Wow! I can’t believe it’s March already. Lots of Spring events on the calendar to take advantage of, so be sure to check it out. Now for the news:
The biggest story I saw this week was from Natchez, where the Democrat reported that United Mississippi Bank was expected to assume ownership of Monmouth during foreclosure proceedings. This National Historic Landmark (NHL) building was once the home of John A. Quitman – Mexican-American War hero, governor of Mississippi and a United States congressman. While the bank would assume ownership, New Orleans Hotel Consultants might possibly handing the actual management of the property. The company also currently manages the Natchez Grand Hotel and the Natchez Convention Center through a contract with the city. A representative of the company, who met with the bank to discuss managing the property, told the paper that “the bank intends to do everything they can to keep Monmouth open.”
Also in Natchez – a story I missed including last week about King’s Tavern closing its doors. The restaurant had been in operation for 45 years, but the most recent economic conditions and some health problems for one of the owners made closing down a necessity. The Democrat calls the building “the oldest in the state,” going on to say that is “has been standing for 243 years dating back to when it was an outpost along the Natchez Trace.” The MDAH database gives a date of c.1795-1800 and says it’s the oldest in Natchez, but I think our friends on the Coast get to claim the oldest building in the state with the c. 1721 “Old Spanish Fort.” That slight digression aside, nothing in the article indicated what the plans were for the building now that the restaurant is closed.
One more Natchez story this week. Natchez National Historic Park has received a grant that is allowing them to hire Mary Ruggin Hanbury to come to the area and give a professional evaluation of how local historic property owners can make the house tour experience better. Our friend Kathleen Jenkins told the paper “[Hanbury] is going to be working this spring about identifying best practices, just to try to get our house tour experience ready for the 21st century market.” Hanbury will be meeting face-to-face with property owners and there will be a questionnaire for homeowners and visitors during Spring Pilgrimage. The results of Hanbury’s evaluation should be completed by the summer. If you’re planning on going to Natchez for Pilgrimage over the next few weeks, I hope you find one of the questionnaires and give some really good, constructive feedback for them to work with.
Moving to Jackson for a story about the former Mississippi School for the Blind – an early “Abandoned Mississippi” property featured here on MissPres. The Clarion Ledger reports that plans are underway to redevelop the site into a new mixed-use space they’re going to call “The District at Eastover.” Plans include: “a 100,000-square-foot office building, an 80- to 120-room hotel, a 45,000-square-foot grocer, a restaurant, 125,000 square feet of retail and 120,000 square feet of residential units – perhaps apartments or condominiums.” Early plans also included a movie theater (which one of my Jackson friends was really excited about), but this story tells us that was one of the things that has been cut to make the costs work. All of this will involve, apparently, the total demolition of the school site.
Also in Jackson this week, City Council gave the okay for Jackson Redevelopment Authority to “begin bond talks with developers of several major projects in downtown.” Projects specifically mentioned in the article were “the Farish Street Entertainment District, the Old Capitol Green development, and a proposed nine-story Westin hotel.” The Clarion Ledger specifies that this was a procedural step – and that no bonds have been issued (that requires an additional step). I think Farish Street is getting a lot of the attention in this one – especially since Council wants the developers to be more forthcoming with documentation requested in order to be considered for additional funding.
Finally, two photo stories for you this week.
The “sad one” is from Biloxi where demolition began on the old Hancock Bank Building.
The “happy one” is from the “Then & Now” feature in the Hattiesburg paper on the Ross Building.
Categories: Abandoned Mississippi, Biloxi, Cool Old Places, Hattiesburg, Heritage Tourism, Historic Preservation, Jackson, Natchez, National Park Service, News Roundups, Preservation People/Events, Renovation Projects
Regarding the question of the oldest building in Mississippi, the dates of the contenders have two things in common:
(1) a history of exaggeration usually based, not on an attention to truth, but on interests of promotion. It has been my observation that the older a building is, the more its age is likely to be exaggerated. The so-called “Old Spanish Fort” (now usually referred to as the Krebs House)–which has famously been observed to be neither Spanish nor a fort–is the best case in point, cited for a century as dating to ca 1721, this date is apparently more than half a century off.
(2) lack of precision in dating due to the nature of source material, a problem that is compounded by the history of exaggeration which has been enshrined in the secondary literature.
The result is that the contenders can’t be dated with sufficient precision for a solid determination to be made. Even the Krebs house has had to be redated to a time range so late in the 18th century that it can’t with confidence be presented as the oldest.
Your points are well taken, Jack. I would add that many of these “oldest” buildings were pegged as such in the 1930s or so, before a real survey of historic buildings around the state had been undertaken, leading to locally old buildings being called “oldest in the state” without the research behind it. Later attempts to clarify the issue have often been steadfastly rejected based on charges of “historical revisionism.”
