Construction and renovation will soon be underway on the Horn Lake honeymoon hideaway of Priscilla and Elvis Presley, slated to become an international Mississippi tourist destination for Elvis aficionados and fans.
By the time Elvis Presley married Priscilla Ann Beaulieu in 1967, the international superstar was constantly in the media spotlight.
Despite his best efforts to make their wedding a private function at a rented home in Palm Springs, California, the media learned of their plans and the wedding was clandestinely relocated to the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, where they were married in the private suite of the hotel’s owner, Milton Prell. The press, however, attended the reception. On their wedding day, Elvis and Priscilla wore matching Circle G rings.
“The bride and groom cut a six-tiered wedding cake,” wrote Jeff Rice in the Las Vegas Sun the next day. “Presley wore a black brocade silk tuxedo and western boots, while Priscilla wore a floor-length wedding gown of her own design: white silk chiffon, with beaded yoke, trimmed in seed pearls and topped with a three-foot tulle veil secured by a rhinestone crown.” Guests feasted on ham, eggs, lobster, fried chicken, oysters Rockefeller and champagne, among other fare. The couple reportedly danced to “Love Me Tender.”
After a brief press conference, the two returned to Palm Springs for a few days, then back to Memphis.
Seeking to escape the limelight, they fled to Elvis’ Circle G Ranch, just south of town in Horn Lake, Mississippi. Elvis had found the spot while on a motorcycle ride one day, and inspired by the 55-foot white cross looming over the ranch (then called Twinkletown Farm), purchased it immediately from owner Jack Adams. He paid $437,000.
The newlyweds stayed in the small, red brick ranch house that still sits at the intersection of Goodman Road and Highway 301. It was immediately dubbed the “honeymoon cottage,” and aside from the boarded up windows, looks pretty much the same as it did in the late ’60s. The property featured a horse barn where Elvis kept some of his most beloved horses, as well as a lake backed by 150 acres of rolling pastureland. In short order, Elvis bought a fleet of pickup trucks, riding equipment, farming gear and a small herd of cattle for his new ranch.
In time, a full staff developed, as well as additional living quarters for Elvis’ friends and employees–the famed Memphis Mafia, who also received their own horses. A custom-made brick barbeque pit was installed with the initials “EP” emblazoned on the top. Today the E still sits, but the P has crumbled with time. The cross also remains, but is now weathered. And a prized possession – Elvis’ wedding band – also still remains on the property. Shortly after he and Priscilla were married, the ring became loose on his finger. Elvis tied it to a bandana around his neck so he wouldn’t lose it while working on the ranch, but it fell off unnoticed and was never recovered.
By 1972, Elvis had sold the property, which over the years has been home to a Mexican restaurant, a florist, and most recently, a cattle farm. Elvis aficionados have known about the ranch and made pilgrimages to the location. In recent years, tales of trespassers coming on to the property to remove bricks from the barbecue pit as keepsakes, or even to grind up and sell on eBay, have surfaced. Much of the property has fallen under disrepair, including the honeymoon cottage, although the grounds are now kept and security is constantly present.
The much needed attention has come from its newest investor, Buddy Runnels Jr. In 2012, the Hattiesburg native and lifelong Destin, Florida, resident, who headed a group of investors, sought to refurbish the property and develop it as a proper destination for Elvis fans.
“I remember thinking how incredibly beautiful the property was and how meaningful the peaceful essence of the cross made me feel,” he said, describing the first time he visited the property.
Phase I plans for the Circle G Ranch – rumored to be named for either Graceland or Elvis’ mother, Gladys – include renovation of the honeymoon cottage, barbecue pit and bridge that spans its 14-acre lake and construction of a small stage with a grass amphitheater to accommodate crowds of up to 500. Plans also include a multimedia water, light and music show at the lake called Dancing Waters.
While the music menu includes Elvis tunes, plans are to be inclusive of other Mississippi greats – such as B.B. King – and appeal to all ages. Through Elvis’ legacy, Runnels said, the ranch will reflect the freedom and peace Elvis and Priscilla experienced while living there.
“Based under that foundation, the Circle G will honor the values that are reflected by the cross, but will also be a place to help so many people with special needs, to military families and more,” he said. “The Circle G will be a place of fun and freedom with activity and life for people from all walks of life, from ages 3 to 103.”
In honor of Elvis’ legacy of generosity, charity work will be a major aspect of the Circle G, including equine therapy for children and adults through the Lilybell Hope Foundation, a Hebron Farms program for adults with autism and an event through Col. Oliver North’s Freedom Alliance to provide college scholarships to the children of fallen soldiers and donations to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Kim Terrell, the executive director of DeSoto County Tourism, remembers when Goodman Road was just a narrow lane through a countryside of sparsely populated homes. Terrell’s family property, Thunder Hill Ranch, backed up to Elvis’, although at the time having Elvis for a neighbor was really no big deal, she said.
“We’d have cousins come into town and take pictures in front of the gate,” she said. “Once they sent a pony over from the Circle G that needed to be broken. My dad and I broke the pony for Elvis.”
The excitement today is from the international attention the ranch will bring her county, Terrell said.
“It will be a great economic boon for Horn Lake and Walls, too. It’ll give us an opportunity to be an international market, what we’re lovingly calling the Elvis Triangle, from Graceland in Memphis to the Birthplace in Tupelo to the Circle G in Horn Lake,” she said. “By the initial reaction it’s going to be something else. We’re going to have more international travelers than we’ve ever seen. People will stay, shop, eat. If there is a hotel built on the property it will be a win-win situation all around.”
Developers plan to finish Phase I of the renovation by summer of 2016, which means that nearly 50 years after Elvis and Priscilla began their lives together there, the Circle G Ranch can once again become a refuge, this time for his devoted fans.
“It is a confirmation to the answer of prayer that was made there at the cross at my first visit to the ranch,” Runnels said. “We are humbled by the opportunity as well as the acceptance and support we have received from the City of Horn Lake and all of North Mississippi. It is so meaningful for me to come back to my home state and create such a unique, special experience for people to enjoy for years to come.”
Want to know more?
Keep up with the development of the Circle G Ranch, or enter to win a piece of the Circle G, at circlegranch.com.
Story courtesy Legends magazine
Written by Tom Speed
Photography by Marianne Todd