A Look at a Few Historic Buildings in Aberdeen

I do not travel around through Mississippi, going from small town to small town, like I used to. I do not have the time, anymore. Really, who does have the time? It seems like all the preservationists I know are just too busy to stop and look at the buildings.

So, I thought I would dig into my photographic archive of past travels through the Magnolia State and look back at a trip I took in March of 2010 to Aberdeen. Aberdeen sometimes gets a little ignored; it is close to and overshadowed by Columbus, but Aberdeen has many great historic buildings that are the equal of those in Columbus. I took photographs of some of the town’s interesting historic buildings. As is my wont, I tend to focus on “lesser” historic buildings, not necessarily those that appear in tourist brochures and guidebooks or on Pilgrimages but those which I see and worry will disappear in the very near future. The longer I travel and take photographs, the more I see my fears of these buildings disappearing are well founded.

What that translates to as far as this Aberdeen trip is that I took no photographs of The Magnolias or The Old Homestead or the Monroe County Courthouse or the Old U.S. Post Office & Federal Building (the current Monroe County Chancery) or the buildings that appear in everyone else’s photographs. Aberdeen has so many other, less fawned over historic buildings. This is the chance to take a look at some of them.

Although most these buildings simply piqued my fancy due to their abandonment or interesting architectural features or both, I knew very little about most of them when I photographed them. Thankfully, due to the MDAH HRI, I am able to provide you a little information about these buildings’ histories. I am not an expert on Aberdeen’s history, so I encourage anyone more knowledgeable to please comment and point out the many things I am sure I missed about these buildings.

First, let us start with a pair of historic gas stations.

The first is what Thomas Rosell described in one of his “Friday is a Gas” posts as Mississippi’s best preserved Cities Service station, located at 112 S. Maple St., just south of Commerce Street. It was constructed after November 1938 according to Rosell’s research. The station was listed on the National Register as a contributing resource to the Aberdeen Downtown Historic District in 1997. At that time, it was used as a Greyhound Bus depot; in 2010 it was a car wash. Whatever its use, it retains much of the detailing that defined the Tudor Revival Cities Service stations of its era. As the photographs show, some maintenance would go a long way towards preserving its architectural distinctiveness.

The other gas station is located nearly right across the street, at the corner of S. Maple and E. Commerce. The National Register nomination form states that it is a Central Gulf station from the 1920s, which would make it one of the oldest surviving gas stations in Mississippi. Unlike the ones that Thomas Rosell featured in his post “Friday is a Gas: Gulf Gas Stations c.1920-c.1930,” this Aberdeen station would be classified not as Craftsman or Colonial Revival but as Beaux Arts, one of the very few classically-inspired historic gas stations in the state. Thomas Rosell is our resident expert on historic gas stations, so he can tell us if there is another Mississippi station with egg-and-dart molding on its cornice or cross-paned transom windows. Gulf stations of this era almost always used the Box with Canopy form, but it is difficult to tell whether this station was always simply a box or whether it originally had a canopy. I lean towards the latter, which would make it look similar to one the still survives at 6th St. and 27th Ave. in Meridian and probably identical to a surviving 1925 one in Houston, Texas profiled on the great Roadside Architecture site. But, the Aberdeen station shows no obvious disfigurement from the removal of an original canopy, which would make it similar to a surviving one in Logan Square, Philadelphia (Pennsylvania, not Mississippi). The current canopy is an incongruous replacement which I attempted to block out of most of my photographs.

I have no information whatsoever about the next building, a Mid-Century Modern commercial building. It is located in the 100 block of E. Washington St., behind the Cities Services station and the downtown streetwall of Commerce Street. It is of the type of Mid-Century “Mundane” that are rapidly being demolished or remodeled out of existence. The curved brick brise soleil in front of the main entrance caught my eye; I cannot recall seeing one like it before. The memorial in front of the brise soleil is dedicated to Mississippi National Guard members who served in Operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom.

St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church at 108 S. James St. is on the National Register as a contributing resource to the South Central Aberdeen Historic District. There are not a large number of Mission Style churches in Mississippi; this one is a diminutive jewel box that stands out due to style and detail, not size. According to the National Register nomination form, it was constructed in 1927. There is no architect listed on the National Register form or on the MDAH HRI, but it is almost certainly designed by one, possibly one based in either New Orleans or Mobile, cities with architects experienced in designing Catholic churches.

Across Washington Street from St. Francis is the Roy-Watkins House, better known as Greenleaves. It does appear in guidebooks thanks to its striking porte-cochère. Attempts to get good photographs of that feature (as well as the nearby bay window) were, in my case, flummoxed by bushes blocking my shots. Constructed in 1883, it is an interesting transitional house, with traces of Italianate detailing on what would otherwise be considered a Victorian house. The year 1883 would have been eventful in the best and worst ways for the house’s first owner, Charles Roy; he moved into his grand new house but did not get to enjoy it with his wife, who The Aberdeen Examiner reported died on May 6. Greenleaves was determined in 1988 to be a pivotal resource to the South Central Aberdeen Historic District.

