Blaze damages historic Aberdeen home, antique furnishings

Published 5:13 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Authorities are trying to determine the cause of a fire that destroyed a home with a rich history dating back to the Civil War.

The Adams-French house, sometimes known as the Masonic Temple because of its later owners, was destroyed by fire early Monday, taking with it between $500,000 and $1 million worth of antiques scheduled for an auction next month.

“When you’re watching something like that burn, and the flames are high and you can hear the glass cracking, it just takes your heart,” said Mike Smith, former president of the Aberdeen Historical Society. “It was a part of history; you just can’t replace this. With a new house, it wouldn’t be as emotional.”

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The Greek Revival-style home, located on Meridian Street in one of the most historic parts of the town, was built in 1856 as a wedding present for Elizabeth M. Cox, the only daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, Col. John Cox.

J.A. Pate and J.B. Taylor, the same people who built the Monroe County Courthouse a year later, completed the job in 14 months. Cox married Robert S. Adams, who died in 1872 after being wounded near the end of the Civil War.

At one point, the bodies of Col. Jeffrey Forrest, brother of Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, and two others killed during the war lay in state in the hallway at Adams-French.

Adams fought with Nathan Bedford Forrest at the Battle of Okolona, and Forrest frequently visited the home after the war.

Robert Adams came to Aberdeen from Goldsboro, N.C., and was one of the town’s most successful businessmen, eventually starting what evolved into the First National Bank of Aberdeen, the predecessor to National Bank of Commerce, now Cadence Bank.

In 1873, Cox married Dr. Anderson H. French and they lived in the mansion until he died in 1886. Cox remained in the house, which is on the Historic Register, until she died in 1902; the house then became rental property and was vacant in 1933 when the Masons bought the house to preserve it.

The house became the Masons’ official meeting hall, thus the sometimes-used name Masonic Temple, until it was sold in 2002 to Dwight Stevens, owner of Stevens Auction Co. Stevens had been using the house to display estate furniture for the company’s auctions which draw buyers from throughout the Southeast.

“(The house) has withstood a lot through time,” Stevens said. “I’m hoping it can withstand this. But the roof fell in, the attic burned through to the first floor and I saw a lot of things in the basement burning. It was really bad, just like a bad dream.”

The cause is still undetermined but the fire began in the back of the house, Stevens said, noting the electrical boxes are located in the rear.