A MDAH Publication | Volume 44 No. 2 | February 2002
MDAH Is 100!
At the close of the nineteenth century, the Mississippi Historical Commission proposed that the state create an official historical agency to be responsible for all materials relating to the state’s history. In signing Senate Bill 26 on February 26, 1902, Governor A. H. Longino created the nation’s second such agency, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Dunbar Rowland became the agency’s first director and caretaker of the state’s records, historical library, museum collection, and a group of portraits of famous Mississippians that came to be known as the “Mississippi Hall of Fame.” Rowland began work in two rooms outside the House Chamber in the Old Capitol, but he soon moved into space on the first floor of the recently completed State Capitol in the fall of 1903.
Rowland wanted his agency housed in the Old Capitol. He thought it appropriate that the Department be located in the state’s most historic building and was disappointed when no room was allocated for MDAH following the 1917 renovation of the Old Capitol. Settling into space at the new State Capitol, Rowland established the library, archives, and reading room in the west wing of the building. He then hung Hall of Fame portraits and set up museum display cases in a room on the east wing of the capitol. Dunbar Rowland could hardly have envisioned the staff and services provided by more than 160 employees a century later. In 1972, the Old Capitol Museum, housed in the National Historic Landmark building, was one of the first museums in the nation to be accredited by the American Association of Museums. Among the museum’s many award-winning exhibitions is the first permanent civil rights exhibit in the country. In 2001 the Old Capitol Museum became one of the first Smithsonian Affiliates in the country.
The Grand Village of the Natchez Indians, the main ceremonial center of the Natchez Indians, opened to the public in 1976. The 128-acre National Historic Landmark site features three ceremonial mounds, interpretive museum, reconstructed Natchez Indian house, and nature trail. MDAH has conducted three major archaeological excavations at the site, portions of which were donated to the state by the late Grace M. S. MacNeil of Natchez .
Visitors to Historic Jefferson College, Washington, the first institution of higher learning in Mississippi, can tour restored buildings and interpretive exhibits and travel the nature path through a wooded ravine past St. Catherine Creek, over bridges, past Ellicott Springs, and a historic cemetery, with plants and trees clearly identified along the way.
The Manship House Museum, carefully restored by MDAH and opened to the public in 1982, interprets the daily life of an interesting nineteenth-century Mississippi family. The Governor’s Mansion, restored under MDAH direction, offers tours of this National Historic Landmark, the second oldest continuously occupied gubernatorial residence in the United States.
Winterville Mounds, site of a prehistoric ceremonial center built about A.D. 1000-1450 near Greenville, is interpreted in the on-site museum, with special programs related to Native Americans. Winterville Mounds, a National Historic Landmark property, was transferred by the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks and the City of Greenville to MDAH in 2000.
The historic Shaifer House, on the Port Gibson battlefield, has been transferred to MDAH by the Grand Gulf Military Monument Commission and the Department of Finance and Administration. Once restored, the Shaifer House will be a major site on the Mississippi Civil War Trail.
In 1986 Eudora Welty deeded her home to MDAH subject to a life estate interest. MDAH is now working with the Eudora Welty Foundation to establish the Eudora Welty House as a living tribute to the writer and to interpret her life and work to visitors from around the world.
Mississippi was one of the first twenty-five states to qualify for participation in the national Historic Preservation Program established by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Today MDAH’s Historic Preservation programs include the National Register of Historic Places, surveys of historic and prehistoric sites, the Certified Local Government program, Mississippi Landmarks, Abandoned Cemeteries, and archaeology. In 2000 Mississippi ranked second in the nation for completed projects utilizing federal investment tax credits to rehab National Register properties.
The Records Management program at the State Records Center assists state agencies with the development of records control schedules for approval by the State Records Committee. The Local Government Records Office provides assistance and direction on records management issues to counties, municipalities, and other local governments. MDAH’s Electronic Records Program, a ground-breaking initiative established to deal with managing and preserving all forms of electronic records, is a model for electronic records programs around the country.
The MDAH Publications Program includes the periodicals the Journal of Mississippi History and Mississippi Archaeology, this monthly newsletter, books, brochures, programs, and more.
Notes on the MDAH Centennial
The Department of Archives and History, with its rich heritage of one hundred years, is one of the oldest state agencies other than the constitutionally mandated departments. It is older than four of the state’s universities. It has been characterized through the years by integrity, continuity, professional stability, and its nonpolitical statutory authority. There have been only five directors in the Department’s history, and its roster of trustees who have served since 1902 includes many of the state’s most distinguished leaders.
The Department is a comprehensive historical agency that administers programs that in most states are performed by two and sometimes three separate agencies. Our Department has the state archives, records management, historical reference library, state historical museum, historic preservation, archaeology, historic properties, local government records, a publications program, and certain duties related to the Governor’s Mansion.
The Department is fortunate in having highly professional, competent, and dedicated staff members. This situation is no accident, for the staff has been assembled without political interference and the influence of political patronage.
MDAH is thirty-two years older than the National Archives. Thanks to the longstanding support of the Mississippi Legislature and the enthusiastic patronage of many thousands of Mississippians, our state is recognized in national circles as having one of the most respected and effective state historical agencies in the country.
--Elbert R. Hilliard, MDAH director
MDAH Honored by MHC
The Mississippi Humanities Council has selected the Department of Archives and History to receive its annual award honoring institutions for special achievement in public humanities programming. Cited especially, said MHC director Barbara Carpenter, were MDAH’s award-winning museum exhibits and programs; innovative library services such as the indexed Newsfilm Collection and the electronic records initiative; a noteworthy and far-ranging publications program; and its continuing successes in historic preservation. The award will be presented February 15 at MHC’s annual Awards Dinner at Mikhail’s restaurant in Jackson. Those interested in attending the dinner at $30 per individual ticket should call the MHC office, (601) 432-6463.
Black History Programs
Iberville Natchez Reenactment
At the Manship House
Thomas, Jr. 1917-2001
by the Mississippi Department of Archives
and History Elbert R. Hilliard, director Chrissy Wilson, editor