2003

“The Cotton Pickers” B.P.O.E. Lodge No. 148

Circa 1906

Greenville, Mississippi (Washington County)

In its heyday, the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elk, No. 148 Lodge, also known as the “Cotton Pickers” Elk Lodge, was the social center for Greenville. Originally chartered in 1890, the “Cotton Pickers” built their once proud Neo-classic home in Greenville in 1906 and opened the doors in 1907. The Greenville Times of February 16, 1907, described the building as including a billiard hall, a barber shop, and a full library decorated with rare and expensive oil paintings and as being lighted by both gas and electricity. The “Cotton Pickers” Lodge has been converted many times since the Elks left. Now the home of the Mississippi Action for Community Education (M.A.C.E.), an organization committed to the preservation and education of African-American culture, the building is in urgent need of help. In the 1990’s, M.A.C.E. and other concerned citizens saved the building several times from the bulldozer and had the building designated a Mississippi Landmark in 2002. If care is not taken soon to restore the building, the city could force demolition.

2017 Update – No Progress

The Cotton Pickers Lodge is now in more danger than ever. The City of Greenville is losing its downtown green space to make way for a new Federal Courthouse; consequently, a new green space is desired. Unfortunately, the City seems to have its eye on the old Lodge site as a solution. There is a party interested in saving and restoring Cotton Pickers with aspirations to convert the building into a boutique hotel, but the clock is ticking and if nothing is done soon to save Cotton Pickers, it may very well may be lost.


First Christian Church

1950

Jackson, Mississippi (Hinds County)

The firm of N.W. Overstreet, one of Mississippi’s most prolific architectural offices, designed First Christian Church, constructed in the early 1950s. The church was designed in the Gothic Revival style and is the only building remaining at the corner of State and High Streets as the other buildings have been removed for surface parking.

First Baptist Church purchased the building when the First Christian Church congregation moved to another location in Jackson.  When word of First Baptist’s original intentions to demolish the building got out, a groundswell of local support surfaced to save the building.

All of the decorative stained and leaded glass windows, original pews, woodwork, and the organ, have been removed from the building. If another use is not found for the building, another of Jackson’s architectural treasures will be lost and a gateway into downtown will be diminished.

2017 Update – No Progress

The First Baptist Church changed its mind on the demolition of the building and had it designated as a Mississippi Landmark in April of 2003, but it still is sitting vacant and is currently for sale. The building continues to languish and suffer from neglect. Sadly, no visionary has come forward to return the church to its former glory.


Historic Cemeteries

Statewide

Historic cemeteries statewide are faced with vandalism, theft, neglect, and erosion from the elements. Lack of funds for cemetery maintenance is an increasing concern, especially with privately-owned and family cemeteries. These cemeteries are too important to lose, as many of them contain exquisite marble and stone monuments and highly detailed ironwork. In November 2004, MHT hosted a Cemetery Preservation Workshop in Biloxi to help people deal with these issues. The event attracted people from all over the state to attend educational sessions led by speakers from around the nation. The workshop served as a great resource for participants to learn about the many aspects of cemetery preservation. Numerous cemeteries across the state are still suffering from vandalism and neglect; however there are some bright spots like the restoration of the Biloxi City Cemetery after extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina.

2017 Update – In Progress

With annual cemetery tours from Biloxi to Columbus and dedicated volunteer groups such as the Beulah Restoration Committee in Vicksburg and the Greenwood Cemetery Association in Jackson, work continues to preserve our state’s many historic cemeteries. While progress has been made in more urban settings, unfortunately, we are still losing cemeteries in more rural settings.  According to a MDAH Archeologist, we continue to lose rural cemeteries, especially to insensitive logging practices.

Other high profile cemeteries issues include the removal of the The New Salem Cemetery in rural Hinds County in 2016. The state says it ensured that all bodies were handled with respect as it had an entire community grave site relocated to make way for the new Continental Tire Plant.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center continues to look for appropriate solutions to deal with the fact that the UMMC campus is essentially located amongst mass graves. Before the Medical Center first began construction in the mid-1950s the land was the site of the former Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum (1848-1935). For almost a century patients from the Asylum were berried in graves on what is now UMMC, this fact has made University facility expansion difficult.


Indian Mounds

Statewide

Most of the Indian Mounds in Mississippi are on privately-owned land. As a result, many mounds in the state have been irreparably damaged or destroyed by modern development and looting. Indian mounds, therefore, are critically endangered cultural sites. Untold numbers of the old monuments have been lost, and secrets of our nation’s past have vanished with them. The mounds that remain stand as a testament to the vitality, diversity, and creativity of their makers, who developed the complex societies of long ago. There has been progress made with the development of a tour of Indian Mounds in Mississippi, and the opening of a Visitor Center at the Pocahontas Mound. There are on-going excavations by the University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University and University of Southern Mississippi across the state. Unfortunately, several mounds on private property have been bulldozed to avoid state landmark protection.

