Warren County Port Commission spending $29,000 to demolish . . . uh . . . “recycle” Ceres

Now that so many local newspapers have moved to an online subscription system, we rely on readers from around the state who subscribe to the print editions to let us know of important preservation issues in their neck of the woods. Last week, in case you missed it, Vicksburger Charles Bell sent us this clipping from the Vicksburg Post, about Ceres Plantation:

Louisiana company wins bid to raze house at Ceres

Will Branch Antique Lumber, of Bogalusa, La., is Warren County’s choice to take down the Ceres Plantation House, which officials said Monday could begin within three weeks.

On Monday, the Board of Supervisors OK’d the company’s low bid to demolish the house, two barns and fences on the 40-acre property at Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex. Port commissioners recommended the firm after its $29,700 offer was lowest of 10 companies who sent in bids.

The company specializes in taking structures apart slowly, sometimes one brick at a time. In 2009, the company took down the former Speed Street School after it was condemned by the city, and the structure’s private owner chose Branch for the job.

Branch said “the bricks to the fence” will be recycled for use in private homes with which his company deals.

. . .

Ridding the 1,300-acre park of the house has been a goal of port officials since the last private tenant moved out in 2009. A plant nursery had operated there from 1998 to 2007.

Vicksburg has a history of spinning demolition of historic buildings as recycling, a very strange view of history and place for a city and county that tries to tout itself as a heritage tourist attraction. Different owners did the same thing with Speed Street School–one of the last few 19th century schools in the state–and you can read my response to that in “Just to Clarify, Demolition ≠ Preservation.” I was surprised to see the Post, which has consistently published the Port Commission’s spin about Ceres as truth, slip up and tell the real truth when they stated, “ridding the 1,300-acre park of the house has been a goal of port officials . . .”

I also notice that while the barns–icons of the property to drivers on the interstate–have never (to my recollection) been part of the discussion before, they are now coming down too. This even though at least as recently as 2010 they were being rented out for hay storage and thus earning a little money for the Commission. The Commission has noted no plans for the soon-to-be-vacant property, except pipe dreams about getting a bigger interstate exit put in–pipe dreams that MDOT does not appear to share.

Ceres was listed on the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s 10 Most Endangered Properties List last year, leading to a brief period of hope for the property. But to my mind the deal was sealed when, on only the barest of pretexts, MDAH bowed to political pressure by refusing to step in to save the house in 2010. Back then we noted that Ceres Industrial Park isn’t exactly bursting at the seams, with about half its built properties vacant and lots of farmland rounding out the supposed industrial zone. I don’t believe anything has changed since then, but the Port Commission clearly saw its opportunity and is taking it. I would say “Shame on them” but I don’t think they’re really capable of shame, even when it involves destroying a historic property because their tired failed recipe for economic development (a recipe that taxpayers continue to get the bill for) demands it.

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Categories: Demolition/Abandonment, Historic Preservation

31 replies

  1. Bastards.

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  2. Busted! Pay Will Branch Antique Lumber to take apart board by board, brick by brick, then who gets the profit when someone buys the “recyled” bricks and boards?

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  3. I have not seen anything in print on the appraised value.

    The house, barn and property are probably worth ten or more times $29,000, i.e. a quarter of a million dollars or more.

    If three decades is not enough time to deliver on promises or plans, it should be obvious that demolishing “a rare surviving example of a pre-Civil War plantation house complex” will probably not make any difference at all. This is not where Vicksburg and Warren County has been growing. The Harbor project is bustling south of Vicksburg. North of Vicksburg on US 61 north, the area near Sherman Avenue School and River Region Medical Center is bustling with new bank branches, businesses of all kinds, with so many beautiful new homes along all the roads and new streets. Pemberton Boulevard, the I-20 frontage roads, Iowa Boulevard near Walmart super center also are heavy business areas. East Clay Street and the Outlet Mall area is another heavy business area. Like most cities, things have moved out of the inner city. The Flowers area will probably always be a farming area as it always has been.

    also Alan Huffman’s blog on this
    is very informative

    http://alanhuffman.blogspot.com/2012/03/warren-county-moves-to-demolish-listed.html

    Someone related that they think MDOT can’t upgrade the Flower’s Exit on I-20 because of the farmhouse. That’s strange. Civil Engineers could route exit to the other side of the overpass if it actually was needed. But the traffic there is minimal, so why waste even more money.

    Another person replied that this property is standing in the way of jobs and economic development and that we should shut up and get out of the way of progress. Kind of strange if you ask me. Not too many care much about Flowers area.

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  4. I was “home” in Vicksburg in April and saw the article on Ceres Plantation bids. On the way back to Alabama, I stopped and checked out Ceres. I have always seen it from the road, but not the actual house. I drove around the almost deserted industrial complex, and then parked at the Plantation house. The house seemed in good repair and definately restorable. Feeling overwhelmed by the loss of a Historical landmark and a beautiful plantation house, I wept. I wept not for the beautiful old house, full of history and stories, but the heartless corporation who is killing her for no sane or apparent reason. It just seems so easy to just tear down something old, and throw up something new. But what they are doing is destroying Vicksburg, who has been mostly known and supported by the tourist industry. Ceres can be a jewel in the crown of Vicksburg tourism and a feather in Port Authorities cap for their support of Vicksburg’s heritage. Instead Ceres plantaton will be forgotten, as have many other historical jewels destroyed by “progress” and another beautiful piece of our past – our survival story during a horrific time in history – Gone! And what will we have to replace it? Another empty, deserted building erected in the name of progress and dedicated to the God of Greed and apathy. Shame!

