Plantation house in disrepair, near demise

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another vacancy is coming at Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex. The plantation house, parts of which date back 180 years to when the alluvial land in east Warren County was cleared for crops, is to be moved or torn down.

The structure has had a variety of uses since 1986 when the Warren County Port Commission won grants to create sites on the land for manufacturing plants, but now it’s in disrepair.

“If somebody wanted to move it, we’d be happy for them to do it,” said Johnny Moss, one of the five people appointed by Warren County supervisors to manage industrial properties and development. “All our options are open because of the cost of trying to maintain a house there.”

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Planks are missing from the once-sturdy porch and several windows are broken. Commissioners believe tearing it down would be cheaper.

The two-story, six-bedroom house was built in the 1830s on land granted to Uriah Flowers, according to land records. It was a haven for women and children after the Siege of Vicksburg, then passed down to later generations of the Flowers family. In 1954, it passed to U.G. Flowers Jr. and was renovated most recently in 1978.

It has belonged to the county since the 1,290-acre tract was purchased to become Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex, a second major industrial area joining the E.W. Haining Industrial Center and Port of Vicksburg.

Initial plans to remove the structure were aborted. Instead, it was used as a reception center and, for a while, leased as a private restaurant. From 1998 to 2007, the house and grounds operated as Fant Nursery, offering small plants and shrubs for sale as well as a pumpkin patch in the fall.

On top of a $900 monthly rent, maintenance of the house fell to the business owners, a situation cramped further by a provision in the lease allowing the county to take back the property if an industrial prospect wanted to build nearby or on the site. Talks to rework the deal to ease the maintenance burden on the nursery broke down.

Some features unique to 19th century architecture remain, such as the high ceilings and transoms above doorways. In the last years of the nursery’s operation, nursery owners requested the Mississippi Department of Archives and History examine it as a possible Mississippi Landmark — a designation that would keep it from being marketed for commercial use.

Review and compliance officials acknowledged alterations made over the years to the original features, but the matter was tabled by the agency’s permitting committee. In November 2007, Edwin and Lisa Holman were the lone bidders on the house and took a five-year lease at $500 a month. No commercial venture on par with the plant nursery was started and upkeep of the grounds slipped, causing commissioners to evict the Holmans in October. Attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.

The commission is positioned to make more money than it spends on the southwest part of the park where the house and barn stand, near the Flowers interchange at Interstate 20. Lease terms allowing a private farming interest nets 20 percent of crops harvested, with grass mowing done by the farmer. Elsewhere at Ceres, property taxes are still being paid on privately owned buildings left empty by closures of two auto parts suppliers and a home venting systems maker. Continuing to operate are Tyson Foods and a Mississippi Department of Transportation regional headquarters.

Moss and others have toured the interior and deemed it “not that bad,” but add ballpark estimates to repair the roof and address other structural problems with the house have run about $6,500. Earlier this week, the five-member commission agreed a final survey should take place ahead of any tear-down — but leanings were obvious.

“There’s nothing to landmark,” Commissioner John Ferguson said, noting past efforts to protect the site from demolition.

“The house is a liability,” Warren County Board of Supervisors President Richard George said, referring to the site’s existence on prime commercial property during the panel’s last meeting. “If someone wanted to move it, that’s fine. If someone wanted to renovate it, that’s fine. But with the cost of materials now, it’s not feasible.”

Tom Pharr, owner of Anchuca Mansion and preservationist, said the benefits of saving the house outweigh the cost — at least in abstract terms.

“It depends on how far you go with it. It’s very expensive, but sites like that — an early Mississippi plantation — are important,” said Pharr, who helped spearhead the $595,000 disassembling and renovation of Springfield, moved from the 1800 block of Cherry Street in 2008 to its current location at Cherry and First East streets.

“The lumber in there just doesn’t exist anymore — it was cut from virgin forest,” Pharr said. “I think they should find something useful for it.”

In the past, industrial development on the plantation property has hinged on a reworking of the Flowers interchange — a prospect left dim even with the most recent long-range and unfunded plans unveiled by the Mississippi Department of Transportation. Plans to widen exits and add lanes on the interstate begin at Halls Ferry Road and only go as far as the Clay Street ramps.

Truck stops have been the subject of development plans off the interchange at various points in time, Moss said, but realization isn’t likely without improving the exit.

“It’s the reason we’ve held off marketing that,” Moss said, adding the house does present a unique problem. “Part of it is old and part of it is new.”  


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at