The Cutrer Mansion, an Italian Renaissance villa, was built in 1916 by J. W. Cutrer and his wife, Blanche Clark Cutrer. The fascination with the Cutrer Mansion by various groups like the Clarksdale Heritage Foundation, the Mississippi Heritage Trust, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation is not only due to its architectural significance, but also its literary significance. Tennessee Williams, one of American’s greatest playwrights, lived in Clarksdale as a child. His time in Mississippi inspired the writer to model some of his characters after Clarksdale’s prominent citizens, such as the Cutrer family, and their lavish lifestyles. When the current owners of the mansion, St. Elizabeth Catholic Church, announced plans to raze the structure, efforts began to find a solution that would benefit both the preservation of Mississippi’s history and the needs of the St. Elizabeth’s Catholic School.
In 1999 when the Cutrer Mansion was listed as one of the state’s most endangered places, the mansion was set to be demolished. Delta State University and the community of Clarksdale put preservation in action by setting out to save this piece of Mississippi’s history. The Mississippi Heritage Trust was an active partner in this advocacy effort, working with local residents to secure initial funding for stabilization. With additional support from the state of Mississippi, the house has been fully restored. The rescue of the Cutrer Mansion is a shining example of successfully repurposed historic properties, as it now serves as the centerpiece of the Coahoma County Higher Education Center (CCHEC), a partnership between Coahoma Community College and Delta State University. The center is a cultural and educational venue offering a wide variety of programs and events to the community.
Farish Street Historic District
One of the state’s largest economically independent, African-American communities in the state was located in what is now known as the Farish Street Historic District. The area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as a Jackson historic district. In 1996, the neighborhood was listed on the nation’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, primarily because of the threat to what is the largest concentration of shotgun row house (circa 1930-1950) central to a surviving African-American neighborhood. The Farish Street Historic District Neighborhood Foundation in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation has begun implementing a revitalization plan in the neighborhood. Starting with a core group of shotguns, other residential properties will be addressed to further stabilize the area.
A second structure of historic importance is the Alex Williams House or Greystone Hotel. This structure has stood abandoned for years and, like the shotgun houses, continues to deteriorate. Built in 1912, the landmark served first as the residence of Alex Williams, a prominent local African-American business and property owner. In 1950, it was converted into the Greystone Hotel. Today, this resource needs immediate stabilization.
Equally important and integral to the revitalization of the Farish Street Neighborhood is the commercial district. This three-block stretch of turn-of-the-century and early twentieth-century storefronts was the heart of the African-American economic community until integration. Mostly abandoned and deteriorated, these storefronts are in need of immediate attention as well as a coordinated plan for their use.
2017 Update – No Progress
Six mayors and 20 years after the City of Jackson became involved in efforts to develop the Farish Street Historic District, in hopes of bringing it back to the bustling state of its heyday, the project sits at a standstill. Recent Mayor Tony Yarber has referred to the district as “an albatross.” In September of 2014, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development sanctioned the City of Jackson, the Jackson Redevelopment Authority, and developers for misspending federal funds directed toward the development of the Farish Street Historic District. Work is at a halt and not scheduled to resume until December 2018, when the City of Jackson repays HUD $1.5 million.
However, the slow pace of development has not deterred all businesses from being a part of history. On July 23, 2015, Johnny T’s Bistro and Blues opened its doors at 538 North Farish Street.
Farish Street also lost one of its few remaining historic business. The classic soul food restaurant Peaches is now closed.
A new poorly planned housing development has further destroyed the historic fabric of what is left of the residential section of the Farish Street Historic District. There are now only a handful of contributing houses left in the historic district.
Historic School Buildings
Historic schools are an important part of the historic fabric of the state and the neighborhoods they were built in. Too many of our schools have been lost to demolition, vandalism, the elements, or replacement with newer modern schools. While natural causes such as Hurricane Katrina have destroyed a handful of historic schools in the past few years, man-made demolition or abandonment is often the more likely cause of death for these buildings. One of Mississippi’s oldest public schools, the Speed Street School in Vicksburg, built in 1894 and one of only five 19th-century public schools, was torn down in March 2009 for its salvaged brick. The 1948 James Q. Allen gymnasium at the old Clinton High School became the center of a local controversy when the school board decided to demolish the building in order to sell the land on which it sat. Although a group of local citizens fought to save the building, the fate of the building was sealed when the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) declined to intervene. The gymnasium was torn down in November 2008. The Community Heritage Preservation Grant program, managed by the MDAH has provided much-needed support for these important community landmarks around the state, including the old Corinth High School; West Clay Agricultural High School (one of the few remaining agricultural high school complexes left statewide); the old Hattiesburg High School; Eureka School, Hattiesburg’s historically black high school; Prentiss Institute’s Rosenwald building; Midway School (Tishomingo County); the old Canton High School; and Pine Valley School (Yalobusha County). These school buildings—large and small, in towns and rural hamlets—hopefully, will remain as useful centers for their surrounding communities for many years to come.
