Developer studies saving Ceres Plantation House

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 14, 2010

Alternatives to save Ceres Plantation House are developing as the Warren County Port Commission prepares to confirm its intentions for the structure Tuesday.

The 180-year-old house hidden by trees off the Flowers exit from Interstate 20 has been the subject of several inquiries since commissioners decided in December to survey it one last time before either demolishing it or someone to move and preserve it.

“I got calls immediately after that,” chairman Johnny Moss said, adding he doesn’t want to see the house torn down, but the panel must preserve Ceres Research and Industrial Interplex for heavy industry.

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Commissioners plan to take up the topic again at their next session, set for 3:15 p.m. Tuesday. A vote to accept proposals to move the house is a possibility, Moss said. County supervisors, who ratify the commission’s actions, will meet earlier in the day at 9 a.m.

Moving the two-story, six-bedroom house would cost millions, but that hasn’t deterred would-be developers from seeing the house as an economic development tool.

“It’s too important for its history,” said Deborah Reul, a Missouri transplant and miniature-horse trainer who thinks the house has potential as a restaurant and bed-and-breakfast.

Reul was an opponent of Burger Village restaurant’s efforts to add an exterior staircase for a proposed lounge in downtown Vicksburg. When the city approved the staircase and a balcony, Reul abandoned plans to develop space next door and now wants to preserve the one-time farm-house, wartime haven and, more recently, plant nursery by moving it across the interstate to an undeveloped, 95-acre tract of the county-owned industrial park.

Word of the home’s vacancy and uncertain future prompted her to contact Jeremy Patterson, whose exploits in moving riverboats and historic buildings landed the Iowa-based professional structure-mover his own show on the TLC network, “Heavy Haulers.” Though no formal request for proposals to move or demolish the old house have been issued, port staff allowed the pair to tour the grounds Wednesday.

“This is a front-cover-of-a-national-magazine quality of a house,” Patterson said of the structure that sits on a raised foundation. “The advantage here is that the house is 3 feet off the ground already.”

Reul was noncommittal on whether a formal proposal would arrive on time to present to either the county board or port commission. Patterson estimated any move of the structure could cost about $3 million.

The former farmland in east Warren County was purchased in the early 1980s for conversion to industrial sites to supplement county sites at the Port of Vicksburg. The house and barn came with the purchase and have had various uses since.

The commission has wanted the Mississippi Department of Transportation to redevelop the Flowers interchange, which has no overpass. Talks between the state and the commission have been virtually nonexistent, Moss said. “That goes back to the old days of right-of-way acquisition,” Moss said.

Still an attraction to preservationists for its high ceilings, hardwood floors and transoms above doorways, the house itself has escaped designation as a Mississippi Landmark because not enough of the structure is authentic to its construction in the 1830s.

Land records show it was built on land granted to Uriah Flowers, then remained in the family for several generations. Its last renovation was in 1978, according to the state Department of Archives and History. Despite its strong supporting lumber, exterior features like the porch and several windows are damaged or broken.

Monthly rent on the plantation home’s two most recent tenants has varied from $500 to $900, with a take-back clause for pending industrial prospects written into lease terms as a major point of contention.

Elsewhere at Ceres, property taxes are still being paid on privately owned buildings left empty by closures of Yorozu, CalsonicKansei, and Simpson Dura-Vent. Tyson Foods and a Mississippi Department of Transportation regional headquarters continue to operate.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at