Grand designs on history and beauty in architecture that rises to greatness at every turn.
If journalism is history's first draft, it might be said that architecture stands as a final draft, the physical and often enduring realization of the aims and the ambitions of the people who created it. In the Mississippi Hills, architecture often reaches not for the sky but for beauty and elegance, and since great design wasn't Greek to the builders here (or rather not just Greek Revival), there's a variety and depth to Hills architecture that means something different and interesting around every corner.
Best of all is the open door policy visitors can enjoy at so many of these beautiful homes and structures. In the Mississippi Hills folks like to build all kinds of things, including friendships, so you'll find the hospitality here is as lavish as some of those antebellum mansions.
Speaking of which, Spring Pilgrimages are a great time to come, but why wait for spring? Start your own pilgrimage today-hoopskirt optional-in the place where clapboards on the buildings gave the city its original name:
DAY ONE — STARKVILLE:
Before it was renamed to honor a Revolutionary War hero, Starkville was first called Boardtown because of the clapboards produced in a local mill. Today the city is called home by Mississippi's largest university where students at the state's only school of architecture have award-winning designs on the future. Youth and experience are hallmarks of this city where past and future coexist easily, and where the fresh and inviting balance of old and new can be seen and experienced all over town: in the downtown area where students and residents alike enjoy congregating in the restored buildings housing chic restaurants and shops, and where the historic Hotel Chester presides as a gracious host; in the Cotton District's exciting "New Urbanism;" in the city's multiple historic districts where people of all ages, from young families to retirees, lend real meaning to the term "architectural character."
Begin your tour with the bright stuff, in the part of town that's redrawing the boundaries of urban possibilities:
The Cotton District
University Dr. * 662.323.3322
Shades of the French Quarter: Color is what first catches your eye in this vibrant patch of New Urbanism, where the shanties and row houses of a former mill district have been replaced with vibrant, mixed-use development, and where today award-winning architectural design is realized through a palette of bright colors and ornamentation evocative of Deep South cities like New Orleans and Savannah. Buildings here are snapped by photographers, snapped up by buyers. Take a stroll through the district that's putting a brilliant new face on America's New Urbanism.
Historic Districts Tour
200 E. Main St. * 800.649.8687
Beautiful Days in the Neighborhood: The city's five historic districts-Old Main, Greensboro, Overstreet, Nash Street and the Cotton District-stretch out and overlap in a mosaic of styles, uniform only in their welcoming graciousness.
More sites of interest:
Mississippi State University
200 East Main St. * 800.649.8687
Building Genius: A land-grant college that welcomed its first class in 1880, Mississippi State was known in its early years primarily for its agriculture and engineering programs, adding the state's only school of architecture in the mid 1970s. Today MSU's College of Architecture Art + Design has grown to encompass not only architecture, but also art, interior design, and building construction science. Even as these students are envisioning the future, MSU's inviting campus offers the charm of an institution rooted deep in history with approximately 20 designated Mississippi Landmark Buildings, including these:
This 1902 Colonial Revival building began life as an infirmary. Today, instead of dispensing drugs, it dispenses information as the office of university relations.
This Late Gothic building, constructed in 1921, once housed the library as well as the school's biology department.
Industrial Education Building
With its distinctive Italianate towers and triple arches, the Industrial Ed building was constructed as a home for a textiles program. The textiles program didn't last; the beautiful building did, and today is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
McCain Engineering Building
This Beaux Arts building has been home to the engineering department since its construction in 1905.
E.E. Cooley Building (John M. Stone Mill)
The building was constructed in 1902 as a cotton mill associated with the textiles program. After the university purchased it in 1962, it was renamed for the school's long-time superintendent of utilities. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and houses MSU's Physical Plant Department.
