Water damage found at Auburn
Published 12:06 am Saturday, July 18, 2015
NATCHEZ — Rain may be good for Natchez azaleas, but it’s the opposite for the city’s oldest antebellum house.
Auburn, located at 400 Duncan Ave., has slowly been chipping away from rainwater damage.
Clark Feiser, who helps oversee the two-story, 9,500 square feet city-owned structure with several other volunteers, said if the house doesn’t receive attention soon, the entire front façade could fall off.
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“The way the house is positioned, when it rains, it blows in through the balcony,” Feiser said.
The front four columns of the house have the most significant damage, Feiser said, with the first-floor section showing the most damage.
For several years, Feiser said rainwater has been building up within the columns and washing out the mortar, causing the plaster to fall off and expose the brick within the column.
Also, water has been penetrating through the second-floor balcony, leaking through the ceiling below.
“The problem will have to be solved by completely pulling up the floor (of the balcony) and finding out what needs to be replaced,” Feiser said.
Some years ago, Feiser said the city fixed the balcony temporarily by laying down three sheets of stretched canvas, secured by two metal strips.
However, the sheets were secured through a butting system — meaning they were not overlapped, so water eventually began seeping through to the ceiling below.
If the canvas would have been laid out in an overlapping sequence, Feiser said the water damage probably would not have been so significant.
“The same thing is happening in the back of the home, too,” Feiser said. “But it’s not as significant as the front.”
Feiser said after talking with a local architect, it’s estimated that it would cost approximately $45,000 to repair the house’s 10 columns — four in the front, six in the back.
“That’s not to mention the home’s roof,” said Feiser, adding that the roof needs to be scraped and repainted.
Feiser brought his concerns before the Natchez Board of Aldermen Tuesday.
Community Development Director James Johnston said the board would vote at its Tuesday, July 28 meeting on whether the city should apply for funds to repair Auburn through the Community Heritage Preservation Grant Program.
If the board approves that motion, Johnston said the city would have until October 2 to apply for the grant.
Then, Johnston said he would know if the grant was approved sometime in December.
“I would like to see (the board) go forward with it,” Johnston said of the grant. “Auburn is the oldest antebellum home in Natchez, and it does come with a lot of history.”
If the city is able to secure the grant, Johnston said it would come with a minimum 20 percent match.
While the city owns the structure and the 210 acres it sits on, a group local of volunteers known as the Auburn Antebellum Home leases the house and the property from the city.
Feiser said the group is able to maintain the home and property through funds generated by admission fees and gift shop sales, along with any events that are hosted at the house, like weddings.
Feiser said all renovations to the house would be consistent with the time period it was built in.
Designer and builder Levi Weeks built the house in 1812. In 1827, Auburn became home to Pennsylvania native Stephen Duncan and his family.
In 1911, Duncan’s heirs deeded Auburn and its acreage to the city.
Feiser said throughout the decades, the house has served many purposes other than residential, though.
Up until about 1970, Feiser said Auburn was a playhouse for local children.
“They just kept the doors unlocked and the kids would ride their bikes everywhere,” Feiser said.
Today, the house serves as a museum and occasional event space.
It is acclaimed as the first Southern house to have the two-story white columns that came to epitomize what is colloquially known as “Southern Colonial” architecture.
“It’s an important part of Natchez history, and Mississippi history,” Feiser said. “I just hope we can save it in time.”