Revisionist history from a blue-haired lady in 1937

Over the holidays, I had a chance to take a couple of days and head over to the state archives to look at some collections an archivist friend had mentioned a while back (always have archivists friends–they know the most interesting and arcane things!) and had reminded me about recently. One collection in particular caught my attention, the scrapbooks of the Jackson Pioneer Club, which are actually in the Gill Collection. The scrapbooks are filled with somewhat random materials, but mainly consist of newspaper clippings either written by or about or with the help of club members in the 1930s.

A number of articles caught my eye–several about antebellum houses being demolished, along with histories of the same–but the one that made me almost fall out of my chair is the one I post today. Anyone who’s ever seen the Old Capitol, has seen Spengler’s Corner, a two-story stuccoed commercial building across the street at the intersection of Capitol and State streets. I have always been told that Spengler’s is the only antebellum commercial building left in Jackson. The National Register nomination written in 1977 gives a construction date of c.1840, and this statement has been repeated in articles and tours too numerous to mention.

Today’s article, however, published in August 1937, in either the Jackson Daily News or the Jackson Ledger, completely overthrows that story, and with some pretty impressive documentation. Based on research by Jackson Pioneer Club member Kate Power–whose research and writing about the State Street mansions are of high quality and are often the only written histories of those long-lost buildings–the article quotes the original builder of Spengler’s Corner, still living in 1937, and states that the building was in fact constructed in 1866, after the original Spengler store was destroyed in the Civil War.

Revisionist history sometimes gets a bad rap, but in this case, I think the history of Spengler’s Corner needs to be revised by going back in time to 1937. Not that this makes Spengler’s any less historic–it’s still the oldest commercial building in the city, I believe, by a wide margin, and it headlines a pretty nice stretch of 19th and early 20th century buildings facing the Old Capitol. Spengler’s Corner is dead, long live Spengler’s Corner!

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August 1937 (exact date unknown)

Historic City Site Soon to Face Changes

Jackson’s historic Spengler corner, where war thundered and commerce now hums, will soon be the scene of an extensive modernization program.

Recently the property, at the corner of State and Capitol streets, was purchased by Milton C. Etheredge, who is planning the remodeling operations.

It was in the ‘forties that the property came into the possession of Joseph Spengler, pioneer of the days when Jackson was a struggling rural settlement isolated except by stage coach.

A frame building then stood at the corner, and it was here that the stage coach made its stops in Jackson.

Hubert Spengler, Sr., acquired the property from his brother Joseph.

It was in the old frame building first standing on the corner that the famous “Bonnie Blue Flag” was sung. When the federal troops invaded Jackson during the Civil War the frame building was destroyed, but not until it had been the scene of many thrilling events.

The story is told that in November, 1862, the owner of the building was engaged in repairing the room when the arsenal explosion occurred. The arsenal was located where the T.P. Barr home now stands on North State street.

Bodies were sent hurtling skyward through the trees by the force of the blast. Marcellus Green, veteran Jackson attorney, says 87 persons were killed in the explosion.

Miss Kate M. Power of the Jackson Pioneer Club, has uncovered much of the history of the Spengler corner. She reports that after destruction of the original frame building Hubert Spengler erected a group of frame stores at the corner.

Later, however, in 1866 the two-story brick building was erected. It was the first brick structure erected in Jackson after Union soldiers turned the town into a shambles described at the time as “Chimneyville.”

Frank and Will Olin were contractors on the brick building, and Will Olin still lives in Jackson.

Hubert Spengler, Jr., son of the former owner lives in Jackson on North Jefferson street and Miss Theresa Spengler lives at the corner of South Congress and Court streets.

Joel J. Johnson, early Jacksonian, acquired the property in 1905. It remained under his ownership until his death, then becoming a part of his estate for settlement.

It was recently purchased by Mr. Etheredge, Jackson business man, the transaction being handled through the firm of Reid-Magee & Company.

Extensive alterations to provide modern, first-class office quarters and complete modernization of the two-story structure, will be made.

Plans are being drawn by Hull and Drummond, Jackson architects, completely remodelling the entire second floor of the large building on the corner to provide office quarters for the Mississippi Unemployment Compensation Commission.

There will be 7,500 square feet of floor space provided in this project, with suitable smaller offices for department heads constructed.

The entire exterior of the upstairs of the building will be remodelled at once, it was pointed out, with the cost estimated at $10,000. The entire floor will be razed and rebuilt.

The project involves a three-way lease including M.C. Etheredge, J.C. McGee and W.L. Hammer, realtors. Plans are expected to be completed as soon as possible for the first portion of the project.

The main floor of the building will not be altered at present, although sketches are being developed including complete exterior revision and numerous alterations for interior of the stores.

First-floor tenants include Hemphill Drug Store, Century Cafe, Barlow’s Barber Shop, Capital City Cafe and OK Barber Shop.

Considerable historic value is attached to this structure which stood here during the Civil War and was the once-famous stage coach stop through Central Mississippi.



Categories: Antebellum, Architectural Research, Civil War, Cool Old Places, Historic Preservation, Jackson

2 replies

  1. I think this is a marvelous discovery (or re-discovery)! There is another building on the west end of Capitol Street that may have some antebellum or early postbellum “parts” as well, but it is not as well known as Spengler’s corner. Nor has it been mistakenly claimed to be such as as Spengler’s corner. What is really interesting, to me at least, is how everyone in the preservation community apparently always believed the building to be antebellum. At least no one, to my knowledge, ever even brought up the possibility that it wasn’t. Of course one year, actually less than that, doesn’t usually make a big difference in building materials, techniques or design. But the way this mistake was believed and repeated does speak volumes about our fascination with the belief that all things antebellum are good and all things postbellum are bad.

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  2. The thing that’s so ironic about this is that usually it’s the preservationists and architectural historians who are trying to overturn long-standing local stories about a building’s supposed incredible age. But in this case, the local historian is the one who had done her homework back in the 1930s, tracking down the builders and everything, and then the professionals who came in 40 years later went with this 1840s date. Reading the nomination, I don’t see any questioning of that date, but on the other hand, I don’t see what they were relying on either. I guess just the date that the land was first sold to the Spenglers, but that’s never a good thing to rely on without other evidence.

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