As is traditional in this quiet week after Christmas and before New Years, we look back at the year and recount our wins and losses. We usually start with the “sad list” of buildings who lost their battle against time in 2011. This year’s losses seem pretty significant to me, with a number of recognized and substantial landmarks demolished, many after years of neglect. Others were destroyed in the terrible tornadoes of April 2011. Some we’ll miss more than others, but all contributed to the historic fabric of Mississippi, and the state is a little less interesting without them and the stories they told.
McGehee Memorial Building, Gulf Coast Military Academy (1921-2011), Gulfport:
The oldest remaining building from the campus of the old Gulf Coast Military Academy–more recently the Gulf Coast campus of Hattiesburg’s William Carey College–the McGehee Building was washed through during the storm surge of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Sitting vacant this whole time, the building finally fell victim to the college’s decision to abandon the beachfront property and wipe it clean for sale to the highest bidder. While recognizing the argument that vacant property may be more enticing to a certain type of developer, I also feel the need to once again point out that the Mississippi Gulf Coast is awash in clean beachfront property, very little of which is selling. So why not stabilize the building and allow it a chance to attract a different type of developer who might be interested in using the historic landmark as the centerpiece of a new development?
Calhoun County Courthouse (1938-2011), Pittsboro:
I can’t say I really cried over this building’s destruction. Built in 1938, the courthouse destroyed Pittsboro’s courthouse square and wasn’t really much to look at. The building’s demolition was recorded for posterity on NMissCommenter. Our own Jack Elliott provided some historical perspective on the loss of the square back when this proposed demolition was first reported here on MissPres back in 2010:
I suspect that many pass through Pittsboro regularly and never notice that there is (or was) a courthouse square. The current courthouse was constructed to the side of the square–presumably so the old courthouse could continue in use while the new was being constructed. This decision– while certainly expeditious in the short-term–did little for the long-term integrity of the town. Once the courthouse was removed, instead of retaining the square as a park (eg. Pontotoc), the square was destroyed by running the main north-south axis (Hwy 9) through the square from corner to corner while the two triangles that were created were turned into paved parking areas. The result in passing through Pittsboro is that the courthouse rather than appearing as a focal point in the town, appeared more like a mediocre high school gym built alongside a small highway. Many county seat towns have lost old courthouses, but Pittsboro is the only town in Mississippi that I know of that lost its courthouse square.
I could only hope that a new courthouse would be constructed on a restored square. However, I see no cause for optimisim.
Power Memorial Presbyterian Church (1911-2011), Jackson:
The last remnant of the old residential section south of downtown Jackson, this wood-framed church had long-ago lost its congregation and been converted into offices by Jackson Public Schools. Abandoned by the district in the last decade, the building came down without so much as a howdy-do sometime this summer.
Capitol Street Methodist Church (1912-2011), Jackson:
Poor Capitol Street Methodist, a grand landmark of West Jackson, has been sitting vacant and deteriorating for most of the last two decades. As we noted in June’s Capitol Street Methodist Is Falling Down, time and gravity finally took their toll when the gable ridge holding up the massive roof broke down and brought the roof with it. From my walk around the perimeter of the building just after the first collapse, it appears that nothing was salvaged from the building, other than the stained-glass windows which were removed several years ago. According to the West Jackson blog, there was hope to salvage the bricks during demolition. Eyewitnesses other than me (I can’t bear to drive out there lately) report that demolition was completed in early December–no reports about the bricks.
Meridian Hotel (c.1910-2011):
I don’t have the energy to go into this example of colossal stupidity and inane “economic development” groupthink. You can read all about it in “Rumblings and Bumblings from Meridian” and “Because for instance, the Meridian Hotel is much older, we feel it’s best to tear it down.” Reports indicate that the expansive vacant lot that the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center desires to turn into a pretty grassy knoll has now been achieved.
“Friendship House” (c.1890-2011), Columbus:
A beautiful piece of Columbus’ architectural fabric destroyed by a church that apparently has no interest in the property and could have sold it to buyers who wanted to restore it. They even went so far as to mock the people in town who wanted to save it by offering it for one dollar, but only if the buyer could move it off the property in a thirty-day window, as if most people just have a piece of vacant property laying around and can get a mover on board and a big house moved in one month. I’ve already ranted about this duplicitous so-called church, and I don’t feel like repeating it during this season of good cheer. To read the whole sad and unnecessary saga, see News Roundup 4-19-2011, 5-3-2011, and 6-13-2011, and to see a picture of the house, read the original Columbus Dispatch article.
