Thursday, June 9, 2005

Plantation office saved, moved to Strawberry Plains


A significant piece of Marshall County’s history is being preserved.

A few weeks ago an old plantation office still standing along Highway 311 near Holly Springs was moved a short distance to Strawberry Plains. Donated by the John I. and Annie V. McAlexander family, it will be restored and used in the Audubon Center’s educational programs and history interpretation.

“Architecturally, culturally and historically, this structure has a lot of significance,” said Chelius Carter, who spearheaded the saving of the building. “It’s a very significant structure as far as Mississippi culture and history. It’s a rare survivor. I don’t know how many of these still exist.

“This being a plantation office, it is a significant part of the King Cotton Era.”

According to historian Hubert McAlexander Jr., the building was originally the plantation office of Major Josiah Patrick Milledge Stephenson, who purchased a tract adjoining Strawberry Plains in 1836.

He was not only a cotton planter, but he also had what John Mickle called “one of the largest nurseries in the middle South.” An article in an 1840 Holly Springs newspaper reported that he had 10,000 fruit trees for sale.

On February 14, 1894, his grandson E. L. McAlexander secured a post office, with the postmark “Mack, Mississippi,” for the general store that he was running in the old office. In 1898, he added a long wing to house the store (which had the only telephone in the neighborhood), and the original part was used as the post office. The store closed in 1932.

Though such offices were built on many Marshall County plantations, the Stephenson-McAlexander office is the only one still standing in the county. Hubert McAlexander Jr. said it is an important building historically to have at the Strawberry Plains Audubon Center.

Carter said he became aware of the possibility that the plantation office would be dismantled and the materials used for other construction.

The property adjacent to Highway 311 is owned by Joan McAlexander and Bernice McAlexander. Carter approached Kevin McAlexander, Joan’s son, and asked him for some time to come up with a preservation plan at another location. Kevin’s grandfather, John McAlexander, was once postmaster at “Mack, Mississippi.”

“Hubert (McAlexander) and I sought to come up with a plan for preserving the plantation office – even if it meant relocating it,” Carter said.

He said he tried a couple of options. One of those was talking with Madge Lindsay, director of Strawberry Plains Audubon Center.

“I gave Madge a briefing, and she fell in love with it,” Carter said. “It’s very close by, and we’d be moving it from one historic plantation context to another historic plantation context.

“We thought, ‘you know, this kind of works.’

“I’m so glad that Madge showed the enthusiasm for adding it to the interpretive program at Strawberry Plains, and I appreciate Kevin and Joan for allowing it to be relocated and saved.”

Lindsay said the historic building (with outside dimensions of 18’4” x 16’4”) will be a good classroom with restoration and repair.

“We do not have enough space for classes in our work with schools,” Lindsay said. “We wanted to help protect that building from being dismantled, and we will put it to good use in our education programs and history interpretation.”

She said some fund raising has been done and there will likely be more as Strawberry Plains restores the old plantation office building as closely as possible to its original 1850s character. It will be located on the main campus of Strawberry Plains near the office.

Carter would like to recover the oval cast iron foundation vents from the small plantation office. Anyone who has information regarding their whereabouts is urged to contact him.

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