2017 Update – In Progress
Historic school buildings around the state are being preserved and given new life. However, there are still many old school buildings that are in desperate need of help. Two schools that have recently come to our attention are the Old Salem School in Noxubee County and the Old Fayette High School in Jefferson County.
Old Salem School (1914) is currently owned by the Salem Historical Society, a non-profit community group created in hopes of protecting the structure. The group has aged and somewhat fizzled, but there is still some interest in the community. Currently, the floors on the west side of the 2nd floor are sagging considerably. In addition, structural posts on the east side 1st floor are compromised, and some effort has been made to provide bracing. Glazing on a number of windows is gone now, and there are some issues with the roof. The property is at a point now where the structure is intact enough that it can still be saved, and still retain some of the original materials and construction. However, it’s at a point where if no work is done, the main structure of the floor plan might be lost. Noxubee County seems to have a significant number of preserved antebellum homes for a county of its size. The Old Salem School offers a valuable glimpse at a rural structure from the post-reconstruction era, as well as the early days of organized public education in Mississippi in the early 20th century. Today, Noxubee County has an increasingly aging population, and many of the citizens who have memories of community life in the Old Salem School have died. T would be great to see that heritage preserved. The Old Salem School is the last primarily intact public school building that remains in Noxubee County from the early 20th-century era when Mississippi began transitioning from one-room schoolhouses to more organized consolidated school districts. Old Salem School was one of seven community-based schools in Noxubee county during this time period. According to the application for the National Register of Historic Places, the county spent $7000 on the school, and it was used for elementary and high school grades until 1932 when the high school grades moved to Macon High School.
Old Fayette School, constructed in 1928, it is a great example of public-school construction of that era. Today the building is abandoned and completely exposed to the elements. The exterior walls, however, are still intact. With a lot of effort, the build.ing could still be restored.
Another School building we have our eye on is the Old Benton High School(1920) in Yazoo County.
Keesler Bridge serves as the main corridor into downtown Greenwood, and is a swing-type bridge called a Howe Truss. Built in 1924, it has carried traffic across the Yazoo River for generations of travelers. Designated as a Mississippi Landmark, Keesler Bridge suffered from a lack of maintenance and disrepair, making its future uncertain.
2017 Update – SAVED
The preservation of Keesler Bridge sets a powerful example of what can be accomplished when good causes bring concerned citizens together. After being listed in 1999 on the MHT’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list, the Keesler Bridge was given a new lease on life in 2000, when major grants from MDOT and MDAH made that possible. The Board of Trustees of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History awarded a $256,000 Mississippi Landmark Grant to the City of Greenwood and Leflore County for the Keesler Bridge. These funds were used in conjunction with a $1.2 million TEA-21 grant awarded by the Mississippi Department of Transportation to restore this significant piece of historic engineering.
The bridge was reopened in September of 2003 to universal acclaim. Keesler Bridge now serves as a tourist attraction for the area and carries approximately 8,500 cars and trucks across the Yazoo River on a daily basis. The bridge sits solid, strong, and sound and is beloved by its community. The bridge is used prominently in the City of Greenwood’s promotional materials. “I am happy to report the Keesler Bridge is just as beautiful today as it was when first constructed in 1925,” says local resident and community activist Allan Hammons.
King Edward Hotel
Built in 1923 by New Orleans architect William T. Nolan on the same site as two previous prominent hotels, the King Edward Hotel was a significant hub of both social and political activity in Jackson. The hotel closed in 1967 and remained vacant for the over 40 years, suffering extensive damage. The decaying structure was listed on the National Register of Historic Places and designated as both a Mississippi Landmark and a Jackson Landmark.
2017 Update – SAVED
After years of struggles with city opposition and problems finding an investor, renovations to the hotel began in 2007 and the new Hilton Garden Inn – Downtown Jackson, located in the King Edward Hotel, opened in the fall of 2009 featuring 186 hotel rooms, a restaurant, lounge, convenience store, coffee shop and fitness center. In addition, the building has 64 luxury apartments and retail space. Just steps away from the refurbished Union Station Train Terminal, the King Edward Hotel once again serves as a hub for Jackson’s downtown activity. The property delivers a distinctive mix of vintage charm, modern luxury, and Southern hospitality to downtown Jackson. Persistence and vision allowed the King Edward to once again bustle with activity and graciously welcome the road-weary traveler.
Built around 1808, Meadvilla was the home of Cowles Mead, Secretary of the Mississippi Territory. During the later territorial period, the house served as a tavern and stagecoach stop operated by Moses Richardson. In 1828, Meadvilla became the home of Benjamin L. C. Wailes, scientist, historian, first state geologist, and first President of the Mississippi Historical Society. The house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a significant example of Federal-style architecture. When listed as one of the state’s most endangered properties, the house was severely threatened by deterioration.
2017 Update – Saved
Meadvilla luckily fell into the hands of current owners Stephen Cook and Windell Weeden, who have carefully restored the property.
