Despite naysayers, Sirmans restoration vision earns award

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 4, 2000

Not many people thought Sam and Connie Sirman could restore the house on the hill on Monroe Street.

But Mimi Miller knew they could do it.

&uot;I knew somebody could do it,&uot; said Miller, director of preservation and education for the Historic Natchez Foundation.

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The foundation had been given the circa 1830s Mayer house by the estate of its former owner. The foundation then gave it to the Sirmans to restore.

&uot;It was no gift, believe me,&uot; Miller said with a laugh.

The Federal-style house is significant because of its architecture, Miller said, but also because of its history. John and Jeanette Mayer bought the house during the Civil War, and the present reformed Jewish Temple B’Nai Israel was born in the house, Miller said.

The house was in poor shape when the Sirmans acquired it, with daylight coming through holes in the roof and sagging porches in front and back. Even the hill the house sits on had to be stabilized.

&uot;Everyone that saw it said, ‘Strike a match and start over,’&uot; said Sam, who said one of the greatest benefits of restoring the house was &uot;doing it when people said we couldn’t.&uot;

&uot;And we came in under budget, which is almost unheard of,&uot; Connie said.

One of the biggest obstacles was finding funding to restore the circa 1830s house.

&uot;We had one banker say, ‘Why would you do this to your family?’&uot; Connie said. &uot;It’s hard to get people to see what you’re seeing.&uot;

The Sirmans put Connie’s cousin, contractor Danny Smith, in charge of the restoration. He rebuilt the piers, replaced the roof, restored the porches and the floors and sheetrocked the interior walls and ceilings.

And in the end, the Sirmans’ restoration of the house has earned them praise — and plenty of awards, including the Natchez Preservation Commission’s 2000 award for residential restoration.

They have also received awards from the Historic Natchez Foundation and the Mississippi Heritage Trust.

All of the awards are framed, along with a copy of the &uot;Condemned&uot; notice from the city which was still hanging on the back door of the house when the Sirmans acquired it.