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Church, residents come together to save the McDermott House

In the lower photo, Nelda Sampey stands on the mahogany-finished staircase of the McDermott house(shown in the top photo), which will be moved to a vacant lot across from its current spot on South Street. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[07/02/01] A 96-year-old brick home near downtown Vicksburg will be moved across the street in a plan designed to save the historic structure and allow a next-door church to expand.

“The effort to have the McDermott House moved has been an effort requiring the commitment of various parties to work together for the common good,” said the Rev. Steve Bryant, pastor of First Presbyterian Church, which bought the house last year to make room for expansion.

The church’s plan to raze the McDermott House, which has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983, was met with opposition from historical societies and the city’s Architectural Review Board.

So two board members, Nelda Sampey and Blake Teller, who is also an attorney and a member of the church, went to work.

The church gave the house to Sampey, and she and new Vicksburg resident Cheryl Pemberton Tullos plan to renovate it after it is moved. The $60,000 cost of the move will be offset by $9,000 the church will give Tullos and Sampey. The $9,000 is what the church had expected to spend on demolishing the house.

“We are thrilled that the McDermott House will be saved and we will have the opportunity to explore future expansion,” Bryant said.

The house at 1100 South St., on a parcel adjoining the east side of First Presbyterian’s back parking lot, will see its bricks and fireplace mantels taken off. Then the shell of a house will be jacked onto a truck by Kosciusko House Movers and taken across the street to 1111 and 1115 South St., two lots owned by developer Robert Rosenthal until the real estate deal was closed Friday.

The house will be placed on a new concrete foundation. Sampey said the crew is capable of moving the house in one piece, but the weight of the bricks would cave in the street.

BellSouth and Entergy are also working with the project, allowing lines to be put on the ground and covered with steel pipes to avoid damage during the move, Teller said

The whole process is expected to take months, Sampey said.

Sampey and her husband, Malcolm, moved to Vicksburg in 1997 and bought the Steigelman House on Main Street. The Sampeys have spent most of their time here renovating the house built in 1840 and said homes like theirs and the McDermott House provide Vicksburg with a special and unique attraction.

“We moved here with no ties to Vicksburg,” Sampey said. “We are here by choice. We noticed Vicksburg’s potential in the downtown area. More people need to be involved in saving the home. Once it’s gone, it can’t be replaced.”

The McDermott House was built in 1905 for Abe and Emma Brown. It was notable at the time for its fully electric capabilities. The McDermotts bought the home in 1927 and lived in it until 1983 when it was sold to Harvey Smith, who used it as a beauty salon.

Three stays of demolition were executed by the city architectural board after the church bought the home, but the final stay expires in July, which prompted Sampey to devise another plan to save the house.

“Our interest is saving the house from demolition,” Sampey said. “To say a house is significant enough to merit being on a national historic register, then it deserves more than being bulldozed.”

Sampey said she understands the church’s need for more room and the city’s need for business growth in the downtown area, but hopes economic growth can coincide with the conservation of Vicksburg’s architecture and history.

“We have to keep businesses downtown, but we also have to preserve the historical aspects of the area,” she said.

Director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Elbert Hilliard wrote a letter to the church last year asking it to reconsider demolishing the house.

This week, he said, “I commend the church and members of the architectural review board for their diligence and willingness to work together to save this historic house.”