2017 Update – In Progress

Since 2016, mound enthusiasts have been able t to travel The Mississippi Mound Trail (MMT), a self-guided driving tour located along Highway 61 and other highways. Designed by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the trail stretches more than 350 miles along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The Mississippi Mound Trail showcases the state’s rich archaeological resources at more than thirty sites. Visitors will see some of the largest and oldest Native American mounds and mound groups in the nation. Informative interpretive signs installed along the Mound Trail by MDAH contribute to the travelers’ learning experience.  This project raises awareness and enhances protection of the vast array of prehistoric Indian mounds and earthworks in Mississippi.

http://www.trails.mdah.ms.gov/mmt/index.html

MDAH archeologist David Abbott says he hopes the Mound Trail will help educate people about the importance of preserving these sites, many mounds are still being damaged by insensitive agricultural practices, while others are being looted and vandalized.

The Army Corps of Engineers pressed charges against three people for violating an archaeological resource on Federal land in 2014. Those individuals were prosecuted and sent to prison in 2017.  Although Abbott is pleased that the law was inforced he points out that this incident is reflective of a common trend. “Social media has led to the popularization of Native American site looting. We don’t mind people that surface collect-I give out site numbers to them so that they can keep track of their collections and that data helps archaeologists. We don’t encourage digging as it’s hard enough for a trained archaeologist to excavate a site and record the data. People that dig to find artifacts that they do not record any provenience for just loses the data forever-like tearing pages from a book. We need to do more to reach people on social media to educate, and hopefully, they’ll listen. There’s always a group that will not listen, but I have faith in people and their desire to preserve and record Mississippi history. It’s their history, too.”


J.Z. George Law Office

circa 1838

Carrollton, Mississippi (Carroll County)

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the J. Z. George Law Office in Carrollton is relevant for its association with James Z. George, the state’s most dynamic leader in the Reconstruction era. George set up practice in this law office, which was reputedly constructed c. 1838, and occupied the office throughout the majority of his long and illustrious career, which included serving as chairman of the Democratic Executive Committee in 1875 when he directed the political campaign that ended Reconstruction in Mississippi. He became chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1879, and from 1881 until 1897 served in the U.S. Senate, where he introduced the bill to create the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Recognized as one of the most brilliant constitutional lawyers of his day, George is accorded chief responsibility for the 1890 Mississippi Constitution.

When listed as one of Mississippi’s 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2003,George’s vernacular Greek Revival law office sat vacant, suffering deterioration.

2015 Update – Saved

This treasured historic structure, which saw so much of Mississippi history, has been lovingly restored  by members of the George family. His descendants still own the property. It is fully restored, unoccupied, and ready for tenants.


(Old) Hattiesburg High School

Circa 1911 & 1921

Hattiesburg, Mississippi (Forrest County)

The old Hattiesburg High School actually consists of two buildings, the rear section built in 1911, and the more imposing and highly decorated section on the front constructed in 1921. Robert E. Lee, a popular and prolific Hattiesburg architect, designed the front addition in the Jacobethan style, a style thought to be more “cheerful” than the Neoclassical and Collegiate Gothic styles. One of the more whimsical features of the building is the presence of separately labeled “Girls” and “Boys” entrances on the front. The school, like many downtown schools around the state, was closed in the 1960s, and the building subsequently served as offices for the school district, and later as an antiques mall. The large structure has stood vacant and deteriorating for several years and is threatened by neglect and vandalism. The Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association owns the building and would like to redevelop the building but funds have been limited.

2017 Update – In Progress

The Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association acquired the building in 2003 and has teamed with the Southern Mississippi Arts and Restoration Team to further restore the building.

The building’s restoration has experienced two major roadblocks since that time. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina did tremendous damage to the building, necessitating roof replacement using grant money from the Community Heritage Grant program and the Hurricane Relief Grant Program. Then, as construction continued in 2007, arsonists using liquid accelerant completely burned the interior of the front building. Firefighters were only able to save the façade. (The arsonists have been convicted and are now in prison.) The building is planned to be used by the University of Southern Mississippi College of Arts and Letters for classroom and performance space.

In 2014, the Old Hattiesburg High School received $50,000 from the Historic Hattiesburg Downtown Association to rebrace the North wall. The building remains unoccupied but plans are in place for a full restoration. Jackson developer Steve Nail has an option to purchase the property and hopes to redevelop it into apartments.


The Robert Johnson Birthplace

circa 1905

Hazlehurst, Mississippi (Copiah County)

Robert Johnson was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi on May 8, 1911, but spent much of his early life in levee camps and on plantations in the northern Delta. Johnson began playing harmonica and associating with older blues musicians and later abandoned the harmonica for the guitar.

Many have dubbed Robert Johnson the father of modern rock and roll, and he is considered one of the most prolific artists of the early blues. Although he did not live long enough to become as popular as many other blues artists, his music continues to influence musicians. Popular covers of his songs have been recorded by modern artists such as Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and many more. Not only was Johnson a legendary bluesman, he was the subject of legend. Robert Johnson is rumored to have traveled to the crossroads near midnight to sell his soul to the devil, in exchange for being able to play anything and everything on the guitar.

His birthplace was constructed circa 1905 and was moved nearly a mile from its original location when the interstate highway was constructed. The property is currently vacant and is rapidly deteriorating. 

