The historic B.F. Liddon House in Corinth — aka “The Castle” and “The Cat House” — has a rich family history and a promising future.
Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
Days after her birthday in August 2013, Margaret Mathis received the gift of a lifetime. She became the owner of a hunk of hometown history when she purchased the B.F. Liddon House. The sprawling stone home has been a fixture on the corner of Bunch and Webster streets near downtown Corinth since it was built in 1907 by Benjamin Franklin Liddon.
Though called eccentric by many, Liddon was clearly a man with a vision for the future. The businessman and architect designed and built the Citizens Savings Bank on Cruise and Franklin streets, the Coliseum Movie Theatre (which is now the Civic Center), The Gem Movie Theater, Skylark Drive-In and Liddon Lake, which provided entertainment for all ages in and around Corinth.
The Liddon House, a showplace even in its earliest days, was built for about $10,000 and included massive Corinthian columns across the front portico that came from Amsterdam, New York, and cost $500 for all four. The limestone used on the house’s exterior came by train from Alabama and was hewn onsite by a single stonemason. There are two turrets, one whose interior housed what is thought to be the first elevator in a home in Mississippi.
It’s quite possible those turrets are what led to one of the house’s nicknames: “The Castle.” But the Liddon House has also been called “The Cat House” for decades, and it’s this name that has led to all manner of tales — some far-fetched and a few with a tad of truth. The ambiguous stories are, of course, the ones that, through the years, have taken on lives of mythical proportion.
One story claims two female family members — Liddon’s wife, Letitia Borroum Liddon, and their only daughter, Norrine Liddon McCullers — inhabited the house and allowed it to be overrun with cats. There is a hint of truth here: Those who knew the mother and daughter attest that the two had a profound fondness for animals and would never let one go hungry, which resulted in a number of stray cats that came and did not leave. Another school of thought is that when the house sat empty for years, a large number of stray cats took up residence.
Alan Simmons knows best. He’s the grandson of Norrine Liddon McCullers, who he said moved into the Liddon House at some point to take care of her mother — Letitia — who suffered with rheumatoid arthritis.
Simmons has grown accustomed to the feline fables batted about his hometown for most of his life. Simmons and his two brothers are the sons of Frank and Shirley McCullers Simmons. Shirley was the only child of Norrine and William McCullers, and inherited Liddon House after the death of her mother.
“My mother couldn’t stand that people referred to the house as ‘the cat house,’” Simmons said. “It had a terrible connotation — that her mother kept all these cats in the house and left the house to the cats when she died. That wasn’t the case at all. The truth is, my grandmother was like a one-woman humane society.”
The stray cats did not have free reign inside the house, but they did have their own shelter. Outside, in a fenced-in area just behind the carriage house, remain two rectangular, tin-roofed, wooden enclosures with concrete floors and a small, square cutout where cats could enter and exit at will. Nearby are concrete foundations where two additional structures once existed.
Alana Simmons Lucas, daughter of Alan Simmons, sent a message to Mathis in 2014 that offers a bit more illumination: “The story about the cats: Norrine loved animals. Corinth was not like it is today. They didn’t have many neighbors, and there were stray animals and most were cats. She fed them, and they always came back. She only had one cat that lived inside, named Sonny.”
Norrine was, in fact, no crazy cat lady with a house filled with felines. Rather, she was an early advocate of taking responsibility for animals. When stray cats appeared, she kept them fed, made sure they received veterinary care, and saw that they were spayed and neutered.
“She brought Dr. Bill Hinson down to Corinth from Jackson, Tennessee, and showed him around Corinth,” Simmons said. “She built him a clinic and helped him set up his veterinary practice in town. He helped her with the spaying and neutering of the stray cats that showed up at the castle. She simply had a sympathetic heart for strays. And when my mother died, the house was left to my father, my two brothers and me — the cats didn’t get it.”
Mathis, the home’s current owner and a retired teacher, is quite happy with Simmons’ facts regarding a house she’s admired for years. She says she has a memory of coming into town from the Farmington community as a little girl, passing the Liddon House and seeing a few cats around the yard. Still, her thoughts these days are more prone to practicality, and she offers her husband, Richie Mathis, as an example.
“My husband is allergic to cats,” she said, laughing. “If there had been lots of cats in this house, he’d know it.”
Mathis would much rather talk about the house’s mosaic tile floors and its 14-foot ceilings. She’d prefer to share the plans she and her electrical engineer husband have for their home and talk to you about the social gatherings she’s already hosted there.
Not long after the Mathises purchased the house, they threw a “Great Gatsby”-themed birthday party for their then-16-year-old granddaughter, Katelyn. When she recently turned 21, the Mississippi State University student was celebrated again in her grandparents’ work in progress.
Mathis, whose heart is as big as the massive house she’s renovating, hosted a princess party for Alaina Gass, an 11-year-old girl with leukemia.
“One of my fellow teachers put on Facebook that a wish of this little girl’s was to tour ‘the cat house,’” Mathis said. “I decided at that point to do more than just give her a tour.”
Today, Gass is a student at Alcorn Central High School and is doing well. Mathis hopes to open up Liddon House for other celebrations for her family and her community. The house’s great ballroom is the perfect place for a celebration.
The Liddon House is not the first home renovation the Mathises have undertaken. The couple have been taking on remodeling projects since a few years after they married 46 years ago. When asked if there’s a projected completion date for the Liddon House, Mathis laughs heartily.
“I’d love to be able to say when, but I can’t,” she said. “Richie says he’s having fun because he can just pick any job he wants — there are so many things to do. My goal is to fix it up and furnish it, and that’s as far as I know for now.”