November 8, 2018 11:00:55 AM
Isabelle Altman - [email protected]
An antebellum house in north Columbus is slated to be demolished.
Dispatch Publisher Peter Imes purchased the 182-year-old Beckrome house at 803 Sixth Ave. N. in August. The house had been on the market since June 2012. Imes said the house, which is located in the neighborhood where he lives, had fallen into disrepair.
"I certainly understand how emotional it can be for the community to lose a historically significant home," Imes said. "This is a town where history very much bleeds into the present. So being aware of that, this wasn't a decision I made lightly. But I hated to see that house continue to deteriorate and thought I could do something with the property that could help the neighborhood."
Built in 1836, the house is located a few blocks north of Columbus' downtown historic district. It is not, however, in a national or local historic district, and it is not protected by any landmark status.
Most recently owned by a U.S. Air Force member who planned to restore it but had to move, the home has only had one renter in the last four years, said RE/MAX Partners Realtor Colin Krieger, who has been showing the house since October 2014.
Krieger said the house has termite damage and foundational issues. Initially priced at $99,000, it had dropped to $59,000 over the last month it was on the market, when Imes purchased an option on the house.
"I made a low offer for the house and the previous owners wanted a chance to drop the sales price and try to find somebody else to buy the house before selling to me," Imes said. "I told them if they could find somebody else who could do something with it, absolutely sell it to them first. So they took 30 days ... and couldn't find anybody who was interested."
Krieger said multiple potential buyers looked at the house both before and during that 30-day period.
"I would say anybody that's been a major investor in town has looked at it at some point," he said. "Once it was down at $59,000, I expected to see more offers on it ... but we didn't. No central AC was a big thing for amateur investors. But I think for professional investors, those pretty major structure issues were the biggest problem. ... I'm not defending Peter or anything like that one way or the other, but ... this one's been on the market for six years. If you were going to come save it, you had plenty of time."
After the 30-day period was up, Imes bought the house for $30,000. By one estimate foundation repairs alone would cost around $70,000, Imes said.
History of the house
Local and state historians know the Beckrome house best as the home of Dr. William Spillman, a Methodist minister, doctor and scientist who moved to Columbus in 1838.
Jim Woodrick, deputy historic preservation officer at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, called Spillman a "Renaissance man."
"He was not only a minister, he was a medical doctor, he was a paleontologist, he was very interested in the study of caves ... a geologist," Woodrick said. "He explored the Alabama and Mississippi area and did geological surveys. He not only discovered but named fossils. He was an amazing person."
But the home's name comes from more recent owners, David and Bessie Parsons, who lived there in the early 1900s. The name comes from a combination of David's middle name "Jerome" and David's nickname for Bessie "Beck."
Their granddaughter Susan Jones, who still lives in Columbus, said her mother and the Parsons' eight other children grew up in the home. After David, who worked for the railroad companies, died in a train accident in the 1930s, Bessie raised her nine children pretty much by herself. She lived in the house until her death in the 1960s.
"It was a very loving family," Jones said. "It was a family where all the siblings got along with each other and cared about each other and you don't always see that now. They had a lot of good stories about growing up."
Though Jones didn't live in the house except for a brief period as an adult after her parents bought it from her uncle, Jones has her own stories, from a wisteria vine planted by a cousin in the front yard and which was cut down by later owners to older cousins telling younger ones that ghosts lived in the house.
"We had always hoped that somebody would buy it and restore it," she added.
Still, Jones said the house had already changed even since her family lived there. Her grandmother painted the house red and then later owners repainted it white, something that reduced one of Jones' aunts to tears when she saw it.
"It doesn't look anything like it looked when my parents had the house," Jones said.
Efforts to preserve the house
Woodrick said he does not know of any serious efforts to preserve Beckrome due to its not being listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Among the local preservationists who looked at the house was John Fields, who has renovated local historic homes such as Primrose. However, he said he was working on too many projects to take on this house as well.
Bob Raymond, who lives in The Cedars off Military Road, one of the oldest homes in northeast Mississippi, said he also looked at the house during the 30-day period when Imes had an option on the house.
"It was in decent condition," Raymond said. "There were some rotten windows and things like that that needed repair, but apparently the termites were in it bad."
Raymond said he was interested in the house, though he agreed it probably would have cost between $200,000 to $300,000 to save it.
"It could have been saved," Raymond said.
Raymond did not buy the house after he says he didn't hear back from the real estate company.
"It was just a very early house for Columbus that had handmade doors, just a lot of nice details," he added. "Federal mantle pieces, nice federal staircase. Just a nice early home."
Woodrick said while the home looks to be in good condition from the photos, he hasn't walked through it and doesn't know what kind of preservation efforts would be needed to save the house. However, he said he and MDAH always encourages preserving historic houses rather than demolition.
"Clearly we never want to see a historic structure demolished if it's feasible to save it, particularly with a structure that's this early in Columbus' history," he said. "Anything that is lost detracts from the history of the community. Having said that, it is private property and we understand that that's up to the owner."
Incorporating pieces of Beckrome with new construction
Imes said demolition will occur in the next few weeks. He says he has received numerous concerns from neighbors over what he plans to build in Beckrome's place. While he doesn't have an architectural design in mind yet, he said it will be a single-family home and that the design will fit in with the neighborhood.
He also said he's preserving some of the historic pieces of the house, including the doors, windows and some of the original timbers. While he wants to incorporate the timbers into the new structure he intends to build, the other materials are going to Columbus native Jacob Pannell, who reclaims and sells old building material through his business Mississippi Reclaimed.
Imes has taken pictures of the interior of the house and plans to donate those and other documents about its history to the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library's Local History Room.