Attic sale benefits Stanton Hall renovations

Published 4:07 pm Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Virginia Beard, left, and Roxie Riggs, both of Jonesville, check out an antique chair that Riggs eventually purchased Saturday afternoon. Riggs said she had plans to reupholster the set of chairs she purchased. Various pieces of furniture and decorative items were cleared out of the attic of Stanton Hall and were put on sale Saturday afternoon outside the house. (Photo by Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

A keen eye often finds that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, especially if the throwaways gathered dust in a century-and-a-half-old mansion.

In preparation for renovations of Stanton Hall, the antebellum home’s governing board threw an old fashioned yard sale Saturday to help clean house before construction.

“(The sale was) a once in a lifetime thing, we’ll never do this again,” Stanton Hall Governing Board Chairwoman Rebecca McGehee said.

Various pieces of furniture and decorative items were cleared out of the attic of Stanton Hall and were put on sale Saturday afternoon outside the house, at top. (Photo by Lauren Wood \ The Natchez Democrat)

Steve Huber makes a living in old furniture, so the attic sale was a must-do.

“This is the critter,” he said, pointing to the aromatic red cedar day bed he scored on the North Commerce Street lawn.

Huber, who lives in Natchez, offers restoration, conservation, woodwork and upholstery services.

The bed sat in his shop near Orange Avenue, but he said it would make a move to his apartment once it was completed.

Huber said the piece was most likely made in Natchez, which he finds is its greatest value.

“The local material culture (of the day bed) — that’s what’s significant,” Huber said.

Huber also took back to his shop an upholstered half-teester bed with a dry-rotted diamond upholstery and multicolored twisted cord delineating the pattern.

Huber said he won’t attempt to fix the headboard, but he bought it to preserve it, as any historian would treasure an old text.

“It’s a fabulous document,” Huber said.

If a museum existed locally to preserve old furniture, Huber said he would give it away for posterity. But as it is, the headboard will hang in his shop.

Huber estimated the piece was from the late 1800s.

McGehee said repairs to Stanton Hall have yet to be scheduled, but a fundraising campaign is in the works.

She estimated the repairs will cost approximately $100,000 to repair 30 feet of the exterior building on North Commerce Street.

A big part of the expense, ironically, is to make repairs to the structure that the original owner had added to make it stronger, McGehee said.

“Mr. (Frederick) Stanton) put iron rods through the brick to keep them, at that time, very strong,” McGehee said.

McGehee said, apparently, the tornado of 1840 and other 19th-century natural disasters prompted Stanton to strengthen the dentals — decorative bricks that add detail to the top of the outer wall on Commerce Street — with iron.

More than 150 years after the house was built, however, the iron has deteriorated and the bricks are barely hanging on.

Ruth Ellen Calhoun, who also sits on the governing board, agreed Stanton’s overprotective construction will add to the cost of the restoration.

“Mr. Stanton had such a complicated building technique,” Calhoun said. “He overbuilt, and now the metal is rusted.”

Last fall, restoration experts came from across the country to perform new-age tests on the antebellum mansion that revealed the house’s weaknesses. The governing board has since contracted with an internationally renowned preservationist, Tulane University professor John Stubbs, to take on the project.

Calhoun said the cosmetic work that’s been done in the past 20 or 30 years kept Stanton Hall looking nice, but the techniques used might have contributed to the current troubles, they have learned.

McGehee said now it’s time to kick off a campaign to raise the funds, and clearing the attic of generations of discards was a first step.

“(The board has) pitched and patched little things over the years, but now it’s time to suck it up and do big alternations,” McGehee said.

Saturday’s sale raised approximately $3,000 for the efforts, which is more than McGehee said she expected to make considering most of the furniture needed lots of work before they welcomed guests in living rooms across the region.

Many were just tourists who wanted a memento, she said.

“A lot of (the buyers said) ‘I’m so excited to have a little piece of Natchez to take back with me,” McGehee said.