By their nature, “historic” buildings are susceptible to the ravages of time and weather. By their designation, repairs aren’t cheap.
On Friday, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History awarded almost $3 million in grants, ranging from $25,600 to $277,154, for 18 projects, including two in Columbus and another in Macon.
The grants are funded each year by the Legislature under the MDAH Community Heritage Preservation program.
In Columbus, MDAH awarded $25,600 to repair the front porch roof at the Stephen D. Lee Home and $35,000 to rebuild the front porch at the Tennessee Williams Home and Visitors Center. In Noxubee County, MDAH awarded $200,044 to replace the clay tile and make exterior repairs to the Noxubee County Library in Macon. All three buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are designated Mississippi Landmarks. All grants require a 20-percent match.
Tennessee Williams Home project
Nancy Carpenter, executive director for the Columbus-Lowndes Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the grant will be a godsend for the Tennessee Williams property downtown, which last was renovated in 2010.
“(The grant) is absolutely great for us,” Carpenter said. “We don’t receive any federal, state or (aid from) the city, so we depend on donations and grants. This is definitely going to help.”
Carpenter said the front porch, which faces Main Street, has damage to both the interior and exterior, which she attributes to the ravages of time and weather. The house was built in 1876 and was an early childhood home of the famous playwright.
Carpenter also believes moving the house from its original location near St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on College Street (the home was originally the church rectory) also contributed to deterioration.
“There are some structural issues associated with moving the home as it began to settle,” Carpenter said. “To do everything we need, it will cost a little more than $200,000 based on the estimates we’ve received. We are constantly looking for grants and this grant moves us that much closer to our goal.”
Stephen D. Lee Home project
Construction started on the Stephen D. Lee Home on Seventh Street North in 1847, but the porch was added in the 1880s. Eulalie Davis, president of the foundation that manages the home, said the front porch roof has been in need of repairs for about 10 years.
“Over the years, it’s been sort of patched together, but it really needs to be replaced,” Davis said. “We get a lot of use from the porch for weddings and other events.”
Repairs to historic buildings are generally far more expensive than those of other buildings because the materials and repairs have to be consistent with the original construction to preserve the building’s historic integrity.
“The porch roof is a tin roof with overlapping joints called standing seams,” said Carolyn Kaye, who wrote the grant for the foundation. “That roofing is unique to the time of the construction, so the cost for replacing the roof is much higher than it would be with a normal roof where you would use the materials and construction you see today.”
In addition to the roof, Kaye said the grant will also cover the expense of replacing some of the wood in the roof’s infrastructure.
Noxubee County Library project
Shameka Conner, director for the Noxubee County Library, could hardly contain her excitement over the news of the grant.
“Oh, lordy, we’ve needed this for years,” Conner said. “We’ve had to wait our turn, and the roof situation has become a big problem.”
Conner said the original roof of the library, which was built in 1907, has serious leaks, especially on the third floor of the three-story building.
“It’s been leaking down the walls on the third floor for quite a long time,” Conner said. “The third floor was where we had our computers, so we had to do a lot of shuffling around to make sure the computers weren’t going to get wet. We moved the computers to the first floor to keep them dry, but we still had to use the third floor because our space is limited. With a historic building, you can’t just add on, so every inch of the space is needed.”
Recently, the damage has reached the second floor, which is used as the children’s library.
“You can only move things around so much,” Conner said. “We knew the only real solution was to replace the roof.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s coming,” she added. “I’m excited.”
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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