Maybe you remember the little brewhaha over the proposed demolition of antebellum Ceres Plantation, located on the north side of I-20 just east of Vicksburg, beginning in 2009. It had had the misfortune of being bought by the Warren County Port Commission back in the 1980s. Although its farmland was converted to an industrial park, for the first twenty years or so the Port Commission rented out the main house, a one-story frame building with wide porch, and its distinctive barns, one of which announced the name of the place, “Ceres Plantation” in bold red letters to passersby. In fact, this Los Angeles Times article from 1988 indicates that the preservation of the plantation buildings was important to the original plan, a “merging of New and Old South.”
Then in 2009, the port commission announced that it needed to demolish the house because it couldn’t keep a tenant and/or they couldn’t replace a few rotted boards on the porch. Either way, they NEEDED to demolish the house!!! Economic development would be forever hobbled if they couldn’t, no one in Warren County would have a job, children would go hungry, all because of preservationists and their unwillingness to let go of the past. In response, preservationists tried to point out that the house was not in bad shape, that keeping tenants would always be hard if the commission insisted that it could break the lease with minimal notice, and that in fact, there seemed to be large quantities of vacant space at the so-called industrial park.
Well, the WCPC kept plugging and finally got its way. The house and all the barns (which they at first said they would leave) came down in July 2012. So last spring I finally got up the nerve to drive through the industrial park and see what was up, and whether the park was still more vacant than not. The answer, as you will see below, is, yes. In fact, I think there is even more vacant space than there was a few years ago. So many vacant buildings, it makes you wonder why there was such a rush to demolish a tiny little building that so many people wanted to find a way to save and keep in use.
The purpose of this post is so that you will remember Ceres (and Meridian Hotel too) whenever someone starts telling you a historic building JUST HAS TO go away so that some grand new scheme that will save the world and make everyone healthy and rich and happily married and Jews and Christians and Muslims will all finally get along and . . . and . . . I’m getting breathless just talking about the bold new world we’re standing in the way of! Economic developers can be our allies in preservation, but too often we preservationists allow them to cast us as the wild-eyed crazies when in fact, the evidence shows that more often than not, we’re the rational ones that people thank twenty or thirty years later and they’re the ones who go off to the Next Big Thing when this one doesn’t quite pan out. Don’t be scared of seeming crazy, because when you’re up against a situation like Ceres, they’re the wild-eyed ones who should have to put up or shut up.
The backstory on the demise of Ceres makes an interesting case study in the half-truths and spin of government economic development agencies and the weakness of government historical agencies. Here are just a few of the updates we’ve done here on MissPres:
- MissPres News Roundsup 12-21-2009
- MissPres News Roundup 2-26-2010
- Ceres Plantation Update
- William A. Stanton on Ceres Plantation
- MissPres News Roundup 10-18-2010
- The All-New 2011 10 Most Endangered Places List
- Warren Port Commission Moves Again to Destroy Ceres
- Warren County Port Commission spending $29,000 to demolish . . . uh . . . “recycle” Ceres
- Port Commission Gets Its Wish on Ceres, Gains Large Vacant Space to Go Along With All Its Other Large Vacant Spaces