One of the houses that I photographed which I worried the most about being demolished was the Lasky House, a 1910 Colonial Revival detailed house at 500 S. Columbus St. It is also in the South Central Aberdeen Historic District, though it is “just” a contributing resource. In the intervening twenty-four years from when the house was surveyed for the National Register and when I photographed it, the house had lost its prominent wraparound, Ionic columned, corner pavilioned front porch. This left its original front door and leaded glass windows unprotected from the elements. I have not heard of any change in the house’s condition in the last eight years, though hopefully news of its restoration just simply has not been reported yet.

The John Ferris Plant House is a house that would be right at home on Aberdeen’s Silk Stocking Row. But it is not; it is at 118 N. Long St., which means that, although it is a pivotal resource to the North Aberdeen Historic District, it sits next to three vacant lots, a half block from a trailer, and a block from the post industrial landscape along the former Mobile & Ohio Railroad tracks. It appears in the old The Pelican Guide to Old Homes of Mississippi: Columbus and the North by Helen Kerr Kempe, but I do not remember it in any local tourism brochures. On page 52, Kempe provides a few interesting details about its architectural features, stating that,

“Quincy Oliver Echford [sic., Eckford] imported teak and mahogany for the interior of the John Plant Home from Jamaica, where he served as vice-consul…The corner panes of the sidelights of the front door are cut-ruby glass. The interior doors have the original hand-grained panels. The original kitchen, servants’ building, smokehouse, and gazebo (wellhouse) remain.”

Some of those outbuildings are also listed on the National Register nomination form as contributing resources, since they are rare surviving historic ancillary buildings. Today, they are all blocked from view by an incongruous privacy fence erected sometime between 2010 and 2013.

I find the house somewhat difficult to architecturally classify. Its detailing seems too exuberant to be Italianate. If its polychrome slate roof were a mansard, I would classify it as Second Empire; it fits the style in every other way, including having a tower on the front façade. Susan M. Enzweiler, who wrote the National Register nomination form, labeled it as Italianate/Eastlake. It has stunning woodwork around the windows and comprising the porch which is enhanced by multi-hued paintwork that is likely far closer to its original color scheme than your standard “Painted Lady.”

What I can say is that the grand magnolia trees flanking the entrance create an incredible sense of ambiance and make it bloody impossible to get a good photograph of the house.

Although only featuring a few buildings, this post shows the architectural diversity that characterizes Aberdeen’s built environment. That architectural diversity is generally ignored by residents and tourists more interested in grand antebellum mansions. I am not saying those mansions are not important, but one has to remember, “It ain’t all moonlight and magnolias.”

All photographs copyright W. White 2010. All reproduction is prohibited without written permission.



Categories: Aberdeen, Gas Stations, Historic Preservation

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21 replies

  1. Loved this post this morning!

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  2. While we were still living in Jackson, my husband called me from a detour through Aberdeen on his way to Tupelo. He was always looking for “new old towns” for me to explore and felt like he had stumbled on a true gold mine of historic architecture. After we moved to Tupelo, I went to Aberdeen every chance I got. The people there are every bit as gracious as their buildings. Jim Crosby, in particular, was a wealth of information and a delightful companion. Thanks for highlighting one of the state’s overlooked jewels.

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  3. Wow, those magnolias! Are they blocking the tower or is that side bay the tower?

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    • They are completely blocking the tower, which is over the front entrance, matching up with the very slight jut out around the front entrance (which blends in with the porch columns and is difficult to see). As much as I would like to get a good look at the tower (even standing in front of the house, I barely got a glimpse), I would much rather see some grand magnolias like those; I wish I had magnolias like that blocking my house from the street.

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  4. I spent the better part of a morning looking in newspaper archives without much or any luck. However, the MDAH HRI gives the date of the Lasky House as ca.1880, and NRHP nomination dates the rear addition as ca. 1910. That timeframe did enable me to locate information about the Laskys and their stores (Lasky’s Fire Store and Lasky’s Star Store–J & M Lasky), but unfortunately nothing about the house. Makes me want to road trip over to Aberdeen again.

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  5. while i don’t know aberdeen well, i have been there a few times–and, yes, some great building, grand and not- so- grand. thanks for the insightful post, though, perhaps ‘peaked my fancy’ should be ‘piqued my fancy’?

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  6. and, you can ‘back at- me’ by wondering what i meant by ‘some great building’ –but i could mean ‘some great building’ (by contractors…) or, ‘some great buildings’!

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  7. Providing context to what was being said across the M&O RR tracks in Monroe County after” d’serender.”

    ‘Old Mister Yankee, think he is so grand,
    Wid his blue coat tail a draggin’ on de ground!

    http://msgw.org/slaves/young-clara-xslave.htm

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  8. i always enjoy going back to look at entries–not only for comments from our ‘gang’, but also for items that i previously missed. presume ‘mobile and ohio’ railroad is the same as the gm&o, gulf, mobile, and ohio? and, what is the seemingly grecian ionic column garden ornament in the right front yard of the plant house?

