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Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District


The Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. Portions of the content on this web page were adapted from a copy of the original nomination document. [†] Adaptation copyright © 2011, The Gombach Group.

Description

The Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District is identified as a significant cluster of historic buildings in the neighborhood surrounding Holy Family Catholic Church (8 Orange Avenue), which fronts onto St. Catherine Street. St. Catherine Street is one of the city's most historic streets and was once a portion of the Natchez Trace, the historic trail that led from Nashville to Natchez. St. Catherine Street begins about a mile from the bluff at the site of the historic slave markets, known as the Forks of the Road, and terminates onto Martin Luther King Jr. Road (formerly Pine Street), the easternmost street of the historic grid plan of the city and the eastern boundary of the Natchez On-Top-of-the-Hill Historic District. The Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District is located at the western terminus of the street, and a portion of the western boundary of the district coincides with the eastern boundary of the Natchez On-Top-of-the-Hill Historic District. Railroad tracks form the northern boundary except for one tract of land across the tracks on Aldrich Avenue that contains buildings that relate to the Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District in their period of development.

Before the City of Natchez undertook an urban renewal project in the 1970's, the entire length of St. Catherine Street, its cross streets, and its side streets would have constituted one large historic district. This district would have led from the site of the Forks of the Road slave markets to Zion Chapel African-American Church the church led by the Reverend Hiram Revels, the first African-American to serve in the United States Congress. Today, only two significant clusters of buildings survive and each is located in the shadow of two of the street's monumental landmarks — (1) Holy Family Catholic Church and (2) Brumfield School.

Within the boundaries of the Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District, St. Catherine Street intersects two hills, one occupied by Holy Family Catholic Church and the other by houses constructed on the sub-divided property of an 1813 building that functioned as both a territorial, state, and city hospital (14 Bowles Alley). The deteriorated, ca. 1835 rear wing of the hospital still stands on the apex of the hill. Holy Family Catholic Church architecturally dominates the district due to its siting on a hill, its monumental size, and the elevation of the sanctuary above a fully raised basement. Streets within the Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District tend to be regularly and irregularly plotted. St. Catherine Street itself is irregular due its age and its location outside the historic grid plan of the city, and Abbott Street follows the curve of "hospital hill." However, streets that were plotted in the late 19th century like Old D'Evereaux Street, Orange Avenue, and Byrne Street are regularly laid out in a grid-like pattern. Building facade lines are fairly regular. Buildings located on "hospital hill" have greater setbacks due to their location on the hill, and buildings on land that more closely relates to the plane of the street tend to have consistent set-backs and be built close to the street.

The architectural character of the Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District is predominantly late nineteenth and early twentieth century and reflects to some degree the subdivision of the hospital property after the demolition of the hospital in 1886. Most of the buildings are frame construction with the exception of Holy Family Catholic Church at 8 Orange Street (facing St. Catherine Street), the deteriorated hospital wing at 14 Bowles Alley, a brick shotgun at 9-1/2 Abbott Street, and a residence at 17 Old D'Evereaux Street (Wharlest Jackson Elks Lodge #1675), which are built of brick, and a concrete block and steel truss commercial building at 30 St. Catherine Street (Automotive Machine Company, Inc.). The early gas station at 23 St. Catherine Street is stucco on frame.

Most of the frame buildings retain their original clapboard siding. The frame buildings at 11 Abbott Street and 22 Byrne Street feature board-and-batten siding on the side elevations. Only a few buildings have suffered the installation of modern siding materials, and these include vinyl siding on 14 Old D'Evereaux Street and 16 Orange Avenue (Holy Family Catholic Church Rectory), brick veneering on 8 Byrne Street, and fibre-board siding on 8 Old D'Evereaux Street and 17 Bowles Alley.

Regional vernacular architectural forms like shotgun houses and cottages with inset galleries are well represented in the Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District. About twenty-five percent of the buildings exhibit some evidence of the Queen Anne style in their form or detailing. Three buildings that were originally Queen Anne underwent later Colonial Revival and Bungalow remodelings. The Dr. John Banks House at 9 St. Catherine Street was built between 1886 and 1892 in the Queen Anne style and transformed to become a locally significant example of the Colonial Revival style between 1904 and 1910. The Bungalow style houses at 7 St. Catherine Street (Kaster House, Webb Funeral Home) and 17 St. Catherine Street were both built about 1890 in the Queen Anne style and were remodeled ca. 1925. The galleried cottages at 8, 10, and 12 Old D'Evereaux Street feature Queen Anne porch detailing, and even the plain shotgun house at 6 Abbot Street features the turned posts so characteristic of the Queen Anne style. Two of the city's most architecturally significant shotgun cottages are well detailed in the Queen Anne style and are located at 9 and 11 Byrne Street. The Queen Anne style also left its mark on Holy Family Catholic Church, which is the city's grandest example of the Victorian Gothic Revival style, in the design of the entrance portico with its turned posts and Queen Anne ornament.

