HABS in Mississippi: Messinger House, near Edwards

Like our last two HABS sites, the Col. Moore House in Winona and the old Grist Mill near Macon, this week’s Messinger (or Messenger) House starts out as a bit of a mystery but gets a little clearer as we look for other sources. The HABS records gives its location as “Near Edwards, Warren County, Mississippi,” while the MDAH Historic Resources Database says “Bovina vicinity, Warren County,” which may be a discrepancy without a difference since Edwards is in Hinds County and Bovina is across the line in Warren County. HABS says the builder was William Bacon, which is helpful since Delta State University has the Bacon-Messenger Family Papers, which introduces the family and describes their plantation in more detail:

The Bacon family settled on the banks of the Big Black River near Bovina in Warren County, in the early 19th century, prior to 1817. William Bacon died in 1849 and his widow married George Messenger, who was much younger than she. After her death, he married Emily L. Fox. Upon George Messenger’s death she married Dr. George Wilberforce Howard.

The plantation, Baconhame, originally covered 4500 acres and was built directly on the Banks of the Big Black River. The River at that time was a navigable stream and steamboats plied their routes there, taking on passengers and cotton and bringing supplies to the farm. The family maintained the property until around 1900.

Scope and Content

The collection contains documents from the Bacon Messenger and Moore families. These include maps, tax receipts, bills of sale for slaves, account books, and farm records. 1811 – 1888. One 1938 newspaper clipping.

Given this description, I would guess the house was somewhere off of old Highway 80 that runs between Edwards and Bovina, maybe even near the Battle of Big Black River Bridge marker on this Google map.

By the time HABS photographer, James Butters, came around in 1936, the house was looking a bit ramshackle. Mr. Butters only took two photos, and they are intriguing to say the least (I mean, really, I hate to complain, Mr. Butters, but couldn’t you have just stepped up on the porch and taken a shot through the breezeway there and maybe even gotten one of the rooms inside?) The portico is nicely finished, and the “rear” elevation, which may have faced the river, boasts fine pedimented window and door surrounds–all of which combine for a very Greek Revival appearance, which would make it later than the c.1800 that the HABS records give as a construction date and also than the 1817 date of the DSU text. But that broken slope on the roof and the open breezeway or dogtrot may indicate an earlier building that got fancied up in the Greek Revival period.

You know what would help us in our analysis, Mr. Butters? A few interior shots. Ok, I’ll stop picking on Mr. Butters. It was August in Mississippi, after all, and I imagine he was sweating profusely while he composed these photos. I suppose all of us have been beaten by the August heat at one time or another.

Notice also the man standing on the back porch in light pants (maybe seersuckers?), white shirt, and what may be a straw hat.

I don’t know anything about the fate of the Bacon-Messinger House, except that it no longer exists. Does anyone out there have any light to shed on this piece of lost Mississippi?

Front (West Elevation), August 25, 1936, James Butters, HABS photographer.

Front (West Elevation), August 25, 1936, James Butters, HABS photographer.

Rear (Southeast corner), August 25, 1936, James Butters, HABS photographer.

Rear (Southeast corner), August 25, 1936, James Butters, HABS photographer.

HABS website: http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ms0174/

MDAH Historic Resources Database record



Categories: Antebellum, Lost Mississippi, Vernacular Architecture

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10 replies

  1. Looking at that porch and the grasses around brings to mind an old saying in my family: “Too tall and snaky.” However, I would agree that sweating profusely was likely the reason for not tarrying.

