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Archives and History to consider Ceres house

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 8, 2010

An effort to save the plantation house at Ceres has landed discussion of the structure on the agenda of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Designating the home, parts of which date to 1830, a Mississippi Landmark will be discussed by trustees when the board meets April 16, executive director Hank Holmes said.

The move stops the Warren County Port Commission from allowing demolition under either of two proposals tabled by the commission in March. If the designation is approved, the house can’t be moved or altered in any significant way, but it doesn’t require any action to halt years of deterioration. The agency has visited the issue several times in the past 30 years, with opinions on the building’s structural authenticity swinging back and forth. The structure has undergone countless changes since the first portions were erected.

“I think they’ll just take the matter up,” said Wayne Mansfield, executive director of the port commission, which manages county-owned industrial properties.

The house came with the 1987 purchase of cropland in east Warren County which was transformed into the Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex. Mansfield acknowledged the renewed push to designate the house a landmark had a role in the commission delaying action on its request for bids to remove or tear down the house, which has had myriad uses since it became county property.

“We were still trying to work with (MDAH) to get matters together,” Mansfield said, adding he plans to attend the meeting.

A similar designation saved the Carr Central school building on Cherry Street. After being abandoned by public schools in 1979, the school and six acres became city property. Several years later, the city moved to have it torn down. That plan was halted by a Landmark designation and the school has had two private owners since, but has not been redeveloped.

Championing the Ceres house is developer De Reul, a Missouri native and show horse owner, whose proposal to convert it into a 19th century village with a bed-and-breakfast as its hub was shot down by the commission as inappropriate for an industrial park. She started a petition and reports 3,500 signatures.

“Nobody — nobody — has gone as far as I have gone in getting this done,” said Reul, who deemed a $1.8 million estimate to move the house across the interstate as too expensive. “I just don’t want to see the home destroyed.”

Reul’s proposal had listed more than 50 names and other entities as “patrons” though few, if any, had supported the effort financially. Levels of support among a few who said they signed petitions to landmark the house varied.

“As a citizen, it’s important to landmark that house,” said Bill Seratt, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “I’ve signed a petition — that’s all. The bureau has pledged no money.”

Princella Nowell, head of the Mississippi Historical Society, said she coordinated petition efforts in Greenville and supports the idea of preserving the house.

“I’ve done a lot of old houses and there’s a lot of history in that house,” said Doug Kelly of Vicksburg-based Kelly Refrigeration, who helped gather petitions. “It’s the last plantation house on its original home site in Warren County.”

Ceres covers 1,290 acres. The largest operating plant there is Tyson Foods, which prepares frozen entrées. A shell building in the park has been mentioned as a possible site for a new Warren County jail.

Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at dbarrett@vicksburgpost.com