Plantation house in disrepair, near demise

Published 10:37 pm Thursday, December 17, 2009

A plantation home that was a haven for women and children after the deadly Siege of Vicksburg during the Civil War may soon be torn down.

The two-story, six-bedroom house, parts of which date back 180 years to when the alluvial land in east Warren County was cleared for crops, is located on what is now the Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex.

The structure has had a variety of uses since 1986 when the Warren County Port Commission won grants to create sites on the land for manufacturing plants, but the house is in disrepair.

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“If somebody wanted to move it, we’d be happy for them to do it,” said Johnny Moss, one of the five people appointed by Warren County supervisors to manage industrial properties and development. “All our options are open because of the cost of trying to maintain a house there.”

Planks are missing from the once-sturdy porch and several windows are broken. Commissioners believe tearing it down would be cheaper.

The house was built in the 1830s on land granted to Uriah Flowers, according to land records. It was a haven for women and children after the Siege of Vicksburg, then passed down to later generations of the Flowers family.

In 1954, it passed to U.G. Flowers Jr. and was renovated most recently in 1978.

It has belonged to the county since the 1,290-acre tract was purchased to become Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex, a second major industrial area joining the E.W. Haining Industrial Center and Port of Vicksburg.

Initial plans to remove the structure were aborted. Instead, it was used as a reception center and, for a while, leased as a private restaurant. From 1998 to 2007, the house and grounds operated as Fant Nursery, offering small plants and shrubs for sale as well as a pumpkin patch in the fall.

Some features unique to 19th century architecture remain, such as the high ceilings and transoms above doorways. In the last years of the nursery’s operation, nursery owners requested the Mississippi Department of Archives and History examine it as a possible Mississippi Landmark — a designation that would keep it from being marketed for commercial use.

Moss and others have toured the interior and deemed it “not that bad,” but add ballpark estimates to repair the roof and address other structural problems with the house have run about $6,500. Earlier this week, the five-member commission agreed a final survey should take place ahead of any tear-down — but leanings were obvious.

“There’s nothing to landmark,” Commissioner John Ferguson said, noting past efforts to protect the site from demolition.

“The house is a liability,” Warren County Board of Supervisors President Richard George said, referring to the site’s existence on prime commercial property during the panel’s last meeting. “If someone wanted to move it, that’s fine. If someone wanted to renovate it, that’s fine. But with the cost of materials now, it’s not feasible.”

Tom Pharr, owner of Anchuca Mansion and a preservationist, said the benefits of saving the house outweigh the cost — at least in abstract terms.

“It depends on how far you go with it. It’s very expensive, but sites like that — an early Mississippi plantation — are important,” said Pharr, who helped spearhead the $595,000 disassembling and renovation of Springfield, moved from the 1800 block of Cherry Street in 2008 to its current location at Cherry and First East streets.