By Errol Castens
Daily Journal Oxford Bureau
PONTOTOC – Members of the Pontotoc County Historical Society this week reviewed their slim options for saving the MacMackin House, believed to be the county's oldest building.
As a result, they have appointed a committee to make one last appeal for its survival.
The white-painted, brick-faced structure, built in the late 130s, is owned by First United Methodist Church of Pontotoc. The church's building committee has voted to “remove” it despite pleas from the historical society to leave it intact.
Historical Society President Jimmy Roberts and his wife, Rose, sold the building to the church.
“I specifically said I didn't want to see that building demolished,” he said. “I don't recall anyone at the church taking a blood oath on it – it was more like, Oh, well, that's not likely to happen.'”
The Robertses, who are members of First United Methodist, have also procured other nearby properties for the church without profit. The result is that the church now owns most or all of the block across Green Street, where church leaders have expressed an intent to build a fellowship hall or other structure on the block.
Roberts said, however, that “In my estimation, the church is not in a position to turn a spadeful of earth tomorrow and begin building.” The issue, he said, was the church Board of Trustees' stated purpose to remove the residence before it comes under the purview of a historic preservation commission proposed by a recent city of Pontotoc ordinance.
The one option so far offered by the church is for the historical society – “a low-budget, volunteer society,” Roberts called it – to pay for moving and restoring the building.”
“I think it would be unfitting to even consider moving the structure to another site,” said former historical society president Dr. Forrest Tutor. “Moving it would destroy the historical value.” Tutor and his wife, Dr. Janis Burns-Tutor, have spent decades restoring their home of Lochinvar, another of the county's oldest homes.
Another possibility already suggested to the church is a long-term lease to the historical society.
“I think that would give us a legal standing to seek grants,” Roberts said. “I don't see a $2 million makeover. The folks I have talked to believe a restoration could be done for a fairly modest amount of money at least $100,000. So far I have not gotten the church to agree to that.”
When several society members protested that the church should heed public opinion, Roberts noted that few of them had added their voices to his letters on behalf of the historical society board. After several volunteers surfaced, he agreed to appoint six non-FUMC members to see if further negotiations with the church are possible.
“We didn't have a historical society when they tore down the depot, and then they tore down that beautiful old jail with the towers,” said committee member Sarah Naugher. “I feel like this is our last chance to save something important.”