Preservation in Mississippi has actively followed the progress of Prospect Hill Plantation since 2009, when Malvaney posted “An Important House Needs Our Help.” Since 2011, Prospect Hill has been owned and slowly but steadily restored by The Archaeological Conservancy, spearheaded by The Conservancy’s Southeast Regional Director Jessica Crawford. Prospect Hill Plantation was immortalized in Alan Huffman’s book, Mississippi in Africa. Earlier this month, Huffman spotlighted another endangered antebellum plantation that needs to be rescued: Georgiana Plantation, near Cary in Sharkey County.
In a January 8 post, “Saving Georgiana,” Huffman chronicles the plantation house’s long history. As stated before on Preservation in Mississippi, despite its reputation, the Delta was never an antebellum plantation kingdom. The Delta was composed of far too much primordial swamp for that to occur until widespread drainage projects in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Some antebellum settlement did occur but only in scattered pockets with an ever dwindling number of extant buildings. This makes Georgiana an especially important house as it was constructed circa 1840. Not only is it a rare antebellum Delta plantation, but it is an unusual raised cottage with a lower-ceilinged brick first floor, a cypress log second “main” floor, and a frame half story under the side gable roof. Stylistically, vernacular is the best description. It has massing similar to Greek Revival raised cottages of similar age but no Greek Revival detailing.
After roughly 175 years, Georgiana is feeling the effects of time and requires prompt restoration efforts. Its owner realizes that and wishes to see the house preserved. From Huffman’s post:
Charles Weissinger, whose family owns Georgiana and who farms the surrounding land, hopes to find a way to bridge that gap, to preserve the house as a valuable remnant of the Delta’s long and complicated history — and avoid the fate suffered by so many other vanished historic structures in the area. In Weissinger’s view, “Georgiana is the number-one unaddressed house in Mississippi” when it comes to endangered historic sites.
Because Georgiana and the last of its adjacent slave cabins are deteriorating, Weissinger said his family has decided to offer the structures and surrounding acreage to an individual, agency or group that will restore and protect them – for free. “My father talked to family members about restoring the house, but no one had the money,” Weissinger said. “If someone agreed to preserve Georgiana in perpetuity, we’d be willing to donate it,” he said.
Anyone with experience restoring and maintaining historic buildings knows that “free” is a relative term, but there is no question that Georgiana is worthy of preservation. The house and its outbuildings are the only surviving antebellum structures in the area, and fill an otherwise empty niche in the state’s architectural inventory: That of a rustic, absentee plantation home with matching slave quarters that illustrates the workings of an antebellum cotton empire in its original context and setting.
Weissinger is likely correct in that Georgiana Plantation is Mississippi’s most ignored historic house. It is not listed on the National Register, and the MDAH HRI listing has some photographs from 2008 but no architectural or historical information. With a restoration of the highest quality, it is possible that Georgiana would not only qualify for the National Register but also as a National Historic Landmark since antebellum plantation landscapes with intact slave cabins are so rare.
This is an incredible opportunity to preserve one of Mississippi’s rarest types of historic buildings: antebellum Delta plantations. As Huffman discusses in his post, Georgiana is the last antebellum plantation remaining in the area with its contemporaries falling victim to weather, neglect, disinterest, and architectural salvage as recently as the 1980s (not including Altorf Plantation in nearby Brunswick, Warren County which was demolished in 2011). As we have seen with Prospect Hill, the challenges in raising the funds to do needed repairs will be difficult but not insurmountable for an individual or group of committed historic preservationists. Hopefully, either a newly formed or long established preservation group or a well heeled individual will commit to taking on this restoration project.