Thursday, December 8, 2005

Chalmers Institute important to the preservation of local history

To the citizens of Marshall County and Holly Springs:

Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs Inc. is a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation of those natural and built assets which comprise the rich cultural heritage unique to Holly Springs and its environs in Marshall County, Mississippi; doing so, we serve to educate and enrich the public of this region’s unique legacy.

Folks, this organization has been a long time in coming and it is long overdue. The inaugural meeting for Preserve Marshall County and Holly Springs, Inc. which was held Tuesday, July 12 at Fitch Farms-Galena Plantation laid a groundwork of people whom are either actively involved in historic preservation works or support it financially.

In our canvassing the city of Holly Springs and Marshall County, we have striven to assemble a list of such people representing those civic and private organizations with a common interest of preserving and supporting what is, inarguably, the strongest assets we have here, in Holly Springs and Marshall County: layers of history, historic structures and sites, the beautiful “hill country” landscape and our people and their willingness and desire to work together for a common good.

Those agreeing to serve on the Advisory Board for Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc. (PMC&HS) are:

  • City of Holly Springs – David Beckley, Benny Braswell, Chelius H. Carter, Lisa Cole, Andre’ DeBerry, George and Laurie Gwin, Leona Harris, Fergenia Hood, Tim Liddy, Jorja Lynn, Maia Miller, Bobby Joe Mitchell, Joe Overstreet, David B. Person.
  • Marshall County – W.O. Fitch, Madge Lindsay, Frank Swords, Willie H. Mallory.
  • Potts Camp – Rodney Whaley.
  • Byhalia – Anna Marie Adkins.
  • Outside Marshall County – Nancy Fant Smith, Hubert McAlexander

Of this number, the following are the interim Executive Board until this term expires on April 1, 2006 – president, Chelius H. Carter; vice president, W.O. Fitch; secretary, Lisa Cole; treasurer, Joe Overstreet; second treasurer, Tim Liddy.

The people on the Advisory Board for PMC&HS represent the interests of the following public, private and civic organizations:

  • “Airliewood”
  • “Burton Place” (Fleur de Lys)
  • City of Holly Springs
  • “Crump Place”
  • Federated Improvement Club
  • “Galena Plantation”
  • Holly Springs Chamber of Commerce
  • Holly Springs City Beautiful Committee
  • Holly Springs Historic Preservation Commission
  • Holly Springs Garden Club
  • Holly Springs Tourism Board
  • “Hugh Craft House” (Fort Daniel Place)
  • Ida B. Wells Museum & Art Gallery
  • Kit Mott Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans
  • Marshall County Genealogical Society
  • Marshall County Historical Museum Board
  • Marshall County Historical Society
  • Rust College
  • St. Joseph’s “Church of the Yellow Fever Martyrs” Board
  • Strawberry Plains Audubon Center and “Davis & Finley Houses”
  • Strawberry Baptist Church
  • Town & Country Garden Club
  • "Walter Place Cottages & Gardens”

So, you can see that this organization has striven to be a “big tent” under which much can be done, in a unified effort. To accomplish the goals set forth in our Statement of Purpose, PMC&HS, through its status as a non-profit 501c(3) organization, shall provide for all groups asking for our assistance, the ability to collect funds as a tax-deduction without going through the cumbersome process of becoming a 501c(3) organization, themselves.

Note: Any organization wishing to utilize PMC&HS in this manner must have stated goals symmetrical with our own state-chartered purpose of promoting historic preservation.

How do we do this? Contact one of the persons listed on the Advisory Board, or write PMC&HS at: Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs Inc., P.O. Box 787, Holly Springs, MS 38635-0787.

Explain to us what project your organization specifically plans and how it will positively impact historic preservation in Marshall County and Holly Springs. This will be taken up at the next Executive Board monthly meeting, which is held on the second Thursday of each month (the entire board will meet quarterly).

If approved, the project shall be entered into our accounting records as a specific line item. All funds donated towards any approved project must have the checks made out to Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc (PMC&HS) and be sent to the above address for PMC&HS, with the specific project clearly noted in the “item” line, so we can properly credit the donation to your account.

This is the only manner in which individual donors can claim a tax-deduction through PMC&HS. A monthly report will be sent to the organization of record, identifying the donors and gift amounts. We will provide the donor with an IRS 1099 Form to file with their tax returns. There shall be no administration charge for this service.

As funds come into the PMC&HS treasury, as noted on the monthly reports, individual requests for disbursement of funds shall only be handled at the monthly Executive Board meetings.

To date, we have two projects which have been entered into our account:

“Montrose” c/o Holly Springs Garden Club: Request for PMC&HS to collect funds for planned electrical wiring stabilization at “Montrose,” for the quoted cost of $3,100.

“Chalmers Institute” c/o Holly Springs Historic Preservation Group, LLC: Request for PMC&HS to collect funds to purchase the current bank note, now in excess of $96,000. Thus far, $2,000 has been collected and another $5,000 has been pledged for this project. Upon collecting this amount, the structure will be transferred to the City of Holly Springs, in order to access a $92,000 Community Preservation Grant through the State of Mississippi; this grant can only be used for restoration work on historic buildings owned by a municipality, they cannot be used for purchase.

