The legend of Paul Rainey is still alive and is told by many New Albanians and Union Countians that remember hearing stories of him as a child. He was known as a multi millionaire playboy, an adventure-seeker, a photographer, a pilot, a big game hunter, entrepreneur, and much more.
He was born on September 18, 1877 to William J. and Eleanor Rainey. At the age of 25, he became a multimillionaire when he inherited $40 million from his family.
Rainey was responsible for bringing the luxurious Rainey Hotel to New Albany, a bottling works company, a furniture store, and a clothing factory. He also hunted big game and created a hunting lodge right near the Union County and Tippah County lines.
At his former 16,000-acre estate in Cotton Plant, 100 acres of his original land is still there, along with a few standing buildings and a horse barn. This land is on the market for sale after Hugh and Shelby McLarty decided to move to New Albany two years ago. The McLartys lived on the Rainey plantation for 27 years.
The land, complete with a plantation home, a horse barn, a swimming pool, and remnants of other buildings and items that Paul Rainey once enjoyed, are still in decent shape and each hold a unique history each to itself.
For example, Rainey’s old trophy building still exists that is reminiscent of the many lavish and exquisite dinner parties and dances he would host there with a variety of dinner guests that would come from miles away in old Pullman train cars.
The Rainey parties were known as rather exclusive events, except for the picnic he gave every year on the Fourth of July, in which everyone, black and white, were invited. Around that timeframe, he had The Rainey Hotel built in nearby New Albany to catch the lodge overflow and to provide him and his guests a nice place to stay if they had to stay overnight there before traveling to the estate.
According to Union County Heritage Museum Director Jill Smith, said, “The icehouse was built by Paul Rainey in the early 1900s, probably about the same time he built the Rainey Hotel. The hotel was probably built around 1906 because the icehouse was close enough to supply the needs of the hotel and all its rich and famous guests.”
The same room where lavish parties and ballroom dances were held also doubled as a trophy room. He would house the heads, hides, and trophies of the big game that he had hunted and killed on his property.
Shelby McLarty said, “ He had sofas made of elephant hide and had a trophy room filled with animal heads and hide that he hung to dry that also doubled as a ballroom. The windows in the trophy room are the original lead crystal windows.”
He was a big game hunter and would fly his private plane to Africa, get big game like lions, tigers and other animals, and then fly them back to Mississippi to hunt them.
Rainey built a hunting lodge on his acreage of land and named it Tippah Lodge, which is the name of the county where Cotton Plant is located.
The millionaire enjoyed spending his wealth and had many amenities at his home that were unheard of for that time.
“He loved to play polo, so he had a polo field on the property. For his array of hunting dogs, Rainey would sent servants to the Union County Sale Barn every day to buy two steers and he would cook them dog food. He also made his own bricks. He had pet bears that he would tie to blocks and feed them in the middle. The bears were used to train the dogs,” said Shelby McLarty.
In addition, Rainey was his own pilot and would fly out for long periods of time to places like Africa, Europe, Russia, China, and the Arctic for photography as well as traveling and entertainment or for big game hunting.
McLarty said, “When he would return home at night from his hunting expeditions, he would fly in at night and he had 400 servants that would light torches and would serve as a landing strip. They would sing spiritual songs as a welcoming to him.”
He also had an indoor heated swimming pool. There was an indoor swimming pool and the servants would boil water for Rainey and his guests and one at a time, bucket by bucket, all 400 servants would fill up the heated swimming pool. When they would get done swimming, the servants would empty the entire swimming pool again.
There were 25 servant houses to house all of the 400 servants he had.
Rainey had circular horse barn with 28 stalls, a walking track inside, a horse trough, hayloft, and stained glass windows in the stalls. It was the only design of that kind in the southern region. He also doctored all of his horses and Shetland ponies.
At a time when virtually no one had running water or electricity, Rainey had a pump house and had running water and electricity in all of his buildings.
On Sundays, he would invite everyone in the community to watch movies on the front lawn and eat popcorn.
The McLartys said that Rainey had his own store on the property and paid his help in Paul Rainey money, but they had to use his money to buy stuff in his store.
His game trophies were donated to the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis and became known as the “Rainey Collection.” The estate was sold in the 19630s and a majority of Rainey’s possessions were auctioned off at a popular sale held after his death. Later, his house was torn down and another home was built in its place. However, the trophy room is still there, complete with the original lead crystal windows and fireplace.
The round polo barn is still intact and the pump house, bear hitching posts, and some of the servant buildings are still standing. Entrance posts still remain along with a double line of cedar trees that surround the walkway that lead up to the front doors of the estate house.
During the last days of his life, he was overseas at a party and saw a black man dancing with a white woman and Rainey told him that wasn’t how they did things in Mississippi and it was wrong. The black man believed in voodoo and told Rainey that he would be dead before his next birthday. The next day was his birthday and he was found dead in his room with all of the doors and windows still locked from the inside. He lived in Mississippi for the last 20-22 years of his life and died in 1942 and was buried at sea. He was 46 years old when he died.