By Bruce Coleman
Mississippi College Communications Specialist
One of the oldest structures on the Mississippi College campus and a beloved gathering place for alumni receptions, bridal and baby showers, and other local events has received a much-needed restoration.
The Latimer House, a stately Victorian wood-frame structure and treasured historical landmark in the city of Clinton, will soon serve the community once more as an attractive meeting location. It will also house the MC Foundation, the University’s development office.
Purchased by MC from the Latimer family in 1969, the Queen Anne-style home nestled across the street from the president’s residence boasts a rich history entwined with the University.
The wood-frame house was built in the mid-1890s for Rev. Warren Sheldon Webb, D.D., MC’s president from 1873-91, and his wife, Margaret Sherman Webb, after their original home had burned in December 1894. Later, it served as the residence of Prof. Murray E. Latimer, who had married the Webbs’ daughter, Myrtle. Latimer taught Greek at MC and served as mayor of Clinton from 1906-19.
When it the University obtained it a half-century later, the tree-lined edifice was preserved as a campus guest house. It soon became one of the most popular places to socialize in Clinton.
Katrina Pace, executive director of the MC Foundation, has a personal connection to the Latimer House. Her father, Ralph Taylor, who taught music for more than 40 years at MC, once rented a room there.
“That may have been while he was a student or a young professor at MC,” Pace said. “Sometimes, he would even drive Ms. Latimer around on Sunday afternoons.
“Now my office will be in a bedroom in that house. It’s interesting how things have come full circle. It is very exciting to breathe new life into that space and use it for alumni events again.”
MC Foundation offices will take up the second floor of the building, while the first floor will remain available for use by the University and the Clinton community. It will include meeting and event space and a full-sized kitchen.
Pace said her staff can’t wait to relocate to the charming 1800s edifice.
“Everyone in our group is thrilled to be in the Latimer House and to have it as our office space and our University home,” she said. “Our main line of work is bringing people back to campus and telling the story of what is going on at MC. This is an excellent backdrop for that.”
She said the Foundation frequently invites alums back to campus as honored guests. The Latimer House will provide ample resources for small lunches, banquet-style dinners, receptions, and other events in the same building where the Foundation offices are located.
“It will be wonderful to have a designated space for those activities,” she said. “The landscaping is beautiful, and we will be able to host outdoor events around football games and other occasions.”
For longtime Clinton residents like Laura Jackson, MC chief executive officer and chief operating officer, the Latimer House has been a beloved asset to the community for generations.
“We want it to continue to be a showplace for the University,” Jackson said. “It has significance for the people of Clinton, not just MC. The downstairs area will continue to be available to the community if they wish to rent it for any number of small gatherings or events.
“There’s no place else in Clinton that can offer a better setting than the Latimer House.”
The restoration was extensive as one might expect of a project involving a 19th-century structure. The building had settled greatly through the years, and the crawl space underneath the structure was virtually nonexistent. The entire house had to be raised about 18 inches so electrical, ductwork, and support beams could be reinstalled.
The front porch was almost entirely rebuilt, and all of the original pine flooring was restored. Not all of the furnishings were retained, however. Much of the period-specific furniture that had been obtained when the house was last renovated during the 1980s no longer fit the space and needed a new home.
“A lot of the furniture had been donated or specifically bought by someone to go into the house,” Jackson said. “We had a list of donors, so we reached out to them and asked if they wanted their furniture back. Most of them said no.
“That left us with the question of what to do with the remaining furniture.”
A casual conversation with a visiting college president provided the answer. While having lunch with Dr. Carmen Hawkins Walters, president of Tougaloo College, Jackson learned of the school’s efforts to preserve the Robert O. Wilder Building, also known as the Mansion, a Mississippi Historic Landmark on the HBCU campus.
“I asked her if she needed furniture for the Mansion, and she said, ‘Yes, we do,’” Jackson said. “Then I said, ‘Do I have a proposition for you!”
Jackson told Walters about the Latimer House furniture needing a new home – from an 1840 Rosewood couch and a red velvet medallion-backed chair to large, wooden four-poster beds and mirrors with ornate gold frames. The following week, Walters returned to MC with a Tougaloo College historian in tow for a complete inspection.
“They talked about how beautiful the furniture was,” Jackson said. “I asked if they could use it for their restoration, and they said, ‘Oh, yes. How much is it?’ I said nothing – it’s a gift from MC to Tougaloo.
“She was so moved by the gift that she grabbed ahold of a bedpost and started crying. That gave me such a sense of peace that the furniture was going to a good place and would be well taken care of. They promised us that when the renovation of the Mansion is complete, they would invite us to see the furniture in its new home.”
Thus, the Latimer House renovation will benefit two campus communities.
“To have a part in making sure the Latimer House is restored for years to come gives me great pride,” Jackson said. “All of my children had bridal showers there before they got married. The house means so much to me – not to mention, it’s a beautiful home.”
Pace expects it will soon be a beautiful place to work, too.
“There are so many people that house is special to – myself included – and it’s had a lot of changes. I think people who come to see it will be grateful for the restoration.
“The fact the University considered it worthwhile to be saved is noteworthy.”