Suit against school district centers on Davis Island land

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 22, 2000

A suit against the Vicksburg Warren School District says errors made in the 1800s need to be fixed so ownership of land can be settled.

The dispute centers on a portion of 16th Section land on Davis Island, once a contiguous part of Warren County but now on the west side of the Mississippi River.

The plaintiff in the federal court case is the Davis Island Land Co., L.L.C. Co-defendants with local schools are the State of Mississippi and the United States of America.

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According to the suit, the plaintiffs and the school district both claim ownership of a 95.75-acre parcel on the island. Both claims are based on surveys more than 150 years old.

A government survey in 1834 defined 321.65 acres of land in the south part of the county along the Mississippi River as state property to be used to raise revenue for support of the schools.

Davis Island was again surveyed by the government in 1848 and, as a result, the line between Sections 15 and 16 were “moved,” resulting in an enlargement to the state’s property. Despite the new survey, the Warren County Board of Supervisors entered into a 99-year lease in 1891 for the land based on the earlier survey.

When the lease expired in 1990, school officials, who are responsible for managing the 16th Section property, surveyed the land again. The latest survey increased the area to 436.27 acres and when a new lease was entered into, the rate was based on that increased acreage.

The plaintiffs, who now own the adjacent section and lease the school property, claim the land was taken in violation of the U.S. Constitution and that the company has been overcharged for the lease.

The plaintiffs are asking the courts to declare the 1848 government survey invalid and for repayments of payments made on the 95 acres in question.

Davis Island was the home of Jefferson Davis before he became president of the Confederate States of America. Jefferson Davis and his brother Joseph owned plantations there in the years leading up to the Civil War.

Joseph Davis’ plantation home, Hurricane, was burned by Union troops in 1862 and Jefferson Davis’ mansion, Brierfield, burned accidentally in 1931.

The island was attached to Warren County south of LeTourneau before the river changed course in 1867. Today, it can be reached only by boat from Mississippi or by land from Louisiana except during floods.