Chalmers Institute: Not on the 101 Places in Mississippi to see before you die list

Perhaps just looking at the building right now, one might think Walter Place or Airliewood was more deserving of being on the 101 Places in Mississippi to See Before You Die list, but the history of this building–and its future–seemed much more interesting to me.  Then, again, I am not much interested in seeing antebellum houses, although I confess the uniqueness of Walter Place amongst antebellum mansions in Mississippi.

Chalmers Institute is the oldest university building in Mississippi, and the second oldest school building, built in 1837, according to the Mississippi Heritage Trust which listed it in 2000 as one of the 10 Most Endangered buildings in the state.  The building became part of the University of Holly Springs in 1838.  The Heritage Trust identified it as significant for its masonry construction, a rarity at the time of construction “on the frontier.”

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and a Mississippi Landmark in 2003, the building is a Federal style with hip-roof and interior end chimneys.  The otherwise “unadorned” front features “brick flat arches [that] cap the windows” (NHRP nomination, 1982).  The University of Holly Springs closed in 1839, after the state university was placed in Oxford.  The building was transferred to the Methodist Church who established a law and medical school in the building.  That failed in 1843 and the building was vacant until 1850 when it was re-opened as the Chalmers Institute, a school for boys.

Section 6 of Senate Bill 2988 in 2003 authorized $90,000 for repair and renovation.  The authorization required that unexpended monies would not lapse into the General Fund and interest or earnings would be deposited back into the Repair and Renovation Fund.  After that, it all gets a bit fuzzy. In 2009, the MHT reported an update that the Preserve Marshall County and Holly Springs organization was seeking an accounting from the city on the use of the funds.  The Board of Aldermen reported that the city had to pay $98,600 of debt on the property or have it be foreclosed.  The preservation group obtained the property in 2003, and donated it to the city as a municipality had to hold the property in order to receive the state allocation.  I can find no information on why the property retained a debt of almost $99,000 in 2009.  The update on MHT showed that the preservation group bought the property back (huh? from whom–the city that they donated it to?) and were seeking accounting for the repair and renovation funds.  The organization cleared the grounds in 2010, and held a fundraiser in 2011 in which they raised an estimated $23,000.  In December 2011, the group was awarded $49,156 from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for stabilization of the exterior envelope.  It appears that the work has not yet begun–at least as far as I could determine.

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7 Responses to Chalmers Institute: Not on the 101 Places in Mississippi to see before you die list

  1. debbie says:

    Huh! $$ – follow the $$ trail -.

    • Chelius Carter says:

      “Debbie” – Just where exactly are you located…and do have any interest or better yet, political will, influence and/or leverage, in advocating the pursuit this matter? See recent posting.

  2. Suzassissippi says:

    That’s been pretty hard to do, and I spent way too much time on this today as it was. So, now after whiling away about 6 hours on this, I need to go to work…my real day job.

  3. Chelius Carter says:

    A very good overview of a much-tangled path, which is only just now gaining some clarity and the project is indeed moving forward, as allowed by recent postings on both our website and Facebook page, though we really need to take time and update the info since our second “Wrecking Ball” on 22 September 2012, which was quite a successful event:

    http://preservemarshallcounty.org/wrecking-ball/

    http://www.facebook.com/PreserveMarshallCounty

    O.K. strap-in…SB #2988 in 2003 approved $90,000 in funds for restoration work on Chalmers Institute, Holly Springs PreservationGroup, LLC was formed in 2003 to take temporary ownership of the property, until the City could…allegedly…gain access to these funds for purchase. In discovery, in was determined that the funds could not be used for purchase and that these funds were to be recaptured in 2006 if not used. Holly Springs Preservsation Group, LLC was told in 2004 by Mayor Andre’ DeBerry that “the City had to hold title in order to access these monies for restoration” so the LLC arranged for a “quit claim” to move the project forward…an act that turned out to be uneccessary as the question of the City’s having title, as we later found out was patently untrue. Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc. (PMCHS) was formed in 2005; PMCHS interceded in the funds’ expiration and arranged for the State to shift the funds to the City of Holly Springs to extend their lifetime and use, as the City had done nothing about accessing the funds through project execution reimbursements, nor made any effort to find a method of extension in three years. Mind you, while the City held title, the LLC still held the bank note, hence some modicum of leverage; this “quit claim ” action by the LLC is the “donation” alluded to in your fine overview..