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    • What is the question regarding the Grecian lion ornament.? A ten-fold version of the two lion ornaments welcomed visitors to the Potts Plantation home in Crawford back in the late 1990s. In 1998 the Prairie straight-line winds ripped through the area and did damage to the Potts home and MSCW. The damage to the Potts home was repairable… just some roof damage. A few years later another straight-line wind passed through doing further damage. At that point, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fisheries was in possession of the structure. The local newspapers, The Commercial-Dispatch and the Packet, showed no interest in covering the storm damage nor the probability that the historic home would be demolished. At that time I spoke with MDAH through Mr. Tom Kesler at MDAH, and he indicated that it probably would be demolished– citing problems with the history of allowing Mississippi wildlife and fisheries to run a “Bed and Breakfast “…which had previously placed more emphasis more on the “bed” and “wildlife.” If you know what I mean?
      Next thing I know, I drive by and the home is in ashes and the architectural salvage , including the ornamental lions, giant cypress logs, and a 2-ton grist mill were all gone. The soy bean storage bins were missing, as well. I suspect that MDAH has photos of the destroyed property. If not, I know a person that is sitting on photos of the property before it was demolished.
      Swenon Potts donated $1,000,000 ( one million dollars)in scholarship money to Ole Miss back in the 1970s. The home was built in 1880s and I was told that Jack Ervin was the architect and builder.

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    • Ed, I have no idea about those columns. They could be architectural salvage from a nearby demolished house. Aberdeen and Monroe County have certainly lost a few antebellum homes. However, they could just as easily be some yard decoration made out of concrete or fiberglass. At least for right now, they are a mystery which I cannot solve.

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  9. This Black Prairie area was the site of many skirmishes with the Union army during that fratricidal War and Re-Construction. It was also called the Bread Basket of the Confederacy. In the WPA X-Slave archives, there is mention of General Forrest “sightings” by the slaves. General Forrest’s brother, Jeffrey, died in the General’s arms at the Battle of Okolona. I think he’s buried in the cemetery there which fronts U.S. Highway 45. In one account, a slave reported that Forrest ordered the execution by firing squad of three Confederate soldiers who had refused to continue the fight. The slave quoted the General as saying, “It’s the law!”

    https://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/nom/prop/23551.pdf

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  10. i was asking about the grecian IONIC column capital that can be seen in the right hand side of the front yard of the plant house.

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    • Your question was clear enough, I was just architecturally ignorant of the word “capital” to describe the cornice work atop an ionic column.
      The “hollow” wood column was obviously used to support the corner pavilioned front porch roof. Honey bees would seek out these front porch columns for their bee hives. I never did see how these columns were pieced to together before the advent of synthetic laminate adhesives, but I came across an architecture salvage yard near Kosciusko in the late 1990s and found a stack of columns from a demolished Chenille factory in that area. I wasn’t aware that there was a burgeoning textile industry in that area during the early 1900s which had its roots in supplying uniforms to the Confederate army during the War. Textile mills were a target of Uncle Billy and his Bummers and he had torched them at will.
      These 14-inch diameter columns were set to be sawed up for flooring, for they were heart pine and solid except for a two-inch bored hole in the center. They were turned on a lathe and precision-bored in the center. It was explained to me the columns were milled from “green” logs and that the bored center assured that the columns would not twist and warp during the drying process. Like, Bilbo, I hauled them home with no plan for their use…I just couldn’t see them used for flooring. They need a home.
      I suspect that the concrete lions are just yard art?

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  11. Thank you, W., for this detailed look at what some folks might consider “background” buildings. They are important pieces to what makes a town special.

    As for the egg and dart cornice, I’d have to say that might be the only station extant I am aware of that uses egg and dart molding as a key feature of its architectural style, and one of the few with astral transoms.

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    • Astral transoms – I looked to try and find a specific term for those windows, they were after all a common motif in Beaux Arts buildings, but I failed to find anything. “Cross-paned transom windows” is a term that is not too off the mark and is more descriptive than the National Register form.

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      • I am sure there must be a classical term to describe the division of lights. Astral was one description I used recently, the only reason why the term was in my mind. My understanding of it comes from the 1998 Belhaven Heights NRHD amendment which describes 968 Bellevue Place as having “a trio of astriated windows”, which I thought was excellent description but was worried it might rather convey a window being decorated with stars, rather than resembling a star shape, hence astral over astriated.

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  12. southside preservationist===glad you have a copy of the claiborne county book; even after all these years, i think it is still useful. the sad thing is/are the ‘losses’ since the book was published. and, of course, other data has emerged since i gathered my information, so some of the material is incorrect or less than complete; for example, my exterior elevation and plan of ‘windsor’– my thoughts are a bit different now.

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