Tapestry Pilgrimage focuses on life during the Civil War

Published 2:00 am Sunday, March 25, 2012

On May 19, 1863, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant laid siege to Vicksburg, beginning the move to force the city’s garrison to surrender on July 4.

Almost 149 years later, life in the city during the siege will be highlighted during the city’s fourth annual Tapestry pilgrimage in April.

Tapestry: The Pilgrimage to Vicksburg, begins April 1 and will feature 17 buildings, including 10 that survived the siege and the Civil War.

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“With the sesquicentennial of the siege of Vicksburg coming next year, we’re making this tour Civil War-related,” said Carolyn Stephenson, owner of Annabelle on Speed Street and president of Vicksburg Bed and Breakfast Association, which sponsors the program.

Combining the area’s history with the history of the homes has been a hallmark of the pilgrimage since 2009.

“We wanted to do more than just show the traditional hoop skirts,” said Betty Bullard, owner of The George Washington Ball House on Main Street. “We wanted to show something about life in the periods when the homes were built. We researched the periods for lifestyles or for crafts and looked at how it fit into the weave of the community — a tapestry.”

“Every year we’ve had it, the attendance has doubled each year, about 400 people in 2009, 700 in 2010 and 1,300 in 2011,” Stephenson said.

One change that has helped, she said, was policy for touring homes.

“Before, when people paid their fee, they were told which homes they could visit,” she said. “Visitors are now allowed to visit the homes of their choice. This is more user-friendly.”

Tickets are $30 for three homes or $15 for one. Revenue from ticket sales is divided among association members.

She added the annual tour is set for April to make it easier for people to remember.

In addition to the the homes, the tour includes the Christ Episcopal Church, Linden Plantation Gardens and the Haunted Vicksburg Ghost in the Gardens Tour, which will visit the city’s historic homes with gardens.

One home, Sarata on Old Highway 27, has been added to this year’s group, and two other homes, Floweree on Pearl Street and The Galleries on Marshall Street, return to the tour after absences of years.

Sarata served as a Union hospital

Sarata is on the tour for the first time, and will be open only on April 1, the tour’s first day. Built in 1840, the house is a Louisiana raised bed cottage and served as a Union hospital during the Civil War.

“This is the Ferguson House,” said Carol Duncan, who with her husband, Orlando, owns Sarata. “My father (Waverley Conway) lived here when he was a boy. He and my mother (Olivia Conway) restored the house in 1983. When they got it, it had been vacant for 30 years. They restored it to be a home for their family. They moved in after a two-year restoration.”

Duncan said Union Maj. Gen. John A. McClernan commandeered the house for the hospital, and one of the home’s doors was used for a surgical table. She said Union soldiers’ remains are buried all over the grounds, adding that Sarata’s owner, Dr. J.G. Ferguson, a Vermont native, treated soldiers wounded in battle.

Although union troops are buried on the property and some bones have been found, she said, the Duncans have never been visited by the ghosts of soldiers.

“That’s a question we’re asked all the time,” she said.

Duncan said the house has most of the original flooring, adding that during the restoration her parents opened the home’s second floor, which was not finished when the house was built.

An interesting feature of the house is the stranger’s room, which is a separate bedroom accessible only from the porch.

The stranger’s room, Duncan said, was for travelers stopping at the house. It allowed visitors to spend the night, but prevented them from going into the rest of the house. During the 1878 yellow fever epidemic in Vicksburg, she said, Dr. Ferguson used the room when he returned from treating patients in town, quarantining himself from his family.

“He would take his meals on the porch and then go to the stranger’s room to sleep,” she said.

Until 1951, she said, the property was a working plantation, which before the Civil War extended into what are now the areas of Oak Park, Porters Chapel, Mississippi 27 around Warren Central High School and the Vicksburg National Military Park.

“They grew cotton and registered Jersey cattle,” Duncan said, adding an 1881 painting shows the house in the background with the cattle in front, and includes the name and registration of each cow.

“Kimble Ferguson was the last Ferguson to farm the property,” she said. “He died in 1951. After his death, no one lived in the house until my parents got it.”

The Galleries was built in the 1850s

The Galleries is owned by Jane and Lee Davis Thames Sr. The Thameses bought the house, which was built in the 1850s, in 1963 before restoring it.

“The house had been vacant for a number of years. When we bought it, it was uninhabitable,” Thames said. “We spent a lot of time restoring it.”

The house had been converted to an apartment building, which increased the challenge of restoring it and turning it into a home for their seven children.

“I worked weekends for years, just tearing stuff out,” he said. “I just opened the windows and we’d tear out and throw out, and we took about 16 dump truck loads. We were tearing out interior walls.

“Most of the fireplaces had been sealed off, and in fact were hidden,” he said. “We didn’t know where they were, except for the chimneys on the roof. We had to do a lot of stuff, and I think in the early days, that was the only time I got discouraged, but we persevered and lived happily ever after.”

