Builders pics: William J. McGee

I found both of these obituaries for William J. McGee, in my recent productive search through the Gill Collection at MDAH (“Pioneer Club Scrapbooks,” vol 3 of 3). They contain in a few paragraphs a humanizing portrait of the builder of many landmarks still standing both in Jackson and around Mississippi. Somehow he managed to build all these buildings while also being involved in local politics and serving on the board of the state hospital.

St. Peter’s Cathedral, Jackson (1897, P.H. Weathers, archt.)

The rare Catholic builder, McGee was responsible for Jackson’s St. Peter’s Cathedral but also was the builder of the Episcopal St. Andrew’s Cathedral down the street. Several courthouses are also the work of his hand: Jefferson Davis County CH (1907), Houston’s Chickasaw County CH (1909), and the Perry County Courthouse and Jail (as McGee & Garber, 1904). He and his son were the builders of Belhaven College’s Preston and Fitzhugh Halls (1927), and at least some of the original buildings at the Mississippi State Hospital at Whitfield (late 1920s). The firm, still called W.J. McGee & Son after his retirement in 1927, was the contractor for Bailey Junior High School in Jackson, an Overstreet & Town design.

The obituary mentions that he was buried in Greenwood Cemetery in downtown Jackson, and I’ve tried to follow up on that. The City gave me the location of the grave, which was somewhere near Eudora Welty’s, but I searched fruitlessly. Maybe it will turn up on another visit, and if so, I’ll post that here.

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William McGee, Prominent Jackson Man, Succumbs

William Jefferson McGee, retired contractor and prominent local citizen, died at 5 a.m. Tuesday at the age of 89.

A native Mississippian, Mr. McGee was born in Winston county, the eldest son of Thomas Jefferson McGee and Mary Ann McArthur. His father was killed in the battle of Corinth, and being the eldest of five children, young William was called upon to help rear his younger brother and sisters.

In 1888 he came to Jackson as superintendent of the H.M. Taylor Construction company. Two years later he established a business for himself, and in 1922 made his son a partner. He retired from active business in 1927.

Mr. McGee served as representative from Hinds county in the first assembly of legislature in the New Capitol in 1904, served on the Board of Trustees of the State Insane hospital under the late Drs. Mitchell and Stewart; and served as alderman for the then First Ward under Mayor John Todd. He was also a member of the Elk’s club and St. Peter’s Catholic Church.

Early in life Mr. McGee was married to Miss Emma Foster of Yazoo City. Two children blessed this union, the late Lena McGee, and Mrs. Blanche Horne.

His second wife was Miss Eleanor Aby Dennis of Raymond, and two children were born to them–Walter H. McGee and Florence McGee, both of whom were connected with their father in business.

His three children survive him. Also three grandchildren, Mrs. Joe E. Skinner, Blanche Robinson, John F. Horne, all of Jackson; and a sister, Mrs. Alice M. Corbin of Biloxi.

The body will lie in state at the family residence, 429 Mississippi street, until time for the service, which will be conducted at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Peter’s Catholic church, by Father Thomas Fullam. Active pall bearers will be R.E. Taylor, Dr. L.H. Hughes, John W. Robinson, W.B. McCarty, Leslie J. Gardner, Charles H. North, Frank Shields, and Ernest Bourgeois. Interment will be in Greenwood cemetery.

–article dated July 27, 1943 (not sure whether this is the Clarion-Ledger or the Daily News).

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Different font, different newspaper?

William J. McGee Helped Build Our City For A Half-Century

William Jefferson McGee, who died Tuesday at the ripe age of 89, was one of Jackson’s oldest, most prominent, most useful and most respected citizens, a man of industry and character who contributed substantially to the city’s development.

St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Jackson (1903, P.H. Weathers, archt.)

He was a “builder” in more than one sense. He was an active building contractor in Jackson 40 years. But for more than a half-century he also helped build the community as a public spirited citizen, giving of his time and talents to city administration and civic movements, serving himself and encouraging others to public service.

He ably represented Hinds county in the Legislature in 1904. He served City and State as a member of the Board of Trustees of the State Hospital for the Insane. As an Alderman he contributed to the city’s development three decades ago. As an Elk, he aided and participated in all the worthy enterprises sponsored by that organization. A Catholic and most interested in Catholic charities, his friends were among all denominations and he contributed generously to other charities and good works.

Some of the buildings he erected as a contractor, including the Robert E. Lee Hotel, might be considered, in one way, monuments to him. But, honestly built as they were, his more enduring monuments are his tangible but real contributions to the community, the fruits of personal services as Citizen and Christian.

Friends he made among three generations mourn his death and miss him, offering sympathy to the surviving son and daughters.



Categories: Architectural Research, Historic Preservation

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  1. Leavell Hall: Another “Dog” of a Building? « Preservation in Mississippi
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