Historic Markers Across Tennessee

Nelson-Kirby House

Marker ID:  
Location: 6797 Messick Rd, Memphis, TN
County: Shelby
Coordinates: N 35° 4.967    W 089° 50.185
  35.08278333    -89.83641666
Waymark: None


Nelson-Kirby House
Yellow Fever Refuge

This house was home to two owners who experienced differently the tribulations of the Civil War. The first, Thomas A. Nelson (1819-1887), acquired property on Poplar Pike in 1869 as a rural refuge from the yellow fever epidemics that periodically swept Memphis. He had moved in 1856 from his native Alabama to the city, where he became a cotton merchant and president of the Bank of West Tennessee. In reprisal for a Confederate raid in 1863, Federal authorities expelled Nelson and other Southern sympathizers from Memphis and confiscated his property. In 1871, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld his claim that his expulsion had prevented him from defending it against seizure, and he was compensated. After the war, Nelson founded a cottonseed oil company (Memphis Oil, 1868) and the Southern Life Insurance Company (1870). In 1898, his land, house, and outbuildings were sold to John A. Kirby.

Kirby (1842-1929), a Virginia native, moved to Memphis in 1860 to work in the wholesale grocery business. He enlisted in the Shelby Grays (Co. A, 4th Tennessee Infantry) in Germantown in May 1861. He fought at Shiloh, Perryville, Murfreesboro, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, where he was shot in the leg and captured on November 25, 1863. Imprisoned at Rock Island, Ilinois, Pvt. Kirby took the oath of allegiance to the United States on May 21, 1865, and returned to Memphis. He worked in the grocery business, bought land, and farmed until his death in this house at the age of eighty-eight.

John L. Ebling acquired the house in 1890, enlarged it, and added the Stick-style embellishments to the exterior, including the bay window and decorative trusswork. John A. Kirby's descendants continue to own the Nelson-Kirby House, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. The house, which was built on land granted to Eppy White in 1837, was moved here in 2014 from its original location on Poplar Pike to ensure its preservation.

Tennessee Civil War Trails

A photo of this marker can be found on HMDB.org