Historic Natchez Foundation gets grant for Church Hill store

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 19, 2002

NATCHEZ &045; Fresh from being named Natchezians of the Year by the chamber of commerce, Ron and Mimi Miller were &uot;walking on air&uot; Thursday when they found out the Historic Natchez Foundation received a $75,000 grant to help restore a country store in Church Hill.

The Historic Natchez Foundation, founded by the Millers, is working with the Church Hill Preservation Trust to restore the 130-year-old Wagner’s Store, one of the oldest country stores in Mississippi.

&uot;This news just had us walking on air,&uot; Ron Miller said. &uot;This doubled our money to work on Wagner’s Store.&uot;

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The trust, in partnership with the foundation, will provide a 100 percent match for the grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Mimi Miller said the partnership between the foundation and the trust is unique.

&uot;They wanted to do something to save their buildings and their store,&uot; she said of Church Hill residents.

So the foundation board decided to take on Church Hill as a program area, so that residents there would not have to form their own independent organization.

But the trust has &uot;raised every penny&uot; for restoration so far, mainly through two barn dance fund-raisers, Mimi Miller said.

Restoration work at the store, which closed in 1998, began in January 2001, when Adolph Wagner Jr. donated the store to the foundation. Since then, the preservation trust has invested about $45,000 in reconstruction and restoration at the store.

Wagner’s store was built, probably shortly after 1870, by a partnership of Jewish merchants, according to Wagner family tradition. In the early 20th century, the store was operated by the Fauntleroy family, who sold it to Adolph Wagner and his wife, Maggie Octavia, in 1928.

&uot;Until it closed in 1998, Wagner’s store was the social and economic center of the Church Hill community,&uot; Mimi Miller wrote in the project description, part of the application for the grant. &uot;It served as the community’s post office until 1992 and as the voting precinct until 2001.&uot;

After the store closed, the listing of the Church Hill Rural Historic District apparently spurred residents to action. They formed the trust and decided to restore Wagner’s Store as a visitor center and interpretive museum.

The restoration plan calls for exterior and interior work, including repair and replacement of windows, doors, shutters and siding; replacement or restoration of original interior furnishing, finishes and fixtures; and professionally designed and constructed exhibits.

Church Hill residents want to make sure that the store will have at least some vending machines for travelers and visitors. That way, Mimi Miller said, &uot;somebody will always be able to get a Coke and maybe even a Moon Pie.&uot;