After a period of slow news weeks, for the second week in a row we have a lot of news stories to share with MissPres readers.
Starting this week in Tupelo with a story that we have been following for more than a year. The Spain House has been moved to its new location! Residents were given warnings about street closures and some power outages connected with the moving process. Five and a half hours later, three pieces of the house arrived in front of the new lot. The later story about the move notes that crews still needed to align the house over the footings that were previously prepared on the new lot and that piers to finish the foundation will still need to be constructed. A couple of smaller pieces of the house will also need to be moved and attached – which should be done by the end of the year – but I think we can finally go from the “fingers crossed” / “cautious optimism” mode we’ve been in to calling this one a Preservation Victory! Kudos to the local preservationists in Tupelo for taking on the battle to save this house and thanks to the Baptist Church for their patience as the plans to move the property finally came to fruition.
Hattiesburg is a major preservation news “hub” recently. We noted the story about the “Hub City” sign in last week’s roundup. Last weekend, the American also had several stories about the revitalization of downtown. The longest of the articles talks about how history / heritage and the arts (visual & music) are big draws to downtown. I put architecture in the “arts” category myself and a couple of the folks interviewed for the story note that they love the architecture in downtown Hattiesburg as well. Another article talks specifically about Front Street and how it is proof of the Revitalization of downtown (and notes that there are lofts in the works). The final article highlights some of the longtime business owners who saw the potential for revitalization downtown early on – and how they are encouraged by how far the area has come. If any of you are active in encouraging interest in your historic downtown, these are fantastic “success story” articles to have on hand to show others.
It’s not all great news in Hattiesburg, however. News this week is that the discussions about USM taking on the rehabilitation of the Old Hattiesburg High School for their Art & Design Department – which they have been working on with the Downtown Association for nearly a decade – are officially dead. USM cites their tight budget as their reason for finally backing out. The Downtown Association is looking at other options – which they say exist, but won’t cite specifics. Right now, we have to hope that someone will take on this building – which suffered Katrina damage, an arsonist’s fire and currently is subject to general vandalism of a vacant building. If anything, the building needs to be secured from further deterioration so that it is available for any future use.
Another Hattiesburg building with an uncertain future is the former Forrest County jail building on Forrest Street. The County is seeking bids from those interested in purchasing the building OR from companies to demolish it – and bids to demolish are the only ones they have received thus far. The Board of Supervisors have not made a final decision yet – and it appears that selling, demolishing, or re-purposing the building are all still on the table as options. Unfortunately, it seems that the demolition (and recouping some costs from salvaging materials for sale) is the preferred option for at least one of the Supervisors. We’ll keep an eye on this one.
Moving over to Natchez for a couple of stories. First is news that a local company is interested in a lease on the City Auditorium which would have them serve as the facility managers for events. If everything works out, the group will work to bring additional events to the space – as well as ensuring that long standing events such as the Tableaux still have a home. The company will be in charge of the landscaping upkeep, as well as the interior while the City will maintain the exterior and the mechanical systems.
Also in Natchez is the pending sale of land behind the Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center to the Trust that owns adjacent Dunlieth. The Trust has no plans for the development of the property – in fact, it sounds like the purchase was done to ensure that nothing detrimental the National Historic Landmark structure’s setting would be done. According to the article, MDAH has to sign off on the sale. The piece does not say why – but I suspect that it has to do with the Antiquities Law and I suspect that there is an easement on the land as part of a grant given to the Margaret Martin (as well as the fact that it’s a Mississippi Landmark).
Down on the coast – USM’s campus in Long Beach is in the news. First is the story that they are ready to move into two new buildings as well as into two of three rehabilitated buildings starting in the spring semester. Hardy Hall and Lloyd Hall – both damaged by Katrina – are the two historic buildings ready for use again. Elizabeth Hall – the third historic building – will likely be ready by the summer. The school worked with their insurance company and FEMA for the funds and MDAH had review on the project as it impacted the historic structures. As this story hit the presses, so did news that a federal auditor found that USM misused $5.3 million of FEMA funds in its Gulf Park reconstruction. Apparently, the issues are in regard to the open bid process laws and USM failing to meet them post-Katrina. Nothing in this second story seems to affect the use of the historic structures, but I hope that the audit issues do not cause delays in getting Elizabeth Hall finished. Also no mention of the fourth historic building–and an original structure–the Administration Building, which USM wanted to demolish but which was still standing this summer. We’ve covered this story before: Pictures of Gulf Park Campus and Gulf Park Update.
Back up to Tupelo where another building is opening after a rehabilitation. Lee County’s Board of Supervisors and staff are now located in the former Community Development Foundation facility that started out as the local post office when the structure was built in 1915. It also housed the Chancery Court at one point. Good to see this building continue use as a public facility.
In Philadelphia, a new historic marker was unveiled outside the Knights of Columbus Hall. Prior to its life as a KC Hall, the building was the Neshoba County Jail – where Civil Rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were held just hours prior to their murders in 1964 – which is the story that the marker helps to tell.
Up in Abbeville, MDOT is hoping that someone has a steel truss bridge on their holiday shopping list as they seek to sell the one on Highway 7 where it crosses the Tallahatchie River. It was originally built in 1953 and is eligible for the National Register, however, MDOT is looking to replace it with a wider bridge. While they expect to demolish it to make room for the new structure, the law says they have to seek proposals from anyone willing to buy and relocate the historic structure.
Finally, we’ll end up with an event in Hattiesburg where the African American Military History Museum will have their Fourth Annual Christmas Open House from 11 – 1 on December 13. Visitors will have a chance to take guided tours of the Museum and enjoy some holiday refreshments.
Categories: African American History, Bridges, Civil Rights, Cool Old Places, Demolition/Abandonment, For Sale, Gulf Coast, Hattiesburg, Historic Preservation, Jails, Long Beach, Military, Mississippi Landmarks, MS Dept. of Archives and History, Museums, Natchez, National Register, News Roundups, Post Offices, Preservation Law/Local Commissions, Preservation People/Events, Renovation Projects, Schools, Theaters, Tupelo, Universities/Colleges
I do believe the Old Hattiesburg High School building is secure from further deterioration…USM reinforced all of the brick walls with steel beams and did quite a bit of work on preserving the building after the fire. Most of us here in Hattiesburg would have loved to have gotten our hands on that arsonist. I stood at my office window and sobbed while the building burned. The stairway in that building was 5 or 6 feet wide and the wooden stairs were worn in the middle, literally had a dip in them, from the thousands of feet that had walked them. The rail was smooth as satin from the hands holding it over the years. You can’t get that back. I will put my ear to the ground and see what I hear about future owners and plans. The fence needs to be fixed YESTERDAY. I’ll get on the horn about that.
As for the old jail, they were talking about using it for office space or retail or both…I can’t imagine it lending itself very well to many things unless someone pours a ton of money into it. Frankly, the building is ugly in my opinion and windowless. It is large and if somebody with more imagination than I have were to step in, it might be reimagined into a great space. I just can’t see it, even as much of a preservationalist as I am.
Another note from up Oxford way related to the Burns “Belfry” Restoration is that the front doors are finally on! The article indicated the building should open June 2013!