FROM THE VAULT: A place called Raymond

Published 4:00 am Monday, March 20, 2023

By the Late Gordon Cotton | Originally published in The Vicksburg Post on April 21, 2013

It was a small white house, rather nondescript, next door to the Methodist Church in Raymond, and for about 20 years when giving tours of the Dupree Home, which she owned, Brenda Davis would tell visitors a little about the house.

It had belonged to the Duprees’ daughter, Mamie, and it was thought to be antebellum. Little did Brenda know how involved her life would become with the cottage and with the story of Mamie.

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Mamie was 5 years old when she got off the train at Edwards Station on Dec. 15, 1890. Her new parents, who had adopted her from the Methodist Aid Society in Chicago, were there to meet her. One bit of identification was a ribbon in her hair, but she also wore a name tag.

Dr. H.T.T. Dupree and his wife, Patty, lived in Raymond where he had a successful medical practice and a nice home, which he had built for his first wife, Lizzie Fairchild. She died at 25, leaving two children.

The doctor then married her cousin, Margaret Herron, who also had two children. They were married 13 years when she died of tuberculosis in 1877.

Dupree’s third wife was Patty Yellowly from Madison County, and it was a fall-springtime marriage — he was 59 and she 29. They had two children who were stillborn.

It was in 1877 that Dr. Dupree began construction of his two-story country house, which he attached to a dogtrot already on the site. He traded his townhouse, a mercantile building and gave $6,000 to Chris Heard for the plantation, said to have been the biggest trade of the season.

The house was new when yellow fever struck the county, and the minutes of the town of Raymond tell of the quarantine as people were forbidden to travel. A rope was stretched across the road to the Dupree House and there was a hefty fine for going around it.

The Dupree family owned the home for 57 years, then sold it to the Holidays, who kept it for 40 years and then sold it to Brenda and her first husband, Richard, now deceased, on April 15, 1976.

For three years they lived in a travel trailer on the grounds during restoration.

Richard died in 1989, and in 1995 Brenda married Charles Davis, a civil engineer.

For 10 years before Brenda bought the house it was boarded up, which is probably what saved it from vandals. The house had never been altered, never been painted and had lots of character.

Brenda, who is curator at the Old Capital Museum in Jackson, noted that in the ’30s and ’40s there wasn’t money to spend on changes, and “poverty is the great preservationist.”

The Dupree House has been used in two movies, first in “The Ponder Heart” and then in “As I Lay Dying.” Brenda and Charles weren’t in the films, but “just stood by and watched and were thrilled to have the Welty and Faulkner characters come alive.”

Mamie had grown up in that house, then lived in Raymond, and as fate would have it, Brenda missed meeting her by six months as the Duprees’ adopted daughter died in the fall of 1975 at age 90. Though the cottage had been modified with additions, siding, asbestos roof and a screened porch, Brenda could envision what it looked like in its early years.

Mamie had inherited it from her adopted mother, Patty Dupree. At 40, Mamie had married a Methodist minister, and after his death she returned to Raymond and her small house. Later she sold it, retaining a life estate.

It was in the mid-1990s that Brenda heard it might be torn down as the church needed the room for expansion. She told a friend on the church board that Mamie said in her memoirs (she wrote her life story at age 82) it was built before the war.

“When I told Barbara Mayo, ‘Y’all don’t tear it down. Someone might want to move it,’ I didn’t mean us!” Brenda recalls.

Three years passed. Some talked of buying it and moving the house, some of tearing it down for the materials, but nothing happened. An architectural historian and a contractor, independent of one another, placed the construction date from 1835 to 1840.

Tomas Blackwell from the Department of Archives and History did a thorough investigation of the house. When he called to give Brenda his findings, she was having a party for some teenagers, was out in the yard with no paper and no pencil, loud music was blaring and kids running amok. So later, when Charles asked what Blackwell had to say about the house, her reply was in a nutshell: “It’s really old.”

They got serious about moving it though with the church just weeks away from a groundbreaking. Church officials really didn’t want to tear it down, so “with kudos to the church, they accepted our offer. We moved it on our second wedding anniversary,” Brenda said.

She soon discovered that the traditional second anniversary gift was not wood.

The additions had to be torn off, the roof, porch and chimneys removed. It had stood there for 160 years, but the night before it was moved Brenda stopped to see the house, now just an empty box.

The project was a tremendous undertaking, but Brenda said they had decided to put forth their best efforts, not going to force anything. They just let it happen, “and I prayed, God, I hope you know what I’m doing… and every door opened for us.”

Its new location on the grounds of the Dupree House was perfect, and once restoration was complete it looked like it had always been there. Brenda gives the credit to Charles as, “It was the engineer in him. It may be the first time in our married life, and maybe the last time, but I completely walked away from that decision.’ 

Brenda had a jump-start on researching the history of the little house because of Mamie’s autobiography, “plus people came out of the woodwork with stories of what Mamie did, what she said and things she gave them. Her story is no-less fascinating than the story of her adoptive parents, the Duprees, and her little house. When she was placed for adoption, she had two brothers, John and Arnie, who went to different homes — John to a family in Illinois and Arnie to one in Michigan. Their father had deserted the family, and the mother was unable to care for the children, thus putting them up for adoption.

“I like to think of it as an act of hope and desperation,” Brenda said, but there are some things we will never know.

Mamie asked that she be allowed to keep her maiden name, Dietrich, a wish that was granted. At 18, she asked permission to find her biological brothers. The orphanage put her in touch with the two families.

John and Mamie wrote, but the Richmond family in Michigan replied that they would rather not have contact for they did not plan to tell Arnie he was adopted until he was 21 (he was about 13 or 14, and John was about 17 at the time).

In 1908 their natural mother contacted the orphanage to find out where her children were. She had moved west, remarried and they went to Ilinois to meet John, then took him with them to Raymond where Mamie wrote, “We had a joyous reunion.” But they despaired about Arnie.

It was at the Dupree House, probably on the porch as it was in the summer and hot, that John and Mamie sat down and wrote a letter to the orphanage, asking them to send it on to Arnie’s family. They gave their names and addresses and asked the Richmonds, when they told Arnie of his adoption, to also tell him about his biological brother and sister. 

However, something had happened that they had no way of knowing. Mr. Richmond has his eyesight and Mrs. Richmond could neither read nor write. So when the letter arrived, it was Arnie who opened it and read it to his adoptive parents. 

What a shock it must have been, but in his first letter to his sister, Mamie, Arnie began “I knew it, I knew it! They were all so big and I was so puny.” It was a story too good not to tell, and it’s part of the tour of the Dupree House and Mamie’s Cottage.

Brenda and Charles decided to operate it as a bed and breakfast. The time would come for the first guests. “We were ready as we were going to be,” she said. “You can deal with the little stuff forever. The morning I fixed the first breakfast I set two alarm clocks. A little after nine I could hear the conversation, the tinkling of china and flatware as the guest ate. I said to Charles, ‘Listen,’ and he said ‘Yeah?’ Then I asked what he had been doing one year ago right now, to the date. ‘Listen. It’s a reality.’” 

Exactly a year ago they had been moving the cottage. “Don’t you think that’s destiny?” she asked. “Coincidence,” he replied. But he’s an engineer, so she said, “Oh forget it. To me it was predestined.” 

Gordon Cotton (1936-2021) was a Vicksburg and Warren County icon who spent a lifetime learning and sharing history.