Blaze threatens historic mansion

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 20, 2004

Vicksburg firefighters look for hot spots on a porch of McRaven Saturday night. (Brian LodenThe Vicksburg Post)

[12/19/04]A fire at McRaven, one of the city’s oldest homes, was quickly contained Saturday night, limiting damage mostly to a porch outside the main dining room.

It was at least the third fire at the historic mansion at 1445 Harrison St., that serves as a tour home and museum. The original part of the house, which was constructed in three periods, dates to 1797.

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“There’s a lot of history in that home, and it’s been terribly damaged,” said owner Leyland French.

French watched as firefighters hosed down the porch where they believe the blaze began around 9 p.m. Other firefighters stood watch over the home’s contents, at the ready to move historic paintings, furnishings and antiques if flames moved near.

Vicksburg Fire Chief Keith Rogers said flames were kept mostly outside the main part of the home and firefighters wanted to move the antiques only if it became necessary. He said he feared scrambling firefighters may pose the larger threat to the items.

He said firefighters also were working to keep the smoke and water out of the main portions of the house. The blaze on the west side of the house was contained after about an hour.

“We are doing our best to minimize that damage,” Rogers said. Firefighters remained on the scene after 11 p.m., and Vicksburg Police were dispatched to make extra patrols around the area through the night.

Rogers said the fire apparently began on the second floor of a porch along the middle of the house, but that it was too soon to speculate about a cause.

No one was in the house when the flames were reported by neighbor and former tour guide Victor Boling.

“I looked out and I just saw flames shooting up,” Boling said. “It looked like the trees were on fire, but it was the house.”

Boling said the home is the oldest standing structure in Warren County and the portion that burned Saturday night dates to the early 1800s.

The home was built in sections over three periods. The back was built in 1797 by Andrew Glass; the middle, in 1836 by Sheriff Steven Howard; and the front, in 1849 by John Bobb.

During the Siege of Vicksburg, the home was a Confederate campsite and field hospital. It was battered by both sides because of its location in the crossfire of the Battle of the Railroad Redoubt.

French has owned McRaven for about 20 years, during which he has offered almost daily commercial tours and seasonal re-enactments on the grounds. Re-enactors have at times camped on the sprawling grounds that include gardens reminiscent of earlier years.

The other two fires at the mansion were in 1849, when much of the home was damaged after a fire was started in the basement; and, in 1999, when a fire damaged the kitchen.

After the 1999 fire, French said Vicksburg firefighters “saved this house,” one of the city’s oldest.

Over the years, the mansion has been filled with rare furnishings and china, including a square piano; an Old Paris china fruit set containing 18 hand-painted settings; a needlepoint and petitpoint of Gen. Robert E., Lee, crafted during the Civil War.