A reader who took a special interest in the Ceres Plantation story a few weeks ago headed over to the state archives building to do a little digging into the history of the place. After picking through the WPA records for Warren County, he found a little nugget in the “Antebellum Days” file (not in the “Historical Buildings” folder as you might expect–those WPA records are somewhat random) titled “Architecture in Vicksburg and Warren County” and written by Vicksburg architect William A. Stanton.
W.A. Stanton–sometimes confused with his father William Stanton, a master builder and architect in Vicksburg in the late 19th century (and builder of Speed Street School, may a pox be upon its destroyers)–was one of the first educated native architects in the state, if his claim to have graduated from Cornell holds up: his designs include the abandoned Carr Junior High School (1924) and the dormitory at All Saints School (c.1930), in addition to the sweet little book club building in Tallulah, across the river in Louisiana.
At any rate, his opinion about the architecture of Vicksburg and Warren County is especially valuable, and this is what he had to say about Ceres whenever this was written, probably around 1936. To give a little context, the house had been pretty much vacant for probably 15-20 years and had just been bought by a new owner in the same family, who was fixing it up. Also, I find too much “[sic]” in a long quote distracting, so just assume that any creative spellings or punctuations are from Mr. Stanton himself, not me:
The major portion of the pre-Civil War architectural examples of Warren County and Vicksburg was destroyed by the army, or has disappeared through the process of decay or have been destroyed by fire. There are scattered throughout the county several residences that are remarkable in some respects.
As was the custom in the Colonial period of development, the owners of the plantations named them for some particular idea they had in mind, either for a family incident and historical reminiscence, or from the Greek or Latin ancient literature. Among the outstanding houses in Warren County outside of Vicksburg, perhaps the best example is that of “Ceres”, a plantation now owned by Mr. Grey Flowers, of Vicksburg, who is a descendent of the original owner and builder.
Like the majority of the buildings of this type, the floor plan consisted of a large hallway open at both ends and large doors with side lights from transoms, with two rooms on each side of the hall open thereunto. In this particular instance the parlor, dining room and kitchen are on the east side of the hall and two bed rooms on the west side. In the hall on the east wall there is a stairway leading to the half story above, which consisted of two rooms opening into a hall with closets and store-rooms. These rooms and hallway were lighted by dormer windows on the north and south sides, and by other windows in the east and west gables. The roof is a double-slope with gables each and west and one common ridge running the same direction. on the north side of the first story is a wide front porch extending entirely across the front of the house, which is to the north. A kitchen porch is at the rear between kitchen store-room. The main roof covers this porch.
The original columns of this porch have decayed and been replaced. The roof has suffered the same fate, but has recently been repaired. The chimneys above the roof are beautifully finished out, and the brickwork of which they are made, is in wonderful state of preservation.
“The floors of this building are still in tact, and although it was built one hundred years ago, it is in a very serviceable condition. The walls were all plastered on wood laths split from oak timber and finished in pure white lime and plaster finish. A large portion of the original plaster is in place but has been badly cracked because of the delapidated condition. The stairway leading to the upper story is exceedingly simple, handmade with square balusters, and even after a lapse of a century sows no sign of decay.
The most peculiar and unaccountable thing about this residence is that the mouldings of the door panelling is in such an excellent state of preservation. All these mouldings were made by hand, the doors made in the same manner and even now after being exposed to weather, heat, cold and rain, for a number of years, one cannot insert a knife blade in any of the joints. It is most probable that agreeable to the custom of those days the paint was made from pure white lead made on the premises and mixed with pure linseed oil. The original paint is still open these doors and finish and upon the outside weatherboarding.
The building is entirely of wood construction made out of hand-hewn timbers of enormous size and the structure put together with wood pins and a few hand-made nails. These nails were, according to tradition, made upon the premises by the slaves of the owners.
It is a pity that this building is so inaccessible to the public. One has to go east of Vicksburg about ten or twelve miles to Bovina over Highway80 thence north to the site over a dirt road that is inaccessible practically, except to ox-teams in the wet seasons.
A former resident of this house planted a few pots of wild orange for ornament and placed them in the front yard. The fruit fell to the ground to the roots and produced and intensely thick growth of thorny bush of wild orange that was only recently destroyed after a great deal of labor.
The present owner, Mr. Grey Flowers, used the residence chiefly as a hunting lodge but has erected barns and other farm out-buildings so that they may be brought under more intent cultivation and made to pay some dividends.
Stanton only describes two other Warren County (as opposed to Vicksburg) houses in this 3-page type-written draft, “Yokena” and “The Burn.” I don’t believe either of the antebellum structures at these plantations still exists (I may be wrong–not an expert on Warren County).
Stanton’s description of Ceres raises some interesting points and other questions:
- I was surprised to hear the roof described as a “double-slope (which I think of as something like the two bottom houses in this drawing at Mississippi History Now). The roof’s current configuration is a simple gable roof, with an undercut front gallery–could it be that this gallery was originally under this double slope? The oldest pictures I’ve seen of Ceres date to the 1970s, and at that time it had a simple gable like it does now. Maybe the roof repairs Stanton mentions included getting rid of that sometimes problematic inverted ridge?
He seems to be describing a rear porch configuration that was already mostly enclosed, as it is today, with a kitchen on one end of the porch and a storage room on the other end, and a small undercut porch between. I had assumed this was a later change (at least later than 1930s).
- I admit when I visited the house a month or two ago, I peaked under the house to look at its timbers–a nerdy habit of mine–and I know I saw circular-sawn timbers, not hand-hewn. Now I’m wishing I had looked in several locations, not just the front, because I’m wondering if I saw a later repair rather than the original hand-hewn wood that Stanton describes. What I saw looked old though, so I’m a little confused by this description.
- Stanton clearly describes dormers on both the front and rear slopes. I was under the impression that one of the reasons the house had been declared ineligible for the National Register back in the 1980s was that the dormers had recently been added. In fact, it appears that the house originally had dormers, maybe lost them in the 1930s renovation, and then got new ones in the early 1980s.
I leave you with this little bit of humor (or at least humorous to me) from Stanton’s later description of Yokena Plantation:
These settlers were members of the Presbyterians Church, serving God in their quiet, unobstrusive way and were not given to the festivities except upon special occasions that the owner of “Ceres”, who were Episcopalians and Methodists indulged in.
Take that, you wild Episcopals and Methodists!
Thanks to our helpful MissPres reader for finding this nugget and passing it on for us all to read and ponder. Perhaps my innate optimism is getting the better of me, but I still have hope for Ceres, and this analysis by Stanton shows that even as far back as the 1930s, Ceres was considered an “outstanding house” in the countryside surrounding Vicksburg. I’ve heard that a petition asking that Ceres be preserved has collected over 2,000 signatures in the last month, so I think there’s still public support for the place, even if the editors of the Vicksburg Post have fallen for the Warren County Port Commission’s story about needing the site for some unknown future development.