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Governorís Mansion: A History

Design and Construction, 1839 - 1842
Civil War Years
Renovation, 1908 - 1909
Restoration and Renovation, 1972 - 1975
To Learn More

Design and Construction, 1839 - 1842

First occupied in 1842, the Mississippi Governorís Mansion is the second oldest continuously occupied governorís residence in the United States. In 1975, it was designated a National Historic Landmark, making it at that time one of only two state gubernatorial residences to receive this honor.

In January 1833, the Mississippi legislature appropriated funds to build a capitol building and "a suitable house for the Governor." Delayed by a serious depression caused by the Panic of 1837, construction of the Governorís Mansion was not begun until 1839, the same year that the capitol building was completed. In January 1842, Governor Tilghman Tucker and his family moved into the Mansion, which had been constructed for a cost of approximately $50,000.00. Both the capitol building (Old Capitol) and the Governorís Mansion were designed by architect William Nichols (1780 - 1853), a native of Bath, England. Nichols had served as state architect for North Carolina and Alabama before serving as state architect for Mississippi from 1835 to 1842. Nichols also designed the state penitentiary in Jackson, the Lyceum Building of the University of Mississippi, and a courthouse in Yazoo City. He died in Lexington, Mississippi, in 1853 and is buried there.

William Nichols designed the Mansion in the periodís most popular architectural style Ė Greek Revival. Architectural historians consider the Mississippi Governorís Mansion to be one of the finest surviving examples of the Greek Revival style in the United States.

The whereabouts of Nicholsís original drawings and sketches for the Mansion are not known. In a special 1840 report to the legislature, Nichols described his plans for the Mansion:

"The building will be seventy-two by fifty-three feet. The ground or basement story is eight feet high and is divided into servantsí room, store rooms, and cellar. On the principal floor the main entrance is from a portico twenty-eight by twelve feet, into an octagon vestibule, which communicates with a drawing room fifty by twenty-four feet, with a dining room which by means of folding doors may be made of the same size, and with the great staircase leading to the upper floor; Ö the upper floor will contain four spacious chambers, a wardrobe and a private staircase, communicating with the basement story. The portico on the principal front will be supported by columns of the Corinthian order. In finishing the building, it is intended to avoid a profusion of ornament, and to adhere to a plain simplicity, as best comporting with the dignity of the state."

The 334 B.C. choragic monument to Lysicrates in Athens, Greece, was the basis for Nicholsís design of the Mansionís front portico. The semi-circular portico is supported by Corinthian columns. These Corinthian columns have a detailed acanthus- leaf carving at the top of the column (the capital). Acanthus is a type of Mediterranean shrub. Corinthian columns also appear in the interior of the Mansion in the octagonal foyer. Nichols employed other Greek Revival-style elements in the Mansionís interior. Ornately carved architraves with an anthemion or stylized honeysuckle design surround the front door, the small parlor doors from the foyer, and the large sliding doors separating the double Rose Parlors on the west side and the State Dining Room and the Gold Parlor on the east side. The architraves were patterned after designs published in Minard Lafeverís 1839 Beauties of Modern Architecture. Lafeverís publication was also Nicholsís source for the rosette design of the carved wooden mantel in the Green Bedroom. William Nichols used a similar rosette design in the lintel above the door to the Governorís office in the 1839 capitol building.

Civil War Years

During the Civil War, Jackson was occupied four times by Union troops. Although there is no evidence that either General Ulysses S. Grant or General William T. Sherman ever used the Mansion as headquarters, a July 19, 1863, letter written by General Sherman indicates that Union officers entertained themselves at the Mansion on at least one occasion: "Last night, at the Governorís Mansion, in Jackson, we had a beautiful supper and union of the generals of the army Ö." A May 29, 1863, letter from Dr. R.N. Anderson to Governor John J. Pettus documents the fact that wounded Confederate soldiers were housed in the Mansion.

During the Civil War, the state capital was relocated from Jackson to Enterprise, Macon, Columbus, and then back to Macon again. Furniture from the Mansion was sent to Macon. After the war was over, in October 1865, Governor Benjamin Humphreys was authorized by the legislature to appoint a person to retrieve the Mansion furniture from Macon. The Mansion furniture, however, had apparently been either stolen or destroyed and could not be located. On July 13, 1868, Governor Benjamin Humphreys and his family were forced to vacate the Mansion and yield it to the provisional military governor, General Adelbert Ames.

Renovation, 1908 - 1909

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, the Mansion fell into a state of disrepair, and by 1900 many people were calling for its demolition. In 1908, Governor Edmund Noel initially refused to move his family there and lived instead at the Edwards House, a hotel a few blocks away from the Mansion. Then Governor Noel and family moved into the Mansion briefly, believing this would be the most effective way to bring attention to the condition of the property. The cause to save the Mansion was taken up by First Lady Alice Noel and by patriotic ladiesí organizations, who persuaded the legislature to allocate $30,000.00 for a renovation, directed by local architect William S. Hull.

