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Antebellum home on First East being restored by coast attorney

[05/23/03] Ben Sheely said he sat on the porch at his friends’ home on First East admiring the house across the street for 10 years, so he decided to buy it.

Sheely, an attorney from Gulfport, now plans to restore the long-neglected antebellum home at 1115 First East, believed to have been used as the nurses’ quarters during the Civil War. The home across the street, Duff Green Mansion, is owned by Sheely’s friends Harry and Alicia Sharp. It served as a hospital for both Confederate and Union soldiers during and after the 47-day siege of the city in 1863.

“It just seemed like a neat, small house,” Sheely said. “Not a big house. Something I could handle.”

Built between 1853 and 1858, the house is largely intact with wooden floors and what appear to be the original fireplaces. The one-story structure appears to be in good condition, according to Sheely, except for deterioration on the porch and a column that fell while the house was being cleaned out.

Sheely said he plans to work on the house during the weekends and does not know how long the restoration will take. He said he plans to use it as a second home when work is completed.

“It’s a great little house,” said Nancy Bell, executive director of the Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation.

Bell said there is very little evidence about the history of the house and no one is certain when it was built. Tradition holds it was used as the nurses’ quarters and later served as a home for recuperating soldiers, but no documentation confirms that.

Also, some people, including Harry Sharp who restored Duff Green Mansion, believe that the house may be older than what courthouse land records show. Property values from before 1858 indicate there was no structure on the site before that date, Bell said.

Bell said the architecture of the house was also common in Vicksburg during most of the 1800s. The style, Greek Revival, is characterized by a symmetrical building shape, a low-pitched, triangular gable roof and columns across the front.

“That was the popular style during the time,” Bell said.

Records indicate the house belonged to a William Curlee, identified in a city directory as a salesman at a Washington Street general store, in 1858 and remained in the Curlee family until 1945. It passed through two other families until the last owner died earlier this year and Sheely bought the house May 2.

Sheely said he has done other restoration projects in the past, but never anything as old as the Curlee house. He said he will solicit help from an architect and friends.