Downriver Residential Historic District
The Downriver Residential Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.
The Downriver Residential Historic District is roughly bounded by Orleans Street to the north, South Canal Street to the west, the tracks of the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad to the south, and a natural ravine, or bayou, between South Union Street and South Rankin Street to the east. The streets of Natchez are laid out parallel and perpendicular to the Mississippi River, which has long been interpreted as the town's western boundary. Main Street runs perpendicular to the river and the cross streets are designated by names as being north or south of Main, like North Commerce Street and South Commerce Street. However, upriver is actually north northeasterly and downriver is south southwesterly. In conformance with town usage and in an effort to avoid confusion with directions indicated by street names, nominal cardinal directions rather than actual directions are used in the physical description.
The western boundary of the Downriver Residential Historic District abuts the Natchez Bluffs and Under-the-Hill Historic District (listed 1972). The northerly boundary and most of the easterly boundary of the Downriver Residential Historic District dovetail with the boundaries of the Natchez On-Top-of-the-Hill Historic District (listed 1979), which encompasses the historic grid plan of the town. The Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, which forms the southern boundary of the district, is included as a contributing resource, because the railroad itself is historic and its adjacent property includes portions of the picturesque bayous that intersect and border the district.
Most of the land in the Downriver Residential Historic District, except for the northern edges and the areas south and west of South Pearl Street, was part of the antebellum estate of the Nathaniel Harrison family, the major portion of which was subdivided into building lots in 1883. The least desirable portion along the bayou was sold to the New Orleans and North West Railroad in 1889 and 1890. When the Harrison family subdivided their antebellum suburban estate, streets were drawn as southern extensions of the streets in the grid plan. Consequently, the streets in the Downriver Residential Historic District tend to be plotted regularly, although constricted and interrupted by bayous and historic railroad tracks. South Wall Street, which is outside the Harrison property, is also an extension of South Wall Street in the historic grid plan, but it is interrupted by a deep bayou that parallels the railroad tract.
The lot divisions in the Downriver Residential Historic District vary. The southernmost portions of South Commerce and South Union Streets tend to have lots that are larger and deeper than the northernmost portions of the two streets. The density of the northernmost portion of the district more closely resembles the density of the residential neighborhoods in the southern part of the Natchez On-Top-of-the-Hill Historic District. The larger lots at the southern end of South Union Street, the bordering bayous, and the adjoining estates of Clovernook (also known as Lemuel Conner House, 523 South Union Street), Ravenna (8 Ravenna Lane), and Ravennaside (601 South Union Street) create a landscaped park-like setting in the southeastern portion of the district. The lots in the southwestern portion of the Downriver Residential Historic District are smaller and reflect the lower socioeconomic level of the working class people who lived in the area. Many of the smaller lots have been combined into larger lots occupied by three African-American churches (Briel Avenue Baptist Church [now New Life Full Gospel Baptist Church], 16 Briel Avenue; Ebenezer Baptist Church, 501 South Wall Street; Jerusalem Baptist Church, 608 Wall Street) and their associated parking areas. The topography of the Downriver Residential Historic District is irregular and somewhat hilly, and some of the houses rest on small knolls. The land associated with about 20% of the houses borders a bayou, or deep chasm, that provides a view of a green jungle-like wilderness from many rear windows and back porches.
Fairly regular setbacks and the repetition of architectural forms and details provide a sense of regularity and unity to the Downriver Residential Historic District. Northwest of the railroad tracks, these repeated architectural details include brick pier foundations, porches, textured roofs of patterned asbestos and composition shingles, brick chimneys, doors with glazed panels, large panes of window glass, louvered shutter blinds, wood lap siding, and fish-scale shingles. Southwest of the railroad tracks, the repeated architectural details are brick piers, porches, metal roofs, paneled doors, and wood lap siding. The yards northwest of the railroad tracks are well landscaped and the streets are shaded by large trees in the yards and by trees planted in the neutral ground between the sidewalks and the streets. The yards southwest of the railroad tracks are poorly landscaped with few trees to shade the houses or the streets.
Although the date range of the contributing buildings in the Downriver Residential Historic District ranges from 1835 to 1947, the majority of the buildings date between 1883 and 1910. Many of the houses dating to the mid-1880s were probably built in the late Italianate, Stick, or Eastlake styles, but historic photographs and Sanborn Insurance Maps indicate that most were remodeled in the Colonial Revival style between 1900 and 1910. One house with vernacular Italianate detailing survives at 601 South Canal Street. Many of the houses in the Queen Anne style were also remodeled in the Colonial Revival style, but some survive with their architectural integrity largely intact. The Charles Patterson House (506 South Union Street) is one of the city's most important examples of the Queen Anne style. Three of the city's most important Colonial Revival residences were built in the Downriver Residential Historic District and include the Adolph Jacobs House (also known as Bailey House, 400 South Commerce Street), the Louis Benoist House (410 South Union Street), and Ravennaside (601 South Union Street). Most of the residential examples of the Queen Anne and Colonial Revival style are one-story substantial residences similar to those published in pattern books of the period.
