$2 million coming to military park

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 24, 2009

Renovations are on the way for the 175-year-old Shirley House in the Vicksburg National Military Park that will open it to visitors, thanks to nearly $2 million in stimulus money park administrators learned Wednesday they will receive.

“Not only will we be able to accomplish a long-term goal for the park,” said Superintendent Monika Mayr, “this will also provide us an opportunity to generate some jobs locally.”

The $1.946 million allocated is a slice of the $750 million given to the National Park Service through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The money will fund an estimated 800 projects in the 58 national parks and 391 sites it oversees across the country.

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Mayr said about $200,000 of the money the park receives will be used to restore the park road through the National Cemetery and the rest will be used on the Shirley House, a historic residence near the Illinois Memorial.

Mayr, who is leaving Vicksburg in June to become deputy superintendent of the Blue Ridge Parkway, said park administrators will revisit a rehab design for the Shirley House drafted in 2004 and make final decisions about the design in the coming months. She said they hope to have the project put out to bid by early 2010 and have it under contract by next spring.

“In the meantime, there will be ongoing work on the Shirley House,” said Mayr. “We had gotten funding through the normal channels to put a fire suppression system in, to paint the outside and replace some rotten wood. That will happen later this summer or early fall.”

Among four recipients in the state, the Civil War park here was given the second largest amount of stimulus money, said Mayr. The Natchez Trace Parkway system will receive $4.4 million for various projects, while Gulf Islands National Seashore will benefit by $54,000 and the Natchez National Historic Park will get $42,000.

Mayr said the roughly $1.75 million available for the Shirley House should be enough to rehab the structure and install period furnishings and exhibits. She said the home has an equally interesting history before and after Vicksburg fell to Union forces on July 4, 1863, following a 47-day siege.

“During Reconstruction there was a riot in Vicksburg that occurred pretty much on the lawn in and around the Shirley House,” she cited as one example. “So, we’ll probably put some exhibits in there about the history of the home after the war as well as its history leading up to and during the war.”

Rehabilitating and fitting the Shirley House with furnishings and exhibits could take at least a year, Mayr speculated, meaning it will likely be mid- to late-2011 by the time the public can get its first glimpse inside the home in decades.

The Shirley House was named Wexford Lodge by its builder, Nicholas Gray, when it was completed in the late 1830s. It was turned over to Judge James Shirley in 1851 and served as a major landmark throughout the Civil War. The home was headquarters for the 45th Illinois Infantry, and Union troops commonly referred to it as “the white house.” Union forces also used the home as a smallpox hospital in 1864.

First restored in 1902 and used as a visitor center and park employee residence until the 1960s, it has been vacant since. In 2004 the park received approximately $246,000 in emergency grant funds to stabilize the failing structure, and seal the roof, windows and framing.


Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com