The 20th annual Oxford Pilgrimage saw the addition of a home that had stood in Grenada since 1865. In 1983 the home of Dr. Joe Burnett and his wife Martha, was added to the list of twenty homes that had been open to the public for viewing during the pilgrimage. The history of this home is quite unique in the stories of Oxford homes that became part of the twenty two-year run of the pilgrimage.
The home had been built in 1865 for the H. B. Sherman of Grenada, and had been in the family for generations. Mrs. Burnett stated, “The Sherman family had been friends with our families for generations, and they lived in the house until a few years before we bought it. We saw that the house was for sale in June 1978. At that time we were drawing house plans. Our architect, L. P. McCarty, Jr. of Tupelo, would not let us give up the idea of doing what we’ve done.”
“Because I’m from Grenada, it was hard for me to take the house away. We waited until it was apparent that no one wanted the house, and then we bought it. I like to think we saved it from being torn down even though we moved it from Grenada,” Burnett went on to state. They had contemplated moving the entire home to Oxford, but that was not feasible. So they brought only what could not successfully be reproduced in the late 1970s. The house was taken apart and the pieces loaded into the trailer of a 18-wheeler and a smaller trailer. The actual disassembling of the house took about one month.
The 1865 front porch, the front wall, the doors and windows, flooring, and most of the molding from the old home were moved to Oxford. “We had everything measured and built exactly like the old house, but we adapted the back part to fit our needs,” stated Mrs. Burnett. “Every door, doorframe, window, window frame and fireplace was numbered and put in the exact spot as it was in the old house.”
The front wall of the house is the original wall, done in wood in an ashlar pattern. The wood is patterned to look like the wall is made of blocks instead of wood frame. “The old house was always white and people would go by it and place bets that the front was made of marble, but it’s just wood,” said Dr. Burnett. Most of the original glass is still in the windows, and only a few panes had to be replaced.
The arch over the front door is the arch from the old house, and the door was moved to Oxford in one piece because the workmen could not take it apart. The glass in the transom over the front door is the original glass and the original etchings can faintly be seen. The medallions and molding in the old house were plaster. “During the period in which the old house was built, they made the medallions in place by hand,” Mrs. Burnett said.
The home has the four original fireplaces for coal fires in their original locations. The flooring of the house is sanded heart pine one and a quarter inches thick with a clear sealer put on. “We tried to use as much of the old house as we could, “ Mrs. Burnett said. “We made a built-in pantry from two of the closet doors, and have all of the old locks still on the doors.” The front rooms, the living room, dining room, master bedroom and the kitchen/eating room are identical to the originals in the old house. The den has the same wood floor, and has wainscot paneling from the old house. The wainscot is made of pine stained to look like walnut with walnut overlay. The ceiling in the old part of the home are fourteen feet tall and in the new part they are ten feet tall.
The outside of the house is done in the Greek Revival style with the Victorian influences on the inside. “It was fascinating to me to see what the people did. The workmanship was excellent and it’s great to see that after 100 years it’s still usable,” Mrs. Burnett stated. The house combines the best of both centuries, the beauty of the old house with all the modern conveniences of central heating and cooling and insulation.
They encountered only one problem when reconstructing the home in Oxford. “All the wood was heart pine, which does not stain easily. Each piece is cut a bit differently with a different grain, so it didn’t stain the same. The Painter worked hours to get stains that blended. He would stain one part, then he’d stain another and it would come out either darker or lighter, so he’d have to make up a new stain.”
Although the home lost some of its historical importance when it was moved to Oxford, it still transports the visitor back to the mood of by gone days. If you are interested in seeing the home, it is located at 108 Rayner Drive near Lamar Park in west Oxford.
Jack Lamar Mayfield is a fifth generation Oxonian, whose family came to Oxford shortly after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832, and he is the third generation of his family to graduate from the University of Mississippi. He is a former insurance company executive and history instructor at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs, South Panola High School in Batesvile and the Oxford campus of Northwest Community College.
In addition to his weekly blog in HottyToddy.com Oxford’s Olden Days, Mayfield is also the author of an Images of America series book titled Oxford and Ole Miss published in 2008 for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for restoring the post-Civil War home of famed Mississippi statesman, L.Q.C. Lamar and is now restoring the Burns Belfry, the first African American Church in Oxford.