In the area southwest of the railroad tracks, the Queen Anne style appears only as architectural details on a few vernacular houses on South Canal Street and Briel Avenue. Two of the small vernacular houses at 4 and 5 Briel Avenue exhibit such Queen Anne details as brackets and turned posts. Colonial Revival detailing is not evident in this same area of the district. Very few Bungalows were built in the Downriver Residential Historic District, with most of the examples being vernacular expressions of the style in the area southwest of the railroad tracks. One shingled Bungalow at 416 South Union Street was probably once a good representative example of the style, but a "colonial" remodeling in 1970 has removed most of its original detailing.
Most of the buildings northwest of the railroad tracks are in very good condition, but their architectural integrity has been compromised by selective remodeling. Many of the buildings southwest of the railroad tracks are in deteriorated condition. Several of the houses in this area were also the focus of a HUD-sponsored "weatherization" program and lost their original wood windows to metal replacements. Vinyl siding has unfortunately been introduced to all areas of the Downriver Residential Historic District, but the city's preservation commission now prohibits its installation on the facade of a building. A few of the buildings also have inappropriate exterior metal storm windows.
Of the 184 buildings, structures, vacant lots, and swimming pools in the Downriver Residential Historic District boundaries, 96 are contributing buildings, 57 are noncontributing buildings, 1 is a contributing structure (railroad), 1 is a non-contributing structure (oil storage tanks), 20 are vacant lots, 3 are swimming pools, and 6 are designated as previously listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The Downriver Residential Historic District is locally significant for both architecture and community planning and development. The period of significance extends from 1835 to 1947. The 1835 date reflects the mid-1830s construction dates of three historic houses within the Downriver Residential Historic District — Ravenna at 8 Ravenna Lane, the Margaret Martin House at 406 South Commerce Street, and the house at 405 South Union Street. Ravenna is the earliest purely Greek Revival house in Natchez. The 1947 date corresponds to the fifty-year eligibility requirement for listing in the National Register of Historic Places as well as to the date of the most recent Sanborn Insurance Map used in documenting the historic resources of the district. The most significant date in the history of the Downriver Residential Historic District is 1883, the year that Henrietta Harrison subdivided her family's antebellum suburban estate into building lots (Adams County Deed Book YY, 380). The majority of the buildings are Queen Anne and Colonial Revival and date between 1883 and 1910. The development of the Downriver Residential Historic District generally reflects the country's nineteenth century evolution from an agrarian to an urban society. On the state and local level, the Downriver Residential Historic District reflects a newly energized post-bellum cotton economy and the emergence of a prosperous and dominant merchant class, many of whom were Jewish.
The Downriver Residential Historic District dovetails on the west with the Natchez Bluffs and Under-the-Hill Historic District (listed 1972) and on the north with the Natchez On-Top-of-the-Hill Historic District (listed 1979), which contains the historic grid plan of the town of Natchez. The Upriver Residential Historic District (listed 1983) is the district's historical and architectural counterpart on the north side of the grid plan. The Upriver Residential Historic District is much larger than the Downriver Residential Historic District, whose development was hampered both by railroad development and deep natural ravines, or bayous as they are termed locally. These bayous, which intersect the southern portion of the city, form picturesque wildernesses within the urban landscape of the district.
Both the Upriver and Downriver districts were created by the subdivision of suburban villas, which surrounded the town of Natchez during the antebellum period. These suburban villas, as they were termed then and now, provided the convenience of town with the tranquility of a rural retreat. After the Civil War, these estates were subdivided both to provide money for formerly affluent slave-holding owners and also to provide housing for a growing urban population that included a large number of newly emancipated slaves. The larger Upriver district is composed of the subdivisions of several suburban villas, including The Burn, The Wigwam, Cottage Gardens, Airlie, and Melmont.
Most of the land in the Downriver Residential Historic District, except for the northern edges and the areas south and west of Pearl Street, was part of the antebellum estate of the Nathaniel Harrison family. The Harrison house stood approximately midway on what is today South Union Street, and a brick dependency building stood in the middle of the street itself. The house and its dependency building are depicted on the 1864 Map of the Defences [sic] of Natchez and on an 1883 map detailing the extensions of South Union and South Commerce Streets (Deed Book YY, 314). In 1835, Nathaniel Harrison sold fifteen acres of his property to his son-in-law and daughter, William and Caroline Harrison Harris, for the construction of Ravenna, individually listed in the National Register and included within the boundaries of the Downriver Residential Historic District.
