The Restoration of Sedgewood Plantation
Our family moved to the Mississippi Territory in 1798. Great grandfather John Ford was on the committee that wrote the first state constitution in 1817. We moved to Madison County in 1833, where descendants have farmed ever since. The manor house for Sedgewood Plantation was built in 1842 and was designed by William Nichols, the architect of the Mississippi Governor's mansion, the Old Capitol building in Jackson, and the Lyceum Building at Ole Miss. Family history has it that one of our great grandfathers (probably Rev. Thomas Griffin, John Ford's son-in-law) was a guest at the housewarming for Sedgewood. In 1901 grandfather Percy O'Leary Howard moved to Sedgewood Plantation and farmed there the rest of his life. My parents kept the family farm going after his death.
During World War II the U. S. Army built a military base near Sedgewood. They took tens of thousands of acres of land including 500 acres that were part of the original 1842 plantation. Unfortunately, the section line that was the boundary between the land the Army took and the rest of the place ran through the center of the plantation house. My Daddy was told to move the house off the line or they would bulldoze it. Daddy appealed for them to cut out a tiny fraction of an acre to leave our house intact, but in true government bureaucratic fashion they refused.
We didn't have the money to hire a house mover so Daddy moved it himself to prevent Sedgewood's destruction. He placed wooden beams under the house oriented in the direction of travel and then laid logs across the wooden beams. Next, he jacked the house up, removed it's brick piers and lowered the house onto the logs. A cable was attached to the house and run through a block and tackle (a series of pulleys for mechanical leverage) and then on to a turnstile powered by a mule. As the mule turned the turnstile it wound the cable and pulled the house. Thus, the house rolled slowly on the logs that in turn rolled on the wooden beams. It took a couple of days to move the house approximately 80 feet to get it to safety. Chimneys fell. The wonderful horse-hair reinforced plaster ceilings and walls also shattered and fell. The mortise and tenon construction pulled apart in places and floors opened up.
The move severely damaged the house but Daddy saved Sedgewood from total destruction from the U. S. Government. It is ironic that the U. S. Army didn't burn the house in the 1860's during the War for Southern Independence but returned 80 years later for another chance. It is also ironic that Daddy was just trying to save an old house that we lived in but actually saved one of the few remaining historic antebellum plantation homes left in central Mississippi. Sedgewood now is listed on the U. S. National Register of Historic Places and has been designated a Mississippi Landmark by the Mississippi Department of Archives & History.
After my Daddy died in 1965, we moved out of the drafty old dilapidated house. Mama built a modern brick house nearby with heat, air conditioning and many other modern conveniences we did not have at Sedgewood. The "old house" was then occupied by various farm laborers over the years until by 1990 it had become vacant and derelict.
Nancy and I had always wanted to restore Sedgewood back to it's former glory. Many of our neighbors thought the house was too far gone and that we were crazy to spend money on the "old house". In early1992, we began in earnest. Immersing myself in the project, I consulted Ken P'Pool, the Director of Historic Preservation for the MDAH, Mimi Miller with the Historic Natchez Foundation, and many others. I hired a draftsman and began laying out the restoration of Sedgewood on paper. It took a solid year of planning and drawing before we were ready to begin. Fortunately, we were referred to Michael Collins from Jackson who I found to be the best restoration contractor in the state. Mike knew exactly how to turn our plans into reality. We also could not have done it without our lead carpenter Kenneth Ross of nearby Flora, Mississippi. After over a year of work by a full time crew, we were able to move into the house in late 1994. Nancy and I have a great sense of pride and accomplishment in bringing this architectural and historical jewel back from the brink of destruction. We want it to last another 170 years!
People in the old agrarian South were noted to have a "sense of place." The land became part of the family's soul and identity. My parents and grandparents lived and died on this place. Their spirits and the Sedgewood homeplace will continue to live on as long as they are nurtured by us and our descendants. Our children are the fourth generation to live in the "old house" and care for this place called Sedgewood Plantation.