It’s traditional here on MissPres to use the relatively quiet week between Christmas and New Years to look back over the events of the year, both good and bad. Hopefully this will help us take stock and get ready for the new year and new challenges ahead. The first list of the week is the saddest. Here we enumerate the old landmarks of Mississippi that we lost, sometimes due to accidents or acts of God, but mostly by acts of man.
This obviously is not an exhaustive list of historic buildings that were lost in 2010. The list was gathered from newspaper articles throughout the year, as well as word of mouth from friends around the state. If you know of other landmarks that should be included, just comment below and I’ll add those to the list.
Hoopes House, Port Gibson, Claiborne (c.1845): This antebellum hall-and-parlor Greek Revival house sat behind the Methodist Church, just off of Church Street in Port Gibson, a town that loves to trumpet its love of architecture and especially its antebellum past. Unfortunately, the Methodist Church, which I’m told can’t fill its sanctuary due to the declining population, decided a couple of years ago that it needed a prayer garden behind the church instead of the old Hoopes House, so they went to the preservation commission, which said, “no, not really,” and then they went to the Board of Aldermen, which said, “Sure!” After an unsuccessful effort to find someone willing to move the house off, the house was demolished in the summer of 2010. So far, the site sits vacant and bears no resemblance to a prayer garden.
Beverly Drive-In Theater, Hattiesburg, Forrest (1948): One of the last and certainly the most impressive remaining drive-in theater in Mississippi, the Beverly was much beloved by the Hattiesburg community, but the owners failed to repair the damage caused by Katrina and the structure went into a steep decline. The Mississippi Heritage Trust included the Beverly on its 10 Most Endangered Properties list in 2007, but the increased attention from around the state and even around the country was unsuccessful in preserving this piece of mid-20th-century Americana. The Beverly succumbed to fire of unknown origin in October 2010.
Capitol Street Church of Christ, Jackson, Hinds (1947): I happened to stop and take pictures of this Gothic Revival style church on Jackson’s West Capitol Street in the fall, following up on a story about a fire in the building in June. At the time I posted the pictures, I still had hope that the building would be repaired, but a trip down Capitol Street in November revealed that the building had already been torn down and a new concrete-block structure was taking its place.
St. Paul Catholic Church, Pass Christian, Harrison (1970): A Modernist landmark along Scenic Drive in Pass Christian, this steel and stained-glass structure was built after the old St. Paul’s was destroyed in Hurricane Camille. Damaged in Katrina, but not, in my opinion, to a level requiring demolition, the building was left open for five years and then became the subject of great community contention when the diocese applied for a demolition permit. The permit was denied by the preservation commission, the denial was overturned by the Board of Aldermen, which action was overridden in a veto by the mayor, whose veto was then overturned by the Aldermen. Apparently there was also a lawsuit by congregants that moved more quickly than lightning through the justice system all the way to the state supreme court, which declined to get involved. The church building was demolished last week. Merry Christmas, Pass Christian!
Ebenezer Baptist Church and Cemetery, Ebenezer, Holmes (c.1880): Built sometime in the 1870s or 1880s, this vernacular frame church building served its rural Holmes County community until it was completely destroyed in the devastating tornado that swept through from Warren and Yazoo counties up to the north central parts of the state.
Avent’s Gin, Oxford, Lafayette (c.1930): A landmark in downtown Oxford, the old cotton gin turned bar went down in flames in early March. Several MissPresers have admitted to either dancing on the tables here or observing others dancing on the tables.
Griffin Chapel [United] Methodist Church, Starkville, Oktibbeha (1926): Maybe I’ve just missed it, but I’ve been surprised to not see anything about the demolition of this major African American landmark right in downtown Starkville sometime this summer or fall. I happened to take a few pictures of the building back maybe two years ago on a quick trip through town, and I had noted at that time that the main sanctuary was apparently no longer being used. A large, and frankly ill-conceived, metal structure had been built on the back part of the property, and it seemed that all church functions had been removed there. A few months ago, I decided to swing down that side street, and saw that the old sanctuary, a sturdy and serious presence on the corner parcel, had vanished. I don’t know the history of the church, but the cornerstone noted that it was built in 1926, and given that it was right downtown, I would surmise that it has historically been the most prominent black church in town. All the more surprising that no note of its passing has been made in the newspaper.
Suttle Hall, MSU, Starkville, Oktibbeha (1967-68): Granted that this old men’s dormitory at MSU was more functional than fabulous, but it was still a repository of many memories and defined the college years for many alumni. It was also of incredibly sturdy construction–steel and concrete–unlike the new dormitories that are filling up this part of campus. Since the building’s demolition in July, I have counted at least three stories in the Clarion-Ledger about the housing shortage at MSU. None, of course, has mentioned how many housing units the university has eliminated in the demolition campaign of the last five years or has asked why those solid buildings were not simply remodeled instead of demolished.
(Old) Inverness High School [Central Delta Academy], Inverness (c.1925): This was personally the most distressing demolition to me this year, as the building’s owners responded here on MissPres to some alumni and other community members who had commented on a post about the building in the summer. For a brief moment it seemed like maybe the trustees of the school, which closed in June, would allow a little time for interested parties to come up with a different solution, but all too quickly that moment passed, and the entire campus was rubble by September when I passed through. The trustees of CDA officially go on my Wall of Shame for inexplicably rushing the demolition of the centerpiece landmark of Inverness.
In addition to those for which I have pictures, a few other lost buildings merit inclusion on the list.
- Masonic Hall (New Era Lodge No. 13), Okolona, Chickasaw (c.1897)–included in the Okolona Historic District, demolished in April
- Three downtown buildings in the Crystal Springs Historic District, including the Masonic Lodge—destroyed by fire in October.
- Five buildings in downtown Grenada—demolished for a parking lot in February
- A number of buildings on the square in Calhoun City—demolished in March, can’t say for sure why, just because.
And several buildings that I suspect will be on next year’s list: Ceres Plantation House, whose owners were given an implicit go-ahead for demolition when the MDAH Board of Trustees declined to designate it as a Mississippi Landmark in October; and Cathrine Hall and possibly other buildings on the historic and impressive campus of the old Mississippi Industrial College in Holly Springs. While we can’t save every important building, especially when fire or natural disasters come along, we should be able to do something about buildings like Ceres and MIC. It takes hard work and imagination, but even more importantly, it takes the willpower to stand up to those who would destroy the places that are important to us. If Mississippi’s official guardians of history won’t do that, then who can or will?
Categories: Demolition/Abandonment, Hattiesburg, Historic Preservation, Jackson, Mississippi Landmarks, MS Dept. of Archives and History, Oxford, Port Gibson, Recent Past, Starkville, Urban/Rural Issues