W.S. Hull’s Governor’s Mansion Report: Original Downtown Booster

Today we continue with our friend W.S. Hull’s 1909 report on the Governor’s Mansion. Yesterday, we learned a little bit about William S. Hull, one of Mississippi’s early native architects and brother of contractor Francis Blair Hull. In 1909, the Legislature hired W.S. Hull, by then a respected professional well-known regionally for his public buildings, to examine the Governor’s Mansion in response to a debate about whether to demolish the old building or maybe even sell the block it was on and move the governor’s residence to one of the fashionable new neighborhoods north or west of town.

Hull used his report espouse a third way, that of preservation, advocating a renovation of the building and an addition of a new rear wing that would be more comfortable for modern living. The language Hull uses to argue for history and preservation and beauty is not only instructive about the early preservation efforts in the state but is still relevant for many of today’s preservation issues.

Today’s segment shows that Hull was an original New Urbanist, arguing that the governor should be at the center of downtown activity, not removed from it to the leafy suburbs.

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A more desirable and practical location cannot be found and the State owns the grounds and the building. After a careful examination of the building I find that the troubles are surface troubles; partly from neglect and partly from atmospheric causes. There are exposed to view some things that must be renewed, the stone work and the windows most prominent, but there is no fundamental trouble. The brick walls need but little attention except paint, and there is not a decayed timber in the framework of the building. From the basement to the roof every beam, joist, plate or rafter, is as the day it was first put in. All are of red heart cypress, cut at a time when nothing but the best was used. If taken out and put in work exposed to the weather they would last twice as long as any bill of lumber that can be bought from the average saw mill of today. And in the esteem of mankind the building as an artistic composition will last twice as long as another that might be built by the average architect of today.

There are discomforts to the building as a winter habitation, inconvenience for the administration of household or State functions, and the placing of cheap wall paper on some walls in recent times finds its own accuser.

It is proposed that these troubles shall be remedied. When the house was built the convenient things of modern invention were unknown and there were negro slaves in abundance.

Ever since Vitruvius wrote his letters to Caesar the architects for all important buildings have been charged with other duties besides the modeling and the great Roman architect laid paramount stress upon the location where the monument was to be erected. Mississippi is instinct with hospitality. When the stranger comes the bread is buttered on both sides. The Governor’s mansion should be located that it will be typical of this hospitality. It should be upon the principal high way with large open spaces around it, thus, without the blare of trumpets, establishing the fact that there is welcome to the State. It should not be located in such a place that it will be subordinated to any other building. Without consulting city directories the traveler should know this is the Governor’s mansion. It should be the wide open gate way to the Commonwealth. Whatever his disposition the Governor cannot be a recluse, and the State will provide for him no hiding place, “far from the madding crowd.”

The Governor is a busy man. Let us see how the present location will aid him in his labors. He can enter the street car at the front door and reach the asylum for the blind, for the deaf mutes, for the insane; also the union depot, the old capitol, the new capitol, all of the banks and nearly all of the churches without changing cars. The Federal Court building and post office is across the street and the Circuit Court building a block away. For rapid transit to important points the site could not be improved. Citizens coming from all parts of the State, or visitors from the world at large, leaving the railroad station in a street car are left at the door.

The property upon which the mansion is located embraces an entire block and when the grounds are properly graded and all of the contemplated improvements made it will be a commanding view and bring admiration from all visitors. It furnishes opportunity for the State to widen the streets leading to the Capitol or ultimately clear out all interposing houses between it and the capitol, so that a grand view of that stately building can be appropriately displayed. The architect is expected to give practical advice because his is one of the most practical of all professions. The results of his labor represent in the main the accumulated wealth of the world. The vast wealth of the farmer is consumed from year to year, the products of all manufacture are worn out in a few years. The fisherman’s product is consumed from day to day, so it is that the architect builds the monuments and conserves the wealth, and by habit, association and training and imagination he finds the larger economies in forecasting events. No one at this time denies that the building of the new capitol has added millions to the wealth of Mississippi, yet there were some unimaginative people at the time the building was projected who thought the expenditure was a reckless waste. In all times and under all circumstances it has been shown that people who have helped themselves have had others to help them. Besides the pleasure and pride in adorning that which is your own it attracts others to you. The world wastes no time on a man who can do well and will not.

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This is the second part of a four-part series. Want to read the rest?

1. From the Archives: W.S. Hull’s Report on the Governor’s Mansion
3. An Argument for Preservation
4. What They Did in 1909



Categories: Architectural Research, Cool Old Places, Historic Preservation, Jackson, Renovation Projects

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