In 1883, Henrietta Harrison, widow of Nathaniel Harrison's son Epheus, subdivided the Harrison property and began selling building lots (Deed Book YY, 380). Although the Harrison family's antebellum residence became a casualty of the subdivision of the property, the Harrison family is remembered within the Downriver Residential Historic District by Harrison Street, which connects South Commerce and South Union Streets. Some of the lots were small with only a fifty-foot frontage; others were larger. Some buyers, like photographer Henry Norman, bought several lots and combined them (Deed Book YY, 395). Norman's property at 502 South Union Street originally included three lots, but a later owner subdivided the property and the Henry C. Norman House itself was moved slightly southward to accommodate the construction of another house.
In 1889 and 1890, Henrietta Harrison sold to the New Orleans and North West Railroad the least valuable part of her property the land that paralleled and included part of the bayou that intersects the district (Deed Books 3D, 512 and 3E, 67). The New Orleans and North West Railroad built both passenger and freight depots in the triangle formed by the fork of the tracks at the intersection of Briel Avenue and South Pearl Street. Both these buildings no longer survive, but photographs exist to document the appearance of the passenger depot. The railroad spurred some commercial development of the adjacent property, including a coal yard at 23 Briel Avenue (Cloutier Oil Company), which later became home to Amoco Petroleum and remains headquarters of an oil company today. The City of Natchez hopes to relocate the railroad, which is today owned by Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, and eventually use the historic railroad bed and its right-of-way to bring the Natchez Trace Parkway to the Mississippi River
The railroad tracks and bayou appear to divide the Downriver Residential Historic District into two distinct neighborhoods of varying architectural character with the more substantial houses northwest of the tracks. This is the result of the boundaries that were drawn in 1971 for the Natchez Bluffs and Under-the-Hill Historic District, Mississippi's first district to be listed in the National Register. This district was listed so early that it did not include an inventory of buildings, and its apparent goal was to include, in a single district, the property that encompassed both Natchez Under-the-Hill and the site of historic Fort Rosalie. The Natchez Bluffs and Under-the-Hill Historic District includes buildings on the west side of Canal Street that architecturally and historically relate to buildings in the Downriver Residential Historic District. The smaller houses of the Briel Avenue, South Pearl Street, and South Canal Street neighborhood are actually flanked on the west, as well as the east, by more substantial houses.
Residential development that is mixed economically and racially is historically characteristic of late nineteenth-century Natchez, where a Greek Revival mansion like Dunleith (National Historic Landmark) once fronted a row of board-and-batten, late nineteenth century tenant houses (demolished 1970s). The owners and tenants of the smaller houses often worked in the larger houses. Three small vernacular dwellings at 700, 700-1/2, and 701 South Union Street fulfilled that function for the Colonial Revival mansion Ravennaside at 114 South Union Street. Unfortunately, but typically, the area of smaller houses southwest of the railroad tracks has suffered the most erosion, both from deterioration of the resources as well as from commercial development on South Canal Street, a major transportation artery into the city. Three African-American churches in the Downriver Residential Historic District have also demolished buildings to create parking areas.
Most of the buildings in the Downriver Residential Historic District are residential in character. Only 11 of the 132 inventoried refer to non-residential property, which includes the three African-American churches. Most of the buildings were built between 1883 and 1910 in the late Italianate, Eastlake, Queen Anne, and Colonial Revival styles. However, the majority of these buildings on South Union and South Commerce Streets have undergone substantial Colonial Revival remodelings. Historic photographs document that the three-bay facade of the Henry Norman House at 502 South Union Street originally featured a single-bay entrance porch beside two bays of windows that opened onto a balcony sheltered by a bracketed hood. The porch and balcony featured a sawn balustrade, and the porch was supported by chamfered bracketed posts atop pedestals. The posts were linked by a stick-work frieze. Between 1904 and 1910, the balcony and porch were removed for construction of a full-width gallery supported by turned, classical columns linked by a balustrade of turned balusters. The Lemuel Conner House, Clovernook, at 523 South Union Street, is one of the grandest houses in the Downriver Residential Historic District, but it also underwent a Colonial Revival remodeling. A historic photograph of its Stick style summer house hints at the original appearance of the house.
