Jackson man builds new Shirley House model for museum|[06/23/07]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 23, 2007

Robin Burr walked into the Vicksburg Battlefield Museum, saw a model of the Shirley House in the Fall of Dixie diorama, and asked if he could build a new one.

Three months later, museum officials are getting ready to renovate the diorama to make room for Burr’s Shirley replica.

&#8220It’s something I always wanted to do,” Burr said. &#8220It took about three months to build.”

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Burr, 57, lives in Jackson and works at an oil company there. He started building models of houses about five years ago and is working on his first railroad model.

&#8220But I’ve enjoyed doing the houses more than the railroads,” he said.

Burr said he became interested in Vicksburg and the Civil War as a child, when his parents visited the city.

&#8220My dad was a military man, so we moved around a lot. Mississippi was my mother’s home, so we came through here several times. It is a captivating place.”

Lamar Roberts, executive director of the Vicksburg Transportation Museum, said he plans to get others involved in Burr’s work.

&#8220We’re going to be talking to some homeowners to see if we can have him build models of some of the older houses in Vicksburg,” Roberts said. &#8220We want the city to get in on this.”

Burr’s replica was built for the transportation museum and will be on loan at the Battlefield, Roberts said. He considers it part of a citywide initiative to lure tourists.

&#8220There’s a lot of government money going into historic preservation here right now,” Roberts said. &#8220The depot will run about $2 million. You’re talking probably six figures on the Shirley House.”

Three weeks ago, funding for the transportation museum at the Levee Street Depot at City Front received an added boost from Warren County supervisors.

The board approved $20,000 for the project, which will showcase the importance of planes, boats, cars, and trains in Vicksburg history.

Set to open in late 2008, the bulk of the money to move in exhibits will come from a $1.65 million grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Its organizers must match that with $300,000 at the local level.

Supervisors’ match was made possible from local and private legislation passed by the state this year freeing up the county to provide more than $272,000 to 10 charitable groups or community action agencies.

At the Shirley House in the Vicksburg National Military Park, renovations have stalled while park officials wait for federal money.

&#8220We have submitted a request for funding, but the Shirley House is not on any of the lists yet,” said park Superintendent Monika Mayr. &#8220Those funds are programmed 10 years into the future, and we have submitted every year.”

When renovations are complete, the estimated cost could reach nearly $2 million, Mayr said. &#8220We’re just waiting for those funds.”

Burr visited the Shirley House in the park before he built the replica.

&#8220This is the 1863 look of it right here,” he said. &#8220I looked at the one on the diorama and got the go-ahead to get started. I am extremely glad to give something back to Vicksburg.”

The replica, Burr said, is made of plastic and wood.

&#8220This is only the second house I’ve built. The other one is of my childhood home in Enterprise.”

The Shirley House, named Wexford Lodge by its builder, Nicholas Gray, upon its completion in the late 1830s, is the only park structure that was standing when Union and Confederate forces vied for control of the city in 1863. It was turned over to Judge James Shirley in 1851 and was a major landmark through the Civil War, when Union forces used it as a smallpox hospital in 1864.

First restored in 1902 by the federal government and used as a visitor center and park employee residence until the 1960s, it has been vacant since.

The house is near the Illinois Memorial, also a major tour stop in the national park created by Congress as a sacred preserve to honor combatants in 1899.

Fall of Dixie, a 250-square-foot layout, depicts the battle for Vicksburg and includes 2,300 miniature soldiers.

The Battlefield Museum, adjacent to Battlefield Inn in an ironclad-replica building, features the world’s largest collection of miniature Mississippi River boats.