Published 12:00 am Monday, May 10, 2004

coming to begin work on Shirley House

Donna Plunket of Dallas, Texas, takes a photograph of her daughter, Emily Plunket, 9, in front of the Shirley House in the Vicksburg National Military Park.(Melanie Duncan Thortis The Vicksburg Post)

[5/10/04]A grant of nearly $250,000 is the first step toward restoring the Shirley House, the only surviving prewar structure in the Vicksburg National Military Park, but it is only the beginning of a major restoration project officials hope to see.

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“Because of 40 years of neglect, it’s fallen on pretty hard times,” said Terry Winschel, historian for the Civil War battlefield. “Every room from the bottom up is going to have to be redone.”

Bids are out to begin work on the antebellum home that was owned by Judge James and Adalene Shirley during the 1863 Siege of Vicksburg and then became the headquarters for the 45th Illinois Infantry.

Since purchasing it from the Shirleys’ daughter, Alice Shirley Eaton, in 1900, the park has used the house on Historic Jackson Road near Union Avenue as a museum and private residence for park officials, but it has been closed since the 1960s.

The home was in the middle of renovations when funding ran out, in 1964, and remains without plaster on the walls today.

The $246,400 to begin the work is coming from an emergency stabilization grant and will be used to seal the roof, windows and framing.

Winschel said it is critical to make water-tight the home, which he said is known to sway in the breeze.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to add a few more years of life for the building until we can get funds for a full-blown restoration.”

Winschel said a complete restoration would cost about $2 million.

The original windows, archways, doors and staircase remain in the Greek Revival house, and the Shirleys, as a stipulation of the 1900 sale to the federal government, are buried behind the home. Yet, water is able to seep in through the wooden shingles, and holes in the floor allow birds to nest in the basement.

He said if federal funds are secured for a full-scale restoration, officials would likely make the house a museum. But not without a lot of work.

The Shirley House, built in the 1830s and first named Wexford Lodge, sits just east of the Illinois Memorial. It was built by Nicholas Grey and was sold to the Shirleys in the 1850s.

During the Siege of Vicksburg, Adalene Shirley, the great-niece of John Hancock, sent servants to the balcony to surrender by waving a white flag from the end of a broom stick. The home then became headquarters for the 45th Illinois Infantry, and Union troops referred to it as “the white house.”