Although the 1930s HABS “Data Sheet,” which noted historical information gathered in interviews with owners and local historians, often contained information that has since been proven erroneous, in the case of Jackson’s stunning Greek Revival-style City Hall, the 1936 HABS material got the construction date right (1854) before the MDAH historical marker, which is still in place, got it wrong (1846-47).
And that historical marker was apparently cast in aluminum before the MDAH Historic Resources Database got the construction date right again, and this long historical note makes clear that neither HABS nor the historical marker got the architect right. It was Joseph Willis, whose domed building bore some resemblance to his almost-contemporary Madison County Courthouse, which still has its dome.
A hip-roofed stuccoed brick building appearing to be two stories but containing two other floor levels as well. It has a monumental tetrastyle portico with fluted Greek Doric columns on the front (east) façade. A similar portico was added on the west side in 1928. It originally had a domed cupola, but that was removed in 1874.
In the accounts in The Story of Jackson (1953) (pp. 184 and 189-190) of the original construction of the building in 1846-47 and the rebuilding in 1853-54, it seems evident that the original building, erected by William Gibbons, suffered a structural failure and had become unsound by 1853; and so it was apparently taken down and a new building was constructed in its place in 1853-54 under the direction of Joseph Willis. As originally constructed, the building had a Masonic Hall in the third story (which was the meeting place of Pearl Lodge No. 23 and Silas Brown Lodge No. 65, F&AM). The federal court also occupied both the first and the second city halls, until the federal building was built in 1885 on the corner of West and Capitol Streets.
As rebuilt, the City Hall contained a Masonic Hall (still in use) and also an Odd Fellows lodge hall (for Capitol Lodge No. 11, IOOF) which the original building may not have had. Both of the lodge halls were on the second full story of the building, above a mezzanine level (where a partial second story was later inserted in the south half of the building, so that the Masonic Hall is now considered to be on the third story). Note: you can see photos of the lodge interior on the MDAH Historic Resources Database.]
That 1928 portico on the west side (a pretty good copy of Willis’s 1854 east front portico) fooled HABS photographer James Butters in 1936 into thinking that the west side was the front of the building and the east side, the for-real front with its original portico, was the rear. Once again, I feel competing urges: 1) to thank Mr. Butters for taking these two photos and 2) to shake him for not walking inside for a couple of snaps of the interior. Oh well.
Library of Congress HABS record: http://loc.gov/pictures/item/ms0088/
MDAH Historic Resources Database record: http://www.apps.mdah.ms.gov/Public/prop.aspx?id=11810&view=facts&y=728
More Historic American Buildings Survey. . .