Help Identify the Mississippi Mystery Houses

The Library of Congress needs our help!  That’s right, our defacto national library, the second largest in the world, has some historic images of Mississippi buildings that are unidentified.  These images are the work of Frances Benjamin Johnston, whose 60-year career as a photographer culminated in a survey of historic buildings of the southern United States that came to be known as the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South.

Here is what the LOC has to say about the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South…

Noted architectural photographer Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) created a systematic record of early American buildings and gardens called the Carnegie Survey of the Architecture of the South (CSAS). This collection, created primarily in the 1930s, provides more than 7,100 images showing an estimated 1,700 structures and sites in rural and urban areas of Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana, and to a lesser extent Florida, Mississippi, and West Virginia. Johnston’s interest in both vernacular and high style structures resulted in vivid portrayals of the exteriors and interiors of houses, mills, and churches as well as mansions, plantations, and outbuildings.

The survey began with a privately funded project to document the Chatham estate and nearby Fredericksburg and Old Falmouth, Virginia, in 1927-29. Johnston then dedicated herself to pursuing a larger project to help preserve historic buildings and inspire interest in American architectural history. The Carnegie Corporation became her primary financial supporter and provided six grants during the 1930s on condition that the negatives be deposited with the Library of Congress. The Library formally acquired the CSAS negatives from her estate in 1953, along with her extensive papers and approximately 20,000 other photographs.

There are fifty-five images of Mississippi in Ms. Johnston survey.  All of the buildings are in Natchez and read as a whos-who of the town’s architectural history.  Of the total seven thousand plus images in the collection, sixty-eight photos of historic structures are left unidentified, other than a general location.  Four of these are Mississippi structures.  I am sure there are some MissPres Preservationist Extraordinaires out there who will be able to identify these structures in no time flat.

Unidentified building, Natchez vic., Adams County, Mississippi (LOC)

Unidentified building, Natchez vic., Adams County, Mississippi.  1938.  Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952, photographer.

Unidentified cabin, Natchez vic., Adams County, Mississippi (LOC)

Unidentified cabin, Natchez vic., Adams County, Mississippi 1938.  Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952, photographer.

Unidentified house, Natchez vic., Adams County, Mississippi (LOC)

Unidentified house, Natchez vic., Adams County, Mississippi.  1938.  Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952, photographer.

Unidentified house, Natchez vic., Adams County, Mississippi (LOC)

Unidentified house, Natchez vic., Adams County, Mississippi.  1938.  Johnston, Frances Benjamin, 1864-1952, photographer.

You can see the mystery house collection in its entirety here.  Any of these structures look familiar?

Categories: Antebellum, Architectural Research, Historic Preservation, Natchez


11 replies

  1. The last two are Cold Spring, southwest of Woodville. Lovely house.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If that top one exists, it must be in a modified form. That arch and pediment are too distinctive for me not to recognize. Now, I have not seen every historic building in Mississippi (not even close), but that top building is so distinctive, it would have stuck in my mind if I had ever seen anything like it.


    • Strike that earlier comment.

      The top photograph is Cold Spring, located in Fort Adams, Wilkinson County, as well. It is the rear of Cold Spring.

      From Mary Wallace Crocker’s Historic Architecture in Mississippi, pages 50-51:

      “A pleasant surprise in a beautiful natural setting with massive azaleas and live oak trees is Cold Spring, with its four Tuscan columns supporting a steeply slanted roof. The house has double galleries outlined with iron rails, and the front door is framed with side and patterned transom lights.

      “Some unusual features of the house include a wine cellar under the stairway, a second-floor ballroom that extends the width of the house (folding doors can be used to divide the space), and a small bedroom with a corner fireplace that adjoins the ballroom.

      “The back of the house has been altered by enclosing the open archway. The iron gates with brass finials were originally a part of the arched opening ensemble [Photo]. Cold Spring has been the home of the Reed family for four generations.”

      Crocker includes a photograph of the enclosed arch. When the arch was enclosed sometime between 1938 and 1973, the Reeds salvaged the middle, tripartite second-floor window, placing it in the same location in the enclosed arch.

      Cold Springs appears to be the only surviving house out of five Fort Adams houses that Crocker mentions that is still extant. Crocker mentions that the Curry and Murry Houses had already been torn down and Salisbury and the John Wall House were both near ruinous.

      I would also guess that the second photograph is of an outbuilding at Cold Spring.


  3. Cold Spring is featured in “Great Houses of Mississippi;” Mary Rose Carter and I were there to photograph it in 2003. I do recall that the rear facade was unusual and altered. And that the couple living there, who were up in years, were very concerned about the family being able to maintain the property once they were gone. I’d love to get an update on it.


  4. Second image looks like a gin house. Definitely not a cabin.


  5. I was familiar with the ms bldgs, having seen all the Johnston photos of ms some time ago. I went to the loc site, looked at all the other shots, and have a definite id for one, and some ‘possibles’ for others. but, how does one get this info to the correct person at loc?


  6. These are all definitely Cold Spring Plantation.


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