History & Architectural Details
Sedgewood was established in 1842 as a 1200 acre plantation. It was located in north-central Madison County about 12 miles west of Canton and 5 miles east of Vernon, an extinct community north of present day Flora. The plantation residence and 700 acres remain today. The "big house" is a circa 1842 Greek Revival cottage with typical center hall floor plan. Except for the hand hewn oak sills, the entire house (exterior clapboards, all the framing lumber, floors and millwork) is constructed of heart cypress. There are four rooms (approximately 18' x 18') off the central hall (12' x 34') with a fifth room (also 18' x 18') in an ell to the rear. Windows have typical 6 over 6 double hung sashes with fixed louvered exterior shutters. The roof is hipped with 6 on 12 pitch except for the ell, which ends with a gable. Each corner has a prominent pilaster supporting a full molded entablature, which encircles the house and breaks forward to wrap around the hipped portico roof. The portico is especially ornate with eight Greek Doric fluted columns and a coffered, paneled ceiling. The recessed entry has Greek pilasters and two different styles of dentil molding over the doorway. Gothic Revival trefoil panels embellish both side walls and the ceiling above the recessed entry. Sidelights and transom are enhanced by diamond shaped stained glass panes of six different colors and Gothic trefoil panels below each sidelight.
The ceilings are 14 feet high and the house has five fireplaces (two back to back with double chimneys and one single). Interior doors are eight feet tall and composed of four panels. The front and rear doors off the central hall are double leafed. The original rear doors have two panels per leaf, as do the reproduction front doors. All door surrounds in the central hall have "Greek shouldered architrave" trim with pediments embellished with a battlemented or crenellated crest. The two front rooms have the same "Greek shoulder" trim around the doors and windows, except the pediments have a "wave motif" crest. The next two rooms have identical pilastered door and window trim with molded capitals supporting a smooth pediment. The fifth room in the ell has a similar treatment, but without capitals and with a simpler pediment.
The entire house was originally plastered. Apparently some repair work was done about 1897, during which the plaster walls in the ell and the ceiling and crown mold in the northwest room were removed and beaded board was installed. Plaster remnants found behind the window headers demonstrated that there had been an elaborate denticulated Corinthian crown mold in the front two rooms. The central hall also had a very ornate Corinthian crown mold, although of a different configuration.
During World War II the United States government took many thousands of acres in Madison County to build the Kearney Park Army Camp. Unfortunately, 500 acres of that land was taken from Sedgewood. The "big house" lay across the section line of that property. My father was told to move the house or have it demolished. He moved the house by rolling it on logs and timbers pulled by a cable that was hooked to a turnstile propelled by a mule (Howard oral history). The house was only moved 50 feet to get it across the section line, but it was severely damaged. Plaster ceilings fell, walls shattered, and one chimney fell. The pegged mortise and tenon 8" by 10" oak sills came apart and gaps appeared in the floors of the central hall and in three rooms. Over the next 20 years, the damaged plaster was removed and replaced with fiberboard or sheet rock with the exception of the hall and northwest room.
During 1993-94 the house underwent a complete restoration. It was moved back to its approximate original location and the structural damage from the 1942 move was repaired. The brick piers were rebuilt like the originals based on a pre 1940 photograph. The rusty tin roof was replaced with architectural fiberglass shingles that closely approximate the original cypress shingles. The many damaged windows were restored using antique wavy glass. The old damaged plaster and the later fiberboard/sheet rock was replaced with new sheet rock. The original hand split oak lathe was left in place and thinner 3/8" sheet rock was placed over it to maintain the original reveal around the trim. Plaster veneer finish was applied to the sheet rock. Tommy Lachin, a 3rd generation plasterer from New Orleans, restored the crown molding in the hall and in places where the damage was too great, replaced it with an exact plaster reproduction. There were enough pieces of the original Corinthian crown mold found behind the door and window pediment trim in the front rooms to enable us to reproduce the plaster crown for those rooms also. When the interior trim and mantles were sanded to determine the original colors, it was discovered that black and gold marbleizing adorned the baseboards and mantles. The faux marbleizing was reproduced by Chris Landers, an artisan from Natchez.
The only remaining outbuilding was a 10' by 12' clapboard smoke house with a gabled tin roof that was located to the rear of the big house. It was restored and now serves as a well house/utility service building. The various 1930's-40's additions to the rear of the house were removed during restoration. A new addition for the kitchen, utility room, and extra bedroom/bathes and farm office was built. Pains were taken to differentiate the new construction from the old.
Sedgewood is situated on the crest of a hill in rural Madison County in an appropriate setting of 160 year old cedar trees. The original abandoned sunken roadbed cuts deep between the present public road and the front yard. Sedgewood is once again the "big house" on a working farm surrounded by green pastures, cattle and cotton fields after its restoration back to the original appearance.
Statement of Significance
Sedgewood was built in 1842 as the "big house" for a 1200 acre plantation that by the 1890's was known as the Sedge Hill Place or Sedgewood Plantation. The land, located between the now extinct communities of Beatie's Bluff and Vernon, was purchased in 1841 by a lawyer and planter from Canton named John H. Thomas. He sold Sedgewood in 1860. In 1868 during the hard aftermath of the Civil War the plantation was sold to someone in Massachusetts. Between 1868 and 1897 the place changed ownership five times, always to a Northern absentee landowner who rented it to local cotton farmers. In 1897, W. E. Parkinson, a native of New York and former Lt. Governor of Washington state, bought Sedgewood and moved South to become a cotton farmer. It was probably about this time that the house had some renovation (Parkinson oral history).
By 1901 Mr. Parkinson had all the cotton farming he wanted and leased the place out to my grandparents, Percy O'Leary and "Miss Lizzie" Griffin Howard, who farmed nearby. They and my father, John W. G. Howard, who was five years old, moved to Sedgewood in 1901 and lived there the remainder of their lives. After my father's death in 1965 we built a new home and the "old house" was occupied by a succession of farm laborer's families. The house continued to decline after it became vacant in 1988. My family rented the plantation from 1901 until 1988 at which time we were able to purchase Sedgewood. Although we had rented it for 87 years, this made the first time in 120 years that Sedgewood was again owned by a local Southern family. During 1993-1994 we restored the house to its original appearance and made it our home again.
Sedgewood is a good example of an antebellum upper middle-class planter's home. It is not as massive as the two story mansions of Natchez, yet it is very sophisticated architecturally with an elegant portico, elaborate recessed entry, ornate interior trim details, marbleizing, and plaster crown mold. Although it's architectural style is classic Greek revival, Gothic panels were used extensively in the portico's recessed entry.
This structure is significant in that it was very ornate for what was then the backwoods of Madison County. It is also important because it was designed by the noted architect William Nichols, is one of few remaining antebellum planter's homes in Madison County, and one of the even fewer still intact with most of the original land.