The seat of Clay County and the birthplace of notable business leaders as well as blues great Howlin' Wolf, West Point is a small town with big time charm, perched on the Tennessee Tombigbee Waterway. Boats and barges float down the Tenn Tom; you can sail away to the past in this historic home:
Waverley Plantation Mansion
1852 Waverley Mansion Rd. * 662.494.1399
www.wpnet.org/waverley_mansion.htm * Open daily 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Bon Foy-age: Prepare to be transported. The 65-foot domed foyer, along with four circular staircases linking balconies suspended as if by magic, sets the tone from your first moment in this splendid Greek Revival home, built in 1852 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Once the headquarters of a 2,000 acre cotton plantation, where the owners' elegant social life included the nation's first foxhunts, which were held on plantation grounds, Waverly has been restored with loving care that extends to details like the original ornamental plaster and marble mantels.
DAY TWO — COLUMBUS:
It takes more than pretty facades to be named one of "America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations" by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. To be so designated, cities must provide an "authentic visitor experience by combining dynamic downtowns, diverse cultural activities, attractive architecture and a strong commitment to historic preservation, sustainability and revitalization."
That would seem to be an order as tall as a Greek Revival column, yet Columbus achieved the "Dozen" distinction in 2008 with ease and with the same grace, beauty and poise that have charmed visitors for more than a century and a half. You see, Columbus isn't just easy on the eyes, it's a city that really has it going on, and you'll want to get in on all of it.
The curtain rises on your tour at the former home of America's foremost playwright. It's a Victorian rectory decorated with Gingerbread-a delightful nibble of the drama ahead:
Tennessee Williams Home (c.1875)
300 Main Street, (662) 328-0222
Monday-Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Sunday 12:00 p.m.-5:00 p.m. more information.
Fantastic First Act: This charming Victorian rectory was once home to the reverend Dakin Williams, his daughter and her two children, including young Thomas Lanier, who would later become Pulitzer-winning playwright Tennessee Williams. Today, the Williams Home serves as a Welcome Center and Museum, and a great first act for visitors.
Columbus Daily Historic Homes Tours
300 Main St. * 800.327.2686
Historic Hospitality: Columbus' service as a hospital town during the Civil War saved the lives of soldiers, even as it saved the city from destruction. And where the Columbus' hospitality was once live-saving, today you'll find it life-enhancing; here are a few historic homes that offer up a beguiling antidote to mass-produced ordinariness. For more information, be sure to contact the city's welcome center.
Amzi Love (c.1848) 305 Seventh Street South, (662) 328-5413 or (800) 920-3533. Open Tuesdays and Thursdays 10:00 a.m.- 4:00 p.m. or by appointment.
Lee Home/Museum (c.1847) 316 Seventh Street North, (662) 327-8888. Open Fridays, 10:00 a.m. — 4:00 p.m. or by appointment. The home of Stephen D. Lee, the Confederate General who became the first President of Mississippi State University.
Rosedale (c.1856) 1523 Ninth Street South, (800) 920-3533. Open by appointment with two-day advance scheduling.
Rosewood Manor (c.1835) 719 Seventh Street North, (662) 328-7313 or (662) 364-0705. Open Monday — Saturday by appointment. Gracious rose gardens and gazebo and a chapel replete with woodwork and stained glass are some of the "extras" at this Greek Revival home.
Temple Heights (c.1837) 515 Ninth Street North, (662) 328-0599 or (800) 920-3533. Open Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. or by appointment.
Whitehall (c. 1843) 607 3rd Street South, (662) 328-0222. Open Mondays 9:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Columbus Historical Driving Tour
300 Main St. * 800.327.2686
Geared for Greatness: Pick up the brochure at the Tennessee Williams Welcome Center, and head out to view some of Columbus' most interesting and historic architecture.
More sites of interest:
Mississippi University for Women
1100 College St. * 877.462.8439
First Ladies: The school's current motto "Learn. Lead. Live." easily applies to its history as well. Founded in 1884, MUW was the first public college for women in America, and has continued to set the pace for educational achievement since then. That kind of forward thinking has also extended to architectural preservation, and today the campus boasts 24 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Here are some architectural highlights:
Named for the Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Eudora Weltym who attended MUW in the 1920s, Welty Hall today houses administrative offices.
President William Howard Taft spoke on the steps of Poindexter Hall to extol the virtues of women's education; today Poindexter houses the music department and also hosts the annual Eudora Welty Writer's Symposium.
