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The Mississippi Heritage Trust’s newest list of 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Mississippi, unveiled Thursday night at the once-endangered/now-restored Lowry House, is the 11th such roundup in a 25-year effort to preserve threatened structures and sites.
They’re not always mansions. They’re not even always buildings. But the places, selected by a jury of preservationists from 19 nominations, all speak to the state’s heritage and history, especially in a year Mississippi honors both in its bicentennial celebration.
“We see ourselves as the caretaker of the stories” of the 110 places that have graced the endangered lists since the first one was unveiled in 1999, says Lolly Rash, Mississippi Heritage Trust executive director. The list kicks off a statewide advocacy effort to highlight preservation issues, education and resources through community outreach.
“It brings awareness to people that we are just about to lose some very important icons in our community that tell us about our history and where we have been and decisions that we have made and help us not to make the same mistakes again,” says Robert Parker Adams, a preservation architect and honorary chairman of the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s 10 Most program.
“You only get to lose them once, you know.”
Two Jackson places made the current list: the Fondren neighborhood and the Scott Ford Houses in the Farish Street Historic District.
Local business leaders and residents pushed Fondren’s rebound from 1980s urban decay into a thriving area known as a hub for art galleries, restaurants, entertainment and local businesses. Its concentration of modernist buildings is a key part of its character. The concern now is that it will fall victim to its own appeal, with historic buildings destroyed to make way for large-scale developments.
That already been the case in at least one project; in September, the “Fondren House,” which dated to the early 1900s and housed descendants of the neighborhood’s namesake, was torn down for a hotel project.
“Fondren is kind of proud of being a funky neighborhood, and this happens across the country to different places,” such as Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, says Adams, a Fondren resident. “What can happen to them is, they become popular for that reason, and people move in and they begin then to commercialize them and to change their character” with the influx of people and money.
“That brings in the developers and that’s what we’re seeing in Fondren right now. They are changing the character of the neighborhood because they are changing the scale of the buildings and the design of the buildings.”
Fondren neighbors have discussed a local historic district designation to allow community input in future projects.
The Scott Ford Houses Museum Complex includes the two homes, 136 and 138 E. Cohea St., where formerly enslaved family matriarch Mary Green Scott and her daughter, Virginia Scott Ford (a practicing midwife 1892-1928), lived. The back of the property includes remnants of a wash house and clothesline and a chicken coop. The women took in laundry, including that of legislators whom they met at the nearby State Capitol, says Alferdteen Harrison, chair of the museum complex’s board of trustees.
Ford’s daughter Lula continued the laundry business. The houses stayed in the family for more than 100 years; the facade on the vernacular architecture dates to the early 1940s.
Harrison hopes the 10 Most listing will be a heads-up for those who want to join or donate to their effort, and will provide another level of importance as they seek grants to preserve and interpret these landmarks of African American achievement.
“We’re not just talking about a house,” Harrison says. “We’re talking about a complex of buildings that’s been deemed to be important in telling the American story. It’s an opportunity to talk about a period of African American history in Mississippi, where families made a stable life during the age of segregation and the age of Jim Crow.
“This family went from slavery to home ownership and middle class status, and I think that is an important story to tell, especially to African American children,” who learn about slavery and lynchings, but less about a people’s resilience and what they did for themselves. “This house illustrates that other point of view,” of a people who weren’t just victims but became American citizens building strong families, homes and a community for more than a century and provided stable footing for the civil rights movement to take hold.”
The 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Mississippi for 2017 also includes:
The Town of Rodney. This pre-Civil War river port in Jefferson County was largely abandoned when the Mississippi River changed course in the 1870s, but the few remaining historic buildings make it a popular spot for intrepid tourists, but the town is in dire need of repairs. A brick store deemed structurally unsound was demolished, exterior brick walls crumble on the Presbyterian church (on the 2003 10 Most list) and flooding and vandalism threaten the Baptist church.
New Hope Missionary Baptist Church. The 1918 church in the Mississippi Delta community of Estill (Washington County), wood-framed with hints of Gothic Revival, is a rare example of a rural African American Delta church. A survivor of the great flood of 1927, it’s now abandoned with holes in the roof and cracks between the clapboard siding that make it highly vulnerable to the elements. “This is one that very clearly will be lost if action is not taken in short order,” Rash says. “Increasingly, we see African American churches in the Delta demolished or simply lost through the ravages of time. This one could be saved. Its time is now.”
Stage Mary-Gillette House. The 1910 Colonial Revival-style Greenwood home, built to resemble a showboat, has plenty of assets, such as an ornate wrap-around porch, Ionic pilasters and more, but all are deteriorating. The house is for sale, and there’s community interest in a possible inn and event space.
The Cochran Hotel. The 1908 brick structure in Ackerman (also known as the Pinnix Hotel) is a prime example of a turn-of-the-century railroad hotel, but its owner has applied for de-listing as a Mississippi Landmark. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History has requested a structural condition analysis before action is taken. It’s for sale and there’s local interest in its restoration as an inn to complement the area’s heritage tourism draw.
Temple B’nai Israel. The 1905 Natchez temple has a signature dome, stained glass windows and Italian marble ark and still hosts services for groups of 10 or fewer, a far cry from the 350 worshipers it was built to seat. Maintenance is increasingly difficult for the small congregation. The structure is owned by the Institute of Southern Jewish Life. The hope: Identify a new use that will ensure the temple’s preservation.
The Walter Place. The 1859 Greek Revival mansion framed by Gothic towers in Holly Springs served as a residence for Gen. Ulysses Grant’s family during the Union Army’s occupation of the town during the Civil War. The structure was remodeled in 1903 but now sits vacant and for sale, with surrounding acres.
Saragossa. The vernacular residence in Natchez, possibly circa 1826 (with subsequent remodeling), was originally a two-room overseer’s house on a plantation owned by Stephen Duncan, who became one of the country’s largest cotton planters and slaveholders. Saragossa still holds much of its historic character but suffers from decades of neglect.
Mississippi National Heritage Areas. The state has three such areas — the Gulf Coast, Delta and Hills — so designated by Congress for the natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources that have shaped a distinctive landscape. Community resources benefit from the partnership supporting heritage tourism efforts, but the 2018 federal budget calls for elimination of funding for the program.