Ranch (Ad)Dressing

What would housing look like in Mississippi if not for the Ranch house? While the stereotype of our housing stock might be of Greek Revival piles, variations of the Ranch house can be found in every corner of the state, lived in by every race and class. Thanks to the national resurgence in popularity of mid-century modern designs during the past decade, the Ranch house has slowly crept into the public’s acceptance as “historic.” But when exactly did this housing typology show up in the Magnolia State?

The Ranch house is a style that is explicitly tied to its form; a broad front, one-story structure with a low pitched roof. There have been structures built that meet those criteria in Mississippi since pre-history, but when did this form elevate to the term of Ranch house?

Pondering this question, I ran the term “Ranch house” through a newspaper search engine to see the earliest use of the term as a style of home being built in Mississippi. The earliest use of the term Ranch house that I could find was in the February 4, 1940 Morning edition of the Daily Clarion-Ledger, which published an architectural rendering with the headline “New Home Planned For Billy Burton, Jr.” The caption reads:

… “Designed by Architect Henry G. Markel, the residence is a ranch-house style of the low, rambling type, featuring an exterior of one inch cypress board and split cypress shingles.”

-“New Home Planned For Billy Burton, Jr.” Daily Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MS) 4 February 1940. Page 12.

‘Meadowview’ Billy Burton Jr. House. Byram, Hinds County Mississippi. March 2022.
Google Street View. Accessed Dec. 1, 2022.

The house still stands today on Terry Road, albeit with a pre-1968 wing addition to the north elevation. There are a few physical differences between the architect’s rendering and the as-built house. If you spot any, let us know in the comments below.

What drove the Ranch house name acceptance, along with the style? Two articles published a decade after this first ranch house inadvertently tried to make sense of the phenomenon the Ranch house had become in the post-World War era. Both articles related to the decorating of homes and both mention informality of Ranch houses as an attraction point. The first is titled ‘Informal Modern’ For Ranch Types;

The modern ranch type of house with its rambling one-story floor plan, spacious windows, and natural wood interior walls, trim, or beams, which is rapidly becoming the most popular American style of architecture demand furnishings best described as “informal modern” with slightly rugged influence.

As casual living is associated with the ranch house, formal furnishings, whether traditional or contemporary, are not in character with this type of house. …

-‘Informal Modern’ For Ranch Types. Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MS) 28 March 1950. Section 2, Page 8.

The second article is from August 1950. 

Paint Made in Roof Colors For Better Exterior Styling

…  Since the war, color consciousness has been stimulated by the popularity of informal architecture, such as ranch house design, with its lack of traditional restrictions. …

-“Paint Made in Roof Colors For Better Exterior Styling” The Delta Democrat-Times (Greenville, MS) 22 August 1950. Page 8.

Both of these descriptions of the Ranch house focus on the informality of the floor plan, differing from traditional floor plans which contain a hierarchy of spaces. Formal (or perhaps aspirational) protocol would dictate that a front entrance leads to a hall, or foyer when entering a home. However, now with the Ranch house, even the nicest of houses could have a front entrance leading directly into a living room and not seem misguided.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to locate a floor plan of the Burton House, but the caption does give a good description of the interior layout.

… “[T]he main floor entrance hall with poudre (sic) room attached and a large living room trimmed with walls of knotty pine boards and exposed roof trusses. Central feature of the living room is a large stone fireplace. Opening from the living room is a large dining room with adjoining screen porch. The living room also opens out on a stone-flagged terrace. The kitchen has a breakfast room attached … Guest room and private bed room open from the hall and the house is connected from service section to garage with lattice-enclosed breezeways. … [T]he basement opening on the lower level and connected with entrance hall by a wide stairway. In the basement is space available for a large recreational room, trophy room, buffet and utility room. 

-“New Home Planned For Billy Burton, Jr.” Daily Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MS) 4 February 1940. Page 12.

The interior description makes the living room the center of the house, while the knotty pine walls, exposed roof trusses, and stone fireplace all give the space the “rugged influence” mentioned in the March 1950 article.

The only other period image of the house I found in the papers includes another key element to any mid-century Ranch house back yard; a masonry barbecue pit. Despite it being mostly obscured by the women in the photo, we can still tell a little bit about it. The barbecue pit appears to be constructed of rough ashlar stone, and has a chimney behind the firebox. It must have been fairly new and unused given that the group was willing to sit upon the grill area, and that what looks like excess mortar appears around the base of the pit.

“Delta Theta Chi Officers” Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MS) 25 October 1942. Society Section, Page 5.

The Ranch house term search found scant evidence of other homes constructed with the description of ‘Ranch house’ in Mississippi until after the 1945. When G.I.’s began returning from the war, the Ranch house started appearing in every corner of the state, in both urban and rural settings. I think its fairly appropriate that one of the Mississippi’s earliest Ranch house examples so far located was indeed a house constructed for a horse and stock farm.

The home’s architect, Henry Markel, was a fairly significant residential architect for Mississippi. That will have to wait for a future post, however.

Advertisement for Henry G. Markel, Architect. The Clarion-Ledger (Jackson, MS)
1 January 1946.

More about Mississippi Ranch houses. . .

Categories: Historic Preservation

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6 replies

  1. Thanks for this article. We must preserve more of our history!

    Sent from my iPad

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have missed your reports this past year.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have thought this was a lovely house from the first time I saw it. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be in good repair. I don’t remember the last time I saw any activity there.


  4. Interesting post, times were certainly changing and our preferences, too. Nice to see a post here!


  5. A design my grandparents lived in and the home I grew up in both in Jackson, an early 50s design, knotty pine in den, colorful tile in bathroom. As I look back, the front room was always underutilized, before the open floor plan. However, it was a design for the masses, the birth of the tract home neighborhoods.


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