The photos tell the story of the resurrection of the Merrill-Maley House, built in 1907 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. After years as an antiques shop, and maybe a decade of vacancy and decline, the house was included on the Mississippi Heritage Trust’s 2013 10 Most Endangered List. We first mentioned the happy news about a proposed renovation by Carole and Holt Beasley in a December 2014 news roundup, and things have moved rapidly since then (well, you old house people know what I mean by “rapidly” in the context of old house renovation). Now, the Clarion-Ledger announces that the house is close to reopening as the “Merrill-Beasley Building” and could be adapted as law offices, event space, or a dozen other uses, as it is within walking distance of the New Capitol.
Carole Beasley likened it to a marathon. “You hit that stage, the last leg of it, and it seems the harder you work, the farther the finish line gets away from you.”
The restoration has involved some detective work. At the outset, “We put out an APB for photos, and we were lucky enough to meet with the granddaughter of one of the early owners of the house.” Looking past the family in a dark copy of a photo, she pointed out architectural details such as that unpainted bookcase, tucked into one side of the rebuilt entry. “We knew it fit here because of the ghosting.”
The front first floor that’d been wide after its history of adaptations — a clothing boutique, social club for servicemen, apartments, antique stores — now has its grand staircase back, with French doors and pocket doors to define the space.
The National Register nomination, written by architect and architectural historian David Sachs, says of the house:
It is a fine example of the Colonial Revival style characterized by the lavish use of giant order columns, overscaled and elaborately decorated fenestration, symmetrical composition and prominent roof. The popularity of the Colonial Revival style in the early twentieth century coincided with an era of
unprecedented prosperity in Jackson which was developing into Mississippi’s most important commercial center. Large and impressive Colonial Revival mansions characterized the architecture of State Street and reflected the wealth, taste and nostalgia of those who flourished in the pre-Depression economy. In the 1950s and 1960s, however, many of these expensive and old-fashion dwellings gave way to an expanding business district and were destroyed at an alarming rate. Of those to survive, the Merrill-Maley House is among the best in terms of integrity and excellence of original design.
The history of the Merrill-Maley House closely parallels the history of the street it faces. The lots along North State Street were subdivided beginning at the turn of the twentieth century. The land on which this house is located was subdivided in 1905. It was bought in 1907 by Philip S. Merrill, manager of the George B. Merrill & Bros. Lumber Company, who built a house for his family and their attendants. Lumbering was a mainstay of the early-twentieth-century economy in Mississippi. It is not surprising, therefore, that the second owner, Charles E. Maley, was also a lumberman. . . When he was forced to sell the house, it was bought by Mrs. Lucille Henderson, wife of a prominent Jackson physician, Dr. W. F. Henderson. Dr. Henderson was head of the Radiology Department at Mississippi Baptist Hospital. By the 1940s, the most desirable residential areas had moved away from the center of the city to the north. Commercial structures had begun to encroach on the once grand residential boulevard. Mrs. Henderson, upon her husband’s death in the late 1930s, converted the lower floor of the house to a women’s clothing shop. The family continued to live on the upper floor. During World War II, the house was the location of the Town Club, a social club catering to servicemen. In 1945, the Merrill-Maley House was converted into seven small apartments.
Those last few sentences foreshadow the decline of this once-grand house until it reached the low point shown in the May 2015 picture above, tracking with the decline of residential North State Street after it became U.S. Highway 51 in the 1930s. You can see photographic evidence of the transition in Todd Sanders’ 2009 book, Jackson’s North State Street from Arcadia Press. In 1982, when the house/Antiques business was listed on the National Register, it was in decent shape, albeit with two flat-roofed one-story additions on the front for extra retail space. When I moved to Jackson in the 1990s, the house was about the same except for the significant change from the barrel-tile roof to an asphalt shingle type. But sometime around 2005, as I recall, maybe a little earlier, the antiques shop moved out. There was an aborted effort to restore the house, and that’s when the two flat-roof additions were removed, leaving only tar paper between the house and the elements for about ten years. Part of the front column fell away. I think the property went into foreclosure around the time everything seemed to be in foreclosure, 2008-2011, and the rest is good preservation history. She’s a grand old lady and a tough old bird to survive such vicissitudes. Thanks to the Beasleys for taking on this project and bringing new life to the Merrill House!