Reneau Hall Named for Mississippi's pioneering female educator, Sallie Reneau, Reneau Hall was built in 1929 as a dormitory and today is home to MUW's business and paralegal studies department.
A favorite of architectural editors and writers because of its unique floating design, the Chapel is also the place many alumni and students choose for weddings and other social events.
Columbus Spring Pilgrimage & Tales from the Crypt
300 Main St. * 800.327.2686
Hoopla-La! Candlelight tours, carriage rides, living histories, plus dramatic recreations of the lives of local personalities interred at Friendship Cemetery are only a few of the added attractions for the annual parade of homes. Also on the schedule: a reenactment of the 1866 decoration service in Friendship Cemetery that eventually became the Nation's Memorial Day celebration.
DAY THREE — ABERDEEN:
People may speak of the "luck of the Irish," but Scottish-inspired Aberdeen was a city born doubly blessed in good fortune, in a location right on the Tombigbee River and smack in the middle of rich Black Prairie land ideal for growing cotton. That meant the railroad came along, too, plus a grand courthouse once the city became the county seat. All of which added up to a robust economic prosperity that couldn't be dampened by war or Reconstruction, and the result is an unrivaled architectural richness in an array of styles ranging over the city's century-long building boom-from the dignified Greek Revivals of the antebellum period through the more ornate Queen Ann and Italianate of the Victorian era through the charming homage of the Tudor and Colonial Revivals of the early twentieth century.
The list of Aberdeen's buildings on the National Register of Historic Places numbers in the hundreds. But don't worry: You'll want to take your time in this friendly and hospitable city.
Aberdeen Architectural Driving Tour
204 East Commerce St. * 800.634.3538
Dream Drive: Don't know a pediment from a pilaster? Thoughtfully created by the Aberdeen Visitors Bureau, the brochure for the city's Architectural Driving Tour guides you in style-that is, through all the architectural styles of more than 50 historic homes.
732 West Commerce St. * 662.369.7956
Triple Crown: The crowning glory of this Greek Revival beauty is the tri-level mahogany staircase that arises like a double helix from both the front and back of the house to announce its grand mansion DNA. Built in 1850, the home remained in the builder's family for generations before it was sold and subsequently donated to the city, where today its double parlors and a treasure trove of antiques make it a popular backdrop for Aberdeen events.
Annual Spring Pilgrimage
April 22-25, 2010
Amen to That: In addition to beautiful architecture, Aberdeen's Spring Pilgrimage offers events like A Taste of Mississippi and Gospel Concert, presented by the members of the First Missionary Baptist Church, which began as an African American congregation all the way back in antebellum times. With Lies and Legends of the Old Aberdeen Cemetery, a ghostly presentation in the city's oldest cemetery, a community barbeques, pancake breakfast, and a 5 k run all on the agenda, there's something for everyone's taste.
DAY THREE — TUPELO:
Although historic architecture is less plentiful in the relatively youthful town of Tupelo, a stop at the city's Fairpark District reveals a vibrantly successful exercise in adaptive reuse in the mixed-use redevelopment that has turned the city's old Fairgrounds into an urban lifestyle mecca. Stop there to shop or dine before you head out to see the house that's just plain genius:
Elvis Presley Birthplace
306 Elvis Presley Dr. * 662.841.1245
Small Wonder: The story of a king told in Mississippi vernacular. At the "shotgun" house Vernon Presley built with his own hands and where Elvis was born in 1935, it's the sheer simplicity that makes for the drama that so many visitors find moving. The Birthplace Complex now includes Elvis's actual childhood church, where he first heard gospel, along with a memorial chapel, "Walk of Life, a story wall and more.
DAY THREE — PONTOTOC:
Pontotoc began as a city only after the Chickasaws who had given its name (Pontotoc means "land of hanging grapes") ceded 6 million acres at the Pontotoc Creek Treaty in 1832. To those early white settlers, the fruits were indeed low-hanging; fortunes were made immediately, and the prosperous city was laid out on the four-square pattern that today still gives it considerable charm.
