Cully Cobb and John Stennis Salute Their Friend N. W. Overstreet Upon His Retirement

Fifty years ago, at the end of 1968, Noah Webster Overstreet retired from his architectural practice, bringing to a close the most important architectural career of any Mississippi architect. Overstreet received numerous tributes upon his retirement, including letters from Senator John C. Stennis and agriculturalist Cully Cobb. These letters are located in the Overstreet (N. W.) architectural records at Mississippi State University’s special collections.

Senator John C. Stennis, one of Mississippi’s most influential politicians and longest serving senator, needs little introduction. I have never found any reference as to how Stennis and Overstreet became acquainted, whether through a building project or through various civic or religious groups, but Stennis was but one of the many politicians who Overstreet corresponded with. [1]

February 3, 1969

Mr. N. W. Overstreet
747 Belhaven
Jackson, Mississippi

Dear “Web”:

A mutual friend favored me with the fine article and picture of you that appeared in the Clarion-Ledger on December 29th, 1968.[2] Needless to say, I read every word of it with the utmost interest and admiration, and as one of your admirers I can also add, with the greatest satisfaction and PRIDE.

Also, let me congratulate you heartily on such a fine, constructive career of continued contributions in your profession and every other way to our state and nation. No one exceeds you and very few equal you in the many other fields of your constructive effort as a friend, citizen, father, and a host of other relations that you have so nobly personified.

Let me extend you many hearty good wishes for pleasant days as they come and go, and among other things, you may always remember that I take great pride in thinking of myself as your warm friend.

I am taking the liberty of sending a copy of this letter to our mutual friend, E. O. Spencer.[3] Please give him my fond regards when you see him.

Fondly your friend,

[Signature]

John Stennis
United States Senator

N. W. Overstreet c. 1908 from the 1908 Reville MSU yearbook

By 1968, Cully Cobb was one of Overstreet’s few surviving classmates from the Mississippi A&M Class of 1908. Both men were in their eighties and were “survivors” of one of the most tumultuous years in the university’s history, the student strike of 1907-1908, when all but a half-dozen seniors resigned in protest of President John C. Hardy’s administration (which makes the furor over President “Doc” Foglesong’s daffodil management during my time at MSU seem tame). Cobb was assistant horticulturalist and had been one of the most respected students among his peers. Yet, he was one of the only seniors who remained loyal to Hardy and did not resign (although I am sure someone knows which side of the dispute Overstreet was on, I am not sure whether he resigned or not). Cobb’s biographers, Roy V. Scott and J. G. Shoalmire, assess him “[A]s a man of strong character and conviction…from a poor farm family [who] worked his way through college to become one of the most outstanding southern agricultural educators of our times, finally serving under President Roosevelt as chief of the Cotton Section of the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA).”[4] Cobb’s position as editor of the Southern Ruralist and later ownership of the Ruralist Press would make him wealthy, which allowed him, through his initial bequests, to establish the Cobb Institute of Archaeology and Cully A. Cobb Antique Tool Museum at his alma mater. Cobb, who lived in the antebellum Steele-Cobb House in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, Georgia, is also responsible for the Cobb Institute’s salvaged colonnade, which originally graced the front façade of Atlanta Union Station.

Cobb’s letter rambles off topic, so a portion of it which discusses Middle Eastern archaeology is not included here.

My dear Street:[5]

So glad to have your letter and to know that you are getting along.

And I am particularly pleased to have the fine statement appearing the December 29 issue of the CLARION LEDGER.

You may not know it but the first gift I ever made to a religious organization in my life was to the YMCA at Mississippi State University which you designed, and which still stands as a monument to your architectural integrity. I don’t believe you knew this. Even so, my donation to that institution was Mile Post #1 in my religious donations….You can see what started with the “Y” at Mississippi A. and M.!

You have lived a remarkably successful life, reflecting the creative genius and the ability to put it in place and make it work that is rare in this man’s world. Along with that you have shown remarkable executive ability. You have been a builder – a builder of buildings – a builder of men as witnessed by your work in the field of spiritual development. And now how wonderful it is in your reflections to know what I have just said is true and to have a feeling of deep satisfaction that can come only to those who have “run the race” successfully. Your classmates have deeply respected you always – that has riped into love on the part of those of us who know you and understand you. You know nothing does me more good than to be absolutely sure of what I am saying is the truth and over the years of relationship to be able to “tell it like it is.”

I am writing Mac today. When do we get together next?

Lots and lots of love.

Cully Cobb [Signature]

Quotes from these letters are included in the article “Singular Statesmen: A Tribute to an Uncommon Man/N. W. Overstreet” from the Spring 1969 issue of MSU Alumnus. The article has a very brief overview of his career and photographs or architectural renderings of a few of Overstreet’s larger projects: the YMCA at Mississippi State, Bailey Junior High School in Jackson, U.S. Post Office and Federal Building in Tupelo, the Delta Branch Experiment Station in Stoneville, and the Veterans Administration Hospital in Jackson.

These letters from Senator John C. Stennis and Cully Cobb are just a small indication of the esteem with which N. W. Overstreet was held by his contemporaries among the business and political leaders of Mississippi, esteem earned through Overstreet’s achievement in transforming Mississippi’s architectural profession during his more than fifty-year career.


[1] Overstreet does not appear to have been particularly politically active, just politically connected. The full extent of his political connections is unknown, limited by the fact that only a small amount of his correspondence from the end of his career survives, showing that he corresponded with Paul B. Johnson Jr., William Waller, and John Stennis. To the regret of anyone who wants to research Overstreet’s career, his business files were discarded after his retirement. Only his architectural drawings and limited amounts of other material are in the MSU special collections.

[2] The Clarion-Ledger article to which Stennis referred to is on page 11 of the Sunday, December 29, 1968 issue. It is probably the best account of any architect’s career ever published in a Mississippi newspaper.

[3] E. O. Spencer was the owner of the Walthall Hotel in downtown Jackson, which Overstreet’s firm designed (a contemporary 1929 Clarion-Ledger article in the Preservation in Mississippi post “Newspaper Clippings: Walthall Hotel When It Was New” attributed some notable aspects of the design to A. Hays Town). Spencer was also politically active, though he never held elected office. He reserved rooms in the Walthall for the White Citizens Councils to use as offices, according to Mississippi Sovereignty Commission files. He was a close political ally and would go hunting with Senator James O. Eastland, as seen in this photograph from Ole Miss’s James O. Eastland Collection. Spencer was also head of the “Citizens for Eisenhower” group during the 1952 Presidential Campaign and subsequently the de facto head of the Mississippi Republican Party, in control of all Federal Government associated patronage in the state, which can be read about in Champion of Civil Rights: Judge John Minor Wisdom.

[4] The Public Career of Cully A. Cobb: A Study in Agricultural Leadership by Roy V. Scott and J. G. Shoalmire is a glowing account of Cobb’s life and contains an account of the 1907-1908 student strike.

[5] “Street” and “Web” appear to be signs of how long someone had known Overstreet. “Street” was his college nickname. Cobb refers to him as “Street” and so does the 1908 Reveille yearbook (“Architect Pics: Young N.W. Overstreet”). Correspondence I have seen calling Overstreet “Web” comes from men who he met as later, as an architect practicing in Jackson.



Categories: Architectural Research, Historic Preservation, Preservation People/Events

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1 reply

  1. Thank you, sir! NW Overstreet, Sr. is my great-grandfather. I am the only family member of my generation to remember him as an actual presence. I have forewarded this entry to his grandaughters, who ALL remember him well.

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