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  5. I cannot speak for Ceres. But the old school at 901 Speed Street was a hazard that neede to come down. The shooting and mischief along with out in the open drug sales there was unbelievable. The building was dilapidated and needed to “die.” Recycling of the materials reincarnates it in a sense. I own the building next to it and can speak with authority on the subject. I could not keep good tenants at my building because of how awful the Speed St. reputation was due to 901 Spped St Things in the area are much much better now. I now have a fully occupied building. I don’t get a hundred calls a month about problems in the area. I bet a call to the police chief would confirm my view. If a historic building is not an asset then it is a liability. Good riddance to the old school building. I don’t miss it at all.
    Bill Garmon

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    • I agree with the fact that vacant buildings can be breeding grounds for unsavory activities I think the problem lies with the building owners disregard for the structure a la the Broken Window Theory, rather than blaming the buildings themselves. Here on the coast after Katrina we had lots of vacant building. Some were fixed up and are now contributing members of society, while others became vacant lots that are still have problems with crime. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broken_windows_theory

      If the school building had been restored and the apartments rented In your opinion do you think there would have still been the crime problems?

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    • I understand that Speed Street’s apartments had been poorly managed and that there had been dangerous and constant criminal activity there, but I spent time in the building just before it was torn down and can attest that the building was in good condition. I took photos that you can see here: https://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/Public/prop.aspx?id=28140&x=1920&y=985&bg=white&view=photos&DateTaken=1-29-2009.

      The apartments were trashed, in the sense that the previous occupants had vandalized the chipboard cabinets, and knocked holes in the sheetrock partition walls that had been inserted into the building in the 1980s renovation. But as for the original walls, they literally just needed a coat of paint, and the wood floors, staircase, doors, trim and roof were all in great shape. There were no cracks evident in the structure of the building, no leaks in the attic. I thought then and still think that if those sheetrock walls were taken out and the classrooms fitted out as loft-style apartments, the building could become a hub of revitalization in the neighborhood, in a smaller but similar way to the King Edward project in Jackson.

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  6. Shame on my hometown.

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  7. It amazes me that nothing more is being done to preserve Ceres. Is there any hope for a last-minute reprieve?

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    • I’m sad to say that whatever preservation efforts there were were by individuals since MDAH took itself out of the game early and MHT didn’t really do much after it listed Ceres on its 10 Most Endangered last year. I don’t say this as hyperbole: the “preservation community” in Mississippi has never been as weak or tentative as I’ve seen it in the last 4-5 years. While local individuals may want to try to save a building, the larger organizations originally meant to help corral that energy and bring more focus to it, are kind of sitting the battles out. I had hoped MissPres could help get the mojo back, but so far, I feel like we’re just talking to the wall.

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      • Sadly true. This is not just an isolated incident. It’s symptomatic.

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      • Is this the old shut-up-or-we’ll-defund-you thing?

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        • Possibly, but I think the the lack of pushing the matter is due to shush-up-or-we’ll-repeal the antiquities-law.

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        • I don’t buy that, at least not entirely. To me that’s mostly a self-imposed excuse they use but seemingly to take themselves out of the conflict more than out of actual concern that it might be repealed. Besides, if they aren’t willing to use the law for its intended purpose–to preserve Mississippi’s built history–what’s the point exactly?

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          • That’s the same thought that ran through my mind as I typed that comment. What’s the use in having it if it isn’t used uniformly. This does give me an idea for doing some case studies on properties where the law has been put to use and documenting what the outcome of the case or arbitration has been.

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  8. This makes me utterly SICK!!! The port authority is going to raze a perfectly sound pre-Civil war home and for what? Thankfully, I visited Ceres a few months ago and took a plethora of pictures and made several “walk-thru” videos. Also, in the wood paneled library, there were MANY, MANY books still on the shelves, just sitting there! Books from the 1890’s into the 1930’s. Some in French, Italian and German. There were 6 Baedeker travel guides from 1905-1913. An English/French dictionary, 3 Italian novels and a complete set of the Audubon Nature Encyclopedia dated 1965.