Old Corinth Machinery
The building located in Corinth known as the Old Corinth Machinery is the oldest surviving industrial building in Mississippi. It was built in 1869 by architect Martin Seigrest, who built many of Corinth’s buildings including Rubel’s Department Store. In the past, the building housed a woolen factory and machinery which produced sawmill carriages. Today, its Canadian owners have abandoned the structure, allowing it to fall prey to the elements.
2017 Update – Lost
A preservation easement has been conveyed for the historic Corinth Machinery Building, ensuring that any future changes to the building would be sympathetic with its original character. Plans were announced to renovate the building for market-rate apartments; however, work never progressed and the building continued to deteriorate. In 2012, heavy storms caused large portions of the building’s brick walls to collapse.
Town of Carrollton
A quintessential 19th-century town, Carrollton survives relatively intact, with a courthouse square surrounded by beautiful homes and historic downtown buildings. Carrollton is one of the largest historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places in the United States and several sites are Mississippi Landmarks. With little legal protection and a general lack of understanding about the importance of historic preservation, many have long feared for Carrollton’s rich architectural legacy.
Update in Progress
The adoption of a Preservation Ordinance, the designation as a Certified Local Government by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and the restoration of several downtown buildings has catapulted the progress of protecting the character of the town. Many restoration projects are underway in Carrollton, including three buildings along Main Street. Dr. Rich Hill, a Carrollton dentist, refurbished a downtown building that now serves as his office. Shirley Nolan is in the process of restoring two adjacent buildings for commercial use. Restoration is complete on the Carrollton Community House, a 1936-era log building. Although some grant funding requests have fallen short, the city obtained a CLG grant in 2005 for its 1899-era Masonic Lodge building. Carrollton has done a partial restoration of its Town Hall and the oldest building in town, the Merrill Building, has had brick walls repaired among other projects. The Vance House has been restored and is currently serving as a private residence. City officials are also working on a restoration and ADA conversion of the Carroll County Courthouse.
2017 Update in Progress
Almost all of Carrollton’s historic houses are occupied. Two commercial buildings on the town square are going to be restored soon. Carrolton’s Pilgrimage held annually the first weekend of October continues to be a success.
Vicksburg Campaign and Historic Trail
The story of the siege is the focus of a beautiful national military park, but outside the park boundaries, the fields, bayous and country roads where the rest of the Vicksburg campaign was waged are threatened by the forces of time, change, and neglect. The very existence of this significant resource is little known, its historic value under appreciated, and its potential for heritage tourism untapped. As a result, landmark buildings are crumbling and inappropriate development threatens unprotected sits such as the Coker House at the Champion Hill battlefield site, Pemberton’s Headquarters in Vicksburg, the Old Raymond-Utica Road, and the Shaifer House outside Port Gibson. A comprehensive strategy for education, planning and management is essential to save this hallowed ground where bravery and sacrifice shaped the course of history.
2017 Update – In Progress
As part of a comprehensive, statewide Mississippi Civil War Trails project, funded through the Transportation Equity Act for the 21stCentury (TEA-21) grant program, several projects are underway along the trail. One of the most historic structures in the Vicksburg Campaign region, the Shaifer House, located on the Port Gibson Battlefield, was restored in 2007 and interpretative signage was added to the site.
The Raymond Battlefield Trail was completed in the fall of 2006. The trail has been paved and signage installed. Open during daylight hours for public use the trail follows the Mississippi Operations in the Campaign & Siee of Vicksburg guide, published in 1999. The tour showcases significant sites association with Union General Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign for and siege. The Friends of Raymond have recently purchased 165 acres of the Raymond Battlefield for permanent conservation.
The Shaifer House, which is a contributing site on the campaign trail, was pillaged in early 2017. Some of the house’s hand-hewn sills were stolen from its crawl space. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History have made repairs to the structure and the house has been stabilized. If you have any information regarding the theft and vandalism of the Shaifer House, please contact the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
White House Hotel
Biloxi, Mississippi (Harrison County)
In 1890, Mr. and Mrs. Walter White opened their residence overlooking the Gulf of Mexico to guests. By 1910, the White House Hotel and its expanded grounds were a popular Biloxi beach resort offering golfing, motoring, relaxing, fishing, tennis, and boating. Additions to the original house in 1923 were in the Spanish Colonial Revival style and constitute most of the present hotel.
2015 Update – SAVED
The White House Hotel survived Hurricane Katrina and the hotel has been meticulously restored to its original grandeur. The White House Hotel reopened in August 2014 and is a gem along Mississippi’s Gulf Coast. The quaint, 76-room boutique hotel features luxurious rooms and suites, a restaurant, rooftop terrace, and pool overlooking the beach. It serves as a popular gathering spot for happy hour, wedding receptions, and beach getaways. Book your room, enjoy sweeping views of the Gulf, and relax, knowing that the White House Hotel is safe from the wrecking ball.