New life at Cobb House stirs old memories

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 3, 2004

Superintendent Casey Perreira, left, of Specialty Services talks with James Parker of Custom Woodworks inside one of the rooms of the Cobb House. The frame of the wall will be torn down and moved about six feet to its original location, Perreira said.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[3/3/04]Restoration of the 174-year-old Cobb House, part of the complex of buildings that formed St. Francis Xavier Academy and Convent, has left a Vicksburg resident feeling nostalgic.

For Shirley Reddoch Roesch, 69, walking the grounds of the complex at the corner of Crawford and Cherry streets brings back childhood memories.

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“A lot of it we just took for granted,” she said of the buildings that now house the Southern Cultural Heritage Foundation.

Interior restoration of the Cobb House is being made possible by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History through a $200,000 Mississippi Community Heritage Preservation grant with $60,000 from the City of Vicksburg and Warren County.

The Cobb House, on Crawford Street between the building that housed the convent and chapel and one that housed the school’s auditorium and classrooms, is 3,200 square feet, much smaller than most antebellum homes.

Roesch graduated from St. Francis Xavier Academy in 1952 and four years later completed her nursing degree from the Mercy Hospital School of Nursing.

She said attending the Catholic school founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1860 has been a family tradition.

Her great-aunt, Sister Dominica O’Rourke, and aunt, Sister Mary Callista Reddoch, taught at the school while her mother, Ann Lavecchia Reddoch, graduated from the school in 1922.

The Cobb House, the oldest building in the complex, holds special meaning for Roesch as well.

All five of her children attended kindergarten inside the structure, first built about 1830, or about five years after Vicksburg was founded.

“It is a beautiful building, and it has a beautiful story to go with it,” she said.

As the story goes, the house was owned and occupied by Oliver Bradford Cobb 30 years before the Sisters of Mercy arrived from Baltimore to found the school and convent.

At different times during the Civil War, both Confederate and Union soldiers used the house for barracks.

The Sisters of Mercy sold the complex to the City of Vicksburg in 1991, and the city contracted management to the SCHF.

Over its life, the Cobb House has endured considerable water and termite damage, said Casey Perreira, a superintendent with Speciality Services of Hattiesburg, which was contracted to handle the reconstruction.

A 25-foot trash bin sitting on Crawford Street is filled with old plaster and debris removed from inside the house, Perreira said.

Aside from new ceilings and walls, the Cobb House will eventually have a new air conditioning system and new gas lines. The plaster trim throughout the house will be replaced with wood, and two doors upstairs will be replaced with 8-by-6-foot windows.

Detailed mill restoration on three mantles, door frames and ceilings will be handled by James Parker of Custom Woodworks of Vicksburg.

“This is the kind of stuff I really enjoy, real craftsmanship, real work,” he said.

That sort of dedication will be needed to replace 10 missing and damaged rosettes and leaf swirls in a ceiling piece in the front hallway of the house as well as the task of removing mildew from door frames on both levels.

However, Parker is not worried.

“The older, more tedious, the more I like it, ” he said.

The work is estimated to take four to six months.

When the work is done, the Cobb House will be used for exhibit space and will house $80,000 worth of antique furniture donated by the Vicksburg Council of Garden Clubs, SCHF Assistant Director Bess Averett said.

Director Glenda LaGarde said she is thrilled to see recognition by the state to restore such a modest home.

“It ended up being more important than its size,” she said.