Springfield Sees New Life

I have to admit Springfield, down in Jefferson County, is one historic house I’ve never made it out to see, even though it was open for tours for many years before the death of the last owner, Arthur LaSalle. Mr. LaSalle died a couple of years ago, and the future of the house–a true plantation house and therefore requiring an owner who likes being out in the country–was uncertain. But according to the Natchez Democrat, new owners are now occupying the house after a major renovation and plan to open it for Pilgrimage (I don’t see it on this year’s Fall Pilgrimage, but maybe it will start in the Spring).

The house is described as 219 years old and as the site of the marriage of Andrew Jackson to his not-yet-divorced wife Rachel in 1791. While there’s no debate that the marriage took place at Springfield Plantation, there is some question amongst architectural historians about whether this particular house was standing at that time. The most knowledgeable people I know about the architecture of the Natchez district date the house to around 1800, based on construction and stylistic details. Mr. LaSalle obviously disagreed with this assessment, and the house has continued to be marketed as the place where the Jacksons got their fake marriage going. As I’ve never been to the house, I have no opinion and therefore am only helpfully passing along information, as I’m wont to do.

I was surprised by the amount of major work that went into this latest renovation, including not only foundation work but also apparently lots of interior work too:

Work started from the foundation and went up, caretaker Norma Tenner said.

“The workers had to start by shoring up the foundation,” Tenner said. “At first, no one was sure how much work it was going to take to save this house.”

The restoration work was supervised by John Henry Hawkins, owner and contractor for Hawkins Construction.

“I was a little scared to take on this job at first,” Hawkins said. “It isn’t the biggest job I’ve ever done; we kept uncovering things that we didn’t expect to be wrong.”

The front porch of the house had rotted and had to be replaced and a kitchen that was added on to the original structure could not be restored and had to be removed.

But Hawkins said it was his goal all along to retain as many of the original features as possible, and in many cases he was able to do just that.

“The moldings all through the house are original,” Hawkins said. “We had to work around them when repairing the walls because it would have been impossible to take them down.”

Walt Grayson has also picked up the story at WLBT: http://www.wlbt.com/Global/story.asp?S=12918065. Both stories have pictures of the new owners and the house itself, including the hand-carved punch-work mantles and trim.

I hate to even bring this up, because I’m very very happy to see this amazing historic place brought back to life when it could have been left to decay and finally rot away, but I’m concerned about that very white brick mortar in the newspaper pictures and in the WLBT video. I’m hoping that it’s a remnant of the whitewash (or something) covering the brick under the porch in this 2005 picture on Flickr.

brick spalling on front porch column at Mt. Holly due to Portland cement mortar

However, it looks to me like a Portland Cement mortar has been used in repointing the brick. Portland  is a very hard mortar compared to the 18th and 19th century lime-and-sand mortars. You might think a harder mortar would be better, but it’s horrible horrible horrible when combined with the soft brick that would be in Springfield. If you remember my post on Mt. Holly south of Greenville, you will recall what happens to old brick when hard Portland mortar is placed in the joints–the fronts of the brick pop off, and the brick is completely destroyed. This is not a 50-50 chance, this is a 100% chance–given time it will happen. (You can read more about the particulars of this best-of-intentions-but-disastrous mistake on the Mt. Holly post.)

I hope for everyone’s sake, not least of all the new owners of Springfield, that the masonry contractor knew enough about what he was doing to use the right mortar and that my eyes are just giving me false worries.

Even so, I’ll be sure to check out Springfield on the first Pilgrimage it’s open–I’ll report back!



Categories: Antebellum, Architectural Research, Cool Old Places, Renovation Projects

2 replies

  1. I hate to say this but I agree. The incredible whiteness of the mortar on the porch is worrying. Also, the 2005 photograph did not show a porch that looked like it needed to be replaced. While I realize that rot is visually difficult to detect until it is extremely bad, the old porch looked like an old porch. The new porch looks smooth enough to be concrete. And, not to be knitpicky (though I feel the need to be), the interior looks garish and awful, as if it was decorated by someone who had never been in anything other than Southern Living catalog homes.

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  2. That’s unfortunate if true. I spoke with Mr. LaSalle several times and also a few months before he died. Yes, he was peculiar and had strong opinions about the American Revolution among other things but he was a treasure of information. Wonder if the train engine is still there that he had worked to renovate.

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