Downtown Senatobia Historic District
The Downtown Senatobia Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1994. 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 Downtown Senatobia Historic District is composed of most of the traditional central business district area in the city of Senatobia, Tate County, Mississippi. The sixty-one principal buildings which make up the Downtown Senatobia Historic District are largely located on one of the two major streets in the district — North/South Front Street, fronting on the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, and West Main Street (MS Highway 4), which connects Interstate 55 to the east of downtown with U.S. Highway 51 on the west. Other historic resources of the Downtown Senatobia Historic District can be found on West Tate Street, South Center Street, South Ward Street, North Ward Street, and North Center Street.
The street pattern of Downtown Senatobia is composed of an irregular grid, which largely reflects the informal development history of the city following the opening of the Tennessee and Mississippi Railroad in 1856. Development in the two decades that followed was concentrated along Front Street; by the time of the first Sanborn map series of 1886, the existing street pattern was already established. The developed acreage of Downtown Senatobia changed very little from this time until the decades following World War II.
The topographic character of the downtown area is generally flat, though the grade does drop off to the west and north towards a small creek, long since turned into an underground drainage channel. The low hollow that is visible on North Front Street between West Main Street and College Street is the result of this creek, which crossed North Front Street at mid-block.
Lot widths in the Downtown Senatobia Historic District vary widely, from as little as ten feet to as many as 85 feet; lot depths vary from forty-five to 160 feet in depth. The most common pattern of lot division is based upon a lot of twenty feet in width and eighty feet in depth. Buildings are set back from the street by only the width of the sidewalk, which ranges from six to twelve feet. The exception to this rule is the pair of structures located at 309-311 West Tate Street, which feature a setback from the sidewalk of about ten feet, and the structure at 409-411 West Main Street, which has a setback from the sidewalk of about twenty feet. There are free-standing structures in the Downtown Senatobia Historic District (notably on the south side of West Tate), though the great majority share party walls with adjacent buildings throughout.
Buildings in the Downtown Senatobia Historic District are largely built of brick masonry construction to a height of one story, and have traditional three-bay commercial facades. With the exception of the French's Hotel building (101-107 South Ward Street) and the townhouses at 309-311 West Tate Street, the rest of the buildings in downtown once sported traditional three-part commercial storefronts with transom, display windows and bulkheads. Many of the original storefronts in downtown were altered during various periods of remodelings, notably in the decade of the 1970s. Even so, very few of these storefronts were altered by the complete removal of all materials that made up their historic storefront. Many of the buildings in downtown still possess cast iron pilasters that have been worked into replacement display windows and bulkheads; others have simply been covered by wood or sheet metal claddings. Indeed, many of these unfortunate improvements can be easily reversed during the course of a careful rehabilitation of the building.
Architectural styles of the commercial buildings in the Downtown Senatobia Historic District include Italianate, Colonial Revival and Commercial Minimalist Traditional influences. Original masonry features include plain and varietal parapets, corbeled attic vents containing cast iron grilles, corbeled cornices with modillions and brackets, recessed signboard panels, corbeled brick or stone window lintels or hoods, and belt courses of brick and stone. There is a notable example of terra cotta decoration used on the facade of the structure located at 122 North Front Street; its neighbor at 124 North Front is said by older residents to have been a twin to 122 North Front Street, though a veneer of brick was added in ca. 1965-70 to cover these materials.
There are many storefronts that retain some or all of their original features. Notable examples of cast iron pilasters made by the Chickasaw Ironworks Company of Memphis, Tennessee are visible on buildings located at 130-132 North Front Street, 105-107 South Center Street, 300 West Tate Street, 217 West Main Street, 219 West Main Street, 309 West Main Street, 311 West Main Street and 312 West Main Street. Completely original transoms, bulkheads and display windows remain in place on structures at 107 South Center Street, 114 South Center Street and 116 South Center Street; some other storefronts are historic alterations that possess integrity in their own right, such as the ca. 1930s bronze-frame storefront surviving on 113 South Front Street. The old Stevens Store at 401-403 West Main Street features a somewhat intact corner storefront, with an original pent canopy separating the transoms from the display windows. Additional note should be paid to the pair of buildings at 405 and 407 West Main Street, which feature rare, two-bay arcaded storefronts. The similarities between the detailing of these semi-circular arched openings and those of French's Hotel, across the street, suggest a common mason or builder was involved in both projects.
There are a number of buildings within the Downtown Senatobia Historic District which currently do not contribute to the character of the district, but appear to have alterations which may be removed to restore architectural integrity.
Finally, there are significant elements provided by the general streetscape of the Downtown district which establish the character of its historic setting, as evolved over time. The patterns of streets, lot divisions, sidewalks, and the lack of front yard and side yard setbacks all combine to establish a sense of character and continuity in Downtown as a place of business. All of these elements contribute to the character of the Downtown Senatobia Historic District, but are not included in the inventory of buildings. Never-the-less, the cumulation of these elements has been accounted for in the overall number of resources as one contributing site.
