Y’all know how I love to find a cornerstone on a building–even new buildings. They are gifts that hand down essential knowledge to passersby about when a building came to be and who had a hand in bringing it from dream to reality. So if one cornerstone can make me so happy, imagine what two, three, or even FOUR can do! Multiple cornerstones tell the whole history of not just the building they’re attached to but also often of the institution that resides in it. Usually the fact that the owners kept earlier cornerstones and added more also indicates that they take their own responsibility to pass down their history to younger generations seriously.
My wanderings in Port Gibson before the beginning of last Saturday’s Holiday Home Tour yielded four buildings with multiples: Claiborne County Courthouse (4), St. Peter (3), First Baptist M.B. Church (2), and Port Gibson Elementary Building (2).
You may recall from the post on M.T. Lewman & Company that around the turn of the 20th century, large regional construction firms had emerged to build an industry out of what had previously been scattered small-scale local craftsmen. A peek through the window of the Claiborne County Courthouse confirmed that the building was “remodeled” in 1903 by M.T. Lewman & Co. and an architect they worked with on several other courthouses (including Simpson County‘s), Andrew J. Bryan. While Bryan’s name, as architect, is listed above the Lewmans, the relationship seems to have been more of staff architect or contract architect, as shown in D. Hughes’ research (for a Mississippi example of this kind of relationship see the Hull brothers, where William was the architect but appears to have been an employee of the Hull Construction Co. until going out on his own in 1904). The same beautiful cornerstone indicates that the courthouse was built in 1845, but I looked and looked and without the cornerstone’s assertion, I would never have known it. Two other plaques indicate later renovations and additions (1951–Spain & Biggers, archts; 1973–Birchett & Montgomery, archts.) while a cornerstone on the exterior gives us information about the Masonic lodges involved in the laying of the cornerstone in 1903 (or if you prefer, Anno Lucis 5903).
While still rejoicing in my good fortune at the courthouse, I went west to Church Street to check out St. Peter’s A.M.E. Church, whose cornerstone helpfully mentioned that it was built in 1900. As is common with smaller churches, black or white, this cornerstone lists no builders or architects, but instead gives the names of the church’s trustees, pastor, and other notables. Often this indicates that much volunteer effort went into the building of the church, and in many cases they used a published design or sometimes got a design from another church they liked.
St. Peter’s also has what appears to be a cornerstone removed from an earlier building that was erected in August 1870. I always wonder what happens to the many cornerstones that used to be on now-demolished buildings. At least in a few instances, the institution continues to claim its history, adding them to their new building, as seen here.
Around St. Peter’s corner, we find another Masonic cornerstone.
Just up the street, the First Baptist Church has two cornerstones, one from its original construction and a later one just above it that notes the “rebuilding” of the church in 1934–not sure what this entails in this case–but seems to have been placed in 1979. Possibly this cornerstone was placed when the church was bricked, but I’m not sure about that.
Up the street a ways, we find the Colonial Revival elementary building at the Port Gibson School has a double-plaque combo common to Depression-era federal programs–with the name of the federal agency that funded the project on a smaller plaque above a large plaque with the more expected building information. Here we find the work of the real E.L. Malvaney, along with the Flint-Jordan Construction Co., a predecessor of the Flint Construction Co., whose principal we introduced a while back in “J.R. Flint House by Hays Town in South Jackson.”
In addition to these cornerstones and plaques, the historically minded people of Port Gibson have placed helpful small signs in front of many important buildings. Not as large or imposing as the MDAH magnolia historic markers, these low signs don’t intrude but stand ready to offer information to interested passersby. Thanks, Port Gibsonians!