We have had inquiries from four other organizations, thus far. At this time, PMC&HS is planning a formal dinner/event in the spring, on a yet to be determined date, following the 2006 Spring Pilgrimage.

This will be the kick-off and general fund-raising event for all organizations choosing to participate in raising funds through Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc. This will also be the main fund-raising event for “Chalmers Institute,” which is viewed as a critical key to the larger picture of historic preservation.

A brief history and project plan: On 24 August, 1836, local Holly Springs’ citizens met in their log courthouse on the town square to consider “the best measures for establishing a college.”

By June 1837, the idea had carried forward, pledges were subscribed and by year’s end, a two-storied brick structure had been erected and is the same structure that can be seen at W. Boundary and Chulahoma Avenue.

Such was the beginnings of what was initially known as the Holly Springs Literary Institution, which was chartered by an 1839 act of the Mississippi Legislature as “The University of Holly Springs,” making it the first institution in this state to be so designated as a university.

The University of Holly Springs operated until closing in 1843, leaving the building idle until 1847. In that year, Rev. Samuel McKinney reopened the school under a new name: Chalmers Institute. It was a preparatory school for boys named for Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), the great hero in the struggle to bring religious freedom to Scotland; subsequently, the building was expanded to the east in 1857.

Chalmers Institute continued until 1879, though interrupted briefly during the Civil War. The deprivations of the war, followed by the Panic of 1873 and the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 created reversals from which it could not recover, both in terms of its student body and finances.

Its last schoolmaster, William Albert Anderson, an early graduate of Chalmers, closed it in favor of the town’s first public school, of which he was principal. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson (Helen Craft) then converted the school into their home, where they resided until after World War I.

In this latter period, the structure provided the genesis point for “The Thursday Club” a ladies’ literary society, which exists to this day as an integral part of Holly Springs’ social and cultural history.

The cultural value of preserving this structure, whose history is so unique to Mississippi’s educational history, is beyond question. As our own Mayor Andre’ DeBerry stated during the initial preservation meeting for this project, “There is only one first university in Mississippi; there will never be another first university and we have it here, in Holly Springs.”

The structure itself is, basically, a two-story brick assemblage in the Federal style, sited on a promontory crest within 4.5 acres of the original campus (other buildings are no longer extant). There are a number of second-generation growth trees and possibly an original growth Magnolia on its front, with evidence of original landscaped garden plantings and a walk. The interior has suffered considerable abuse and neglect with much original flooring removed during an earlier and abandoned remodeling.

Stabilization is the first priority, as the structure is in a poor state of decline and has serious structural maladies not properly addressed in that past remodeling.

Restoration shall follow a refinement of the present conceptual intent for its re-use development of both structure and site as a “trades school” for teaching Historic Preservation Technology. Its restoration and development shall include, but not be exclusive to:

  • The replacing of the existing modern metal roof with historically correct roofing.
  • Restoring all exterior woodwork.
  • Replacing missing panes in windows with correct glass.
  • Design of a compatible and non-obtrusive HVAC system.
  • Documenting and re-installing all salvageable components that are presently stored within the structure.
  • Development of “state of the art” open hall design labs for instructing in the varied disciplines of historic preservation technology.
  • Development of an exhibit area depicting the history of this structure and the Holly Springs’ breadth of educational history, in general.
  • Development of this structure to dually serve the community as a civic meeting space and public reception hall.

An educational facility such as is envisioned, would provide training opportunities in a unique craft or trade in which its students would become a marketable asset…not just in the historic village of Holly Springs, but all points beyond in that we see this, not as a local, but regional facility. The curriculum for such a “trades school for historic preservation technology” would utilize the historic structure, itself, as an ongoing and primary educational tool in teaching its students the finer points of understanding their chosen craft through hands-on experience.

As to local community benefit, the inherent talents brought to bear through its pupils, visiting professors and professionals shall provide an immense boost to the City of Holly Springs’ efforts in the revitalization of their historic town square, whose appearance is rightly viewed by the Mississippi Main Street Association as “…crucial to its marketability,” and serve as a regional example for others to follow.

The school, in this concept, will create skilled trades-related jobs, thus having direct and visible impact upon the economic future of Holly Springs. By utilizing the city’s built historic assets as individual case studies for historic preservation design lab projects, “bricks and mortar” aspects of downtown renovation will be executed as curriculum study.

As this portion of Mississippi continues to grow and develop, such a unique collaborative effort between city leaders, education/design professionals and apprentice craft-persons shall serve as a veritable model for controlling modern encroachment upon a fragile and historic landscape, before such untoward development occurs…thus serving as a positive pattern for other areas in the region to learn from.

Upon this writing, positive overtures have been made and received, involving a sister-state in this regional approach to having a “Preservation Trades School” located here, in Holly Springs, Mississippi.

Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc., is viewed as the future and powerful hinge upon which much of the future preservation activities will move from. The successful development of “Chalmers Institute” shall provide the engine that will drive much of the preservation activity not only here, but across the mid-states region, as well.

There is much work to do and we need your help. Would all of you consider this call for donations as the year closes…and think of investing in your own future by helping to preserve our past?


Chelius Carter, interim president,

Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc.

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