This post’s reliance on the MDAH database also tells me that we at MDAH need to update our database record for Spanish Fort (which is now being called “de la Pointe-Krebs House”) to convey a bit more of the complex documentary record and take that c.1721 date off as the official date. Our database is only as accurate as the research, and while we have tried to reflect the varying issues related to the construction date in the Comments section for this record, the construction date field has continued to read “c.1721” since that is what the National Register nomination (written in 1971) states. For now, since the preponderance of the evidence indicates a later 18th century date, I’ve changed the construction date to read “c.1770.”
My hope is that in the future, someone who is familiar with French colonial settlements all through the Mississippi Valley will study The Building Previously Known As Spanish Fort and help put it in a larger context and possibly add their opinion on its construction date.
I suspect that–given (1) the amount of studies that the Krebs house has been subject to along with (2) the sparsity of documentation from that time and place and (3) the nature of vernacular construction’s not being given to sudden stylistic changes so useful in estimating dates for more pretentious structures–we should not expect much in the way of a more precise date. There’s a truism in historical research that is usually unspoken, that not all can be made known despite the application of the best research skills and the best technology. Thomas Mann once depicted the past as a well into which we sound, and “the deeper we sound, the further down into the lower world of the past we probe and press, the more do we find that the earliest foundations of humanity, its history and culture, reveal themselves unfathomable.”
I agree–unless we come across a document that says “I, M. de la Pointe, finished a two-room house today of these dimensions, etc.” we will probably never be able to nail down anything more than a range of dates. There does seem to be documentary evidence that all of the buildings on the property were destroyed in the Hurricane of 1740, and then there is also some evidence that the buildings on the property were damaged but not totally destroyed in another hurricane in the 1770s, so for now our range of dates for that building is c.1740-c.1770.
A database like ours, while very useful in many respects, is better at transmitting hard facts such as known construction dates than it is in communicating these more nebulous issues, but I’ll continue to work on that record to try to convey what we can without seeming overly confident about construction dates.
To make things all the more complicated:
You’re writing under the assumption that the Krebs house (OSF) is on the site of the headquarters of the La Pointe Concession that was depicted on Dumont de Montigny’s 1720ish map of Pascagoula Bay. An inset blow-up illustration of the headquarters depicted a two story main house and an assortment of outbuildings. I too operated under the same assumption as you for decades. However the report on the excavations of the OSF site by Greg Waselkov and the University of South Alabama archaeological team revealed–if I remember correctly–that they found no trace of a European component dating to the first half of the 18th century. While not absolutely precluding the possibility, it certainly does not support the identification of the OSF with the La Pointe site. Given this new development, I noticed that the location as depicted on Dumont’s map for the La Pointe headquarters could easily be interpreted as a site other than the OSF site. I had never noticed this, because I was so thoroughly convinced that there was only one site. This would imply that the OSF was built as a separate building at a separate site than the older establishment and would make moot speculations based on the assumption that there was a continuous site evolution. (This is the reason that I’m reluctant to use the name La Pointe in the combination name La Pointe/Krebs house that has been used.) Joseph Simon de la Pointe died fairly early leaving his property and legacy to his descendants, children of his daughter who had married Hugo Krebs, a German settler in French Louisiana. There’s a much higher probability that the OSF was associated with the Krebs name rather than that of La Pointe.
Now that I’ve further muddied the waters . . .
It seems to me that architectural historians might be better able to make these “revisions” by taking the owners and the general public along in their research–walking them through the steps from start to finish and making everyone a co-discoverer. This seems to me to be the essence of “public history” and might make the end result more palatable than just a finished report at the end of the project. Of course, there will always be folks who just don’t want to be taken on that journey, but if historians could show the research and documentation process more openly, perhaps using the wonders of the internet or something as simple as local talks throughout the research project, most historically minded people would find it just as fascinating as we do and would accept the results.
I cannot be as articulate as y’all have been but I wish more information could be gathered about the site regarding the aftermath of the 1740 hurricane season.
Thanks for the attention to the kickoff of our “facelift” of the Natchez tour house experience (hopefully all 50+ of them!) by Mary Ruffin Hanbury. She is going to be looking at preservation issues, interpretation, and various visitor experience topics (parking, restrooms, etc.). Having some sort of income-producing aspect is often very important to the ongoing maintenance of these houses – so we got to keep those going! As part of the project, Mary Ruffin will create a survey monkey questionnaire for tour home owners, as well as for others. I’ll make sure that it gets posted here and would welcome your input.
And on the King’s Tavern question – maybe at the site transitions to new owners several of the more scurrilous parts of its interpreted history (claim of “oldest in state,” ship timber construction) might fall by the wayside?