Historic Civil War-era Corinth house undergoing a rebirth

By Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal

CORINTH – When the Verandah-Curlee House Museum reopens to visitors – probably next year – a commitment to maintenance and upkeep should make the current work under way last for many years to come.
The Verandah-Curlee House Museum Foundation, Siege and Battle of Corinth Commission and others with an interest in preserving the National Historic Landmark have waited patiently for the renovation work to begin.
The museum ended regular tour hours more than six years ago and was open only for tours by appointment while conditions continued to deteriorate.
“Caring for these properties requires special consideration and adequate funding,” said Rosemary Williams, chairwoman of the Siege and Battle of Corinth Commission. “The city of Corinth, which owns the property, has budgeted money through the years for maintenance.
“However, we must remember that the building’s care suffered during the (World War II) years and even more afterwards due to the lack of funds and energy to maintain it properly.
“Then after the last Curlee family member who lived there died in 1944, it was unoccupied for the next 17 years until the family donated the property to the city in the early 1960s.”
The structure holds national historical significance, Williams said, which led to its listing as a National Historic Landmark and a Mississippi Landmark.
Both Union and Confederate generals occupied the home as their headquarters during the Civil War in Corinth.
“After President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an announcement was made from the porch of the home regarding African-American soldiers joining the Union Army for the first time,” Williams said. “And after the war, the Corinth Female Academy occupied the home for a short time.”
The 1857 home was built by Hamilton Mask in the Greek architectural style, but was modified by Shelby Hammond Curlee after his family purchased the property in the 1870s. He introduced electricity, plumbing, a kitchen, bathroom and other amenities in the 1920s and 1930s.
More than $500,000 of work is under way now by the historic preservation contractor, Calenco LLC of Sheffield, Ala., funded by a combination of federal appropriations, grants from the National Park Service and the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and local fundraising by the Friends of the Verandah-Curlee House.
Calenco workers have repaired the aging foundation, leveled the floors and removed columns for repairs, and are in the process of building a new long-lasting porch floor.
“Everything is on schedule,” said Calenco owner Rick Caldwell. “We’re using as much original material as we possibly can, salvaging all the columns and original trim. We ran into a problem after we started the work and found the roof had been leaking for years.”
The roof repairs will require an additional infusion of funds.
“A new roof is needed and funding for that is being considered and waiting for approval from the Washington office of the National Park Service,” Williams said. “And, last but not least, a new coat of paint will be added and, hopefully, savings from local fundraising projects will allow for interior rehabilitation.”
Dave Huwe, Corinth director of community planning and development, has worked closely with architect Richard Howorth of Oxford, Caldwell, structural engineers and grant funders to keep the work and the budget on track.
A proposal has been submitted for the National Park Service to assume ownership and management of the museum, but that has not happened and will not be considered further until all the renovations are completed, Huwe said.
Williams said she is pleased to see the project moving along so well, and regrets that more people don’t appreciate the significance of historic preservation.
“A National Historic Landmark is the highest honor given to a site or building in the United States,” Williams said. “There are 16 NHL sites in Corinth, all related to the Civil War, and the Verandah-Curlee House is the only structure. We are fortunate to have such a number of National Historic Landmarks in Corinth, and caring for these properties requires special consideration and adequate funding.”
The infusion of financial support and work at this juncture should have long-term impact.
“We’re repainting the entire building, which should last for 10 to15 years and a new roof should have at least a 20-year warranty,” Calenco’s Caldwell said. “The house was built in 1857 and it’s lasted this long, so with routine maintenance and upkeep it should last many more years.”
lena.mitchell@journalinc.com