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Labor of love’ keeps Leyens going, he says

The Davis-Mitchell Home at 901 Crawford St. (Brian Loden The Vicksburg Post)

[9/20/04]Vicksburg Mayor Laurence Leyens says restoring historic properties is a labor of love he will likely continue even after finishing yet another project.

“I keep saying this will be the last time; that I don’t have the energy anymore, but probably not,” Leyens said.

His latest project is a home at 901 Crawford St. It is his third since becoming mayor in 2001 and his sixth in Vicksburg. His plan is to convert the residence into two executive apartments for lease sometime next year.

“I appreciate restoring homes like this,” Leyens said. “You don’t see this type of architecture and detail in modern houses.”

The home adjacent to Bloom Fountain was built around 1872 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is known around town as the Davis-Mitchell home, named after Dr. Charles Mitchell who built it and his wife who was the niece of Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederate States of America.

Gordon Cotton, historian and curator of the Old Court House Museum, said that in 1896 the home was headquarters for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg, but that little else is known about it.

Last year, there was a disagreement between the city and the previous owners about who was responsible for a retaining wall along the Monroe Street side of the property, but in the end the owner repaired the wall and sold it to Leyens.

Leyens’ other restoration projects have included his home at Cherry and South streets, the B’nai B’rith Literary Club at Walnut and Clay streets, a building at 1208 Washington St. and the former bus depot at 1511 Walnut St. His family also owns the former Valley department store building at 1421 Washington St.

He has since sold his interest in the B.B. Club, built as an ornate Jewish nightclub and used for about 40 years as Vicksburg’s police department before being sold to Leyens before he was elected. He has also put the bus depot up for sale or lease and the Washington Street business is home to the Audubon Society.

Leyens has attracted some criticism for the entrepreneurial efforts in the downtown area which has also been the focus of revitalization at public expense. He avoids voting on matters affecting his projects, however, and counters that his personal investment reflects his faith in the city’s potential.

City efforts have included a $5.6 million urban renewal plan and a $2.6 million reconstruction of downtown Washington Street.

“I’m investing in our community and in our community’s future,” Leyens said. “There are so many great treasures in this town just dying to come back to life.”

Leyens has said that he plans to seek a second term in office next June. Warren County District 3 Charles Selmon, a Democrat, has said he plans to run against Leyens.