Earlier this year, as you may remember, a book from Arcadia Press authored by Todd Sanders of MDAH, looked at the history and evolution of North State Street from a corridor of antebellum and Victorian mansions to the commercial hodge-podge it is today. Well, rooting around in old vertical files, I came across this article or rather a commentary,”Jackson’s Past Could Be Lost” from the Northside Reporter, dated Nov. 15, 1973, by Lisa Payne Postell. The article is a plea for the preservation of what was left of North State Street’s history.
The commentary proves that Jackson did have some preservationists that far back. Those of us who have only lived here in the last decade or two may not realize the history of preservation in this city and what a struggle it has been to build any kind of preservation ethic. This article gives us some insight into that early process.
The other thing I like about this article is how it shows the processing of information in the relatively early years of the preservation movement–how different laws hadn’t been passed yet, how people didn’t know quite what to make of the National Register or the state Antiquities Act, how the accepted lingo of preservation hadn’t yet been invented.
In the Historic Sites Study published December 15, 1969, Donald L. Irvin, City Planning Director, wrote that ‘it is incumbent upon the public section to acquire some of these properties and maintain them for posterity.’ Since that date, four of the structures listed in the study have been demolished, one of them for a parking lot.
Many of the homes along North State Street, while not listed in the Historic Sites Study, are elegant reminders of another day in Jackson but are in grave danger because of the commercialization of the street. Although a number of these fine old homes are still used for residences, the owners are taxed according to the commercial land values prevalent along the street, making it virtually impossible to maintain them as private dwellings and encouraging the owners to sell them to commercial enterprises.
State St. Construction
Construction on North State is doing great damage to the remaining homes. That section of the city is built on an unstable soil with large quantities of Yazoo Clay causing foundation problems just with the passage of time. However, with the number of building projects going on, with the piledriving to stabilize the future structures, this foundation damage is being accelerated.
Although Irvin is the official spokesman for the City Planning Board, other employees of the Board have said merely that the character of streets change. And as the Central Business District had moved over the years from South State to Capitol Street, it is now moving to North State. The general impression is that North State Street’s time has come and there is nothing anyone can or wants to do about it in City government.
When queried about limiting the destruction of old homes in the city, Irvin said that most of these homes are privately owned and the city has no right to restrict the owner in doing whatever he wants with his property, except through zoning. Citing a Supreme Court case, Irvin said that the community can control land use, but the owner has all rights within those limits unless further control has community-wide benefit.
Enabling legislation in other states, particularly in Louisiana and Pennsylvania, has provided cities with legal toold to prevent wholesale destruction of buildings, homes and areas of historic significance. In Louisiana, state legislation has enabled New Orleans to restruct vastly demolition and construction in the French Quarter, and in Pennsylvania, the laws have preserved large areas of Philadelphia. However, it would appear that this type of legislation is not going to be enacted in Mississippi without a strong public outcry.
In lieu of enabling legislation, Irvin pointed out the number of preservations in Natchez. In that city, garden clubs and women’s groups have provided the funds to buy many of the historic properties when they came on the market rather than let them go to commercial venture bent on the demolition of the structures.
Last Donation in 1927
. . . .
The state does provide some protection for historic sites through the Antiquities Law of 1970. Under this law, the owner may place his property under protection from demolition or destruction of any kind. The only catch in this legislation is that the property may never be used for anything else other than what it was used for when placed under the Antiquities Law. [note: I don’t believe this was ever the case–if so, it is not the case with the Antiquties Law today]
The Manship House
The Manship House is one of the most important historical structures in the city because it is one of the few buildings which pre-dates the Civil War and survived Sherman’s burning. The house was recently endangered when the city made its plans to widen Fortification Street. After a great deal of publicity, the city agreed to replant several 100-year-old Venetian Cedars and care for the trees to ensure their survival, and to relay completely the handmade brick sidewalk. The city has made every effort since the initial outcry to maintain the integrity of the site in every way.
However, there was a misunderstanding when the property was first endangered. It was thought by the press that since the house is on the National Register of Historical Places that it was automatically protected by the Antiquities Act [this is still a common misconception]. That is not the case. The Antiquities Act is separate legislation requiring action by the owner. It is not automatic. The owner of the Manship House has consistently refused to place the home under the Antiquities Law, and, with the provision in the law that the site can never be used for anything else, one has to wonder if the owner is truly concerned with protecting an historic site.
Public Support Needed
With the consistent loss of historical properties, lovely homes and, possibly, the old Central Fire Station, it does appear that it is incumbent upon the public sector to save some of our heritage. However, it is high time the citizens of Jackson realized that the city cannot seem to do anything and individual generosity such as that which provided the Municipal Art Gallery is a thing of the past.
Only through public vigilence and group funds can the sites and homes that make Jackson the city that it is and not Cincinnati [shudder!] be preserved and cherished.