I’m a regular reader of Preservation in Mississippi. Last week one of the articles featured what happened to Ceres Plantation and the sad tale of its demise and the subsequent waste of the property in the name of “development and progress”. Today the area that was developed to be what was touted as an invaluable resource of the future sits pretty much abandoned and all traces of historic Ceres are gone.
I’m a preservationist, strictly amateur, but nonetheless I believe that preserving properties of significant historical value is very important. Preservation matters to me.
Recently I’ve had a first-hand experience with a situation where there was a total lack of preservation and a home was allowed to sit empty and deteriorate. The property in question has significant historic value to me and my siblings; it was the house that belonged to my maternal grandparents. I spent many, many happy hours in this house and on the surrounding property. Those experiences made me who I am today and continue to influence me now.
My grandparents bought this property in 1941 (if I remember correctly). My grandmother told me one time about the tiny house that was on the property and showed me how the kitchen became the bathroom and the front room became the kitchen. The original bedroom was the room where I always slept. Somehow my grandfather scraped together enough money to have a small lake constructed by building an earthen dam across a little stream on the property. He also built a barn out of lumber salvaged from an old house that was being torn down!
This picture of my parents shows part of the original house. The house had no air conditioning and was heated by space heaters. All the rooms interconnected and the windows provided cross ventilation. By this time my grandfather had enclosed the back porch that extended across the back of the house and added what was referred to as the utility room where among other things a large deep freeze was installed.
My grandfather added a carport and side door while we were overseas along with the siding (which was probably full of asbestos and other substances). When we returned in 1961 my parents were quite pleased to have a carport to park their car! This picture is how I remember the house. The carport took out quite a bit of my grandmother’s flower garden. She still had numerous different types of flowers when I was growing up, but my mother commented one time that her mother never had flowers again like she did around the original house.
My grandfather had his first stroke in 1973 and eventually had to enter a care facility. My grandmother struggled to take care of him and the property. Thank heaven for nearby family and neighbors who pitched in to help. Still, the property began to decline.
I don’t remember how the drama played out, but my uncle ended up with the property. Upon his death it passed to his son. The house was allowed to sit year after year. By the time this picture was made it looked bad. My cousin’s wife had tried to open a small business of some kind in the house and did some remodeling on the front rooms as well as the hideous paint on the outside. They tore off the utility room, too. My mother was very upset about what had been done, but she had no voice as the property wasn’t hers any more. The last time I passed by was on the way home from my mother’s burial in December 2008; it looked even worse just six months after this picture was taken.
I’m not sure what happened, but this is what Google street view is showing today. At first I thought that maybe I had the wrong place. But continual swinging around showed my great-aunt’s house across the road and another house that was unmistakable to me. In horror and disbelief, I clicked out of the view. No, no, it is a mistake. The next day I looked again and zoomed in as far as I could. My grandparents had an outside hydrant a few feet from the back door. The hydrant was on top of a pipe that was about 12-18 inches high. When the county mandated that everyone switch to their nasty water my grandfather had defiantly left this hydrant on the well so they could water their garden! The pipe was still there, it was unmistakable. The house is gone.
After going through the stages of grief I finally had to admit that perhaps there was a calamity that befell the house and made the clearing away a necessity. There are no signs of fire, but perhaps a summer lightening storm or winter ice storm had brought down a tree on the house. I had to wonder if it was just simply neglect and something like the roof caving in led to it’s clearing away. And, perhaps, just perhaps, the house was relocated somewhere. But in my heart, I know that my cousin probably got tired of seeing it and called in a bulldozer and dump truck.
So shame on you cousin that I haven’t seen in over 40 years and probably never will see again. You never spent more than a few days at a time in this house when you came to visit. You never spent a summer here and knew our grandparents one-on-one like I did. You never worked in the garden and spent hot summer afternoons sitting under the trees snapping beans. You never snuggled down under a quilt on a winter night as the warmth from the space heater faded. You never sat for hours looking at old pictures and talking to Mamaw about who those people were (do you know your family tree?). Shame on you for building your big modern home on the hill above the lake and turning your back on the poor little house by the road. Shame on your father for letting it begin the descent into no turning back. Shame on my mother, too for so hastily signing over her portion of the property and then not encouraging her brother to maintain the house. Shame on me, too, although I don’t know what I could have done.
This has turned into a long post, thank you dear readers for staying with me if you got this far. There are many things I want to say, but I’m going to conclude with just one thought.
It doesn’t matter if it is historically significant property or just a humble house along the road. There is no excuse to let it deteriorate due to neglect. There is no excuse in thinking that it is just an old building that needs to be torn down. There is no excuse!