1977, the original plot of land the house sits on was once three acres. The Harrises sold a large portion of the property to the city for the purpose of building what is now Peabody Elementary. The house also once faced Cooper Street. Before leaving the home in 1935, the Harris family rotated the house towards Young using a system of logs and horses. The rotation remains a remarkable engineering feat, even by today’s standards.
In the decades between Mr. Harris’ departure and Armstrong’s arrival, the house served as an Officers Club, a lumberman’s association, and a boarding house of sorts. When Armstrong purchased the home, he says, the building had been split into 10 units, some of which were only bedrooms rented weekly.
At the tender age of 27, Armstrong purchased the home and got to work. His maintenance background served him well during the project. He fixed the cupola, the top of a turret, which had been missing from the home for several decades. Additionally, he rebuilt the iron fence and converted the house back to four larger units.
When Armstrong first came into possession of the house, it was painted brown, hardly the jewel of Cooper Young we recognize today. Since then, it has been repainted blue, salmon, and, most notably, an aquamarine with crimson and gold trims. Armstrong currently resides on the first floor of the home with his wife. His son lives in the largest of the upstairs apartments. The two remaining apartments are rented out as Airbnbs and are available to the public at $90 a night for the larger, containing the turret, and $80 for the smaller. However, the chance to immerse oneself into such a storied, architectural novelty is undoubtedly worth the cost.