Ruby Elzy, the pioneering African American opera singer was born and is buried here in Pontotoc, and poet and U.S. Senator Robert Gordon, who was also born here at the mansion by the romantic name of Lochinvar.
Lochnivar is only one of the fascinating sites on the Pontotoc Driving Tour, which is an excellent start in your journey through a land where grapes may no longer be plentiful, but the gracious welcomes are still offered by the bunch:
Pontotoc Historic Driving Tour
59 S. Main St. * 662.488.0388
Great Scott: Stop by the Historic Society for the audio tape that will take you through the 29-site driving tour of Pontotoc County, which includes the beautiful Lochinvar, named for the character in Walter's Scott's epic poem.
Pontotoc County Historical District
109 North Main St. * 662.489.5042
Courtly Charm: A tour that includes not only early twentieth century architecture, like the impressive Pontotoc County Courthouse and several turn-of-the-century churches, but also historic homes dating back to 1836.
Town Square Post Office & Museum
59 S. Main St. * 662.488.0388
Red Letter Destination: Eudora Welty wrote a story entitled "Why I Live at the P.O." Your story will be "Why I Love the P.O.," after you visit the nation's only working antique post office, which doubles as an artifact-packed museum, covering topics from Chickasaw Indians to blacksmithing to Pontotoc native and opera diva, Ruby Elzy. Another highlight: a mural depicting the first Christian marriage ceremony performed in North America, held in the Mississippi Hills by members of the DeSoto party in 1540.
DAY FOUR — OXFORD:
Oxford was a city born of high hopes, named to attract a university, a goal which the city met in 1848 with the founding of the University of Mississippi. Prosperity seemed assured; grand homes and thriving businesses opened their doors. Today, strolling through lively streets rich in both history and architectural character, visitors could never guess that the city was burned twice, once literally by the Union Army, and again, a century later, by the prejudice of its own residents, in the Ole Miss riots of 1962.
After the Union assault, the city rebuilt, and after the riots, the city built a new foundation for racial harmony. Today the bullet holes have been preserved in the Ionic columns of the university Lyceum building, which face a statue of James Meredith, part of the school's Civil Rights Monument. That arrangement symbolizes what's best about Oxford: While the city has let go of the attitudes that marred its past, city residents have clung stubbornly to the things that are worth preserving, like beautiful architecture and small town character-which means, appropriately enough, that your tour in the hometown of William Faulkner will be one for the books:
Courthouse Square Historic District
Downtown Oxford * 800.758.9177
Old South Central: When the Union Army burned down the Courthouse Square, the city rose again, and quickly, so that today the architectural styles of the nearly 50 buildings in the district include an attractive mix of late 19th and early 20th -century revival, late Victorian, and art deco as well as antebellum. The Square is the "center of the universe" for Oxford residents and visitors. While you're there be sure to stop by the majestic Lafayette County Courthouse and Square Books, one of the nation's premiere independent bookstores.
L. Q. C. Lamar House (1870)
616 North 14th Street * 800.758.9177
High Profile: A National Historic Landmark, the L.Q.C. Lamar House was renovated in part through the "Save America's Treasures" program of the National Park Service. Certainly, the home's original owner, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar, was a national treasure. A U.S. Senator and Supreme Court justice, Lamar later became one of John F. Kennedy's "Profiles in Courage," for his call for reconciliation between the North and the South put forth in his 1874 eulogy of abolitionist Charles Sumner.
University of Mississippi
200 Lyceum * 662.232.7378
Ole Times: Founded in 1848 and nicknamed Ole Miss at the turn of the century, the University of Mississippi is both a sea-grant and a space-grant institution, an institution rich in all kinds of history, some of it Nobel caliber, a bit of it less than noble, and much of it preserved in its gracious campus architecture. A few highlights include:
Grove Loop and Student Union Drive * 662-915-7211
The planets didn't quite align for Barnard Observatory's original purpose-to house a new telescope designed especially to outsize (by four inches) the telescope owned by Harvard. Yet even though the Civil War caused the telescope to be rerouted to Northwestern University, at Ole Miss Barnard Observatory soldiered on, and now from star-gazing the building has moved to the best sort of navel-gazing, as the home for the Center for the Study of Southern Culture.
