December 16, 2014
By Kelly Sowell, Elmwood Historian
The Anderson-Coward House, located at the corner of Coward Place and East Street near Elmwood, has strong ties to the cemetery. Almost every owner of the house through its history is interred here at Elmwood. In 1842, Mrs. Mildred Moon Anderson acquired three acres of land between the Memphis and Charleston Railroad and Pigeon Roost Road, now E. H. Crump Blvd., which were two of the busiest transportation routes for the city at the time. It is unclear when the structure was originally built, as possible dates vary from 1843 to 1852.
Though it is considered to be Italianate Style, there are some architectural features that are unusual of this style. It is possible that the original structure was built around 1843 in a simplified Federal Style. Mrs. Anderson, and her husband Major Nathaniel Anderson, probably added the Italianate Style embellishments around 1851 when the style was fashionable. Their listed residence in City Directories was on Union until that building burned down in 1850, so it would make sense if they wished to update the house that would become their main residence.
The home was designed in the shape of an L with the service wing forming the extension in the rear. The rear service wing may have been added in the 1850s. The bricks used to build the house were fired on site and are faced with stucco that is scored to imitate ashlar masonry. The features that make it stand out as Italianate, such as the brackets under the roofline and the caps over the windows and door, are elegantly ornamented.
This elegant, if simple, house is fitting for a man such as Nathaniel Anderson. He and his wife moved to Memphis from Virginia in 1823 and Mr. Anderson subsequently opened the City Hotel, which was considered to be the first true hotel in Memphis. Primarily he was a successful cotton broker and banker. He served in the Mexican American War during 1846. When he returned to Memphis, he founded the Farmer’s and Merchant’s Bank, serving as the first president. He was also the first president of the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, then known as the Businessman’s Club. Anderson sold the home on Coward Place in 1856 due to ill health and retired to his plantation south of Memphis.
H. M. Grosvenor became the next owner of the estate. He came to Memphis around 1845 from Massachusetts, established a business in furniture sales and became quite successful throughout the 1840s and 1850s. His success is evident in the large ads he took out in newspapers and City Directories. Grosvenor’s business suffered greatly with the onset of the Civil War and was further hurt by the death of his wife in 1864. He was forced to mortgage his house in 1866 to raise money for a new business, the Southern Carpet Store.
William D. Coward was a prosperous planter who mortgaged the home for $7,000 and took possession in 1867. The next year he deeded it to his son Samuel Holliday Coward, the lawyer who was the trustee for the mortgage agreement, for legal services rendered in obtaining the property. He married Ida C. Carroll in 1874 and during their ownership, extensive additions were made to the house including some infill of the L-shaped plan. By the turn of the century, Memphis had annexed what is now Midtown. The Coward and Johnston families gave in to the pressure of surrounding suburban development and slowly allowed their land to be incorporated into the city’s grid of streets. Coward Place was the old drive from Pigeon Roost Road and was once the only road on the property.
Upon the death of Ida Coward, Samuel Coward’s widow, in 1904, their only daughter Elizabeth Coward inherited the property. Elizabeth and her husband Richard O. Johnston, who became the president of Commercial & Industrial Bank, occupied the house throughout their marriage until Mrs. Johnston died in 1953. Then the property changed hands a couple of times, sitting vacant in 1955, until it was purchased by Dayton and Justine Smith in 1957. The Smiths are undoubtedly the most famously known of all the house’s owners. They operated Justine’s restaurant in a warehouse on Beale and bought the property on Coward Place with the intentions of relocating their restaurant.
The Smiths spent over a year restoring and renovating the house for the opening of the restaurant in 1958. Their goal was to renovate the house for commercial use while retaining the architectural and historical integrity of the building. Justine’s became locally famous for its New Orleans-style French food and was run by its namesake, Justine Smith, for 37 years until she retired at the age of 82. Since the restaurant closed its doors, the building has sat vacant. It was boarded up sometime around 2008 to prevent break-ins and vandalism, but the building is in serious need of repair and restoration. Hopefully someone will step in soon to give the house the attention it needs to help preserve its rich history.
Major Nathaniel Anderson and his wife Mildred Moon Anderson are buried in the Fowler section at Elmwood. H. M. Grosvenor is located in the Chapel Hill section. Samuel Holliday Coward, Ida Carroll Coward, Elizabeth Coward Johnston, and Richard Oliver Johnston are all located within the same family lot in Lenow Circle. Justine and Dayton Smith are within the Turley section.