HABS in Mississippi: Gilreath’s Tavern (Ellicott’s Hill), Natchez

Since one of Samuel Wilson’s first projects was the house variously known as Gilreath’s Tavern, Connelly’s Tavern, and the House on Ellicott’s Hill, I thought we would follow up on yesterday’s post with the HABS documentation of the building from 1934. Under the leadership of District Officer A. Hays Town, HABS spent a lot of time on the tavern, taking both interior and exterior photos, working up 10 sheets of drawings (with delineators Theodore Granberry and J.T. Liddle, Jr.) that include some wonderful details of shutterdogs, corner beads, and Federal mantels, and a long written narrative. The house was clearly worth the effort, since it was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1974.

Gilreath's Hill, WEST ELEVATION. Canal Street, Natchez, Adams County, MS. Ralph Clynne, Photographer, March 29, 1934.

Gilreath’s Hill, WEST ELEVATION. Canal Street, Natchez, Adams County, MS. Ralph Clynne, Photographer, March 29, 1934.

Gilreath's Hill, INTERIOR VIEW OF RECEPTION ROOM. Canal Street, Natchez, Adams County, MS. James Butters, Photographer April 10, 1936.

Gilreath’s Hill, INTERIOR VIEW OF RECEPTION ROOM. Canal Street, Natchez, Adams County, MS. James Butters, Photographer April 10, 1936.

The HABS narrative dates the building to 1795-1798, whereas the MDAH Historic Resources Database says c.1800, but even so, there’s lots of good information there. Given that our focus yesterday was Samuel Wilson’s preservation work in Mississippi, I wanted to focus on the last two paragraphs of the narrative, written 1934-1936:

The house is very dilapidated — much of the stucco is off the brick work; a portion of the rear wall has broken, and has almost crumbled away; the siding has suffered from lack of painting; and the pine posts and galleries, changed from the original in late years, are in bad repair. For several years the roof was not covered, so much of the interior woodwork and plaster has deteriorated, in most cases beyond repair.

While in its present state of repair, “The Tavern” would not attract the casual passer, but it must have been a beautiful structure in its original state, and certainly should not be overlooked by one seeking inspiration for a home thoroughly adaptable to this climate and this section of the South.

The HABS narrative also names the owner as “Natchez Flower Pilgrimage,” which I don’t believe was ever the name of the Natchez Garden Club, which bought the House on Ellicott’s Hill in 1934. This rather dismissive inaccuracy perhaps conveys a bit of condescension about these groups of garden club ladies who had very recently begun opening their houses to tourists, but the MDAH database summary, written by Mimi Miller of the Historic Natchez Foundation, notes that “restored in 1936 by the Natchez Garden Club, the house was the first restoration project undertaken by an organization in Natchez.” (and probably in the whole state of Mississippi.)

That’s a pretty important restoration, don’t you think? The garden club ladies brought in Koch and Wilson of New Orleans on their project, and a young preservation architect Samuel Wilson cut his teeth here, taking a “dilapidated” territorial house that had very recently been headed for an ignoble demise and making it the star of a whole new show, the Natchez Pilgrimage.

In the process they created the idea of “heritage tourism” as a way to pay the preservation bills, thus inventing a new economic model that took advantage of the rise of middle-class tourism and automobile travel and kept Natchez and other historic places afloat into the 21st century. Not bad for a bunch of garden club ladies, huh?


For more on the House on Ellicott’s Hill:



Categories: Antebellum, Architectural Research, Cool Old Places, Heritage Tourism, Natchez

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