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
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.
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.
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.