Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Louis and Annie Hossley: Love’s Mississippi Whiskey Home

The story of a Canton, Mississippi liquor dealer named Louis Philip Hossley cannot be told without a reference to love — more specifically, the love of his life, his wife, Annie.  The figure on the newell post shown right simulates the Cupid — symbol of love, attraction and affection — that greeted Louis every day as he came home from work, placed there by Annie to grace a Victorian mansion she called, “Heart’s Content.”

We are fortunate to have a photograph of the young Hossley before his marriage.  He appears to be a serious, somewhat intense young man but disheveled in his dress.  His watch chain is wrinkling his vest and the handkerchief in his pocket is askew.  He had been born in Canton, a town in west central Mississippi, seat of Madison County.  At his the time of birth in 1874 Canton’s population was approaching 2,000.  Over his lifetime he would see it double in size.

Both Hossley’s parents were native-born Mississippians.  His father may have died or left home, however, when Louis was just a small child.  The 1880 census found the family headed by a woman, Mary Hossley, with four small children:  William, 7;  Louis, 5; Dennis, 4, and Stella, 1.  Living with them were Mary’s 47-year-old aunt and a 16-year-old female cousin.  

The son of a widow, Hossley indicated later that he had only limited education, having early on gone to work, likely to help support the family.  He may have met Annie Wohner, several years younger than he, through his employment.  She had been born in Canton of German immigrant parents, Michael and Caroline Wohner.  Her father was a shoemaker.
Whether it was love at first sight, we do not know, but a photograph taken of Annie and Louis not long after their 1898 marriage shows the couple in a close, romantic encounter.  He was 23 at their nuptials and she was 20. Annie clearly is a beauty, her figure shapely, her face comely, and her dress stylish.  By comparing Louis in this picture with the one above, he has undergone something of a transformation.  His clothes are neat, his hair tidy and his appearance as that of a young man “on the way up.”
The couple’s early years, however, saw them financially apparently unable to own their own home.  The 1890 census found them living with Annie’s brother, John Wohner, and his family.  John was a saloonkeeper, the proprietor of a drinking establishment called “Wohner’s Corner,” on Canton’s town square, shown above.  Census data suggests that Hossley was working for his brother-in-law at the saloon.

Before too long Louis appears to have taken over the business and expanded to wholesaling whiskey in Canton and surrounding areas.  With the town connected to railroad lines running both east and west, north and south, he was able to buy barrels of whiskey from Tennessee and Kentucky, ship them in, and decant them into gallon and larger jugs.  Shown here are two examples of his containers, both salt glazed stoneware.  The business was now named “L. P. Hossley at Wohner’s Corners,” as indicated on the labels.
Hossley proved to be very successful at the whiskey trade.  As he advanced, we can imagine Annie urging her husband to provide her with a home of their own.  Although some credit Annie with building the residence shown below at 304 East Peace Street, historical records indicate that it was constructed in 1903 by a Mr. W. K. Baldwin.  The Hossleys purchased it in 1911.  It was one of three houses featured on a Canton postcard.
The two and a half story Greek Revival mansion rose from a stone foundation on a half acre lot with landscaped gardens.  The house featured six carved mantles, twelve foot high ceilings covered in ornate “punched tin.”   Crystal chandeliers adorned first floor rooms.  A one-story wrap around porch had fluted Ionic columns arranged singularly and in threes.  

The centerpiece of this luxurious dwelling was a grand mahogany staircase rising from the central hallway.  On the newel post, Annie had placed a statue of Cupid, likely a symbol of the romance that characterized the Hossleys’ marriage.  Unfortunately, there is no record of children from their union.  The couple and their servants were the only ones enjoying this magnificent home that Annie had named “Heart’s Content.”

Unfortunately for Louis Hossley, Mississippians were not content at heart with alcohol being made or sold in their state.  In 1908 they declared that Mississippi go “dry” in January of the following year.  Hossley was forced to shut down the Wohner saloon and his liquor business.  By that time, it would appear, Louis had gained sufficient wealth and prestige in Canton not to have been much concerned.  In the 1910 census he was recorded as having his “own income.”  Hosslely went into finance and became the president of a Canton bank.  He also served at least one term as mayor of the city.  We can imagine Annie, daughter of a shoemaker, reveling in the title of Canton’s “first lady” and entertaining lavishly at Heart’s Content.
According to the 1930 census, Hossley had retired by the age of 54.  In fact, he had only six more years of life, dying in 1936.  With Annie grieving by his graveside, he was interred in Canton City Cemetery.  They were reunited in death when Annie passed away twenty years later.  Today the Hossleys lie side by side, as their grave markers demonstrate.
Shown above as it looks today, Louis and Annie’s home remains as a reminder of their mutual devotion and is on the National Register of Historical Places.  Still called Heart’s Content,  as Annie named it, the mansion has been rented out as a wedding site.  Many a Canton bride has been thrilled to walk down the mahogany staircase, past the Cupid figure that still graces the bottom step, to her waiting groom.  Thus the Hossleys’ love story is kept alive in Canton, Mississippi.

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