Unless something big happens in the next couple of weeks, this will be our last news roundup of 2016.
The Daily Journal in Tupelo ran a nice article by M. Scott Morris about the ongoing work on the Chalmers Institute in Holly Springs, “From the 1800s: Historic building gets new life in 21st century.” The building, opened in 1837 as the Holly Springs Literary Institute and became Chalmers Institute, a Presbyterian boys prep school in 1847. After the school’s closure in 1879, the building became a private residence, but it has been vacant and deteriorating for many years. Holly Springs preservationists Chelius Carter, Bill Fitch, and Tim Liddy finally were able to buy the antebellum structure in the early 2000s, and the group has been putting on an annual fund-raiser, The Wrecking Ball, every fall since 2011 to help match grants (including a 2013 CHP grant) for bringing the building back to life.
Through public grants and private donations, more than $392,000 has been raised for stabilization and rehabilitation. Crews from throughout north Mississippi have worked on the project. . . .
[Carter] expects phase three to be complete by next year, but there will be more to do for phase four.
“We need to add a kitchen so we can have full-blown catering there,” Carter said. “We’ll design it so it fits the original structure. That’s where the handicapped accessibility will be.”
. . . . There’s been a buzz of activity, as craftsmen have worked to plaster the walls. The downstairs is finished, and the upstairs is in progress.
“It’s plaster done like the 1830s,” [Genevieve] Busby said. “It’s a family trade passed down. It’s costly, but it’s worth it.”
An expert in window restoration visited earlier in the year. Busby and her husband took the class, and now many of the building’s windows are at their house for rehabilitation. Working on the Chalmers Institute has become a family project.
Busby said she feels confident the relic from the 1830s will survive for years to come, and it’ll also testify to what people did in the early 2000s.
“Eventually, our names will be on a plaque outside the building, so we’ll be here forever,” she said. “I’ll be more than a name on a tombstone. This will be here 400 years.”
Although the historic First Baptist Church property in Columbus has “been for sale for years” a “For Sale” sign has now appeared in its front yard, according to The Dispatch. The striking, two-towered main sanctuary was built in 1908 and designed by R.H. Hunt of Chattanooga. It’s listed on the National Register as part of the Columbus Central Commercial Historic District.
“It’s one of those iconic buildings in the downtown area,” said Shawn Parker, who has been the pastor at First Baptist Church almost 14 years. “People love it. Of course, there have been a lot of people who have attended service here. Many people have gotten married here. Many people have had funerals for loved ones in the sanctuary. So that adds a lot of personal sentiment and spiritual richness to the building.”
The property and buildings have been for sale for several years. The church officially decided to sell the property and move into a new space on Bluecutt Road in 2005, Parker said. Crye-Leike Properties Unlimited is marketing the Seventh Street property for an asking price of $1.5 million.
Still, it may be years before the property and four interconnected buildings are sold, said Parker and Crye-Leike Properties owner Hilbert Williams.
As for the reasons the church is moving . . .
First Baptist Church now has a range of accessibility issues, Parker said. There are too many steps and not enough elevators. The new building on Bluecutt will not have those issues, Parker said, and will include the latest technologies. Otherwise, he hopes it will be architecturally similar to the sanctuary on Seventh Street.
For more on the neighborliness of Columbus First Baptist Church, see W. White’s recent “Four Years, Six Demolitions–Columbus’s Disappearing Historic Buildings Through Google Street View.”
Down in Jefferson County, the preservationists who have spearheaded the documentation and repair of Poplar Hill School, a 1920s rural African American school, have recently received recognition in the Fayette Chronicle for their efforts to document the abandoned and overgrown cemetery at the former Poplar Hill Plantation nearby.
On Sept 23, 2016 members of the Jackson Family and David Abbott, Assistant Archaeologist of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), conducted a site visit of a survey in progress of the Jackson Family Cemetery on the ridge above what was formerly known as the Poplar Hill Plantation.
. . . .
According to [Mrs. Antoinette M. (Toni)] Stewart, “Upon the arrival of Mr. Abbott, everyone met at the Poplar Hill Museum of African American Culture and began our short drive to the Sidney Jackson farm.” Stewart continued, “Sidney Jackson assisted the project by clearing a path for the vehicles to come onto the property for easy access. In order, to access the cemetery one must cross the farm and then traverse the hill up to the cemetery on the ridge.” Once at the cemetery site, the surveying lead by Jason Brown began. Brown explained, “First item on the agenda was to clear the vegetation around the more noticeable graves and of the two more prominent burials, that per oral history contained the graves of Delaney Jackson and his wife of 54 years, Easter Riley Jackson (actual markers were found). The survey continued until several other graves were discovered. A bit disappointing as only about ten potential graves were located visually; however, with further examination, it was determined that potentially other graves exist which reflects the oral history of up to possibly 30 burials.
Rural African American cemeteries are notoriously hard to document and who knows how many have been simply lost to time and bulldozers, so kudos for those who have taken the time to make sure this one gets the attention it deserves.
Finally, two essays on the destination website Meridian.net cover two iconic blues sites in the Delta. I’ve long known about Clarksdale’s Riverside Hotel, but I never knew the full story until I read Alan Huffman’s essay “All the Blues Players Shacked Up at This Hotel.” And Will H. Jacks’s short piece “Po’ Monkey’s, The Last Juke Joint” recalls the history of this small Bolivar County landmark and ponders its future after the death of owner and proprietor Willie Seaberry in July.