Refocusing

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Manship House remains closed; MDAH redirects attention.

The historic home of a former Jackson mayor will remained closed for the foreseeable future.

The Manship House Museum closed for repairs in 2012, with promises from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) that it would be reopen by 2013.

While the building is structurally sound, it still needs major repairs before it can be refurnished and permanently reopened.

Meanwhile, archives officials are refocusing their efforts on the Windsor Ruins and historic Jefferson College, two historical sites that are in need of “urgent repairs.”

“Right now, pieces of the columns are falling off,” said MDAH Executive Director Katie Blount. “We had to put a chain-link fence around the site because it was dangerous for people to walk up to them.

“They have deteriorated so badly, having been exposed to the elements,” she said. “They were never meant to be exposed, never meant to be free-standing.”

The ruins, located in Port Gibson, are all that remains from what was once one of the state’s largest residences. The home survived the Civil War, only to burn in 1890. Today, all that remains today are the mansion’s 29 columns, according to MDAH’s website.

Efforts to stabilize the 45-foot-tall structures will cost around $3.5 million, with the first phase being paid for with funds from the Mississippi Legislature. “We’re very grateful for their support,” Blount said. “It’s one of the most iconic sites in Mississippi.” 

Once that’s finished, archives will turn its attention to the historic Jefferson College in Natchez, which also needs major structural work.

“Windsor (will be completed) in the next few years. We’ll move as fast as money allows,” Blount said. “Jefferson is a longer timeframe.”

The college is located in Natchez, was established in 1802 and was “the first institution of higher learning chartered in the Mississippi Territory,” MDAH’s website states. 

Archives refocused their energies following the completion of the agency’s 2018 strategic plan.

The document will guide the agency’s activities for the next five years. The previous five-year period wrapped up around the time the Two Mississippi Museums opened to the public. 

“When we opened the museums, we closed out our five-year planning period. For the next five-year period, we shifted our focus from the museums and celebrating the (state’s) bicentennial to strengthening our historic sites and collections,” Blount said.

In addition to the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum and Museum of Mississippi History, archives oversees 12 historic sites: the Charlotte Capers Building, the Eudora Welty House and Garden, the GM&O Depot, the Grand Village of Natchez Indians, Historic Jefferson College, the Mississippi Governor’s Mansion, the Mississippi State Capitol, the Old Capitol Museum, the William F. Winter Archives & History Museum, the Windsor Ruins, the Winterville Mounds and the Manship House.

The Manship House ceased regular operations in 2010, and furnishings were moved out of the facility so foundation repairs could be made.

After years of exposure to Yazoo Clay, history officials discovered that the Fortification Street structure was more than 13 inches off level.

Because of the age of the structure, the facility couldn’t be jacked up as quickly as modern structures with foundation problems. Rather, contractors slowly lifted the home up by no more than five-eighths of an inch a day. Work to right the foundation was completed in 2013.

Foundation problems led to other problems at the facility. In 2015, the Sun reported that the home’s plaster walls had been damaged because they don’t “react well to movement.” The home’s period wallpaper also was damaged.

The one-story Victorian home was constructed by Charles Manship, a merchant and craftsman who had a paint and wallpaper business. The paper in the house at the time of its closure was a reproduction of what Manship carried in his shop, archives officials told the Sun previously.

Manship went on to serve as Jackson mayor during the Civil War. The home was acquired by the MDAH in 1975.

Furniture is currently being stored at the Capers building.

Blount said repairs are being made at the house as the budget allowed. Recently, workers repainted the home and the visitor center to match the original color of the home. And on June 20, a Manship family reunion was held at the facility.

“We’ve done a lot of work on both structures,” Blount said. “(The house) looks fantastic.”  

In 2010, the Manship House drew around 8,400 visitors a year. In 2011 and 2012, numbers dropped as the furnishings were removed to make way for its closure, according to Stephenie Morrisey, MDAH deputy director of programs and communication.

Utilities at the facility average around $13,500 a year.

Blount, though, says it’s a mistake to say the house is closed. Instead, it is opened for architectural tours by request. “It’s open for people who want to tour,” she said. “They just have to make an appointment.”

For more information, call the Manship House at (601) 961-4724.

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