On my recent trip to Greenville, I swung through the Lake Washington community to check on Mt. Holly, the Italianate antebellum mansion that I had heard was falling into disrepair. As you may recall, Mt. Holly was one of the mystery places in our latest Name This Place contest, and to summarize the information we discovered from the answers to that post: Mt. Holly was completed around 1859 and is very similar to Oxford’s “Ammadelle,” both being based on the same published drawing by New York architect Calvert Vaux in his “Villas and Cottages.”
Many people more knowledgeable than me believe that the Vaux plan was adapted to Mt. Holly by Kentucky architect Thomas Lewinsky, who also designed Henry Clay’s “Ashland” and Natchez’ Memorial Hall. This connection is not firmly documented as far as I can tell. If you missed the discussion about this, you can catch it in the comments to Name This Place 4.2
I came across a little historical account of the house and property when I was researching it at MDAH. In the 1910 “Greenville Times Souvenir Edition” under the heading “A Successful Planter, Mr. Hugh L. Foote,” we find this description of the owner and the house:
Mr. Foote came to the Delta when but a stripling of a boy from Macon, Miss., Neshoba’s county seat [actually it's Noxubee County]. At first he began his planting on a small scale, but by ability, the practice of economy and possessing an eagle eye for good investments, he has yearly added to his planting interests until today . . . he owns one of the finest pieces of property in the Great Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, together with a plantation at Egremont, in Sharkey county, noted for its fertility.
Mr. Foote, with his family, resides on the Dudley Lake Washington plantation. The home is in a way an ideal one, being constructed of brick, before the war, by the hands on the place, from the soil on which it stands, it holds a place in the Southern heart. The rooms are many and large, and spacious halls run through the entire house. By the aid of a tank, water is run into every room of the home and every other convenience, enjoyed by the residents of a city, are enjoyed by Mr. Foote and his estimable family.
Unfortunately, this amazing mansion sitting on a special atmospheric spot in the Delta has been abandoned for about a decade by my reckoning. I believe the previous owners died, and the house was sold around 2001 to a buyer from Texas. For some reason, this new owner has done nothing with the property, and it is starting to really show signs of neglect.
While on site, I noticed another issue apart from lack of maintenance; in fact, I guess it could be chalked up to over-maintenance, or incorrect maintenance. It looks like an earlier owner, maybe in the 1970s or 1980s, no doubt with the best of intentions, decided to repoint the brick, replacing the original lime mortar–which is naturally very soft–with a portland cement-based mortar–which is very hard. You would think that a hard mortar would be better for the house than a soft mortar, but when hard mortar is placed next to soft 19th-century bricks that weren’t baked to the same hardness as bricks are today, the wall can’t react to the change in seasons as it’s supposed to. Because of this new rigidity, as the wall expands and contracts with the freezing and thawing of the air, the bricks begin to break down, often losing their outer skin and exposing their even softer interior sections, which begin breaking down with the rains. You can read more about this in the National Park Service’s Preservation Brief: Repointing Mortar Joints in Historic Masonry Buildings and a good summary of portland cement vs. lime mortars at U.S. Heritage Group’s site.
I’m hoping for the best for Mt. Holly. I’m not sure that it’s for sale: does anyone out there know? Maybe if somebody made an offer, the owner would jump at the chance to get it off his hands and let somebody else fix this rare and beautiful Delta mansion and make it their home.