Historic Prentiss Club building suffers significant fire damage: Updated Tuesday morning

Published 8:05 am Sunday, September 2, 2018

NATCHEZ — The historic Prentiss Club building suffered significant damage in a Sunday morning fire that sent smoke throughout downtown Natchez and brought residents out to watch firefighters battle the blaze.

Acting Natchez Fire Chief Ventris Green said the fire department received the call at 7 a.m. Sunday and had the city’s 22 firefighters on the scene to battle the blaze with the city’s four fire trucks and a ladder truck.

Green said firefighters battled the fire until 11:30 a.m. Sunday and other than a few firefighters who suffered dehydration and exhaustion no injuries were associated with the fire.

On Monday, Green said he is proud of the fire department’s work in battling the Sunday fire.

“Overall they did a great knock down of the fire,” Green said. “With the circumstances it was an incredible save.”

Green said he estimates 40 to 50 percent of the building was damaged, including the roof that was destroyed and one room. He said the foundation and walls are still intact and many antiques were saved.

“I was very amazed at the work that our fire department did,” Green said.

Green also acknowledged that several Adams County volunteer firefighters came in Sunday to man the Natchez Fire Department’s stations 2 and 3 while Natchez firefighters fought the Prentiss Club building fire.

“I commend the volunteer firefighters, EMA Director Robert Bradford Sr. and Volunteer Fire Coordinator Darryl Smith, the police department and the sheriff’s department,” Green said, also acknowledging Darby’s and residents who provided refreshments for firefighters.

“Everybody came together that day,” Green said. “It was a proud day to be fireman, considering the circumstances.”

Green said the cause of the blaze has not yet been determined but that the state fire marshal is expected to be in Natchez today to work with the local fire marshal to investigate the cause of the fire.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell, who was on the scene Sunday, said he received a call about the fire at 7:15 a.m., and he arrived on the scene at 7:30 a.m. as firefighters were battling the blaze.

“It is a sad day,” Grennell said, while standing beside the building at Pearl and Jefferson streets as firefighters fought the fire Sunday morning. “I got here and the building was still standing. I heard a firefighter say, ‘It is in the attic!’”

Flames were visible rising from the northeast corner of the building at 211 N. Pearl St. that was recently purchased by Shreveport residents Fred and Melinda Kent, who planned to transform the building into a museum.

Construction crews had been working on the interior of the building over the past several weeks.

Melinda Kent, who was out of town on Sunday morning, called Grennell on his cellphone Sunday morning as he watched firefighters battle the blaze. She said renovation work had been nearing completion.

“It was due to open in a week,” Melinda said. “I can’t believe this. We were finished. We were just painting some chairs.”

Mimi Miller, Natchez Historic Foundation executive director emeritus, was on the scene Sunday morning as well.

“The roof structure is gone,” Miller said as firefighters were working to bring the fire under control. “On the positive side, the curtains are still on the windows on the lower floor and the windows are not blown out on the second floor. So, I have some hope it could be preserved.”

Firefighters had the fire under control by 9 a.m. but the tile roof was completely gone from the building that was built between 1904 and 1905 to serve as the home for the Prentiss Club, a private men’s club founded in 1903.

The building was added to the National Register of Historic places in 1979.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History describes the building as:

“ . . .  a large L-shaped structure on the southeast corner of the intersection of Pearl and Jefferson streets in downtown Natchez, Mississippi. Its two principal elevations, which face west and north, are designed in the Second Renaissance Revival style, with arched fenestration, loggias, sculptured decoration, bracketed eaves, and a low hipped roof covered with red tiles. The secondary south and east elevations (not intended for public view) are largely unornament.”

Grennell said when he was growing up the building housed a nightclub known as The Cellar.

“It was a nightclub,” Grennell said, “a place to hangout, have cocktails and socialize. These are the types of things that occur in your city. I hope the Kents aren’t discouraged.”