Duff Green Mansion under new ownership

Published 10:08 am Thursday, July 16, 2015

Even though it wasn’t the type of property she typically sells, Harley Halpin Caldwell of Coldwell Banker All Stars met with Harry Sharp just a over a month ago about the Duff Green Mansion. Instead of procuring it to sell, Caldwell decided to buy it for herself and her husband. It was a piece of history and a piece of Vicksburg she could not pass up.

“It is not something that someone owns, it is something someone is a steward of, and the Sharps have been excellent stewards of that piece of history,” Caldwell said. “We hope that we are going to be able to live up to that.”

Two years ago, Sharp decided he was ready to sell the mansion. He had just bought Greenlawn Gardens Cemetery and knew it was time for him to get out of the event hosting business.

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The mansion located at 1114 First East St. has been said to be 10,000 to 12,000 square feet, but Caldwell said it is probably closer to 8,500 square feet. The ceilings are 15 ½ feet high. The house, which was built just before the Civil War, has typical design features of a house from that era.

“You can open the front door and the backdoor and get ventilation going through because in 1856 there was no electricity,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell’s husband Rick is a small town contractor who is going to make some minor renovations to the mansion. The rooftop needs repair, which has been the cause of some plaster damage, in addition to needing a new coat of paint and minor pool repairs. Rick thinks it will take five months to complete, but Harley is planning on being able to host guests and events by Christmas time.

Caldwell plans to move into the mansion and continue to use it as a six-room bed and breakfast as well as an event space. In addition to the mansion, she will also use the home she previously lived in, Steele Cottage at 1201 Adams St., as a four-room bed and breakfast.

Steele Cottage is 3,800 square feet and was built in 1833. It has a more Williamsburg look to it because it was built before antebellum style homes. The cottage was the house Caldwell grew up in, and she has raised her children there as well.

Caldwell said the layout of the cottage has made it hard to entertain with the living room upstairs and the dining room downstairs. She finds it very interesting that the mansion has a kitchen on the inside of the house considering it was standard practice, at the time it was built, to have it separate from the house.

When Sharp bought the mansion he did a complete and thorough restoration with his wife Alicia and input from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Even though the structure was sturdy, they installed iron railings, new doors downstairs, new plumbing, air conditioning and electrical work.

“Everything we did was under their scrutiny,” Sharp said. “They even told us how we had to remove paint, and there were 17 layers of paint in some areas. They were very specific about how we could do it.”

It took up to 60 men and two and a half years to complete the work in 1987.

Sharp cherishes his memories of hosting entertainer Reba McEntire, psychologist Dr. Joyce Brothers and Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton along with multiple governors and senators of Mississippi.

The Sharps moved out of the mansion about two years ago and formally stopped public service after Christmas about six months ago, even though they did host events when contacted.

The Sharps and the Caldwells have known each other for years and are happy to have made such an agreeable contract.

“I know I’ll always be welcome over here and that’s what makes it even better,” Sharp said.

The Caldwells are the mansion’s sixth owners.

Judge William Lake gave the land where the mansion was built to Duff Green when he married Lake’s daughter Mary of the Lakemont residence, an antebellum home on Main Street.

Rick Caldwell, from left, Harley Caldwell and Harry Sharp sit inside the Duff Green Mansion Wednesday. The Caldwells bought the mansion from Sharp. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)

Rick Caldwell, from left, Harley Caldwell and Harry Sharp sit inside the Duff Green Mansion Wednesday. The Caldwells bought the mansion from Sharp. (Justin Sellers/The Vicksburg Post)


The Greens moved into the home shortly before the Civil War. After five cannonballs struck the house, Duff transformed the mansion into a hospital and moved his family and servants in two separate caves on the property. Union soldiers were cared for upstairs in an attempt to discourage any more cannon fire on the structure. The first floor served the Confederate soldiers. The bottom floor kitchen became a makeshift operating room, and the present day kitchen on the main floor was the morgue.

When the war ended, the Greens continued to rent the mansion to the United States as a soldier rehabilitation center for about three years. Once all the soldiers were taken care of, the Greens moved back in the mansion in 1866 and lived there until Duff’s death almost 15 years later in 1880.

The Peatross family bought the home and lived there for 30 years until Fannie Vick Willis Johnston, a relative of the founder of Vicksburg, bought the property in 1910. She lived there for three years until the home she was having built for herself, the Stained Glass Manor or Oak Hall, was completed.

Johnston donated the mansion for use as an Episcopal boy’s orphanage from 1913-1925 and later as a nursing home for widows before her death. After Johnston’s death in 1931, her estate sold the mansion to The Salvation Army. For 54 years the mansion served as The Salvation Army until Harry and Alicia Sharp of Florida bought the home in 1985. They owned the home longer than the Greens.

Thirty years later, Sharp has decided it’s time to take things slower and has focused his energy on the cemetery and is currently working on landscaping and building a mausoleum.