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Category: Mississippi

Lakeport Legacies · Revising the Mississippi Capitol

Revising the Mississippi Capitol

presented by

Jennifer Baughn & Brenda Davis (Mississippi Department of Archives & History)

Thursday, July 28

Refreshments & Conversation @ 5:30 pm
Program @ 6:00 pm

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Designed by St. Louis architect, Theodore Link, the Mississippi State Capitol was constructed between 1900 and 1903. Currently the Beaux Arts-style building is undergoing a two-year, $7.4 million repair and restoration project.

 

Jennifer Baughn and Brenda Davis will present “Revising the Mississippi Capitol.” The pair will discuss recent findings that are forcing a reassessment of long-held “facts” about some of the building’s most prominent architectural features. Baughn, the chief architectural historian for MDAH, and Davis, curator of the state capitol, worked together on a revised architectural tour guide for the state capitol. It was during research for that piece that they first noticed inconsistencies in previous interpretations of the building’s history.

“Our presentation will answer questions like ‘is the stained glass made by Tiffany’ and ‘why does the eagle face south?'” said Baughn. “And are there really tunnels under the capitol?” added Davis. Baughn and Davis will also address claims that George Mann, the original architect for the Arkansas State Capitol, designed Mississippi’s Capitol dome.

The Mississippi State Capitol is undergoing a two-year, $7.4 million repair and restoration project that will leave the 112-year-old structure in its best shape in decades. Priorities are to address longtime water leaks, replace materials damaged by water and weather, and clean the exterior. The copper eagle atop the main dome has been regilded in gold leaf on site, and seventy-five exterior stained glass windows have been removed, cleaned, and repaired.

 

Please RSVP to this FREE Event
(by phone, email or online)
870.265.6031 · lakeport.ar@gmail.com

601 Hwy 142 · Lake Village, AR 71653

 

Lakeport Legacies (LL) meets in the Dining Room of the Lakeport Plantation house. LL, held on one of the last Thursdays of the month at the Lakeport Plantation, features a history topic from the Delta. For more information, call 870.265.6031.

 



Belmont Plantation House: Some Facts

Belmont LOC

1936 HABS Photograph, Library of Congress

When cotton prices rose in the 1850s, Delta planters like the Worthingtons and Johnsons built mansions like Belmont, Mount Holly, Willoughby and the Lakeport Plantation. While we have lost Leota (1883), Willoughby (1932) and Mount Holly (2015), Belmont and Lakeport still stand. Lakeport is restored and owned by Arkansas State University; and Belmont has new owners with grand plans for the 1857 home.  Below are a few  facts about the Belmont Plantation.
    • Belmont was built around 1857 for Dr. William W. Worthington (1802-1886) and Elizabeth (Stringer) Worthington along American Bend on the Mississippi River. The next year that bend would become Lake Lee.
    • Belmont’s name may have been derived from Belle Island, the island plantation surrounded by American Bend (later Lake Lee) and the Mississippi River. Belle Island was owned by Judge Benjamin Johnson was a native Kentuckian who became one of Arkansas’s Territorial judges in 1821.
    • The dominant architecture of the house is Greek Revival. However, Italianate brackets along the cornice and pediment show architectural tastes were in transition.
    • Belmont and Lakeport both feature double galleried, three-bay projecting porticos.

  • Belmont has some of the finest plaster work in Mississippi.
  • The entry medallion at Belmont is nearly identical to the the medallion at Lakeport.
  • William Worthington was one of four brothers from Muhlenberg County, Kentucky who settled in the Delta (AR & MS) in the 1820s and 1830s.
  • The land on which Belmont was constructed was originally owned by Alexander G. McNutt, who served as Mississippi Governor from 1838-1842. The land was later purchased by William’s brother, Samuel Worthington. William purchased the land from his brother in 1855 and then constructed Belmont around 1857.
  • Samuel Worthington built the Willoughby (Wayside) Plantation to the southwest of Belmont in 1858. Samuel’s daughter, Amanda Worthington, penned her diary there during the Civil War.
  • There is strong evidence that the same builders from Madison, Indiana constructed Belmont (1857), Willoughby (1858), and Lakeport (1859). The same evidence suggests the builders also built a home at Leota (likely for Isaac Worthington’s widow) and another at Grand Lake, Chicot County, Arkansas.
  • Samuel’s Willoughby Plantation home, then vacant, was razed in 1932 for the expansion of the levee. Samuel’s son estimated it cost $35,000 to build and furnish the Willoughby home.
  • Isaac Worthington and his wife, Anne Taylor Worthington, settled at Leota. The Leota home fell into the Mississippi river in 1883. Anne was the sister of Lydia Taylor Johnson at Lakeport.
  • Anne Taylor Worthington’s house at Leota was, according to a 1936 newspaper article, “a handsome two-story brick home facing the river [built] exactly like Belmont except that it had two wings whereas Belmont has only one.”
  • Elisha Worthington, who settled in Chicot County, was the largest planter in Arkansas. His prized Sunnyside Plantation also had a large home. One newspaper report described it as “magnificent,” but little else is known about it.
  • The 1860 Census for Washington County is missing (as are the county’s 1850s tax records), however in 1855 William Worthington owned 80 enslaved laborers. His holdings most likely increased during the next six years until the Civil War began.
  • During the Civil War, from 1863-1865, supply rich plantations like Belmont were often raided by troops to feed and supply the Union Army operating in the Lower Mississippi Valley.
  • North of Belmont, in the winding Greenville Bends, Confederates often attacked Union transports and gunboats. This prompted retaliation on planters and plantations along the Bends, including the burning of Old Greenville in 1864.
  • The Worthingtons owned the home and land until 1929.
  • Belmont was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) in 1936. The HABS photographs are in the Library of Congress.
    094144pv_Belmont Interior

