PHOTO: The Caragen House in Starkville is the only Steamboat Gothic-style house in Mississippi. (Deste Lee)
BY GINNA PARSONS
STARKVILLE – In 1981, Genevieve Stark bought an old home on Lampkin Street in downtown Starkville because she couldn't bear to see it destroyed. Room by room, chimney by chimney, window by window, the entire home was dismantled, its pieces numbered and hauled away.
A year and a half later, the house had been put back together and restored to its former grandeur on property owned by the Stark family on Highway 82 west of town.
At the time, Stark's four children were all younger than 8, with the baby in diapers. She decided to name the home for them: Caroline, Andrew, Randolph and Genie.
She would call it The Caragen House.
The B&B years
The Caragen House is the only example of a Steamboat Gothic-style home in Mississippi, Stark said. Build around 1890 by one of Starkville's founding fathers, William Oliver Page, its two-story wraparound porches resemble a steamboat, while the slate roof is of a Gothic architectural style.
“The only reason it's not on the National Register is because I moved it from downtown,” Stark said. “I really thought I was saving a piece of Mississippi history.”
After rearing her children in the 7,000-square-foot home, Stark sold it to Kay Shurden, who turned The Caragen House into a bed and breakfast in 1995.
“My husband had died several years before and I was finished raising my girls and I needed to find something to keep me busy,” Shurden said. “I'd always been a stay-at-home mom. I knew how to clean a commode and make a bed and cook, so I just took my homemaking skills and turned the home into a bed and breakfast.”
Downstairs, the home boasts a large foyer, library, parlor, dining room and butler's pantry. It also has a sunroom with a 26-foot high ceiling, a utility room and a bedroom and bath. Shurden added a commercial kitchen in 1998 to make entertaining easier for large parties.
The second floor is home to four spacious bedrooms and five bathrooms and a large foyer. Transoms top almost every door in the house and leaded glass sparkles from windows. Every bedroom in the home has a coal-burning fireplace, but only the ones downstairs are in working order.
The third floor, a full attic that has not been finished out, adds another 3,000 square feet to the home.
Now to the next life
In the 10 years Shurden has had The Caragen House, it has seen weddings, bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, business meetings, private parties and university functions.
“I've met a lot of interesting people here,” Shurden said. “I've met a lot of famous people, too.”
Over the years, she said, the likes of publishing mogul Steve Forbes, Govs. Lamar Alexander, Haley Barbour and Kirk Fordice and journalist Bob Woodward have come through her doors.
“I've really enjoyed having this business and it's been good for me but it's time to stop,” Shurden said. This past November, she ceased to operate as a full-service B&B, although she will still occasionally rent to overnight guests or she'll rent the house for a party, but she doesn't “do” the parties anymore. She's even entertained the idea of selling the home.
“In my first life, I was a wife and mother,” Shurden said. “In my second life, I had the bed and breakfast. Now, I'm waiting to see what my third life is going to be.”
After Stark moved home to Starkville from Florida recently, she briefly considered buying The Caragen House back. She recalled the years she spent researching the Victorian styles that were popular at the time the house was built and the attention she gave to wallpapering and painting rooms the way they would have looked in the 1890s when the home was built.
She knows the ornate Italian-style mantels in the downstairs formal rooms are not original to the house, because she found two layers of wallpaper beneath them in the early 1980s. She guesses they were installed at a time when money flowed more freely, likely just before the Great Depression.
Through the years she lived in the house, she got caught up in the details of its history, of its former life.
“Everyone told me I was crazy to move that big old house,” Stark said. “But I loved it. I put my heart and soul in that house. But it's not for me anymore.”