Last year, a reader contacted me about a house in Jefferson County that has fallen on hard times and needs a new owner to bring it back to life. I ran a post about it (“An Important House Needs Our Help“) and got a few interested replies, which I forwarded on. I’ve also been talking to anybody I can think of who might have an interest and the money required, but so far nothing’s gone very far.
The house, which I didn’t name in the first post because I prefer to let rural abandoned houses keep their privacy for fear of architectural salvagers running rampant, is none other than Prospect Hill, most known for its role in the struggle to free slaves and to send them to Africa to found colonies of their own, in this case Liberia. The place features prominently in Alan Huffman’s evocative and thought-provoking book Mississippi in Africa: The Saga of the Slaves of Prospect Hill Plantation and Their Legacy in Liberia Today, published in 2004.
The current house on the large wooded, remote property dates to 1854. A nice Greek Revival raised cottage with a wide center hall, full front gallery, rear loggia and cabinet rooms, and wide confident Greek trim, it was built on a scale less-grand than the earlier mansion, which burned down, possibly arson at the hands of slaves who had been promised their freedom by Isaac Ross and then denied it by Ross’s son. The Ross family cemetery, containing a classical marble monument to Isaac Ross, still stands off a ways from the house, connected by a perennial flower garden. To say that the place holds the paradoxes and depths of Mississippi history is an understatement.
Earlier this year, the same concerned reader sent some new pictures that indicated the house was deteriorating quickly, and he asked if someone might go out to the house, which is abandoned, at least to gauge the level of deterioration and see if any stop-gap measures could be done to slow the decline until someone came forward to buy the house.
So, on a beautiful early Spring day, four of us, including Alan Huffman went off for a ride to see what we could see. Alan’s account of the trip is more evocative than mine, familiar as he is with the people who once lived and died here. After wandering around for a while–even with a map it’s not an easy place to find–we came upon the house, and found that it has deteriorated quite a bit since the last pictures posted here.
A tree fell on the front porch in a storm earlier this decade, and having gone unrepaired, the center section is pulling the rest of the porch with it. The rear porch, however, has suffered even worse–a large section of the loggia has collapsed, and the back wall of one of the cabinet rooms to the side of the center loggia is on the ground. The main block of the house is still surprisingly intact, although it too is showing signs of roof leaks that left unattended will eventually bring the whole house down. A major problem is that the house still contains all sorts of . . . well, “crap” is the word I want to use, but I’ll just say “stuff”: strewn magazines, papers, junked furniture, rugs–much of it holding water from the roof leaks and hastening the failure of the floor beneath. If this were all removed, and with a little judicious shoring, the house might have several years to sit waiting for a savior, but if it’s allowed to remain as it is, it might last 2 years.
You might be thinking, “Is this house worth trying to save?” To which I answer “Yes!” And then you might say, “What kind of person might want to live here? Way off in the woods, down a sunken road, and then another sunken road, surrounded by swaying Spanish moss, cedar trees, daffodils, camellias, and the like?” To which I would respond, “Any person(s) who 1) loves Mississippi in all its depth and earthiness, 2) enjoys time ‘away’ (a hunter perhaps? a hunting lodge with an appreciation for Mississippi history?), and 3) has some money to spend.”
I know for a fact that there are such people in Mississippi–it’s just a matter of getting their attention. This house deserves the effort.