    1936 HABS Interior Photograph, Library of Congress

  • The Weathers family soon acquired the house and owned it until the mid-1940s.
  • In 1946, Belmont became the home of the Belmont Hunting Club. 
  • Most of the changes to Belmont in the upstairs and in the north parlor took place in the 1990s during the ownership of Fernando Cuquet, Jr.
  • Added to the National Register in 1972, Clinton Bagley’s nomination text is the best source of history on Belmont.
Fact sheet created November 2015 by Blake Wintory of the Lakeport Plantation, an Arkansas State University Heritage Site — lakeport.astate.edu. Updated 05/04/2016


Lakeport Explores the Delta: Hollywood Plantation, Benoit, MS


Last Tuesday my wife and I made a trip up to Benoit, Mississippi to see restoration work on Bolivar County’s last antebellum plantation home–The Hollywood Plantation (Burrus Home or “Baby Doll House”) .

Overseeing the restoration of the ca. 1858 home is Eustace Winn, a descendant of the original owner. Eustace has visited Lakeport on several occasions to check on our progress and compare notes.
John C. Burrus began construction on the Hollywood Plantation around 1858. According to the 1860 Census, nine Burrus family members lived in the house–the 45 year old J. C. Burrus, his 39 year old wife, Louisa, and seven younger Burruses ranging from 20 to 2. The two-story Greek Revival, was likely unfinished as the Civil War began in 1861. Most notably, the second story door lacks a balcony. This is a familiar theme for a home built so late in the antebellum period. We tell a similar story about Lakeport and how its interior was likely unfinished–unpainted, bare plaster walls, a missing medallion, and an unfinished ceiling medallion.
As far as I could tell in my limited search, there is not a lot of academic history written about the home or the Burrus family. James Cobb in The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity (1992) mentions John and Louisa three times, citing the John C. Burrus Papers at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History, as well as a family account of the Civil War published in the Journal of the Bolivar County History Society in 1978. Citations of the Burrus Papers also appear in Harold Woodman’s King Cotton & His Retainers: Financing & Marketing the Cotton Crops of the South, 1800-1925 (1968).
The Historic American Buildings Survey documented the home in 1936 as the “Burris House.” In 1936 the house was likely vacant, but, from exterior photos, in decent condition.
Hollywood is most famous as the setting of the 1956 film Baby Doll. However, by 1956, Richard Sylbert, set director for Baby Doll, described the house as “a dilapidated, ramshackle, and hollow wreck.” Four of the columns were laying on the ground and the building “listed to the left about five or six degrees.” The interior was worse: “the entire stair railing, balusters, and curved handrail were gone”; “parts of floors burned away”; and “the walls had huge areas where the plaster had come free of the lathe.” According to Sylbert, the house was straitened, walls and ceiling were repaired “to exactly the state the story required.” (That last phrase definitely sticks out to me.) The stairway was also reconstructed. Sylbert claims to have found an original spindle sticking out of the yard; it was used to reproduce all the spindles you see in the film.

Until just a few years ago, Hollywood was again a shell, as evidence from this 2005 photo in Flickr. Even the Corinthian columns added by the set designers were gone. (Correction– The Baby Doll movie seems to show original columns, so Corinthian columns were likely added later by the Bolivar Historical Society by whom, then? .)

This image from the 1956 film Baby Doll seems to show the original Doric columns. It is not clear when the Corinthian order columns were added.

This image from the 1956 film Baby Doll seems to show the original Doric columns. It is not clear when the Corinthian order columns were added.

 

Eustace is making great progress since he began working on the family project three years ago. The new front columns, made of solid redwood from Washington state, replicate the originals and the interior is coming back to life again with new plaster, new woodwork that compliments what was left of the original, and, most recently, new stairs. When the restoration is finished, Hollywood will be open for tours and available for events.

After our tour, we headed up the road to Rosedale for some great food at the Blue Levee.

If the history and restoration of the Burrus House interests you, then you should visit the Lakeport Plantation across the river in Chicot County, Arkansas.  Lakeport is the last antebellum home in Arkansas along the Mississippi River.  Click here to learn about visiting Lakeport. 

Update (12/17/2012):  The Hollywood Plantation opened to the public in June 2012.  It is available for rentals and tours by appointment. We’ve had several groups schedule tours at Hollywood & Lakeport the same day. Visit their website — http://www.hollywoodplantation.com

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Bibliography
Cobb, James C. The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity. New York: Oxford University Press.
Sylbert, Richard and Sylivia Townsend, Designing Movies: Portrait of a Hollywood Artist. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006.
 
United State Census, Manuscript Returns, Schedule of Population, 1860.
Woodman, Harold D. King Cotton & His Retainers: Financing & marketing the Cotton Crop of the South, 1800-1925. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.


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