MissPres News Roundup 9-27-2010

Well, Fall has possibly arrived for good in Mississippi, as of yesterday, but I for one am not getting my hopes up. I got .11 inches of rain at my house–maybe y’all got more.

What’s been going on round these parts lately?


Speaking of drought and rain, the Northside Sun (9-23-2010) ran a great interview with David Dockery, chief of surface geology for the Mississippi Office of Geology, all about our nemesis here in central Mississippi, the dreaded Yazoo Clay. Yazoo Clay, an extraordinarily expansive clay, has been the bane of buildings, roads, bridges, anything that sits on the ground really as long as humans have been around, and every generation thinks it’s solved the problem.

Unfortunately, the Sun, formerly so reliable in posting its articles online has apparently changed its ways, but luckily for y’all, I’m a subscriber, so I’ll give you the gist of the interview.

Sun: Why is Yazoo Clay so harsh on buildings?

Dockery: Yazoo Clay is a swelling clay that has water as part of its chemical formula. Because of its chemical makeup, Yazoo Clay can take up water or give it off. What happens in the weathered level of the clay, the upper 10 to 20 feet, the chemistry changes a bit and it becomes more apt to giving off and taking on water. In drier weather, it shrinks, so when it rains, it swells. When it swells, the clay does so with lots of pressure. It can cave in a basement or raise a foundation. It pulls away from a foundation when it dries out.

. . . .

Sun: What are the best ways to deal with the clay?

Dockery: This is one of my observations. When my father built our home on Manila Drive in North Jackson [in the old GI Subdivision] in 1949, he built it like other people were told to. He drilled pilings that were 20 feet down that were reinforced concrete. The pilings created piers on which the house sat.

The house had a conventional foundation and a skirt around the sides, with a crawl space under the floor. If the clay rises, it rises in the crawl space and it won’t affect the foundation. The house is now 60 years old and has never had any trouble. If you build on a slab, the slab will rise and fall with the swelling clay.

Yet another reason that slab foundations are EVIL!

Dockery goes on to note that our outcropping of Yazoo extends from Yazoo City through Shubuta and into Alabama, but that in Jackson it is particularly thick, up to 400 feet deep. So all this stuff about digging out 3 or 4 feet and then being ok is “not an option.” All in all a really fascinating article, which is saying something when the topic is geology.

Also in the Northside Sun (9-16-2010), an update on the never-ending (or I guess “never-beginning”) Fortification Street project in the historic Belhaven/Belhaven Heights neighborhood. This once-neighborhood street was four-laned when the interstate came through in the 1970s, creating a speedway from downtown to the interstate and separating Belhaven to the north from Belhaven Heights to the south. The only thing making it less of a speedway actually is the rolling terrain resulting from extensive Yazoo Clay problems and an extreme level of deferred maintenance.

This project has been in the works for at least a decade, but it appears to be finally getting into the homestretch. As I understand it, the road will be taken back down to two lanes, with a center turn lane at intervals and a landscaped median. It will also cut down a dangerous hill that forces drivers from Belhaven Heights to pull out into traffic with only blind faith that no one is about to plow into them. All in all, this will really be a boost to both neighborhoods when it’s done, which is expected to be next summer (2011), according to the article.

1975 photo of Airliewood, courtesy Historic American Building Survey, Jack E. Boucher photographer

If you’re in the market for a historic house, head up to Holly Springs, where the antebellum Gothic Revival “Airliewood” house will be auctioned October 9. According to the Morris Auction Group website:

This magnificent, impeccable restoration of a historically significant Antebellum mansion is beautifully situated on 8+/- manicured acres.

Airliewood, a masterful blend of yesterday and today, features a new addition with every modern convenience sympathetically married to the luxurious Gothic Revival estate home built in 1858. General U.S. Grant used Airliewood as his headquarters and residence during his encampment in North Mississippi.

The exquisite craftsmanship found throughout the home was recognized with the 2006 Award of Merit for Restoration and Rehabilitation from the Mississippi Heritage Trust.

