|Workers are doing a total rebuild of the home's front porch (NPS photos)
In December, crews finished repairing the roof the
Willis-Cowan House, Vicksburg National Military Park recently announced regarding the major rehabilitation project on the dwelling. Porch
work is expected to be completed by summer.
Pemberton used the home on Crawford
Street as his headquarters from May 23-July 4, 1863, during the Union army’s
siege on Vicksburg.
Pemberton – working from a first-floor office -- and his
staff tried to manage the desperate situation. But by July 2, it appeared his
isolated, famished and exhausted army could withstand no more. That night, they
met and decided to negotiate for peace with Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
Pemberton sent a letter to Grant on July 3 and the surrender occurred the following
The home survived the Civil War, becoming a residence, Catholic school and bed and breakfast over the years. The NPS acquired the property in 2003 and opened it to visitors from 2008 to 2016, when it was closed because of safety concerns. Some observers have commented online about the lengthy closure.
The Picket reached out to the park about the extensive rehabilitation of the building. Superintendent Carrie Mardorf (left) provided these details. Responses have been edited.
the porch, the park has said it wanted to use salvageable wood when possible.
Has that happened? If so, can you generally detail how much is being reused and
how? What type of new wood is going up?
A. Yes, salvageable wood was reused to the
degree possible. However, during the dismantling of the porch, there was
additional deterioration in several of the wood members that was not
anticipated. Because if this, it was determined that 100% of the
structural members (posts, joists, and rafters), and 70% plus of the balustrade
and floor/ceiling planks had to be replaced. The new wood is a mixture of
treated lumber for joists and rafters (to prevent future deterioration), and
Southern yellow pine for columns and other millwork.
A. Yes, those
components were able to be reused.
park had said: (Previous)
shortening of the columns caused a flat roof over the west side of the porch to
slope in the wrong direction, causing moisture problems. How
has that been addressed? Are the new columns going to be longer?
A. New structural columns now rest on a metal
column plate, which will not be seen once the trim boards are added. The plate
will keep the bottom portion of the columns dry to prevent rot. The lower
portion of the previous structural columns rotted (and thus appeared shorter)
because there was no metal plate. The replacement column height will be
the original height.
A. Regarding the roof, the project listed this objective: Weathertight structure which will include a new slate roof, a stainless-steel coated metal roof, proper flashing at chimneys and walls, structural modifications throughout, and preservation repairs to wooden elements. Did all of that occur?
A. Yes, all of the work has occurred, and
structural modifications were needed. Structural modification included the
introduction of structural steel to support the weight of the new roof.
Additional repairs are also underway for all the other millwork. The
project paused due to the availability of quality structural lumber and the
length of time to acquire it. (At right, a historic photo of the facade)
the work been constant the past two years, or has it been done in spurts?
A. The project paused in 2022-2023 to redesign
the porch to address structural concerns and replace additional wood members
that had unforeseen deterioration. The redesign included more metal structural
supports and the new plans had to be reviewed and approved by the State
Historic Preservation Office. Work resumed in November 2023.
The estimated price tag for the work two years back was $704,000. Is that
A. The project
increased by $300,000 to incorporate the structural redesign and additional
repairs to the porch. Total project construction cost is now approximately $1.1
|Pemberton and the Willis-Cowan house before work began (Library of Congress and NPS)
A. No, Pemberton's Headquarters served as a
private residence from the late 1800s to early 2000s. The building and site
have been heavily altered over time by its previous residents.
What will become of the building? Will it be staffed/reopened to the public? If
so, when might that happen?
A. The building will continue to be preserved. The roof and porch project is the first of several needed repairs to address deferred maintenance. Additional phases of work are planned to address interior repairs, exterior windows and doors, upgraded utilities including fire suppression system, and retaining walls. The structure will not be staffed or opened to the public until the phases of work are completed.