Deupree’s Historic Homes: The Hill

Today’s post is a reprint from Mrs. N.D. Deupree’s “Some Historic Homes of Mississippi,” from Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. VII (1903). “The Hill,” although overgrown and vacant was listed on the National Register in July 1979. You can view the National Register nomination here.

The Hill

"The Hill" as documented by the Historic American Building Survey, c.1935.

“The Hill” as documented by the Historic American Building Survey, c.1935.

Let us turn back our thoughts to a time from the tumult and toil of trade, from the rush and roar of commerce, and drink in the beauty and the rest of the days before industry had taken the place of art, the useful, the place of the beautiful, arithmetic, the place of poetry, and let us go to a spot where the people reverenced the Creator and strove to keep his commandments.This once fair land, beautiful by nature, was further embellished by art; and regal homes where dwelt lovely women and gallant men, dotted the landscape, each a fair flower in the scene. The men were gifted with the qualities of honor, truth and courage; the women endowed with all the virtues that made life attractive. This beautiful place was part of a tract once owned by a Mr. Gibson, who donated a town site on Bayou Pierre, six miles from the Mississippi. The town was regularly laid out with streets at right angles with the bayou, with braod avenues planted with ornamental shade trees. Handsome homes and substantial public buildings were soon erected. Many suburban residences graced the country side; the homes of the Archers, Humphreys, Magruders, Vertners, Van Dorns and of many others, whose names are familiar in the annals of our State. This quiet, lovely town of Port Gibson, later, became the historic battle-ground of Grant as he fought his way to Vicksburg, and coule tell many grim stories of the invasion of those 60,000 blue coats. Not far from the city limits of Port Gibson, almost hidden from view of man by trees and vines, was LaCache, the home for a few years of the cultured but unfortunate Blennerhasset. Before the Civil War, the blessings of peace, prosperity, culture and wealth were seen on every side.

On an eminence overlooking the town, was the home of Judge P.A. Van Dorn, which was known as “The Hill.” The mansion was built of brick, and was almost square. It was a simple style of architecture designed for comfort, and open to air and sunlight. One unique arrangement for ventilation might well be adopted by modern architects, i.e., the upper part of each window was filled with slats, without glass, to admit pure air, and to let out impure air. There were two front entrances, each through small covered porticoes; at the side of the house was a long covered veranda with colonial pillars and stationary seats. Paved walks led from the carriage way to the front porches, each walk bordered with rows of jonquils that in the spring looked like yellow-plumed knights ready for the tournament. On the left was the garden, with terraces, arbors covered with jasmine, roses of all kinds, and flowers of every hue and perfume; hidden from view by the gorgeous bloom of the flower garden were the vegetables and fruits carefully tended by a German gardener. On the right of the house, commanding a view of the village from the side porch, were two hills that sloped gradually to a meadow, forming midway a gentle declivity, at the foot of which was a spring and a spring house through which the water flowed, cool as a mountain stream, into the dairy and converted it into a refrigerator for the use of the housewife. A pathway wound down to the spring, where under the shade of the tall, wide-spreading trees were placed rustic seats and tables, and here the evening meal was often served, with fruits and melons made ice cold by the waters of the spring.

In this bright and happy home, which was embowered in foliage that never changed, and where the mocking bird sang its love songs throughout the livelong day, and far into the night, where the roses ran riot over the walls and the breath of a thousand flowers filled the air, and where moon and stars kept watch over the destiny of the inmates, was born on a bright September day Earl Van Dorn, who was to become the pride of his family. The blood of noble Holland ancestors, who were patriot fathers of the American Revolution, flowed through his veins. He was destined to be a soldier, and at the age of sixteen he asked General Jackson for a commission to West Point. Upon receiving the commission, he entered the Military Academy, where he remained four years, being one of the few Southern students who could endure the restraints and rigid training of the school. Earl Van Dorn graduated with men who became distinguished and at a time when great men abounded. Can it be that human beings are born under lucky, or unlucky, stars, that the influence of a star will lend brilliancy to a life for a season and then permit it to go down in darkness and sorrow? Some lives give color to the truth of this belief, and the life of General Van Dorn would seem to bear testimony to such a creed.

Again we approach the old home; the spring still bubbles, the little stream flows on to the sea; some of the live oaks, seedlings planted by the mother’s hand, are still there, the blue sky bends above; but all else is changed, and decay has marked the old home for its own and it stands a wreck of its former glory. The terraces, the stately poplars, he winding driveway, the yellow jonquils. the roses, are all gone. The fair forms that once flitted through the stately halls and romped under the spreading oaks, now rest beneath the green sward making it holy ground to friends and admirerers of this family once prominent in our State.

Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, Vol. VII (1903), pp. 336-338.

This post is part of a series taken from Mrs. N.D. Deupree’s “Some Historic Homes of Mississippi,” published in 1903. Want to read others in the series?



Categories: Architectural Research, Civil War, Port Gibson

3 replies

  1. That house was still a ruin in the 1970s, and, more recently, restored. I remember visiting it back then, and the entry about it in that wonderful architectural history survey of Claiborne County done at the time the plant at Grand Gulf was going in.

    Those masonry walls must have been truly well put together.

    Here’s a postcard of the house. I don’t have a date. Here’s a recent picture.

    Like

  2. unable to view the pictures.

    Like

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