The 1908Ė1909 renovation included the construction of a two-story family annex, which was added to the rear of the Mansion. The three-part window on the rear façade was bricked in, and other windows in the original structure - nineteenth-century twelve-pane windows - were replaced with the more contemporary double-pane style. The original staircase was removed and replaced with a center staircase to give access to the family annex. New large entrances were constructed from the hall to the State Dining Room and from the hall to the Back Rose (Northwest) Parlor of the same size as the original entrances between the State Dining Room/Gold (East) Parlor and between the double Rose (West) Parlors. These 1909 entrances had architraves and sliding doors to match the 1841 entrances. The original front door was removed and replaced with a beveled glass door. Thin hardwood floors were placed over the original wide heart pine plank floors. A layer of yellow pressed brick was applied to the original Mansion exterior to match the yellow pressed brick of the two-story annex. The Mansion retained this yellow brick exterior until it was painted white during the 1940-1943 term of Governor Paul B. Johnson, Sr.

Restoration and Renovation, 1972 - 1975

Despite occasional appropriations for repair and furnishings, the Mansion deteriorated structurally. In July 1971, a safety inspection of the Mansion indicated that the building was not safe for occupancy, and Governor John Bell Williams and his family subsequently vacated the Mansion. It was determined that only a major restoration could save the Governorís Mansion for future generations.

In December 1971 Governor-elect William Waller met with the State Building Commission, which adopted a resolution recommending to the legislature that the Mansion be "completely restored, refurbished, and refurnished." The Commission called upon the Board of Trustees of the Department of Archives and History to be responsible for advising the project architect and named Charlotte Capers, director of the Department during the restoration of the Old Capitol, as principal executive for the project. Shortly after Governor Wallerís January 1972 inauguration, funds were allocated by the legislature for the 1972Ė1975 major restoration and renovation of the Mansion.

Charlotte Capers secured two distinguished consultants for the project: Charles E. Peterson, architectural historian and restorationist, best known for his work on the Independence Hall restoration; and Edward Vason Jones, architect and interior designer and consultant to the White House. The consultants worked closely with the project architects, Lewis-Eaton Partnership, Inc., on all matters related to the historic or original portion of the Mansion. The family annex, built in 1908 and condemned as unsafe in 1971, was demolished and reconstructed in a similar but larger version to provide family living quarters and office space.

Historical documentation available for planning the restoration included the William Nichols report to the 1840 legislature, inventories, records of the Commission on Public Buildings, papers of the governors, invoices, and photographs Ė materials that had been collected and preserved by the Department of Archives and History. After studying these papers, Charles Peterson undertook an extensive investigation into the fabric of the building, seeking evidence of features mentioned in Nicholsís report and other documents, features that had long since been removed or modified. These preliminary investigations yielded some important discoveries, such as the location of the original staircase, which had been dismantled in 1908. The sliding doors, which had been cased into the doorways, were also uncovered, as were the original locations of doors and windows opening into the north wall and the private stair leading from the basement to the second floor. The thin hardwood floor was ripped up, revealing the original yellow heart pine floor. A c. 1850s geometric painted border, apparently designed to frame area rugs, was found on the Rose Parlor floor.

While investigations were conducted and construction begun, the Mansion furniture was assessed. Those pieces that had documented associations with past governors were retained. Edward Vason Jones was meanwhile acquiring furnishings that would be compatible with the Greek Revival interior decoration of the Mansion. He decided upon the Empire period as a style suitable to the house and to its functions, and he selected furniture of exceptional quality for the Mansion collection. Jones adapted Greek Revival designs to make plaster molds for cornices and ceiling medallions. He removed the 1908 beveled glass door and designed a new front door appropriate to the style of the house. The 1908 door was moved to the north entrance of the family annex.

Since project funds were not available for landscaping of the Mansion grounds, First Lady Carroll Waller organized a fund-raising effort. She appealed to Mississippians to match a $20,000 grant from the Mississippi American Revolution Bicentennial Commission. With the grant and matching funds, she enlisted the help of landscape architect William Garbo, who designed the formal gardens to complement the Greek Revival-style Mansion. A rose garden was planted, and around it was placed a cast iron fence, a miniature replica of a fence that stood around the Mansion grounds 1855 to 1908.

On June 8, 1975, the $2.7 million restoration and renovation of the Mansion was completed and a formal dedication ceremony held. In 1975, the Mississippi Governorís Mansion was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of Interior for its architectural and historical significance.

To Learn More

For further information, consult the following publications:

  • Cain, Helen and Anne D. Czarniecki. An Illustrated Guide to the Mississippi Governorís Mansion. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984.

  • The Governorís Mansion: A Pictorial History. Jackson: Mississippi Executive Mansion Commission, Inc., 1975.

  • Peatross, C. Ford and Robert O. Mellown. William Nichols, Architect. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Art Gallery, 1979.

  • Sansing, David G. and Carroll Waller. A History of the Mississippi Governorís Mansion. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.

  • Skates, John Ray. Mississippiís Old Capitol: Biography of a Building. Jackson: Mississippi Department of Archives and History, 1990.

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