200 Lyceum * 662.232.7378
From Ionic to iconic-the columns at the oldest building on campus have not only witnessed history but also become a significant part of it. While the building was transformed into a bi-partisan hospital during the Civil War treating the wounded of both sides, it was also the site of the 1962 rioting after the school's admission of James Meredith. Today, the bullet holes from that riot are preserved in the Lyceum columns which face a statue of Meredith, part of the school's Civil Rights Monument.
The architectural highlights of this historic building are the three Tiffany stained glass windows honoring the University Grays, the school's student regiment that suffered catastrophic casualties in Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg.
DAY FIVE — HOLLY SPRINGS:
Called an "antebellum encyclopedia" by the New York Times, Holly Springs built its well-earned reputation one beautiful brick at a time in elegant antebellum homes like the Walters Place, where U.S. Grant stashed his wife on his campaign for Vicksburg, and Athenia, where the imposing Greek columns were so large the Confederate homeowner stashed himself inside one of them to escape Union capture. Truly, these are grand mansions. Yet what gives an architectural tour of Holly Springs added depth is the purpose of many of these structures, and the purposefulness of those who own and maintain them: At Rust College, for example, a noble history (as the nation's second oldest college founded for African Americans) forms a cornerstone for both the architecture and the school's philosophy, while at Montrose, the roots are more prosaic but also important in the indigenous trees that are carefully preserved at the headquarters of the Arboretum Society. Likewise, at Strawberry Plains, the natural habitat is as spectacular and as spectacularly cared for as the Greek Revival home that sits in the midst of it.
In short, the architectural beauty in Holly Springs is more than skin deep, a fact you'll appreciate as you "leaf" through these beauties:
Montrose & Montrose Arboretum
335 E. Salem Ave. * 662.252.2515
Deep Roots: Owned and operated by the Holly Springs Garden Club, this antebellum house museum also offers a home to the Arboretum Society on the estate grounds, where 50 different species of trees native to the area are grown and preserved.
Walter Place Estate, Cottages, and Gardens
330 W. Chulahoma Ave. * 662.252.2515
Mix and Majestic: The challenge was simple but steep, to create the grandest mansion in all of Holly Springs for Harvey Washington Walter, a lawyer who'd made his fortune in rail. Noted architect Spires Bolling rose the occasion with a glorious mixture of styles-a classic Greek Revival central section, flanked by two Gothic towers. The grand design caught the eye of General U.S. Grant who chose the home to house his wife, their son and his wife's slave during the Civil War. Today, cottages and a 15-acre botanical garden make the estate a gracious stop on your tour.
Strawberry Plains Audubon Center
285 Plains Rd. * 662.252.1155
Humdinger of a House: The stunning Greek Revival is for the birds, literally, with more than 200 species enjoying a haven on the 2500-acre wildlife habitat that surrounds the house, which is headquarters for the Audubon Society. Strawberry Plains' annual Hummingbird Migration Celebration is a special highlight.
More sites of interest:
150 Rust Ave. * 662.252.2491
Building Strong Foundations: The gunfire had barely died away from the Civil War when Northern missionaries established a primary school at the Asbury Methodist Church in 1866, opening its doors to adults and children alike. Enrollment rose and so did ambitions for the school, which four years later became Shaw University, only the second African American institution of higher learning in the nation, with a mission described by its first president as "trying to lay well a foundation for a broad, thorough, and practical education." That foundation has endured in one of only 10 historically-black colleges and universities founded before 1868 still in operation, with much of its architecture as rich as its history-like the McCoy Administration building, for example, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The campus is also home to over 400 pieces of African art, sculptures and masks at the Rusk College Center.
Holly Springs Pilgrimage
April * 148 E. College Ave.
662.252.2515 * www.visithollysprings.com
Ticket to Ride: Besides the homes, the lovely gardens and historic churches, the highlights of the Holly Springs Pilgrimage include an arts and crafts fair, and free rides in antique carriages pulled by Percheron draft horses.