The Downtown Senatobia Historic District is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the area architecture for its significant collection of late nineteenth and early twentieth century commercial buildings. The Downtown Senatobia Historic District contains the largest number of nineteenth century buildings of any historic area in Senatobia, which provide a great sense of the architectural styles, construction techniques, materials and details common to nineteenth century masonry buildings. In all, the Downtown Senatobia Historic District serves the important capacity, in conjunction with its residential areas of Senatobia, of rounding out the individual character of time and place that is unique to Senatobia. The period of significance for the Downtown Senatobia Historic District begins with the date of construction for its earliest structure and ends with the date of its latest contributing element.
The establishment of the downtown area of Senatobia began soon after the opening of the Tennessee and Mississippi Railroad in 1856. Two nearby settlements Tatumsville and Tatesville were both abandoned in favor of a location nearer to the new transportation link. Perhaps a signal of the permanence of the new settlement was made in June of 1859 with the relocation of the Ebeneezer Lodge #76, F&AM, to Senatobia in 1859 (Tate County Genealogical.., pg. 155). This lodge remains active in the city today, located in its third home above the ca. 1880s commercial building at 100 North Front Street at its corner with West Main Street.
Establishment of Tate County out of parts of DeSoto County, Tunica County and Marshall County in 1873 provided a major impetus for the growth and development of Senatobia as the new county seat. By ca. 1890, the downtown area had realized 80-90% of its historic growth in total land area as compared with its appearance by the time of the outbreak of World War Two.
There are landmark structures that reflect the patterns of growth and development throughout the period of Downtown Senatobia Historic District's historic significance. Next to the Ebeneezer Lodge building, French's Hotel (101-107 South Ward Street) is arguably its most important landmark building. This structure was built as three buildings in ca. 1880, two of which remain today. The two buildings which remain were originally joined by a partially-enclosed breezeway; the open portion of the breezeway appears to have been enclosed in ca. 1950-55 (Sanborn, 1886; 1936-42). The quality of its Italian Romanesque style and detailing is borrowed from the Tate County Courthouse (National Register listed), suggesting that J.H. Cocke, contractor for the courthouse, was involved in this building, if not the courthouse's architect himself, J.B. Cook of Memphis. A third set of buildings from this period is the pair of commercial buildings with arcaded storefronts at 405-407 West Main Street, which share the same semi-circular arched treatments as French's Hotel.
Development of the Downtown Senatobia Historic District in the latter half of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century bear the influence of the railroad in shaping the face of Senatobia. There are at least six sets of cast iron storefronts directly attributable to the Chickasaw Ironworks Company of Memphis; many others may lie hidden beneath later storefront additions and remodelings. The railroad was also responsible for bringing other architectural features to Senatobia, such as pressed tin ceilings, hardware and the terra cotta decorations that form important elements of the commercial architecture of Senatobia. The brick for most of Senatobia's early buildings was locally produced; after ca. 1900, superior grades of high-fired brick were brought in by railroad to replace the local materials.
Perhaps the best example of the development of Downtown Senatobia during the twentieth century is the fine building at 122 North Front Street. Though the core of this structure may date from the last decades of the nineteenth century, its facade was altered in ca. 1915-20 to a fine example of a commercial form of Beaux-Arts and Craftsman styling. The terra cotta detailing of the facade could not have been produced locally, and was likely shipped in from perhaps as far away as Philadelphia or New York City.
Modest new growth and the redevelopment of earlier buildings continued in Senatobia even during the years of the Great Depression. In part, some of this growth was likely fueled by the presence of hundreds of workers needed to construct Sardis Lake, which included relocating the town of Coldwater from the flood zone in 1938. One indication of this impact may be seen in the 1935 construction of Roseborough's Department Store, built for W.B. Roseborough at 300 West Main Street (Tate County Genealogical..., pg. 254). Roseborough's is a very nice example of the commercial form of the Art Moderne style, which was built employing contrasting colors of brick to delineate the facade and to accentuate its center pylon and projecting vertical sign panel.
The onset of World War II effectively closes the historic period for the downtown area. Following the war, commercial development in Senatobia began to shift away from its historic core along East Main Street. Beginning in about ca. 1960, Downtown began a slow decline as the center of retailing in Senatobia; efforts to revitalize the area by "modernizing" the appearance of Downtown failed to stem the tide in the 1970s. It is hoped that the Main Street program established in Senatobia will be able to accomplish tangible results in revitalizing Downtown by renewing its historic appearance for the appreciation and use of future generations.
Carpenter, Howard, editor, The History of Tate County (Senatobia, MS: B/C Printing Co., 1975).
Sanborn Map Company, Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps of Senatobia. Map Series 1886, 1892, 1897, 1902, 1907, 1915, 1925, 1936-42.
Tate County Genealogical and Historical Society, Inc. The Heritage of Tate County, Mississippi (Curtis Media, 1991).
† John Linn Hopkins, Preservation Consultant, College Street Historic District, Tate County, Senatobia, MS, nomination document, 1993, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.