Thursday, October 30, 2008
City proceeds with plans for Chalmers
By BARRY BURLESON
The City of Holly Springs is sending a couple of possible floor plans for renovation of the Chalmers Institute to the Department of Archives and History for review.
The final choice and approval will be in the hands of the mayor and board of aldermen.
Representatives of IMS Engineers visited with city leaders last week to present status reports on both the Chalmers Institute renovation and rehabilitation and the planned Hill Crest Cemetery mapping and information management systems.
State funding from the Department of Finance and Administration was approved about two years ago – $89,956.29 for the Chalmers Institute and $499,757.19 for Hill Crest.
The Chalmers Institute, built in 1837, is a Mississippi landmark owned by the city. Located on West Boundary Street between West Chulahoma Avenue and West College Avenue, it is the oldest university building and the second oldest school building in the state. The goal is to restore the two-story building and use it as an educational trades and crafts school for instruction in historic preservation and restoration technology.
“It would be the first of this type in Mississippi,” Mayor Andre’ DeBerry said. “If you have a city with a claim to fame of 60-plus antebellum homes, it makes sense to try and take advantage of that and offer this training.”
The city also hopes to involve the University of Mississippi and Northwest Community College, seeking possible assistance in staffing and money. DeBerry said Ole Miss administrators are well aware of the project and its goals.
The IMS representatives said they had done a site assessment and “the building is in fairly good, serviceable condition.” They said they found cracks in the foundation, deterioration and cracks in the walls, but “non-drastic” problems, and some missing floor joists on the first floor but also structurally sound floor joists and roof trusses. Their status report included necessary exterior repairs, recommending those be carried out before starting any interior renovations. They also submitted the two options for floor plans.
“The structure from the inside is not as deteriorated as it appears from the outside,” Mayor DeBerry said. “It’s pretty dry and warm in there.”
Tim Liddy, alderman-at-large, said planning the layout of the facility and its final use is fine, but he urged some more immediate stabilization work to keep it from further deterioration.
Once IMS Engineers hears back from the Department of Archives and History, the mayor hopes to coordinate a meeting between city leaders and representatives of both Ole Miss and Northwest.
The historic school building, which sits on about four acres, was originally known as the Holly Springs Literary Institution and chartered by an 1839 act of the Mississippi Legislature as “The University of Holly Springs.” It was the first institution in the 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.
Hill Crest Cemetery
IMS representatives also talked to the mayor and board last week about plans for Hill Crest Cemetery. Their description of work includes designing a new public information building to house kiosks for public information, preparing digital maps for the historic cemetery and providing indoor kiosks and cemetery information management software, including digital mapping and database.
The info center is planned for the corner of Elder and Center streets. Visitors to the cemetery would be able to easily locate a specific gravesite and get directions using the kiosk, which IMS representatives said would look like an ATM machine and act like a computer. Plans call for the approximate 12x12 info center to be lighted and include a water fountain.
IMS representatives were also asked to give an update on the Martin Street project and improvements to that neighborhood, which were spearheaded by Rust College. They said storm drainage work was to start last week and then once completed, curb and gutter work would begin.
Mayor DeBerry said there was a hold-up caused by AT&T involving the moving of some lines.
“The Martin Street project is going well,” DeBerry said. “I believe we’re down to the final two homes, and that will complete the original construction plan which Rust had.”
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