Thames said he learned a lot about restoration from Vicksburg architect Skippy Tuminello “who taught us a lot.”

“We had Bill Ashley and Chris Antoine — they were really artists, and they did all of the renovations,” Jane Thames said. “They were great craftsmen” in masonry and carpentry, she said.

Lee Davis Thames said the original deed for the property on Marshall and Speed streets dates to the late 1830s.

“In fact, when the original deed conveyed the property, it said ‘considerably south of the Village of Vicksburg, and east of the road to Warrenton.’ The road to Warrenton is the railroad, along Pearl Street.”

Among the home’s antiques are furniture brought from the Thames’ Altorf Plantation at Eagle Lake, a newspaper printed on wallpaper announcing the surrender of Vicksburg and a replica of the great seal of the Confederacy, which was given to the governor of Virginia after the Civil War.

Confederates might have used Flowerree

Flowerree, on Pearl Street, was bought for $3,000 in the 1870s by Col. Charles Conway Floweree, the youngest colonel in the Confederate Army. He improved the house, which was believed to have been under construction during the Civil War.

The Flowerree family lived in the home until 1929.

Owners Skippy and Gayle Tuminello said construction on the house began about 1860, and it might have been used by Confederate troops.

“It was in front of the Marine Batteries, one of the main batteries in Vicksburg,” he said. “It was supposed to have been built by Mr. (John Alexander) Klein for his oldest son.”

“We bought the house in 1961 and moved into it in 1962,” Gayle Tuminello said. “It was a derelict place. The pigeons, the cats and rats had control of it. It took us about six months to make a portion of it livable.”

She said the home had no bathrooms and a big hole in the backyard that was used as a landfill for concrete and rubbish. There was also a large pile of bricks on one side of the house. She said the bricks were used in the renovation and to pave sidewalks and a path through the home’s camellia garden that joins Annabelle next door. The rubbish fill is now covered by a swimming pool.

“The plans for the house are in the Library of Congress,” Tuminello said. “It’s one of three buildings in Vicksburg with plans in the Library of Congress. The other two are Shamrock, which was on Oak Street, and the Old Court House.

“One day Gayle and I were talking about putting the home on the National Register (of historic places),” he said. “I called the (U.S.) Department of Interior and asked about putting it on the register. The next thing I know, I’ve got the head guy. He said, ‘I’m coming down.’ He came and brought the Capitol architect with him. They looked at the house and asked me to draw a set of plans.”

If you go

Tapestry: The Pilgramage to Vicksburg begins April 1 and lasts through the month. Tickets are $30 for three presentations or $15 for one with 17 buildings featured. Special presentations include: tours of Sarata, April 1 only; a walking tour of the historic districts around Christ Episcopal Church on Main Street, 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; Haunted Vicksburg Ghost in the Gardens Tour, 6 p.m. Sundays, starting April 15. Tickets are available at each venue and at the Vicksburg Convention & Visitors Bureau, 52 Old Highway 27. Tickets for Sarata also are available at Paper Plus, 1318 Washington St.

2012 Tapestry Schedule

Each house will be open certain days of the week:

Sunday, April 1:

Sarata, 2 p.m.

Sundays (beginning April 15):

Anchuca, 10 a.m.

Flowerree Historic Mansion, 11 a.m.

Old Court House Museum, 3 p.m.

Mondays (all month):

Martha Vick House, 11 a.m.

Duff Green Mansion, 1 p.m.

Baer House Inn, 2 p.m.

Cobb House, 3 p.m.

Tuesdays (all month):

Linden Plantation Gardens, 10 a.m.

Duff Green Mansion, 11 a.m.

Baer House Inn, 1 p.m.

The Galleries, 2 p.m.

Cobb House, 3 p.m.

Wednesdays (all month):

The Galleries, 11 a.m.

The Corners Mansion Inn, 1 p.m.

Annabelle, 2 p.m.

Cedar Grove Mansion Inn, 3 p.m.

Thursdays (all month):

Old Court House Museum, 10 a.m.

Annabelle, 11 a.m.

The Corners Mansion Inn, 1 p.m.

Flowerree Historic Mansion, 2 p.m.

Cedar Grove Mansion Inn, 3 p.m.

Fridays (all month):

Mary Harwood, 10 a.m.

George Washington Ball House, 1 p.m.

Shlenker House, 2 p.m.

Jacqueline House Museum, 3 p.m.

Saturdays (all month):

Mary Harwood, 10 a.m.

George Washington Ball House, 11 a.m.

Martha Vick House, 1 p.m.

Jacqueline House Musesum, 2 p.m.

Shlenker House, 3 p.m.

Linden Plantation Gardens, 4 p.m.