Restoration begins on historic Lamar House

05210712 Lamar House

Errol Castens

Tony Wilson, contracts administrator with Howorth & Associates Architects, makes notes on the beginning of restoration on the L.Q.C. Lamar House in Oxford.

05210711 Lamar House

Errol Castens

Charley Ward of NewSouth Construction Co. grubs out bamboo from the grounds of the L.Q.C. Lamar House in Oxford. Work on the site began this month to restore the decrepit home of the statesman, who died in 1893.

HED: Restoration begins on historic Lamar House

READ-IN: L.Q.C. Lamar was a U.S. senator, Cabinet member and Supreme Court justice.

By Errol Castens

Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – Workers pushed back the bamboo jungle around L.Q.C. Lamar’s former home recently to make way for craftsmen to begin the structure’s $1.5 million restoration. The Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation bought the home in 2002 and has spent much of the time since raising funds to make it “better than Lamar ever knew it,” said project co-chair Bill Russell.

The deteriorated home, with a failing foundation and gaping holes in the roof, will be restored and discreetly modernized to make it into a museum honoring one of Mississippi’s most noted statesmen of the 19th Century.

“We have a 360-day contract, so by this time next year it ought to be a done deal,” Russell said. “The plan at the moment is to make it a house museum and a place for small conferences and receptions.”

Previous owners had hoped to restore the house, said Maralyn Bullion, past president of the Heritage Foundation, but they eventually decided to sell to the Heritage Foundation.

“Money was a big, big item, and they were not able to secure the grants they had hoped for,” Bullion said.

The Lamar home’s lawn fronts on 14th Street, but Howorth & Associates Architects included a new public entrance on 16th Street, within sight of both Lamar’s grave and that of William Faulkner. Many trees will be kept, including a massive bois d’arc.

“No one knows for sure, but we think L.Q.C. Lamar may have planted that tree himself,” said Tony Wilson, contracts manager for Howorth architects, overseeing the project.

Divisive uniter

Lamar is believed to be the only American who served in the highest circles of all three federal government branches – as a representative and senator, as Cabinet member and as Supreme Court justice. Counties, Oxford’s major north-south street and the Ole Miss law school are some of the entities that bear his name.

A brilliant scholar, educator and lawyer, the statesman was not an entirely sympathetic character according to 21st Century sensibilities, having once championed a constitutional amendment protecting slavery and having served as a diplomat-at-large for the Confederacy. After Reconstruction, however, he helped reunite the nation. When his abolitionist nemesis Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner died, Lamar delivered the eulogy.

“With rhetorical brilliance Lamar championed Sumner’s call for amnesty for former Confederates, which quickly rang throughout the country and made Lamar famous,” wrote historian and journalist John Padgett.

Future needs

Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation officials hope to make the Lamar House and an annex to be built behind it a headquarters for their work. Having attracted both private and public funds for the project, their next challenge is to raise operating funds.

“We need a care endowment of a million-plus, so we can operate off the interest,” Russell said. “The bottom line to it is, once you own it, you’ve got to operate it.”

Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at 281-1069 or errol.castens@djournal.com.