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  2. Vicksburg Daily Whig, 24 Jan 1840 reports Trustee’s sale listing Daniel Bacon Messenger as executor for William Bacon, deceased. In 1841, Messenger and Sophia Bacon were complainants on a foreclosure of land in Warren County, and 6 slaves, listing them as executor and executrix of William Bacon’s estate. Daniel B. Messenger died 30 August 1842, and George Messenger was appointed de bonis non administrator. Apparently, Bacon owned considerable real estate in Vicksburg, which were mentioned frequently in the settlement of his estate. A March 1841 notice reported the Vicksburg Female Institute was to open “in the brick house west of the Market house, late the property of William Bacon, deceased.” By 1858,
    George Messenger was reported as owning a plantation in the vicinity of Vicksburg Road near Tiffintown. Elisha Fox was appointed overseer of the road that was near Bridgeport, Bear Creek Road, west side of Messenger’s plantation and ending at the Vicksburg Road near Tiffintown. Sophia Bacon Messenger died Oct. 21, 1864 “at her residence on Big Black, Warren County.” The estate of George Messenger is referenced in 1902, and Dr. George Wilberforce Howard, whose “wife was Miss Fox”, died 12 Jan 1903.

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  3. well, this is certainly an odd, but interesting house. i remember seeing the west front photo many years ago–in dc, libr of congress–but don’t recall seeing the ‘back'(?)– but, all sorts of architectural questions for our gang—

    let’s look at the back(east side) first– uneven number of columns– and, i don’t think we are missing one either– which would mean that the house wasn’t symmetrical– were the rooms on the left smaller than the rooms on the right, on the other side of the dogtrot? but, yes, nice details of antae and framing around doors and windows–three bays in each room— but of different sizes? and, note that a chimney has been removed from the front left room–filled in siding….

    okay, if we look at what mr b called the front– the west side(with the small portico), some quirks– that opening ‘under’ the roof to the left of the portico???? and, yes, it does seem that the room on the right is larger than the space on the left— but, in plan–and, going back to the other side–a large room with a small room ‘behind’–but, this would mean that if the west were the front, the small rooms would be on the west side????

    another reason to think that the main front was the east side…..

    okay, what is this large bldg to the left on the west side???? its scale looks bigger than the other section? at first, i wanted to think that the ‘west front’ was really a wing on the right of the east front– say, like asphodel, in la– but i guess that we are looking at the back and front of the same structure–and, nothing further on the large bldg to the north side—- it is not even easy to see this structure in the distance from the ‘back’ view–well, not on the net, anyway—

    yes, why didn’t mr b take more photos or, at least, sketch a floor plan???? this was not a small house!

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  4. First, I will stand up for the photographer, Mr. James Butters, by stating that there are things we do not know about his assignment. How many sites did he have to photograph that day? How much film was he provided by the state HABS office, which in turn was influenced by how much funding they received from Washington? 8×10 film is not and was not cheap. Butters may have been sent out for a week in the field and only provided a few dozen plates. Indeed, I have noticed that Mississippi rather pales in comparison to Alabama as far as coverage. Not that Mississippi’s was a poorly run office, but the Burkhardts were employed by Auburn University, did not have architecture firms to run, and had an evangelical passion for documenting Alabama’s historic buildings. Varian Burkhardt in particular had a great ability to get local support for HABS projects through her skillful use of a regular newspaper column. Back to Mr. Butters, we also have to ask were there were lighting conditions conducive to indoor photography? There is no electricity running to the Bacon-Messinger House, so no artificial lighting for a photograph of mantelpieces, doors, and trim. Finally, Butters was a photographer, not an architect. HABS offices had architects for creating measured drawings and “historians” for researching about houses; those would have been the people to create floorplans. If Butters was out in the field, it was because he was to photograph a building.

    Now to the Bacon-Messinger House. The “rear,” which I also believe is the original front, is symmetrical. The odd-number of columns is due to an exceptionally wide dogtrot; the middle column lines up with the center of the dogtrot with three bays and three columns on either side of the dogtrot. The “front” appears to have been altered, which is why it is asymmetrical. I believe that to the left of the portico was originally an open breezeway or porch leading to the addition, partially enclosed later. The entire “front” may have originally been an open porch, like the “rear” and enclosed later, but I will err on the conservative side in speculating about its alterations and original appearance.

    The addition to the side, out of camera frame, does appear quite large. It could be a later addition, an earlier structure on site, or constructed concurrently with the main house, perhaps as a plantation office, inn, or garconniere/Texas. The fact that it was not photographed could imply that it did not have the level of sophistication seen in the “main” house, or it probably would have been photographed. That could imply that it was subordinate to the “main” house.

