Historic college celebrates anniversary

Published 12:01 am Saturday, December 15, 2007

NATCHEZ — Sitting quietly off the highway Historic Jefferson College has been tucked behind mossy oak trees since 1802.

It was there before the highway was there and it was there before the state of Mississippi was even a state.

First started as a preparatory school with 15 students, the college was turned in a museum in 1977.

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This year marks their 30th anniversary as a museum.

After the school closed in 1964 it began to deteriorate and be reclaimed by the woods surrounding it.

Director of the Historic Property Division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Jim Barnett said the building had to be freed from the grasp of aggressive kudzu before restoration could start.

“It was a massive project,” he said. “The place was in pretty bad shape.”

The MDAH took ownership of the floundering estate in 1971 from the State Building Commission.

Barnett gave high accolades to the now deceased T.J. Foster, the college’s first administrator in 1977, for doing much of the work needed to prepare the site for restoration.

“He cleared that land,” he said. “Just imagine six years of neglect.”

But Foster did not bring back the college alone.

Director emeritus of MDAH Elbert Hilliard said the restoration of the building was a truly unifying project on many levels.

“There was so much local interest in preserving the site,” he said.

Hilliard said members of the college’s board of trustees and the MDAH ardently lobbied for legislation for funding to preserve the historic site.

In 1971 the Mississippi State Legislature gave a grant of $250,000 to get the restoration started.

In a terrific stroke of luck HUD also gave a $295,000 preservation grant Hilliard said.

“To match that the state gave us another $45,000,” he said. “That’s how the whole thing really got started.”

When the project was first started Ron Miller was sent by MDAH to oversee the restoration of the grounds.

“To get to dig into a building like that and see how its changed over a period is wonderful,” he said. “That’s art history.”

That same history is still here for everyone to go and visit Barnett said.

“People in the area are very fortunate to have this right here.”

For the 27th year the college has invited local groups to help decorate Christmas trees donning the halls of the museum.

The grounds of Historic Jefferson College are open daily from dawn until dusk and tours are given seven days a week.

For more information call 601-442-2901.