Greek Revival detailing is found in the brick hospital wing at 14 Bowles Alley and in the brick cottage at 17 Old D'Evereaux Street (Wharlest Jackson Elks Lodge #1675), which is Greek Revival in form and dormer detail. Echoes of the Italianate style are found at 15 St. Catherine Street and 28 St. Catherine Street, which were built at the beginning of the Queen Anne period in Natchez. A well detailed Eastlake cottage is located at 13 St. Catherine Street. The Colonial Revival style is represented at the Dr. John Banks House at 9 St. Catherine Street and in the auditorium/cafeteria of Holy Family Catholic Church at 16 Orange Avenue. Vernacular examples of the Craftsman or Bungalow style are found in the brick shotgun at 9-1/2 Abbot Street, the galleried cottages at 10 and 22 Byrne Street, the typical gable-end bungalow at 8 Byrne Street, and in one of the city's three surviving historic gas stations at 23 St. Catherine Street.

The Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District contains no significant public or private landscaping. Limited sidewalk shade is provided by trees in the yards of houses, since none of the streets have any formal street planting.

Most of the buildings in the Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District are reasonably well preserved. The only deteriorated contributing resource is 14 Bowles Alley. Preservation interest and activity has been increasing and is reflected in the rehabilitation of the Dr. John Banks House (9 St. Catherine Street) and the two nearly matching brick cottages at 25 and 27 St. Catherine Street.

Of the 65 buildings and sites in the Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District boundaries, 50 are contributing and 15 are noncontributing. Noncontributing resources are limited to two vacant lots and 13 buildings, including two commercial buildings (car wash and food stand), two metal warehouses, four buildings less than 50 years old, three buildings that are so remodeled as to no longer contribute, and 2 garages behind a contributing building. Contributing resources are all buildings except for 1 St. Catherine Street, which was the site of the Rhythm Club Fire, where 209 African-Americans died in a 1940 fire.

Significance

The Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District is a small historic district that is locally significant for both architecture and African-American history. The period of significance extends from ca. 1835 to 1945. The 1835 date is the approximate date of a Greek Revival building that was built as a wing addition to an 1813 hospital building that was demolished in 1886. The 1945 date reflects the probable construction date of 30 St. Catherine Street (Automotive Machine Company, Inc.), which first appears on a 1925 Sanborn Insurance Map updated to 1946. Significant dates are 1886, the year that the territorial hospital building property was subdivided into building lots; 1894, the year that Holy Family Catholic Church, the first African-American Catholic Church in Mississippi, was dedicated; and 1940, the year that the Rhythm Club fire took the lives of 209 African-American citizens, many of whom were prominent members of the African-American community. The most significant architectural resource is Holy Family Catholic Church, which is the city's finest example of Victorian Gothic Revival, but the district contains 49 contributing buildings that are locally significant examples of styles popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Most are cottages in the Queen Anne, Eastlake, Colonial Revival, and Bungalow styles. Several of the houses have important associations with the history of the African-American community in Natchez.

The Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District is located at the western end of St. Catherine Street, the eighteenth century road and later city street that led from the Natchez slave markets at the Forks of the Road to Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the church of Hiram Revels, the first African-American to serve in the United States Congress. This street was part of the Natchez Trace, the historic trail that led from Nashville to Natchez. Along this historic, mile-long street, between the former site of the slave markets and the church of the Rev. Hiram Revels, were located the fine houses of some of the city's most prominent African-Americans, the small shotgun houses of the ordinary African-American citizen, the first African-American high school, the oldest and certainly the grandest African-American Catholic Church in Mississippi, small frame churches, and businesses that catered both to white and black. Unfortunately, urban renewal of the 1970's and 80's demolished large numbers of significant historic buildings along St. Catherine Street and its cross and side streets. Today, two significant clusters of historic resources survive and each is located in the shadow of two of the street's monumental landmarks — (1) Holy Family Catholic Church and (2) Brumfield School.

The Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District includes a varied collection of contributing resources, most dating to the late 19th and early 20th century, with several having significant historical associations.. Holy Family Catholic Church (8 Orange Avenue) was constructed in 1894 (cornerstone) and is the city's most notable example of the Victorian Gothic Revival style. The church building architecturally dominates the district due to its monumental size, its architectural form with the sanctuary resting on a fully raised basement, and its siting on a hill overlooking St. Catherine Street. Its exterior and interior architectural integrity are exceptional. The church building itself is part of a complex that includes several buildings, including a convent, rectory, auditorium/gymnasium, and modern school building. The church also acquired an adjacent neighborhood cottage on St. Catherine Street and incorporated it into the church/school complex. Most of the social activity in the historic district emanates from the Holy Family Catholic Church complex.

Holy Family Catholic Church is the oldest African-American Catholic Church in Mississippi. The church was established by the Diocese of Mississippi, then headquartered in Natchez, and later became a mission church and school under the leadership of the Josephites, a society of priests and brothers who are dedicated solely to serving the needs of the African-American community. Headquartered in Baltimore, this order of the Catholic Church figures importantly in the social, educational, and religious history of black Americans. The first separate parish for Natchez African-Americans was established in 1885 and initially was headquartered in a frame building located on Beaumont Street in the Woodlawn Historic District. Through a fund-raising effort in Northern cities, the Josephites financed the 1894 construction of the grand edifice on St. Catherine Street. The frame convent was also constructed in 1894. Later in 1906, Holy Family Catholic Church built an auditorium/cafeteria building in the Colonial Revival style. The Queen Anne style rectory (16 Orange Avenue), which was built about 1895, was not initially part of the complex but was a later acquisition. For over a century, Holy Family Catholic Church and its associated school have played an integral role in the religious, educational, cultural, and social life of African-Americans in Natchez.

Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church also has a presence in the Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District. 15 St. Catherine Street has long served as the parsonage for the historic church, which is located about a block away in the Natchez On-Top-of-the-Hill Historic District. The story-and-half cottage is a good representative example of a late 19th century galleried cottage that blends elements of the Italianate and Queen Anne styles.

Across St. Catherine Street from Holy Family Catholic Church is the home of Dr. John Bowman Banks, the first African-American doctor in Natchez. His license to practice medicine in Natchez was filed and recorded at the Adams County Courthouse in 1889. Banks built his Queen Anne house at 9 St. Catherine Street about 1890 and remodeled it in the Colonial Revival style between 1904 and 1910. This remodeling made the house one of the city's more significant examples of Colonial Revival architecture. Historic photographs document the original appearance of the house as well as a visit by Booker T. Washington, who was photographed on the front steps. The Banks House is today [1995] being restored by his descendants who own a significant collection of historic papers related to Natchez African-American history as well as the original furnishings of the house. Like many affluent African-Americans in Natchez, Dr. Banks also became a planter/farmer with his acquisition of a plantation in the southern part of the county. This plantation also remains in the family.

Sadie V. Thompson, one of Natchez's most prominent African-American educators, resided in the Queen Anne house at 26 St. Catherine Street. The city's 1953 African-American high school was named in her honor. In addition to the school operated by Holy Family Catholic Church and the home of a prominent local educator, the district contains a house at 16 Bowles Alley that is locally significant for educational history due to its designation as a school on an 1892 Sanborn Insurance Map. This is one of only two or three surviving 19th century frame African-American schools.

Although, as late as the 1980's, the Holy Family Historic District neighborhood still contained several buildings dating to the first half of the nineteenth century, only one such structure survives today. At the highest point in the district, on a site known as "hospital hill," stands the brick wing (14 Bowles Alley) of the state hospital built in 1813. This territorial brick building, fifty feet square, is well documented in newspaper and public records and was also photographed before its demise in 1886. The details of the surviving brick wing, which include original six-over-six, double-hung sash, appear to date to ca. 1835 or later. The wing may date to an 1852 rehabilitation that is documented in a newspaper article. The demolition of the hospital, which is noted as "old & vac. being removed" on an 1886 Sanborn Map, spawned the division of the property into building lots and the subsequent construction of about half of the buildings in the Holy Family Catholic Church District.

The Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District contains a fine collection of vernacular dwellings exhibiting Greek Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Craftsman influences, as well as the city's best example of Victorian Gothic Revival. Echoes of the Greek Revival period are found in the brick hospital wing at 14 Bowles Alley and in the brick cottage at 17 Old D'Evereaux Street, which is Greek Revival in form and dormer detail. Echoes of the Italianate style are found at 15 St. Catherine Street (parsonage of Zion Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church) and 28 St. Catherine Street, which were built at the beginning of the Queen Anne period in Natchez. A well detailed Eastlake cottage is located at 13 St. Catherine Street. The Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District contains locally significant, vernacular examples of the Queen Anne style, including two of the city's most significant shotgun cottages at 9 and 11 Byrne Street and galleried cottages at 8, 10, and 12 Old D'Evereaux Street. Two of the city's most unique, vernacular expressions of the Queen Anne style are the L-shaped, brick cottages at 25 and 27 St. Catherine Street, which have lost the bracketed, turned porch posts that once linked them to the style on the exterior. The Colonial Revival style is well represented at the Dr. John Banks House at 9 St. Catherine Street. Vernacular examples of the Craftsman or Bungalow style are found in the brick shotgun at 9-1/2 Abbot Street, the galleried cottages at 10 and 22 Byrne Street, the typical gable-end bungalow at 8 Byrne Street, and in one of the city's three surviving historic gas stations at 23 St. Catherine Street.

One of the most significant sites for African-American history in Natchez is the vacant lot at 1 St. Catherine Street, which is the site of the Rhythm Club. 209 prominent African-Americans died in a fire that destroyed the Rhythm Club on April 23, 1940. A monument to those who died in the fire, erected by the Natchez Club of Chicago, is located on the Natchez bluff in the Natchez Bluffs and Under-the-Hill Historic District. The site today is unmarked and contains only a small shed that is located at the rear of the property and is used as a car-wash.

Preservation activity in the Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District increased in 1994 with the rehabilitation of the two brick cottages at 25 and 27 St. Catherine Street by the Historic Natchez Foundation for their low-income housing program; the restoration of the Dr. John Banks House at 9 St. Catherine Street by his descendants; and the restoration of the Eastlake House at 13 St. Catherine Street by new purchasers. Endangered resources are limited to the pre-Civil War brick dependency at 14 Bowles Alley. The growing interest in historic preservation among the African-American community in Natchez will be bolstered by the recognition given the Holy Family Catholic Church neighborhood by its listing in the National Register of Historic Places.

References

Adams County, Miss. Chancery Clerk. Deed Books.

Banks, Dr. John. Family papers in the possession of Frank Robinson, grandson, and Freddie Robinson, granddaughter-in-law, Natchez, Mississippi.

Fisher, Ozelle, resident of Byrne Street. Interviewed by Mary W. Miller, Historic Natchez Foundation, at Natchez, Mississippi, February 16, 1995.

Mississippi Free Trader, January 19, 1852.

Morgan, Duncan, member of Holy Family Catholic Church and local historian. Interviewed by Mary W. Miller, Historic Natchez Foundation, at Natchez, Mississippi, February 12, 1995.

Natchez, Mississippi. Armstrong Library. Sexton's Records for the City of Natchez.

Natchez, Mississippi. Historic Natchez Foundation. Sanborn Insurance Maps 1886, 1892, 1897, 1901, 1904, 1910, 1925, 1946.

Natchez, Mississippi. Historic Natchez Foundation. Program for the Josephine Fathers 75th Anniversary at Holy Family Catholic Church.

Peters, Rev. I. N. "Natchez, Miss., and Its Colored Mission." The Colored Harvest, October, 1892.

Robinson, Frank, grandson of Dr. John Banks. Interviewed by Mary W. Miller, Historic Natchez Foundation, at Natchez, Mississippi, April, 1994.

St. Joseph's Advocate, Vol. 5, No. 2 (April 1887).

Washington Republican, July 14, 1813.

Wilson, Capt. John M., Chief Engineer. "Map of the Defenses of Natchez and Vicinity," prepared and surveyed under the direction of Capt. P. Hains, U. S. Engineers, 1864.

† Mary Warren Miller, Preservation Director, Historic Natchez Foundation, Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District, Adams County, Natchez, MS, nomination document, 1995, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.

Holy Family Catholic Church Historic District Map

Street Names
Abbott Street • Aldrich Avenue • Bowles Alley • Mallery Street • Old Devereaux Street • Orange Avenue • Route 61 • St Catherine Street

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