HABS in Mississippi: Jackson City Hall

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). 

Historical markers often have the date they were erected on them, but I didn’t see that on this one. By the looks of it, it has been here maybe since the 1960s or 1970s?

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.

City Hall, Jackson, Hinds County, MS, September 7, 1936 FRONT (NORTHEAST CORNER). James Butters, HABS Photographer.

City Hall, Jackson, Hinds County, MS, September 7, 1936 REAR (WEST ELEVATION). James Butters, HABS Photographer.

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. . .



Categories: Jackson, Cool Old Places, Architectural Research, Antebellum

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15 replies

  1. The magnolia marker placed directly on the building is interesting. This is the first time I’ve seen that done. Has anyone seen that done with other magnolia markers?

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  2. So, if the marker was changed today, what would it say? Would there be less of a focus on the Civil War? What building that existed then wasn’t used as a hospital if it was remotely near fighting? Does that even bear mentioning? Its actual date of construction would be a clue that it survived the war. Do these things ever get changed?

    I love that there’s a park bench in the middle of a rope-off expanse of lawn.

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  3. glad to have some correct info on this building; can’t remember the data i put into the files of the very general architectural survey i did of jackson back in the 1960s under the aegis of the jackson city planning board(the first municipal architectural survey in ms).

    a handsome building in its ‘grecian restraint’— and, amazing that there would be the decision to copy the portico in the late 1920s–before the crash, if 28; probably wouldn’t have happened later, but, yes, the building is handsomer for this!

    clever original design of two stories-three stories—- as long as one doesn’t see the sides at the corners where the different floors are obvious!

    i believe my cousin, jackson architect frank gates, was involved in some work here in more modern times(50s, 60s?).

    can’t remember if there are images of the building with the dome—i think so, but someone who reads misspreservation will know–maybe from the civil war newspaper/magazine illustrations? course, know the dome in madison.

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  4. yes, many problems with text on the marker—‘won’t go there’ now, however.

    will ask again, does anyone know of an image of the city hall with a dome? or, even a written description?????? i did some quick net surfing last night but couldn’t come up with anything. had thought it might appear in those civil war illustrations of jackson’s destruction that appeared in publications, but no luck.

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  5. i felt certain that there was ‘some kind of ‘ applicable image out there, and thought carunzel would know! glad it has been reproduced here, but, sadly, i am having a terrible time blowing up the part that has the city hall shown—can only get the center section. is there any way that the ‘fold’ that has the city hall can be ‘separated’ by anyone—though really, i would like to see each fold separately–and, is the photo truly panoramic–does it show the view from the other side, and/or looking north and south? thanks to von seutter, huh: some great photos by that gent.

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  6. wow! thanks, carunzel, for this help for an old not-too-computer-literate guy! but, i have to admit that it was very slow dragging my arrow across the photo—it could be easier with a mouse—- but, yes, nice to see the dome of the city hall–rather handsome!

    but, y’all out there, help me, please, in interpreting what i think i see— octagonal(?) plinth; then, octagonal, pilastered drum, with openings that are either false or shuttered , with the black space louvred?; then, cornice, then dome, then columned ? cupola, with a tiny dome?

    centered on the original portico, but not centered on the overall building.

    yes, similar to the canton courthouse but there, the drum is round, with operable windows all around, and, more elaborate detailing in all the members–pilasters, entablature, etc, (so glad that bldg still stands!)

    at first, when i saw the drum and dome on the city hall in the photo, it looked hexagonal, but, architecturally, that’s much more difficult to build and not as sound, structurally, am i correct in ‘seeing’ an octagonal plinth and drum?

    and, course, i am guessing many new buildings in this 1869 photo, after the destruction during the civil war? are there comparable views ‘aimed’ north, east, and south? this one would be almost 180 degrees, i would think?

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  7. last night, at our local library here in lyons, i was able to ‘look better’ at the von seutter semi-panoramic photo–quite amazing!

    and, i was also able to create a ‘blow up’ image of the jackson city hall, and it’s been sent to our webmaster in the hope that there is ‘enough quality there’ to post it on our site.

    also, i have found a nice early 20th century post card view of the court house in canton, also by willis, in the cooper-mdah post card collection, and, similarly, i sent a print of this to malvaney, with the same hope that it can be posted, for comparison,

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