Saturday’s Open House at Prospect Hill drew over 250 people to the deep forests of Jefferson County. There attendees witnessed the amazing transformation of the property just in the few months since the Archaeological Conservancy, under the direction of Jessica Crawford, has acquired the house and a few of its surrounding acreage. You may recall this picture I took last year of the grand staircase up from the sunken road to the hill on which the house sits–I couldn’t back up any farther than this because of the overgrowth in the sunken road:
This is how that view looks now after Jessica and her hard-working crew have cut and pruned the jungle that had overtaken the place in the last few years.
The attendees list included a vast range of people, appropriate for this plantation with so many layers of history bound up in it (as a refresher, many of Prospect Hill’s slaves, set free by Isaac Ross in his will, shipped off to colonize Liberia; others, some of whom had been involved in a slave uprising, stayed and their descendants still live in the region). White Ross descendants mingled with black “Ross Belton” descendants and a strong contingent of American Liberian Americans traveled all the way from Maryland to return to the place of their ancestors. That’s not a typo–American Liberian Americans. Some of Prospect Hill’s Liberian Americans descendants fled the violence of Liberia’s civil war in the 1990s and are now “back” in America. Isn’t truth stranger than fiction? And more interesting?
Jessica Crawford of the Archaeological Conservancy introduced herself and the Conservancy’s role in the property, and noted that the Conservancy plans to stabilize the structure with a temporary roof and foundation supports, but really is searching for an owner who will love and restore the house while allowing archaeological digs to occur on the property. James Belton, a Mississippi descendant of the Prospect Hill slaves (and of the Rosses through the Belton line) told of the migration of Isaac Ross from South Carolina.
Alan Huffman discussed his book, Mississippi in Africa, and how complex the research was into the various strands of Prospect Hill. David Preziosi, of the Mississippi Heritage Trust, told of the property’s inclusion on the 10 Most Endangered Places list earlier this year and the renewed interest in saving the house, and Jennifer Baughn of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History gave a briefing on the architecture of the house. After that, visitors were free to roam the house and grounds (including the cleaned-up cemetery!) and get to know new friends and catch up with old ones.
Prospect Hill has a long way to go. (I would say “it’s not out of the woods yet” but that would be a horrible pun.) If you want to get involved, whether with time or money, contact Jessica Crawford at email@example.com.