    The floorplan is likely a standard dogtrot, just on a larger scale. Two main rooms divided by a wide passage. There does not appear to be a stair in the passage, so the upstairs was reached by a stair in one (possibly both) pens. Since I am not sure of the addition’s size, its floorplan is a complete mystery.

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  5. I interpret those two rooms on the portico side as cabinet rooms, since the side view seems deeper than just one room deep. But it is oddly asymmetrical to have that left side room smaller than the other. And I think the east and west sides possibly should be read as “river front” and road front,” rather than “front” and “rear.” My theory: Iin the early days, the river (east) side was the front, with a full-width gallery, possibly on chamfered posts. The river was the main mode of transportation, I would assume until at least the 1840s or later; then the road became a going concern, so in the 1850s, they renovated the whole existing building in the Greek Revival style and slapped a portico on the former back of the building. By the 20th century, with the river not being navigated anymore, the portico side had become the “front” as far as Butters could discern.

    As for the addition/other building off to the north, it appears to be set back from the eastern facade, so it may not be larger than the main house, but it is a large piece of the house. If only Mr. Butters . . .

    I covet Alabama’s HABS photography, with its luxurious views of stairhalls, mantels, doors, upstairs rooms, etc.

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  6. Enlarging the photographs, you can see a woman standing in the dogtrot, facing the camera, in the photo of the portico side. She (or another woman–dress appears darker) also appears in the “river front” side, to the right of the man. She is harder to discern in that photo as she is in the shadows.

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  7. well, lots of good ideas!

    and, yes, the ‘antae in the middle of the dogtrot space’ sounds good— and, i feel better about the quirky arrangement now! and, yes, antae replacing posts in a grecian-redo of an earlier house– sounds logical…. but, the wing on the left in the portico view really seems larger than the earlier(?) house– i do wonder why it wasn’t photographed— i cannot view these photos ‘enlarged’ or ‘close up’, but can anything of the wing be seen ‘through’ the colonnade–way in the background?

    and, yes, mr butters did some very good work in ms for habs, and i am not denigrating him at all– he could have taken only one view of this house and, then, where would be be?

    nonetheless, a house that ‘grew’ with the times…. thanks for posting this, el malvaney!

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    • That was an interesting question Ed. The max I could enlarge it shows what appears to be either a small porch-like structure, or an opening to a garage. Just the very edge of the roof is visible. I assume the angle keeps the rest of the wing from being visible.

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  8. I located several sources that indicate the name of the plantation was Baconham, not Baconhame. There is a Bacon-Messinger Cemetery in Warren County, near the area where the plantation was purported to be. The directions (located on Find-a-Grave) indicate the cemetery is north of I-20, and in the general vicinity of the Big Black. I assume the cemetery would have been located on the plantation. 11 people are listed as buried there, including William Bacon, Sophia Bacon Messinger, and George Messinger. The Bacon’s son (1 year) and daughter (3 years) are buried there. Finally, the marriage of Sybellia Messenger was held at Baconham in 1856.

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  9. and, the saga continues— okay, i went back to the habs photos online and enlarged them as much as i could on the computer screen here at our public library. there is some kind of porch that can be seen through the end of the gallery on the ‘gallery side’ of the older? house–presumably on the attached house.

    and, on the portico side, note that we can see then beginning of the stairway going up in the dogtrot–and part of its underside— if one disregards the portico from this view, the dimensions of the left side–including the open part–seem to be the same as the right side, although the right side doesn’t have the ‘open section’— but quirky, nonetheless.

    but, the scale of the bldg on the left is larger than the scale on the ‘first’ structure– in addition to the roof height, note the windows, etc— it would seem to me that the left bldg might have been ‘the main house’ at one time– and, yes, i still wonder why mr b didn’t photograph it? or, maybe he did but the negatives are lost?????

    the idea that the section mr b photographed was an earlier bldg redone, grecian style. seems very plausible—- and the grecian additions were to make it ‘up-to-date’ and grander—-

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