Despite the remodeling of so many late Italianate, Eastlake, and Queen Anne houses, the Downriver Residential Historic District does contain one of the city's most significant Queen Anne style houses. The Charles Patterson House at 506 South Union Street (National Register listed June 24, 1994), built by Natchez architect and builder Robert E. Bost, is one of the city's most significant Queen Anne style houses due to its association with Bost, the high quality of its architectural finish, and its outstanding architectural integrity. Three of the city's most significant Colonial Revival houses are also located in the district. The Adolph Jacobs House (commonly the Bailey House) at 400 South Commerce Street boasts the city's most impressive residential stained glass and reflects the prosperity of the Jewish merchant class in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Natchez. In 1903-04, Jacobs was president of the Natchez Cotton and Merchants' Exchange, and he served as a city alderman from 1906-07. Ravennaside at 601 South Union Street is indisputably the city's most ostentatious Colonial Revival house and was home to Roane Fleming Byrnes, influential in the creation of the Natchez Trace Parkway. The Louis Benoist House at 410 South Union Street is also an outstanding example of the style with its octagonal three-stage tower with ogee roof.
In addition to the grand and substantial examples of late nineteenth and early twentieth century architecture, the Downriver Residential Historic District contains an very important but small collection of simple vernacular houses, many of which were probably tenant houses. These include cottages like 4, 6, 8, and 10 Briel Avenue, 14 Ravenna Lane, and 700, 700-1/2, and 701 South Union Street. Sanborn Insurance Maps and historic photographs document that large numbers of such cottages were dotted throughout the urban and suburban landscape of the city and were home primarily to the city's African-American population. Through deterioration and lack of appreciation, most have been demolished. The preservation of the remaining two or three dozen of these buildings is vital in accurately interpreting the city's history through its built environment.
The Downriver Residential Historic District is the seventh Natchez district to be nominated to the National Register by the Historic Natchez Foundation and one of eight districts in the city. The Mississippi Department of Archives and History earlier listed the Natchez Bluffs and Under the Hill District. The foundation and the City of Natchez placed a low priority on National Register listing for the Downriver Residential Historic District, since its property values were stable and only a few properties might have benefited from the preservation tax credit. The foundation instead put priority on the commercial areas (Natchez on-Top-of-the-Hill Historic District) and neighborhoods threatened by unstable property values or bluff erosion. Those with unstable property values include the Upriver Residential Historic District, the Woodlawn Historic District, and the Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District. The districts threatened with bluff erosion include the Cemetery Bluff District and the Clifton Heights Historic District.
A comprehensive and detailed study of the buildings in the Downriver Residential Historic District indicates that stable property values and higher owner income substantially contribute to erosion of historic character. Poorer neighborhoods lose historic architectural fabric, because owners usually repair and replace in the easiest and least expensive manner. Upper income neighborhoods lose architectural fabric due to fashion and the ability to afford remodeling. In the first decade of the twentieth century, owners of houses in the Downriver Residential Historic District remodeled their late Italianate, Eastlake, and Queen Anne houses in the newly popular Colonial Revival style. These remodelings are today historically significant, but the neighborhood lost most of the architectural details that date the buildings to the 1880s and 1890s. Classical columns replaced chamfered posts and turned balusters replaced sawn balustrades. During the past three or four decades, owners have "colonialized" many of the houses by replacing original Queen Anne entrance doorways with antebellum paneled doors and an occasional fanlight and by reducing the sizes of the porches and galleries. The gallery of one house features inappropriate pseudo New Orleans ironwork with evidence of the original chamfered posts remaining on a corner of the facade. Hopefully, the 1998 survey of the neighborhood and its resulting National Register nomination will spur new interest in the preservation and restoration of the Downriver Residential Historic District's real and very important historic character.
Adams County, Mississippi. Office of the Chancery Clerk. Deed Books K, L, FF, LL, UU, YY, ZZ, 3 A, 3B, 3C, 3D, 3E, 3F, 3G, 31, 3L.
Adams County Mississippi. Office of the Chancery Clerk. Will Books 1, 2.
Natchez, Mississippi. Historic Natchez Foundation. Aerial photograph of Downriver Residential Historic District, n. d., ca. 1945.
Natchez, Mississippi. Historic Natchez Foundation. Natchez City Directories 1914, 1925, 1929, 1935, and 1946.
Natchez, Mississippi. Historic Natchez Foundation. Sanborn Insurance Maps 1886, 1892, 1897, 1901, 1904, 1910, 1925, and 1925 updated to 1947.
Natchez, Mississippi. Historic Natchez Foundation. Site Files.
Natchez, Mississippi On Top, Not "Under the Hill. " Natchez: Daily Democrat Steam Print, n. d., ca. 1888. Photocopy at the Historic Natchez Foundation.
Wilson, Capt. John M. Chief Engineer. "Map of the Defences [sic] of Natchez and Vicinity, " prepared and surveyed under the direction of Capt. P. Hains, U. S. Engineers, 1864. Photographic print at the Historic Natchez Foundation.
† Mary W. Miller, Directory of Preservation, Historic Natchez Foundation, Downriver Residential Historic District, Adams County, Natchez, MS, nomination document, 1998, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.