Built in 1854 for Richard S. Willis, Melrose house was a depiction of how the wealthy class lived during the latter half of the 19th century. With its wide plank flooring (some of which can still be found in the house today), four bedrooms, and story and a half structure, it was one of the most prominent houses in Montgomery. During the Civil War when housing became scarce Melrose opened its doors to those needing shelter. Many young couples also found their way to the vast well-manicured grounds for picnics and social gatherings.
The home’s second name was “The Old Irion Place” while Dr. John L. Irion, a surgeon of the Confederate Army, took up residence. It’s rumored that during his ownership of the house Sam Houston spent a few days visiting and that quite a few soldiers mended their battle wounds here.
During the 1960s, the house was renamed the house “Cathalorri” for the owners' two granddaughters. During this time period, work was done to restore the outside structure of the home and the house also received its Texas historical marker in 1966.
More recently, Melrose House has become a commercial establishment and is an eatery and wedding destination.
In the late 1930s, the resident of another of Montgomery's large, early homes began corresponding with a historian at the University of Texas named Fannie Ratchford. During this correspondence, Mary Davis wrote a letter which included the history of Melrose House. The letter should not be considered to be an authoritative history of the house, as it is lacking in primary sources of information and most of it taking place prior to Mary Davis' birth. Additionally, the original letter mis-named a woman named Anna Griggs as Anna Grigsby. This mistake was repeated in future recitations of the home's history. However, Anna Griggs' gravestone can be found in the Montgomery New Cemetery. Mary Davis' story of Melrose House (with Anna Grigg's name correctly spelled) is below.
"The Irion family’s long occupancy of the R.S. Willis home has caused it to be remembered as the Old Irion Place.
Both of the Willis Brothers built new homes in the same year, 1854. The two brothers’ lives seem to have run evenly parallel in many ways. They both married Montgomery girls about the same time.
Richard Willis was the younger of the two, and he had come to Texas a year later than his brother, in 1837. A boy of sixteen, eager for adventure, he rode horseback all the way from Maryland to Texas. He accompanied friends of his father who came in a wagon train.
After getting a start in business, he married Narcissa Worsham. She, herself, had vivid memories of coming in a wagon from Alabama to Texas when a small girl in 1829. (FR note: She was the daughter of Jeremiah Worsham, a member of Austin’s Second Colony here.)
This new home they built in 1854 was pleasantly situated in a wide lawn, dotted with beautiful oaks. Several of these trees have since died.
This was an ideal home for children. They could romp and play in perfect freedom and learn to ride on gentle horses inside the grounds, and still be under watchful maternal eyes. The big oaks were fine for swings. For more than one generation of the young people of the town, this lawn was the favorite place for moonlight picnics, to the romantically inclined the favorite social diversion of that decorous age.
Richard Willis must have preceded his brother to Houston by several years, for in 1862, the R.J. Palmer family were living in the home. Soon after this, the place was bought by Dr. J. L Irion.
Dr. Irion had come to Montgomery in 1851, a young man just beginning the practice of medicine. He was married here to a Miss Anna Griggs. She was an ideal helpmate for a doctor, a woman of great strength of character, very clear-minded and practical.
The only son of the Irions, a doctor, settled in the northern part of the state. The only daughter, Mrs. Lucy Irion married, continued to live with her parents after her marriage.
Of an artistic beauty-loving nature, she with her mother made a charming, hospitable home, which attracted friends of similar tastes, with whom she loved to share her books and pictures.
The lawn was again the scene of boyish pranks and games played by Mrs. Morris’ young son and his friends.
Dark and tragic moments, also, must have been experienced in these grounds through the long years when anguished, hard-riding men came in the night to summon the doctor to some loved one miles away, who might even then have been dead.
For Dr Irion was one of that type that has almost disappeared – the country doctor who was the friend and confident, as much as physician of a whole countryside. No weather was too cold or night to stormy for the country doctor to go where he was needed.
The old doctor with his little black medicine case walking with a slight limp, was a familiar figure on the streets of the town. In his old age, he was a tragic figure.
His wife had died several years before, and afterward his daughter. The home was a lonely place now, with just the doctor and his son-in-law, who cared for him until his death. The only grandson was away at school.
Dr Irion died on the last day of 1904, and when the bells that ring out the old year, there was a deep sadness in their faces for the long life that had come to an end that day.
The place afterward changed owners two or three times, until it was bought nineteen years ago by Mr. and Mrs. Philip Berkley. Both are members of families who have been identified with Montgomery history for nearly a hundred years and both they and their children have a strong affection for this old home."