2017 Update – No Progress

The town of Hazlehurst owns Robert Johnson’s birthplace and has hopes of restoring it. Officials are considering moving the house into the City of Hazlehurst; however, funding for the project has been an issue.  The building has been secured against the elements. There is now a Mississippi Blues marker at this site but some historians are not sure if Robert Johnson was actually born in Hazlehurst.


Rodney Presbyterian Church

1832

Rodney, Mississippi (Jefferson County)

Few today can imagine as they drive through the tiny hamlet of Rodney that this was once a thriving river town, considered so full of possibilities that it almost became the capital of Mississippi.

Rodney Presbyterian Church was constructed in 1832, in the Federal style, extremely rare in religious architecture in the state. The building witnessed the rapid growth of the town in the 1840s and 1850s, as well as the slow decline, after the Mississippi River changed its course in the 1860s. The church even saw a bit of action during the Civil War as the Union gunboat USS Rattler bombarded the town with shells, which left scars on the church building that can still be seen today. By the turn of the century, Rodney’s population had declined considerably, and in 1923, the church, with a congregation of only sixteen members, lost its last pastor.

The Mississippi United Daughters of the Confederacy obtained the building in 1966, receiving a grant to restore it. Since then, however, funds to maintain Rodney Presbyterian have been low, and the building, among the oldest surviving churches in Mississippi, has slipped into another period of decline and is threatened by deterioration from the elements.

2017 Update – No Progress

Still owned by the Mississippi United Daughters of the Confederacy, the Rodney Presbyterian Church sits idle and unused. With the exception of the occasional work day, the Rodney Presbyterian Church sits neglected and vulnerable to vandalism and the ravages of time.


Tivoli Hotel

Biloxi, Mississippi

The Tivoli Hotel in Biloxi was one of the few remaining Grande Dame resorts of the 1920s – a roaring time when the Mississippi Gulf Coast was known as the American Riviera. The hotel was featured as an apartment hotel with 64 guest rooms on four floors. The first floor contained a striking barrel-vaulted lobby with a magnificent ballroom to one side and the large dining room to the other.

According to the newspaper accounts the Tivoli opened “in a whirl of dancing, a kaleidoscopic blaze of color and a musical festival of barbaric jazz.”

Through the years, many attempts have been made to restore the building to its former glory, including plans to turn it into a halfway house, a resort, and a health center. Despite these efforts, the building sat empty, waiting to be called a Grande Dame once again.

201y Update – Lost

Through the years, many attempts were made to restore the building to its former glory. However, despite those efforts, the building sat empty and deteriorating. During Hurricane Katrina, the hotel suffered damage from a casino barge that slammed into it.  According to engineers, the structure was salvageable, but the owner decided to have the building demolished during the clean-up efforts. It was finally demolished in May 2006.

In October 2009, blogger Tom Barnes wrote a touching tribute to the Tivoli Hotel and explained how its demolition transpired:

“After Katrina, it is questionable if there was really any hope that the building could have been saved. Any real hope for its salvation was likely obliterated when the land was rezoned for waterfront gaming. While not the determining factor in the fate of the Tivoli, the presence of a ruin on such valuable land may been seen as an impediment to the redevelopment of the property. The Tivoli was demolished with almost no public discussion about the possibility of saving what remained. The availability of tax credits for historic preservation went unnoticed as well. The fact that it vanished without a trace must serve as a lesson of what can easily slip through the cracks of a great disaster. Unless there is active willingness to save a landmark, it can easily slip away with the tides.”


The W.J. Quarles House – “Greenvale”

Long Beach, Mississippi

In 1884, W.J. Quarles moved his family to Long Beach from Tennessee. Mr. Quarles was responsible for many firsts for Long Beach, including organizing the first school in the front of his house and building the first dry goods store.  Mr. Quarles set up the first post office in his store and served as postmaster.  He was also instrumental in beginning the truck farming industry in Long Beach.

The second home of the Quarles family, known as “Greenvale,” was built in 1894. For years, the house stood as one of the city’s jewels and was known as the birthplace of Long Beach. In 1969, Hurricane Camille destroyed the first and second story gallery. Later in 1998, Hurricane George further damaged the house, while Hurricane Katrina ripped the roof from the building.

The house sat vacant for many years.  The family, which valued the history of the house, did not have funds to restore the building.  Located at a busy commercial intersection, there was pressure to sell the property for development.

2017 Update – Saved

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 5th grade Discovery students from Quarles Elementary began trying to save the Quarles House through an activity called Project Citizen. Through their efforts, the Quarles House was cleaned out, and it also received a new roof as part of  MHT’s Hurricane Katrina Pilot Stabilization Program. In March 2009, student volunteers landscaped the grounds. In 2009, the owner passed away and the house was left to his heirs.  In 2012, the house was moved 400 feet to the northeast, near the Quarles Family Cemetery.

The house is currently unoccupied, but stable. It boasts a new roof and a fresh coat of paint. now owned by descendants of the Quarles family, the home is still need of funding for interior repairs.


Laura Beth Lott