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Vicksburg History

From the Archives: Old City Hall



Old City Hall, Vicksburg Miss.
Old City Hall on Monroe Street in 1900, three years before it was demolished. (credit: Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation)
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by Nancy Bell, Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation

Until 1903, this building, in the middle of Monroe Street, served as Vicksburg’s City Hall and housed the city court, city clerk and city tax accessor on the second floor and a market on the first floor.

Vicksburg's Old City Hall
Vicksburg’s Old City Hall, north end, dated 1900 (credit: Vicksburg Foundation for Historic Preservation)

Built in 1834

In February 1834, the state legislature amended the act that incorporated the town of Vicksburg. Among many other things, the 1834 act gave the selectmen the power to organize companies of firemen, to inspect and regulate food quality, and to erect and regulate a market house. The house was completed in that year and, in addition to the market, housed meetings of the selectmen and offices of lawyers.

For the next 68 years, the City Hall would serve as the hub of Vicksburg’s commerce, judicial proceedings, and municipal operations.

By 1900, the frame building was in poor shape. An article in the Vicksburg Evening Post on January 18, 1901 reported that “the roof of the old City Hall building was discovered on fire this morning about 9:30 o’clock. A telephone message from city clerk Trowbridge brought the fire department on hand promptly and saved the old rookery. If it had not been for the loss of the records, the destruction of the old building would not have been a source of much regret.”

A stately, and sturdy, replacement

The city contracted renowned architect James Riely Gordon to design a new city hall and hired the Davis-Larkin Company to build it. Gordon’s grandiose design, with curving rows of columns and ornate embellishments, still exudes beauty and power from its crest above the Mississippi River.

City Hall, Vicksburg, Miss.
The completed City Hall building in 1906 (credit: Library of Congress)

A disruptive dispute

When the new building was completed in December 1902, a dispute between the architect and contractor kept the mayor and alderman from moving in. Supervising architect Giannini would not authorize final payment to the contractor. The contractor countered that the architect had made additions to the plans which were fulfilled by them but payment was not made.

Larkin sent a letter to the mayor and alderman on February 10, 1903 saying that, while the building had been finished for 10 days, they still hadn’t been paid and they requested an arbitrator. A special meeting of the mayor and board of alderman was held to consider the Larkin request and to, incidentally, grant a liquor license to P. Manziose.

Quorum and decorum

After the liquor license had been granted, the mayor handed the Larkin letter to Alderman Smith with the request that he read it to the board. At this point, Alderman Caughlin quietly picked up his hat and overcoat and walked out, breaking quorum.

Alderman Smith was in the middle of the first sentence of the letter when Caughlin’s exit brought his reading to an abrupt end. Alderman Hamburg took a quick turn or two across the floor with a ‘d—— it’ sort of expression on his face and his honor proceeded to roll a fresh cigarette.

Finally the mayor relieved the situation by remarking, ‘well, as there’s no quorum we can’t do business, and I guess we might as well disperse and attend to our own private affairs.’

Shortly thereafter, the city board selected architect William Stanton and contractor John Curphey to arbitrate. A powerful windstorm the next week prompted the Vicksburg Herald to report that “it begins to look as if the old City Hall will tumble down over the heads of the administration before Mr. Larkin will let the same administration have possession of the new domicile. It is only the few who cannot get out of going to the Monroe Street horror who realize what a condition the City Hall is really in.”

Taking action

A month later, the mayor and alderman resolved to not pay the Davis – Larkin company and to “take such action as maybe necessary to obtain legal possession of the building.” On April 8, the Davis-Larkin company filed suit in federal court against the city in an attempt to force the city to pay “the balance due on the contract as was agreed upon- $5,992.91, to pay items in contract for extra work and interest on same- $2,473.50, damages caused by delay of architect in inspecting foundation together with interest- $2,362, losses by failure of the Mayor and Aldermen to meet eight pay certificates as agreed upon in contract-$9,202.83, for a grand total of $19,642.24. In the meantime the city has taken forcible possession and is putting in the furniture and are occupying the building.”

Out with the old

Finally, on April 14, 1903, more than a year after its construction, the city moved out of the old hall and into the new building. That June, the city advertised the 69-year-old original hall for sale. The Vicksburg Herald reported that when the mayor was asked about how many bids they had received, he replied, “in the negative. It was then moved that the mayor advertise the old shack to be sold at auction to the highest better for cash, which was agreed to.”

So on July 9, 1903 the city auctioned “the old and ugly building,” to Mr. R. Quinn for $275. Demolition work started in July, as reported by the Vicksburg Herald, “the work of tearing down the old city hall was begun yesterday morning and by knocking off time in the evening the north section had been unroofed down to the rafters. The shingles taken off are of much account, but the rafters and joists are in very good state of preservation, and there are plenty of them.”

Thirty days later the building in the middle of the road was gone. The contractor’s suit against the city was settled on May 10, 1904 and the city was required to pay the contractor $9,000.

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