By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Cedar Oaks, an 1859 Greek Revival home built by the designer of the University of Mississippi’s Lyceum, has a newly organized set of overseers and a newly focused mission.
Since the transfer of the home to the city of Oxford’s ownership, most changes had been put on ice. This summer, however, city leaders said it was time for the groups that formerly owned the house, who still manage the property, to plan for the future.
The resulting new mission statement emphasizes the home’s maintenance and preservation, its role in historical education and the promotion of “Freedom, Honor, Integrity and Opportunity.”
Short-term goals for the home include its preservation for culture- and history-related educational and community outreach and the development of activities – both income-producing and nonprofit – that support the educational mission of the house.
Details range from enhancing structural and system integrity to adding off-street parking and interior elements that make the house more suitable for public events – including a baby grand piano and expanded restroom facilities. Activities proposed include organizing holiday events and a pilgrimage of historic homes.
The group’s long-term goal is “for Cedar Oaks to become one of the top three destinations for visitors to Oxford/Lafayette County.” As envisioned, that would entail complete architectural restoration, a historically accurate landscape, development of educational exhibits and curating an art collection focusing on female and black artists from antebellum days to contemporary times.
The house has many a story to tell. It was built by William Turner, who also designed the University of Mississippi’s Lyceum and several other buildings in Oxford.
“Cedar Oaks is Oxford’s Heritage Home,” Emmy Lou Greenwood told city officials. “There are many, many older homes in Oxford that are quite notable, but no others have been saved from the threat of total destruction twice. Set afire three times during the Civil War, and saved from burning each time by the women and the freed slaves that were left at home. Cedar Oaks was called ‘the home that would not die.’ ”
In the early 1960s when development threatened its demolition, three women’s clubs joined forces to raise money to have the house sawn in half, moved to a new site and rejoined.
“After hours of labor, fundraising, pleading with public officials, soliciting help from their husbands, seeking donations, this group once again saved Cedar Oaks,” Greenwood said. “We cannot and should not allow Cedar Oaks to be anything less than these ladies dreamed – Oxford’s true heritage house.”
Among a host of fundraisers and educational activities planned to benefit the home is the kickoff of sales of a unique cookbook, “Gimme Some Sugar, Darlin.’” The public event will be at the Oxford Conference Center from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday.