I stumbled on this report about the Governor’s Mansion recently and thought that it would be an interesting series for the MissPres readership. Prepared in 1909 by Jackson architect W.S. Hull, it apparently provided the basis for a decision by the Legislature to renovate the existing antebellum mansion instead of building a new residence outside of downtown, possibly in the fashionable and growing Belhaven area or out West Capitol street on the west side of the railroad.
Hull’s report not only addresses the details of how he would like to improve the existing site and renovate the old building, he also delves into the reasons for leaving the Governor’s residence downtown and preserving the mansion rather than building a new one. In doing so, he leaves us a record of the changes that have occurred to the Mansion–note to the squeamish, many of these wouldn’t pass muster with preservationists today–but also gives an excellent argument for preservation of historic and architectural landmarks of any generation. Perhaps as importantly, the report shows us his writing and thinking style, an insight into his character that is actually pretty rare in researching architects, who tend to leave their mark in brick and stone instead of words.
William S. Hull, born in 1848, was one of the first (possibly the first) “professional” architects native to the state, becoming a member of the Western Association of Architects (which later merged with the AIA) in 1887. W.S. Hull was the younger brother of Francis Blair Hull, who owned a lumber yard in Jackson and formed a construction company in the early 1870s. According to Dunbar Rowland’s Mississippi: Contemporary Biography (1907), F.B. Hull brought William into his construction business in 1876, and as William learned more about construction, he apparently became the designer for the firm. William and F.B. built lots of landmarks around the state, including the Tallahatchie County Courthouse at Sumner (1902), the Sharkey County Courthouse at Rolling Fork (1902), and Ayer Hall at what is now Jackson State University (1903-04).
Like many architects of the time, W.S. Hull did not receive any formal training that we know of, learning his skills by experience with his builder brother and reading books and journals, which he references throughout this report. I have a note, which I haven’t verified, that W.S. designed the Alabama building for Chicago’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, which, if true, would show the respect his work commanded regionally even without formal training behind it.
To the Honorable Special Committee of the Senate and House of Representatives:
Gentlemen—The estimate submitted with this report includes the removal of every building, including the one-story rear extension of the mansion and excepting the main building, from the premises.
- The removal of all fences from the premises.
- The building of cement concrete sidewalks on three sides of the square.
- The building of cement walks around the building and three from it to the streets on three sides.
- The building of stone steps in these walks.
- The building of McAdam driveways.
- The grading of the entire lot and the planting in trees and grass.
- A complete renovation of the old building and the erection of a two-story and basement annex in the rear.
This is, as I understand, the work you directed me to perform. I have divided the estimate in three parts. First, grading, paving, removing and planting. Second, renovating the old building. Third, erecting the new annex.
The drawings and specifications will sufficiently describe the work so that they can be understoof, but they are only preliminary and not intended to be built by.
The detailed estimate sheet will show the cost under the three heads. The grading will be performed by bringing the lot to something like level and the cutting of driveways and the sodding of terraces. The driveways will be of McAdam and will enter from the east, north and west sides.
The entrance on the east side will lead to and under a porte-cochere, which will be located mid-way of the combined building on the east side and from it with entrance to a spacious hall located between the two buildings. This driveway will continue to an exit on the north side. Another driveway will enter on the north with exit on the west. Carriages and wagons will be able thus to enter the square and reach all parts of the building except the south front and depart without making turns upon the premises. Each of the driveways will be made in the lines of a reverse curve. The concrete walks will be on th east, north and west sides of the square, around the building where not covered by the driveway and from the street to the entrances on each–Capitol, Congress and West streets.
The new annex will be designed upon the exterior to conform to the architecture of the old building. It will contain two stories and a basement, but the floor of the basement story will be above the level of the ground. This floor will be of concrete with an asphalt lamina [a waterproofing material] bedded in it to keep down all moisture. This story will contain kitchen, boiler room for steam heating and a fuel room between the two on the west side. A store room, pantry, cold storage room, trunk room and closet on the east side of the hallway between the two. A reinforced concrete ceiling over the kitchen, fuel room and boiler room. On the second story the entire east side will be the dining room. There will be two of them with grille and portieres dividing. A dumb waiter from the kitchen will serve each of the dining rooms. On the east side to the rear will be two servants rooms, and to the front will be a living room. A hall will extend between the east and west sides and a wall will extend across the hall separating the servants room from the front. The second floor will contain 4 bed rooms with center hall-way and bath room, lavatory, etc., for each room.
The entrance to the building from Congress street side will be into a spacious hall-way that intersects the hall-way extending north and south through the building. This will be the main stair hall although there will be a stair way in the rear hall extending from the basement to the second story. The stairway will be taken out of the hall of the old building. The main stair hall will be one of the features of the building, except for the stair platforms and some balconies it will be open up to the ceiling of the second story. The interior finish of the building will be of hard wood. The porte cochere will be supported with stone columns and will have reinforced concrete ceiling with a panel of prism glass. This ceiling will [form] the floor for a large balcony for the second story. Comfortable for sitting during the summer afternoons and evenings. All modern inventions that will make a comfortable home will be employed. If the Mistress of the Mansion should desire, she can set apart the old building for State occasions, functions and guests, and teh Governor and his family live in the new building. The specifications will describe the work to be done on the old building which will include new windows, granite steps, new lime stone stiffenings of floors, hard wood finish, some new mantels, tile hearths, removal of paper from walls and finish in fresco or colored tints. The old building has a basement story but it is 4 feet in the ground and I do not think it has served any useful purpose for years. It is damp and unwholesome. By the proper application of water proofing it can be made dry. But as there does not seem to be any use for it, and there is nothing historic about it that is apparent in the architecture except a big kitchen chimney with a spit, and as it would probably be better for the health I think if the cellar should be filled to grade level with the each and have so calculated. The successful carrying out of this work will add another charm to Mississippi’s civic institutions.
This is the first of a four-part series. Want to follow the whole series?