Historic foundation honors residents

Published 12:04 am Friday, January 25, 2013

Ben Hillyer / The Natchez Democrat — Residents gathered at the Historic Natchez Foundation’s annual business meeting to view interactive panels that will be placed along St. Catherine Street to showcase the array of multi-cultural history in that area. The panels highlight predominantly African-American heritage, as well as Danish, Polish, French, Lebanese and Italian.

NATCHEZ — The members of the Historic Natchez Foundation met Thursday to review the year, recognize those who had contributed to the cause and discuss the foundation’s future.

At the foundation’s annual business meeting, HNF presented the George and Ethel Kelly Restoration Award to three couples.

Dan and Rowan Bland were recognized for the work they did at 109 S. Rankin St., a former beauty shop that had in recent years become unsightly.

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“They took that little building and just with some paint and a much better roof and getting some parking barriers off of it made it look a lot better,” HNF Director Mimi Miller said. “They didn’t try to make it into something it wasn’t.”

Gareth and Tara Bahlmann were recognized for restoration work at 808 Franklin St., which is still ongoing.

The building was at one time covered in vines, and when it was first entered it had to be done so through a window, Miller said.

“For the first time in 30 years, we got to see what was in there, what still worked,” she said. “It was a scary job, but Gareth and Tara took it on.”

Ronnie and Lisa Bertucci were also recognized for work done at the Viener House at 508 N. Union St.

The foundation also gave special merit awards to Cotton Alley owners David Browning and Guy Bass, for taking the 1970s-style front to the restaurant’s and converting it into something that Miller said “brought Main Street to life.”

Likewise, St. Mary Basilica was recognized for its new family life center.

“We see so many buildings that churches build that are just metal shells with concrete that runs halfway up, and (St. Mary) took an old grocery building and built one that was obviously a complement to the gothic structure across the street,” Miller said.

Aaron Anderson, who first came to Natchez as a student in 2002 and now teaches at Alcorn State University, was given the Mary Postlethwaite History Award for his book, “Builders of a New South: Merchants, Capital, and the Remaking of Natchez, 1865-1914.”

“This is the first time in a long time we have had a book just about Natchez published,” Miller said.

During the meeting, the members elected four new trustees, Stratton Bull, Peter Burns, Claire Cothren and Brad LeMay.

HNF Deputy Director Trevor Brown said that in the last year the foundation has restored three classrooms in the main floor of the Natchez Institute — the former school in which the HNF is housed — and opened an exhibit about the school in the front.

In the coming year, the foundation hopes to start converting the main floor into a Natchez museum and move its offices upstairs, Brown said.

Treasurer Dennis Switzer said HNF began 2012 with $226,000 in unrestricted cash and ended the year with approximately $138,000.

That loss can be attributed to declines in HNF’s licensing revenue, Switzer said.

HNF has a licensing agreement in which it receives revenue from the sale of certain furniture, fabrics and other furnishings that reference Natchez.

“That drop in those licensing revenues has made us more dependent on memberships and donations,” Switzer said.

“Even while our revenues have dropped, our endowment fund has captured growth — the inverse of that — but it has still not yet reached the point where it will sustain the loss we are seeing. We still need member support.”