Couple donates house to historic foundation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 24, 2001

A property donation appraised at $1.3 million has positioned the Historic Natchez Foundation to provide ongoing preservation and restoration funds for Natchez and Adams County projects. James and Elizabeth Whatley have transferred ownership of the house Cherokee, corner of High and Wall streets, to the foundation for a trust that will help rehabilitate buildings, landscapes, landscape features or open space when the rehabilitation directly protects a historic resource.

&uot;This is the largest non-government gift to historic preservation in the history of the state,&uot; said Ron Miller, executive director of the foundation.

&uot;We were stunned by the gift and still can’t believe that due to the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Whatley we’ll be able to establish a trust that will fund preservation projects forever,&uot; Miller said.

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Elizabeth Whatley said the decision to donate the property came easily once she and her husband agreed that it was time to give up Cherokee, a spacious house built on an elevated site in several stages between 1794 and 1845.

&uot;We’re getting older, and it’s getting harder to run up and down the highway,&uot; she said &uot;I could stay for the rest of my life right here on this hill. But I can’t get my Texan husband out of Texas.&uot;

When they leave Natchez, the Whatleys will retain their main residence in Longview, Texas, and a summer home in Colorado, she said.

The new trust to be established after the sale of Cherokee will have the official name of The James R. and Elizabeth H. Whatley Charitable Trust.

It will be set up as a revolving fund allowing such activities as purchasing endangered or threatened properties and reselling them with protective easements, with proceeds from the sales going back into the trust fund.

The Whatleys cite preservation work directed by Miller and his wife, Mimi Miller, as a driving influence in their decision to donate Cherokee to the Historic Natchez Foundation.

&uot;I think Mimi and Ron have done an exceptionally fine job in Natchez, and they want so much to preserve the whole flavor of the town,&uot; Mrs. Whatley said.

&uot;I know how hard they have worked in preservation.&uot;

Mrs. Miller, associate director of the Historic Natchez Foundation and director of preservation, said the donation is amazing in its implications for future preservation and restoration.

&uot;This is the kind of thing people in our job field sit around and dream about,&uot; she said.

The donation of Cherokee comes three years after the late Floyce Masterson deeded the Van Court Townhouse to the foundation.

That house, on the corner of Washington and Union streets, remains on the market listed at $595,000.

&uot;The Masterson trust also will provide money for historic preservation,&uot; Mrs. Miller said.

Cherokee officially is ready for sale, but the Whatleys will remain in the house and continue to pay for maintenance and other expenses for the next three years unless the house sells before then.

The Whatleys lived in Houston, Texas, for 35 years before Mr. Whatley retired 18 years ago.

They purchased Cherokee in 1993 and undertook extensive restoration and renovation.

&uot;We’ve been working on the house ever since we bought it,&uot; she said. &uot;It needed some cosmetic surgery, and I love doing over old houses.&uot;

Mrs. Whatley had praise for work done by Myrtie and Charles Byrne, who undertook major restoration of the house in 1939.

&uot;Mrs. Byrne did a magnificent job of restoring this house, and we have her to thank for that and for the wonderful gardens she created and cared for,&uot; Mrs. Whatley said.

&uot;I think old houses ought to be loved and taken care of,&uot; she said. &uot;They’re a part of our history.&uot;