Sunday, October 15, 2017

It was a dark and stormy night...

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in Columbus, Mississippi, that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness. 

                             Edward Bulwer-Lytton in the opening sentence of his 1830 novel Paul Clifford. wasn't dark the day we discovered Eggleston Hall, nestled in among overgrown trees, set back aways from Third Street North; nor was it stormy, since Columbus seems to be caught up in a mini-drought. Nonetheless, unless you're looking for this old ante-bellum two-up/two-down, you probably will pass right by it. As the sign says it was built circa 1847, which just might make this old house one of the oldest in Columbus. But it's one of the forgotten, hidden historic houses that has seen much neglect and ruin in the last few years. It was obvious (from the satellite dish) that it hadn't been completely abandoned too long ago, and there is also evidence that someone had made emergency repairs to the back of it, probably to make it habitable (barely) for whoever the last tenants were.

I couldn't find any extant photos of the house as it must have been in its heyday or later when photography made it possible to capture images for newspapers. Like many old homes in the antebellum Columbus, it survived the Civil War.

There are Egglestons in Friendship Cemetery, as well as references to Egglestons in Vicksburg and Jackson, Mississippi. But I've been unable to find any other information about this house. There are other Eggleston Halls in the U.S. and the U.K. Whether or not there is a direct family history (ancestor immigrant) to the Eggleston Hall in the U.K. and the home in Columbus is obscured by time—at least as far as access through Google goes. I'm not much of a researcher on genealogy, so I hope this post will inspire those who are to do so. And if any Eggleston family members have more information on the house here in Columbus, contact me through this blog and I will expand the information.

I could imagine a multitude of stories when I saw this house, a film perhaps with Gone with the Wind music and the drama of a young Eggleston daughter awaiting the arrival of another prominent family of Mississippi for a few weeks of visiting (as Southerners were won't to do), because she had met the young man of that family in a colder month, and the two families were betrothed through their daughter and son. Maybe it was cooler here in Columbus than it was down near Vicksburg, and so the visiting family came to escape the harsher heat. Maybe one of the Eggleston daughters attended the Columbus Female Institute, a private school founded in 1847 and the future site where the Mississippi University for Women would be established in 1885. Eggleston Hall, whatever its condition is today has seen a lot of history, even though it now crumbles quietly and forgotten amid the overgrown trees and bushes along 3rd Street North.

In my year plus four months in Columbus, I'm always discovering new places, but among the very best are those that are obscured by the overgrowth around them, lending an air of mystery and the passage of time from a languid and deep history. I've seen two other antebellum homes of the same era as Eggleston Hall rise from the ashes of decay and ruin when they were renovated, which now stand proudly, imbued of new life through the hands of dedicated renovators who love the old homes and buildings here in Columbus and Mississippi as my partner and I do.

But about those dark and stormy nights, there will be those, along with lightning and thunder and the sirens of tornado warnings, and maybe I'll be caught out in such a storm and when lightning illuminates the hulk of a building in front of me...abandoned and forgotten...I will think of stories to tell about it.

A little more about Mississippi...Enjoy.