Agriculture Building, Mississippi State Fairgrounds, Jackson
Built in 1957, the twin barrel-vaulted exhibition buildings at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds called the Agriculture and Industry Buildings (or A&I for short) became the site of a temporary jail for hundreds of civil rights activists in the summer of 1963. This was a tense time in Mississippi’s history, after the assassination of Medgar Evers in his own driveway motivated local people who had previously kept quiet to demonstrate against the oppression of Jim Crow and white supremacy. With so many protesters, Mississippi’s officials cordoned off the area between the A&I buildings, using one for males and the other for females, with the open courtyard between them. The site became known as the “Fairground’s Motel.” But the State, in the midst of celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, ignored this tangible Civil Rights site, tearing down the Agriculture building in May 2011, at the same time it welcomed the former Freedom Riders back to the state. At the end of the year, the Industry building still stood, shorn of the space that contributed to its sense of history and providing a bit of irony that Industry has finally won out over Agriculture.
Brownlee Gym, Tougaloo College (1947-2011):
Designed by Jackson architect Emmett J. Hull (son of Francis Blair Hull and partner in Hull & Malvaney, of Eastland Federal Building fame), Brownlee Gym was listed on the National Register as part of the Tougaloo College Historic District. Vacated as a gym at least for a decade, possibly more, the gym had a brief ray of hope of renovation a while back but this was never carried out, and it was down by Spring of this year.
Graham House, Jasper County (1865-2011):
Listed on the National Register in April 2008, the Graham House in rural Jasper County was one of at least three antebellum houses destroyed during the devastating tornadoes that swept the state this last April, enjoying only three years on the Register. This is the write-up for the house on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History’s Historic Resources Database:
The Graham House is an excellent local example of a rural vernacular Greek Revival galleried planter’s cottage. The house, begun c. 1860 and completed after the war, typifies a popular Mississippi house form. Raised on brick piers, it is one and one-half stories tall with a center hall flanked by two rooms on each side. Tall ceilings with full-height windows are common planter’s cottage features. The full-width undercut porch is supported by octagonal columns which, family tradition holds, were shipped up the Chickasawhay River from Mobile. Supporting structures include a barn, smokehouse and chicken coop. Martha Graham Bucciantini, a descendant of the original owner, wrote the nomination.
Elliot House (Gaines Trace Inn) (1846-2011), Smithville:
This two-story Greek Revival I-house was badly mangled in the April tornado that ripped through the small town of Smithville up north of Aberdeen. Photos taken by MDAH after the storm show a building whose roof has collapsed, front portico is on the ground, chimneys ragged without their tops, but the walls somehow are still standing. The building was torn down sometime in the summer. Google Streeview offers a glimpse of what was before:
Dr. Harmon House (c.1855-2011), Smithville:
Another antebellum victim of the Smithville tornado, I don’t know much about this house other than what’s on the MDAH database, which says it was two-stories tall and built around 1855. Photos of the house after the storm show a heap of building materials that barely resemble a house.
Other victims of the Smithville area tornadoes were East Webster High School in Cumberland and the Smithville School. East Webster has apparently been torn down, but Smithville, which sustained much less damage, according to reports, is still standing although rumblings of demolition have continued.
5 Faculty Houses, MSU (1900s):
With little fanfare, Mississippi State University continued its assault on its historic housing when it tore down this summer five of the few remaining old faculty houses on the south end of campus. Ostensibly to give them room to put more dormitories, the large remaining open spaces where several 1950s and 60s high-rise dormitories used to stand makes me wonder what the rush was to demolish these still useful and inhabited buildings. While I didn’t like Ole Miss’ decision to get rid of all of their 1930s-1950s faculty neighborhood a few years back, at least they offered the sweet little Colonials to the public and many were moved off for new lives in Oxford. According to anecdotal accounts, no attempt was made to move or even salvage the MSU buildings. For shame, MSU!
LNO&T Offices (1880-2011), Vicksburg:
This brick Italianate remnant of Vicksburg’s booming age as a cotton hub in the late-nineteenth-century sat for many years neglected and abandoned down by the railroad tracks it once serviced. It was a small part of the much larger Louisville, New Orleans & Texas Railroad yard down on south Levee Street. The Urban Decay blog documented its final days in August of this year and the sad site of its vacant lot a few months later.
Ben G. Humphreys Memorial Bridge (1940-2011), Greenville:
Ok, I’ll admit that the new Mississippi River Bridge at Greenville is a beauty. That doesn’t stop me from acknowledging the loss of the old Ben G. Humphreys Memorial Bridge, which was being dismantled last time I drove over that way back in October.