This 9000+/- SF expansive home offers 6 bedrooms, 4 baths, 2 half baths, 2 secure entrances, chef’s kitchen, enormous walk-in shower, elegant parlors, music room, dining room, immense entrance hall and upstairs foyer, 3 porches, 10 fireplaces and a 4 car attached garage. Airliewood is a rare opportunity to own a historical property that has been painstakingly restored and updated. Only 30 miles from Oxford, MS and Memphis, TN.

Find more historic pictures of the building at HABS and more current pictures on the auction website.

News from Tupelo’s Historic Mill Village: according to the Daily Journal, there’s a new plan in the works for the old cotton mill known as the J.J. Rogers building, recently acquired by local attorney Greg Pirkle. Those of you who have been around MissPres since this time last year may remember that a North Carolina developer, Rex Todd, had planned to convert the mill to loft apartments using housing tax credits. Those credits never came through, and Mr. Pirkle now indicates that the new plan includes apartments as only one component of a more diverse development, which I think is a good thing:

His initial thoughts are to convert it into retail, residential and professional space.

“I would like to have active businesses,” he said, adding that his goal would be to keep the space less than 50 percent residential.

. . . .

“It’s in good condition,” Pirkle said. “The building has had only two major owners – the cotton mill and the Rogers family, which bought it in the 1940s.”

The mill was built in 1901 and spawned the development of what is now known as Mill Village in Tupelo. Pirkle said an addition to the mill was built in 1919.

Read more: NEMS360.com – “A plan for the mill”

Down on the Coast, the Scafide building, a concrete-block structure in Bay St. Louis that’s received alot of attention during its amazing turn-around from an on-the-edge of collapse situation to a functional part of the community as the home of the Little Theater, had its grand opening this weekend. According to the Sun-Herald’s “This property is revived“:

Ceremonies for the theater’s new John F. Holmes Playhouse at 398 Blaize Ave. begin with a ticketed gala at 6:30 p.m. Friday and continue Saturday with free public tours, a repeat of the Friday night special events and conclude at dusk with an outdoor presentation of a movie that was filmed in Bay St. Louis and released in 1966.
. . . .
The structure was built in the mid-to-late 1920s by Andrew Scafide, who handmade its irregular yellow concrete blocks. He and his wife, Andrea, ran their grocery store downstairs and raised their 11 children upstairs. Unused in later years, the building fell into disrepair and was literally hours away from the wrecking ball, said Grace, when the BSLLT made the purchase.

Over in Biloxi, a house that has no architectural significance but possesses a sort of grisly historical importance, the Sherry house, is about to be demolished, according to the Sun-Herald. Those of you familiar with the history recall that the Mr. Sherry was a state judge who, along with his wife, was assassinated in his home. The investigation uncovered all sorts of connections to the “Dixie Mafia” and the mayor of Biloxi, Sherry’s former law partner.

The Clarion-Ledger had a nice interview with the principals of Jackson architectural firm Duvall Decker, Roy T. Decker and Anne Marie Decker, “Blueprint for Business: Partners at home and at the office.” One of my favorite new “Modernist” buildings in Jackson is the Mississippi Library Commission, designed by Duval Decker in association with Jackson firm Burris/Wagnon, and winner of several awards.

Last but not least, don’t forget that at least three fall pilgrimages begin this Friday, Natchez, Carrollton, and Columbus. Now that the weather has gotten bearable, maybe we’ll all have some energy to seek out new-to-us historic buildings, to boldly go see parts of our state we’ve never seen before. And if you’re feeling especially adventuresome, remember the Victorian Society tour of New Orleans later in October.

Categories: Antebellum, Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, For Sale, Gulf Coast, Holly Springs, Jackson, News Roundups, Renovation Projects, Tupelo

3 replies

  1. I grew up in Biloxi and remember well the Sherry murders. I had a friend who lived in the Sunkist neighborhood and I never wanted to spend the night at her house again after that. Never really thought about it again until now. I just assumed someone had bought the house and life was being lived normally in the neighborhood since them. Guess not.


  2. Also, the Tupelo City Council has finalized the Spain House deal. I think they did that Tuesday or Wednesday at their last meeting.


  3. Thanks for the update on the Fortification St. project–glad to hear that the ball is rolling! I live in Belhaven and often think that that area could be so much nicer if the street was better/landscaped. I wonder what taking it down to two lanes will do to the traffic though?


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