Mississippi Governor’s Mansion, 1874

Recently, I came across an interesting description of the Governor’s Mansion published in a book called Chronicles from the Nineteenth Century: Family Letters of Blanche Butler and Adelbert Ames, in Two Volumes. This is not a source I would have ever looked at–someone else had copied it and put it in the subject file at the archives–but it is quite a gem, so I thought I should share it. Mr. Ames (would it be too familiar to call him Adelbert?) was, of course, governor of the state twice under Reconstruction. A native of Massachusetts, his wife Blanche had high-society standards, but she also knew how to describe architecture (including sketches!) which is great for us, because she cast her critical eye on the Mansion in not one but two extended letters to her mother in 1874, upon coming to Jackson for the first time at the beginning of her husband’s second term. She is so pert and forceful I can almost forgive her for describing the Mansion as a “great barn.” She’s not the first rich Yankee to find Mississippi accommodations wanting, and will no doubt not be the last. I do like to think that by the heat of summer, Blanche had recognized the value of those great high ceilings. This week is the first letter; next week, the second.

Executive Mansion, Jackson, January 25, 1874

Dear Mother:

It is Sunday evening, and I have a little quiet time in which to write you of our condition and surroundings.

Last Thursday Gen’l Ames was inaugurated and in the afternoon about half past five we moved up from the hotel. We might have waited until the following morning, more especially as it was raining very hard; but we were anxious to make any change which would take us away from the confinement of the hotel and the noise of the cars which kept passing and repassing under the windows, night and day. The children were awakened at all hours, and we found it impossible to sleep with any comfort.

Gov. Powers moved out in the morning. We took possession in the evening. The three first meals were sent in from a restaurant, for the cook I had engaged after the manner of her kind came to say that she was sorry she had to disappoint me at the last moment, but that she could not come at the price agreed upon, if she had to do anything besides the cooking. I told her I should not change my arrangement–that she had not treated me well and I should be unwilling to take her under any circumstances, as she had shown herself a person not to be relied upon, and in any emergency I should be exposed to the danger of finding her among the missing, and even though I might be forced to change the arrangement of the work, still I did not care to have her. She seemed a little taken aback, but I spoke so quietly and firmly that she could not take offence, and tried to argue the question–but I was firm altho’ I expected to go to the Mansion and was without a cook. I was provoked with her, and determined to trust to luck. The chamber-maid and table-girl were to come Friday, and when we drove away from the hotel Mary was the only one I had to rely upon. Mr. Smith, who was acting as private secretary for Gen’l. Ames had fires burning, gas lighted and beds made, rendering it more cheerful than it would otherwise have been, and an old colored man in charge of the house brought in our meals.

You have no idea what a great barn of a house this is. The rooms of the main building are fully twenty-five feet square, fifteen high. In the back building they are twenty wide and thirteen high. This is a sketch of the house and grounds.

Governor's Mansion 1874001 Governor's Mansion 1874002

This is a plan of the back of the building, which is only a story and a half high, and contains four rooms. The basement is used for cooking altho’ there is a cook house as I have shown in the first plan. In wet weather, however, it is very inconvenient and we shall have the servants sleep there.

Governor's Mansion 1874003

There are two store houses, and a wine cellar or house besides the barn, chicken coops, etc. As these are all quite a distance from the house you can understand they are not convenient in cold windy days–more particularly the store houses which I shall have to use because there are only two closets in the house, a small china closet and linen room. The house is showily furnished–somewhat dilapidated, and looks like a great hotel. As I expected, it is very dirty and will require some time and labor to put it in good order. The yard is large, comprising a whole square–well filled with trees. The walks are brick with grass growing between so that the grounds have a weedy appearance. I have told you enough for one letter. More in a day or two.


Jump to Part II

Categories: Architectural Research, Historic Preservation, Jackson


13 replies

  1. Quite interesting! Also note she does not indicate a door into some of the rooms–that must have been quite the feat to enter and exit.


  2. I admire Blanche’s ability to think coherently in an unpleasant situation and to tell someone off in an intelligent and meaningful way with a quiet voice. Blanche certainly knew how to fire a cook!

    I’m looking forward to the next letter.


  3. the low “cozy” (mean) ceilings of the new englanders have pervaded america and suppressed (through tract house developments etc) the wisdom of our regional architecture’s high ceilings. it would take 200 a hays towns selling mail order house plans to counterbalance it. new englanders love their barns. she may not have meant anything insulting by saying that.


    • I’d blame tract house low ceilings on the 8′ dimensional stud and periods of financial constraints & rationing in the early 20th century. Regardless of region a higher ceiling height creates better circulation leading to a more uniform room tempature via convection current. Certainly the introduction of forced air heating(followed by cooling) eliminated the necessity for higher ceilings when all you had to do was run some duct work to where you wanted.

      But Yankees are my second favorite thing to blame low ceilings on!!! :)


      • I have to agree with Thomas Rosell. FHA (Federal Housing Administration) standards after World War II were very strict regarding room size and ceiling height. Since so many people relied on FHA loans to afford their houses in what was a very expensive post-war housing market, the result was small houses filled with small, low-ceilinged rooms. The Mid-Century Modern houses so in vogue now were constructed outside that system with bank or other financing allowing for larger rooms configured in more open floor plans with taller ceilings.

        But the post-war standards meshed quite nicely with the low-ceilinged ranch architecture that the now lauded Californian Cliff May and the now forgotten New Englander (Yankee) Royal Barry Wills championed. So Mark Davis does have a Yankee to blame directly. Everyone is a winner!


  4. furthermore, as a southerner, i would like to say to our nation’s puritan ancestors (in the language of the old testament which they would clearly understand), i excoriate and damn your low ceilings. they are an abomination and should be cast into the lake of fire.


  5. sorry elm; but they crush me psychologically.


  6. What an interesting perspective! I wonder how old she was at this time. I’m anxious to read the next letter!


  7. I notice that there are wood and coal storage areas in the mansion. Over here in the Prairie the more stately homes were heated with coal. My parents heated our 1880s home with coal and supplemented with butane gas up until the early 1960s. Bethesda Baptist Church was heated with a large coal furnace at the front of the church. A coal-bearing truck from west Alabama made local deliveries in the Crawford area.


  8. I suspect the wood stores was for the kitchen only. I don’t recall food being prepared over a “coal burning” stove.


    • Maybe charcoal was used to fire the ovens? Thinking back to my experiences in Addis Abba back in the 1960s, I recall the charcoal mounds and street vendors about the city that sold charcoal for heating and kitchen use. The Italian pizza parlors fired their brick ovens with Eucalyptus-based charcoal. A common site about the city were the long lines(on foot) of Eucalyptus-laden Ethiopians–many, old women–trekking into the city to sell their goods.


  9. “Gen’ l Ames had fires burning, gas lighted and beds made…” I am familiar with the Waverly Plantation home in Columbus being gas lighted, but I see no indication on Blanche’s sketches that the Governor’s mansion was gas- lighted. I was at Waverly last weekend to attend my niece’s wedding. Waverly is showing its age and the Snow’s are in dire need of donations for the current repainting. I spoke with Mrs. Snow and she had just received a donation from a NYC–a former Columbian. The Snows are not rich folks.


    Liked by 1 person

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