‘Mr. Mayor, rebuild this wall’: Hosemann, Hopson announce $2 million in funding for Old Courthouse Wall repairs

Published 5:46 pm Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Mississippi Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann and Sen. Briggs Hopson, both of Vicksburg, formally announced on Wednesday $2 million in state funding to support ongoing repairs to a collapsed portion of the Old Warren County Courthouse retaining wall.

The announcement was made during a press conference staged in front of the damaged wall, with representatives from the city of Vicksburg, Warren County Board of Supervisors, Visit Vicksburg, Downtown Vicksburg Main Street Program, state legislators, local law enforcement partners and Vicksburg Warren School District in attendance.

“It’s so good to be home,” Hosemann said. “The Old Courthouse has been here since 1858; it’s on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s my hope that we can not only fix the wall but also fund improvements to the exhibition space inside as well.”

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The $2 million allocation is a significant portion of the estimated $3.5 million needed to not only repair the wall, but also address underlying issues that caused the erosion and collapse of the west-facing wall in July 2019. Just two months before the collapse, the Board of Supervisors was presented with a report showing the degradation of the exterior wall, which was reportedly caused by years of water seepage.

In 2022, the county obtained a total of $650,000 for the project from funding sources including the state legislature and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. For the last four years, the Warren County Board of Supervisors has also budgeted a small amount for the wall repairs.

According to the report, water was allowed to seep into the wall after a French drain, located around the museum wall, had since been covered by grass and landscaping.

Kelle Barfield, who now serves as President of the Board of Supervisors, said the funding will allow Vicksburg and Warren County to do more than “a Band-aid” for one of the area’s most historic properties.

“A lot of people would ask me from time to time, ‘Why don’t you just repair the wall?’ But that was literally throwing money at a Band-aid solution,” Barfield said. “The wall fell for a reason; that wall was constructed in 1869 and wasn’t plastered until 1907. But you still have you know, 115-year-old structure and it’s not known if there’s an intrusion from (out-of-date drainage structures) that we know flow under so many of these buildings.”

Hopson said he was proud to have played a part in securing funding for a historically significant site in his hometown. As Appropriations Committee Chair for the Mississippi State Senate and a member of the Legislative Budget Committee alongside Co-Chair Hosemann, Hopson said he was proud to support a long-term solution for the site.

“Consider that this is the site where the surrender or the most pivotal battle of the Civil War took place. In addition, you’ve had at least three, if not four, Presidents who have spoken there. You’ve had Booker T. Washington speak there. Eisenhower, who was not President at the time, he was in Vicksburg when he first alluded to the fact that he’d be running for President,” Hopson said prior to the press conference. “So you’ve got so many historic events that have taken place there. And I think it’s important for our state to recognize the history and preserve history as best we can.

“This is just one way to make sure that we’re keeping such a great asset in absolutely the best shape it can be in,” he added.

Work Already Begun

Work on the Old Courthouse wall repair project has already started, but Barfield said it will be months before the public sees noticeable change.

In recent weeks, the firm WFT Architects, out of Jackson, has begun underground work to survey the extent of water seeping through to the wall and the root source of the water. All that can be seen from the surface is a PVC pipe sticking up from the ground and an adjacent electrical box.

“They have transmitter wires going down the pipe that take a water gauge reading every 15 minutes and then once a month, they come and connect their computer to the transmitter and collect the data,” Barfield said. “So over the course of three months — the timing is optimal because it’s rainy season — they’ll analyze what happens after a rain, and there are underground wells there that will enable them to identify what the total solution needs to be, the last piece of which will be the cosmetic aspects of the retaining wall.”