    In 2007 the City began unilatteral actions by ignoring protests from the LLC, who were still paying the bank note and Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc, who arranged for the funding to be extended, and hired IMS Engineers to “produce studies and plans for the renovation of Chalmers Institute”…but hey, that is another story entirely. The LLC tried to bring the City (aka Mayor DeBerry) to the table and sort out a cooperative arrangement that would benefit both historic Chalmers Institute and the citizens of Holly Springs, but to no avail. When the note came due in 2008, Holly Springs Historic Preservation Group, LLC balked at continuing to pay for a project, whose process they had been completely shut out of and refused to pay the note, leaving it up to the Mayor and Board of Aldermen to decide whether they would honor their 2003 commitment to actually take possession of the property and the bank loan, itself. The City of Holly Springs declined to take on the responsibility for what is arguably a true Mississippi treasure. The LLC agreed to let the Bank of Holly Springs foreclose on Chalmers Institute in March of 2009.

    Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc. (PMCHS) purchased the existing bank note, hence became sole owners of Chalmers Institute in March 2009. The LLC was dissolved at this time and the act of foreclosure thus removed the City of Holly Springs completely from any claim or title…leaving the remaining balance of the $90,000 in State funds with City…a funding that they could, legally, do nothing with…except to cooperate with the new owners of the historic property, in order to satisfy the terms of the legislators’ funding allocation. Thus far, such cooperation has yet to occur and PMCHS subsequently applied for a Community Heritage Preservation Grant through MDAH in 2011, receiving a $49,156.00 grant and with our cash-match, allowed us to begin some much-needed and long overdue stabilization work on the west wall, which has now been taken down to the wall portion determined as “acceptably plumb”. Work will continue on the wall, once restoration of some connective heavy-timber framing is done.

    With the actual project being underway, as President of PMCHS and on behalf of the concerned citizens of Holly Springs, I went before the Mayor and Board of Aldermen on 02 October 2012 to request they seek a method through which these funds could be transferred to PMCHS, who are sole owners of the Chalmers Institute and are, in fact execuing the project under the oversight of MDAH through their Landmark Permit process. I also asked for some clarity (lacking thus far – “opaque” seems to be the color preferred here) on the $500,000 in State funds allocated for restoration work on historic Hill Crest Cemetery through the same 2003 SB #2988 and 2004 SB #2010 – a project for which IMS Engineers has been contracted to execute since 2007…but at the risk of sounding banal, that again…is another story entirely.

    Historical notes, the Literary Institute of Holly Springs ran from 1837 – 1839, supplanted by The University of Holly Springs, which ran from 1839 – 1843 and Chalmers Institute, as it is traditionally known, ran from 1847 – 1879.

    Please pardon the lengthy posting, this project’s unfortunate obfuscation is, unless you have been in the dragon’s mouth from the beginning…rather difficult to untangle…I suspect in some parts, by design. We hope the worm is starting to turn in Chalmers’ favor as this has been re-elevated back to the State level for a decision.

    Cordially,

    Chelius H. Carter, President
    Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc.

  4. ELMalvaney says:

    Thanks for clarifying (as much as possible) the money trail here, Chelius. Very unfortunate, but hopeful now that things are moving forward, albeit slowly on this project.

  5. Suzassippi says:

    Ditto to the thanks, Chelius. This has been quite the complex story, so thank you for the transparency.

  6. Chelius Carter says:

    ELMalvaney & Suzassippi – Yu are both most welcome and thank you for the advocacy you bring to Historic Preservation in Mississippi.

    Folks, when they figure out what it is that I do…or try to do for a living, I relate that scratching out a living with an architectural practice in historic preervation in Holly Springs. Mississippi is a sure-fire and slow method of professional suicide. “Oh, but I bet that interesting kind of work really gets in your blood…” To which I reply “Yeah, it sure does…but at times it feels sort of like hepatitis .”

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