    What will happen to those gorgeous heart pine mantels downstairs that are about 8 feet wide? What will happen to those beautifully grained and paneled doors in the antebellum section of the house? And the transoms above those doors with the very old “pan” glass? I hope the Ceres Industrial Complex meets the same fate as the beloved Ceres Plantation!!!! Sick, evil, detesable VERMIN they are!!!!!!!!! The library was not nearly as full when I left……………

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    • Hi! I was wondering if I could see your walk through videos of Ceres? I live in Vicksburg and me and my mom went by and took alot of pictures but I didnt get to go in the house.. I went there a week before they tore it down. Here is my email! kaylamboler@gmail.com … Im still sick about that place…. I loved that home.. it didnt need much upkeep.. noone had to live there just keep the doors locked and the grass cut and let people come look at it.. I dont see why they didnt give tours of the house.. Let people come in for about 15-20 bucks each and put the money twards gas for the mower or whatever.. I wouldve rather it sat and rotted than have it torn down… Oh and when I was there it looked like all the upkeep it had in years was the grass being mowed….. loose boards everywhere.. chipping paint.. the garage was full of junk and leaves.. the pool was in terrible shape.. someone did an excellent job on closing up that old well in the back with a nice peice of plywood they didnt bother to even cut to fit.. huge round bales of hay that were almost completely covered in mold.. I looked through the door and the house just looked like it had been sitting up for years.. It didnt look like anyone was putting much effort in the oh so expensive upkeep that they couldnt afford.. but yet.. a old apartment building downtown is being fully restored with tax payers money.. they clear cutted the trees in the park.. I think they could have spared some money for that house..

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  9. In response to ELMalvaney… I have been watching several sites and observing to see who is doing good work to preserve my history because I want to make monthly monetary contributions (because I no longer live there and can not physically restore things)… I agree that I am not seeing much action thru MDAH or MHT. Does anyone know of any organization that actually works to preserve the past or has a sense of caring?

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    • A group that really works, down in the trenches, intelligently, to avoid this sort of absurd destruction? I don’t know of any in Mississippi. MHT acknowledged the value of the house in listing it on the 10 most endangered (and that, over the objections of the ineffective Vicksburg preservation community), but that’s as far as it went. At the very least, Ceres should have been moved. Given the current state of historic preservation in the state, expect more of this to come. .

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      • Wouldn’t you say though that this weakness or lack of will or lack of funding or whatever is true now even on the national level, with the National Trust? In your travels, have you observed a state or local group in other states that we should look to as a model of intelligent, down-in-the-trenches preservation advocacy?

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      • Preservation Resource Center in New Orleans comes to mind, although they have been losing battle after battle too since Katrina. At least they’ve been fighting most of them though, at least that’s my perspective.

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    • Toni, I think on a local level (if you don’t mind a limited focus rather than statewide) Historic Natchez Foundation has been the most effective in the state, long-term.

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  10. The easy assumption: Warren County elects ignorant, short-sighted leaders. It’s a backward county in that respect. But what’s harder to accept is that the preservation community, in Vicksburg and statewide, took no meaningful interest in preserving or at least finding someone to relocate this important historic building. It undercuts more prominent successes when you bow to short-sighted political pressure this way.

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    • I agree. Unfortunately the “ignornat-short-sighted leaders” easy assumption is also the correct assumption.
      I moved back to Mississippi- my home state- from the Northeast 3 years ago. Every other week I wish I hadn’t.

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      • I have an uncle in Texas that is history/architecture buff. While home during Christmas, we drove to the reconstructed Coker House, Linden Plantation (near Vicksburg), and to Ceres where he was dumbfounded as to why is was going to be razed. “There is NOTHING wrong with this house!”. He tried to contact John Moss and a Marty Crevit(?) at the Port Commission but to no avail. He gave messages to various “secretaries” and was more often hung up on when he called to inquire about the price and purchase of the house at Ceres Plantation. He is, for lack of a better term, “over it” now. His main interest was the antebellum core of the house (sans wings) that could have at least been moved across I-20 or something………..or to nearby Champion Hill vicinity (as a battlefield museum building or something?). I told him to contact Mr. Leyens, mayor of Vicksburg, but his opinion is that he would rather put his money into restoring something where he lives in Texas, where it would be appreciated. I detest ignorance of salvageable history and down-right meanness!!! I have to log off now, before I bust a stitch!

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  11. The Ceres house is “significant” for its role in black history, particularly on the
    issue of slavery according to Bill Marcy who recently ran for U.S. Congress.

    https://misspreservation.com/2010/08/23/misspres-news-roundup-8-23-2010/

    So is this why the ones who got themselves appointed to the Warren County Port Commission and elected a of the Warren County Board of Supervisors? Is it because certain Vicksburg families are still bitter about the July 4, 1863 surrender, the role Freedmen played in the defeat of Vicksburg, the heroes awarded the many Medals of Honor, the freeing of the slaves as Union troops moved into area and displaced people sought refuge from the conflict at this historic site? Are people still like that in 2012?

    Well the evidence says so over all the years on the U.S. Memorial Day and 4th of July, absence of the U.S Flag on county properties, …. Just more of the same pattern of under the table actions to keep African-Americans down… to underfund their education, to keep them out of office, denying them their heritage, scaring them away from the polls, getting justice in court, getting jobs, getting homes, buying a car, and on and on.

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  12. Do we not have a Black History Group in the state we could contact??

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  13. There really wasnt anything wrong with that house.. Im going by there tomorrow to see if the remains of the house are still there.. I might steal a brick or somthing… Ugh.. Its like someone got murdered.. That is seriously how I felt after the demolition.. like some really nice old guy got murdered for no reason.. ridiculous.. I know my examples are excellent haha! Thats just how I feel…

    Like

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