Woodlawn Historic District
The Woodlawn 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.
The Woodlawn Historic District is bounded on the south by Martin Luther King Jr. Road (formerly Pine Street) and on the west by Bishop Street and Elm Street, which are a single street that changes names at the intersection with North Union Street. The irregular easterly boundary reaches out in places to Stiers Lane, which would have served as the eastern boundary if substantial demolition and mobile home infill had not occurred along that street. The northerly boundary follows Old College Lane at its easterly end, but becomes irregular from its midpoint to its westerly end, where lots are developed around the suburban estate Airlie.
Verbal descriptions that include compass point references to the Woodlawn Historic District and its individual properties are confusing, because nominal north is not the same as true north. North Union Street, which intersects the entire district, actually runs in a northeasterly direction. Woodlawn Avenue also intersects the entire district and is divided into East and West Woodlawn streets where it crosses North Union Street. East Woodlawn Street actually runs more in a northerly and southerly direction than in an easterly and westerly direction. West Woodlawn Street veers to the northwest.
Streets in the Woodlawn Historic District tend to be regularly and irregularly plotted giving the neighborhood a sense of irregularity in overall plan. This irregularity in plan is a reflection of the neighborhood's incremental development during the second half of the nineteenth century as building lots were created from the subdivision of four antebellum suburban estates Airlie, Elmo, the Maury Place, and Woodlawn. The earliest portion of the neighborhood, southwest of Woodlawn Street and southeast of North Union Street, dates to the 1867 subdivision of the suburban estate Woodlawn. The area just to the northeast of Elm Street was not subdivided until 1890, when the Buckner family subdivided a portion of the suburban estate Airlie. The most erratically plotted portion of the neighborhood is the last area to be subdivided and is located southeast of North Union Street and northwest of Claiborne Street, an area that was the main residential site of the Maury family place. The City of Natchez only in recent years extended formerly dead-end Lincoln Street to connect to North Union Street. The sense of irregularity in neighborhood plan is heightened by the hilly topography of the district which also makes the Woodlawn Historic District more picturesque.
Although the plan of the neighborhood is fairly irregular and the topography is somewhat rugged, the neighborhood achieves harmony from the size of the lots, the scale and finishes of the buildings, and the repetition of architectural forms and details. The lots are generally small and houses were originally no more than one-and-half stories tall. Most buildings are built of wood and the majority have v-crimp or corrugated metal roofs. Every contributing building, except for commercial and brick educational buildings, originally had a porch. Setbacks within the Woodlawn Historic District vary but not so much as to be disruptive to the cohesive character of the neighborhood. The varying setbacks seem to echo the neighborhood variation in architectural form and style. Sidewalks and curbs are not a feature of most streets in the Woodlawn Historic District with only the most traveled streets, North Union Street and East Woodlawn Street, having a significant amount of curbs and sidewalks. The Woodlawn Historic District also contains no public landscaping or park areas. Limited shade is provided by trees in the yards of houses, since none of the streets have any formal street planting.
Most of the contributing buildings in the Woodlawn Historic District were built between about 1890 and 1940. The architectural styles represented in the Woodlawn Historic District are Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Craftsman Bungalow. The Italianate style appears only as details on vernacular galleried cottages with side-gable or hipped roofs. These details include bracketed chamfered posts with dropped capitals and doorway and window surrounds that are shouldered and peaked. Three examples of vernacular houses with Italianate details are 19 Bishop Street, 21 Bishop Street, and 1 Garden Street.
The Queen Anne style appears as details on vernacular houses and as complete statements on Queen Anne house forms. The style appears only as details on vernacular galleried cottages and on shotgun houses, a house form that first appeared in the neighborhood during the Queen Anne period. These Queen Anne details include brackets, turned posts, and entrance doors with glazed upper panels. Examples of vernacular Queen Anne houses include 43 Beaumont Street, 18 and 20 Elm Street, 838 Martin Luther King Jr. Road, 11 Prentiss Street, and 914 North Union Street.
The Queen Anne style is well represented in the Woodlawn Historic District by a large number of vernacular, L-shaped houses with cross-gable roofs or projecting wings with gabled roofs. Often these houses also feature gable ends with decorative shingles and louvered vents in addition to Queen Anne-style porch detailing and entrance doors with glazed upper panels. Examples include 24 Beaumont Street, 11 Claiborne Street, 14 Claiborne Street, and 1004 North Union Street. The most outstanding example of the Queen Anne style is located at 907 North Union Street. This small cottage exhibits a large number of stylistic details characteristic of the Queen Anne style and derives additional significance from its remarkable integrity.
The Colonial Revival style has only a few examples in the Woodlawn Historic District. The lack of Colonial Revival detailing is attributable to the inability of local carpenters to produce the classical columns, balusters, and other details associated with the style. Of the few vernacular cottages with Colonial Revival detailing, a typical example is the Craftsman Bungalow with fluted Doric columns at 922 North Union Street. The Woodlawn Historic District's three best full-blown examples of the style are significant remodelings of earlier houses that were built in the Queen Anne style. These are found at 13 Claiborne Street, 927 North Union Street, and 1002 North Union Street.
The Woodlawn Historic District contains the city's largest collection of vernacular Craftsman Bungalow residences. Craftsman details like exposed rafter ends and purlins, box columns, and knee braces were easily crafted by local builders. Many of the Woodlawn Historic District's earlier vernacular cottages were updated with Craftsman details in the 1920s and 30s, and many earlier houses were replaced with a typical vernacular Craftsman Bungalow having a front-gable roof and inset corner porch. Craftsman Bungalows were so favored by builders and residents in the Woodlawn Historic District that they continued in popularity until the early 1950s. Examples of post-World War II Craftsman Bungalows are found at 17 East Woodlawn Street, 19 East Woodlawn Street, and 21 East Woodlawn Street. Two of the city's most significant Craftsman Bungalows are located at 930 and 106 Martin Luther King Jr. Road.
Alterations in the Woodlawn Historic District include some instances of brick-veneering and vinyl and aluminum siding, but the most common alterations involve the replacement of original porch detailing and door and window infill. The replacement of original porch detailing has almost always occurred when repairs were needed. The alterations generally relate more to the economics of replacement than the owner's desire to remodel the exterior of the house. Modern metal trellis posts are as common on the porches in the district as wood posts and columns, because they can be purchased locally, are easy to install, and do not rot.
Deterioration has also been a factor in door and window replacement, because it is often easier for the homeowner to buy a new door or metal window unit than it is to repair the existing infill. Other conditions, however, have also influenced infill replacement. During the first half of the twentieth century, alterations were often made to increase interior light or exterior views. Wood door panels were sometimes replaced by glass, entire doors were replaced by French doors or doors with upper glass panels, and picture windows began to be popular in the 1950s. During the past few decades, increased concern about crime and energy conservation has resulted in window alteration and the removal of doors with glass panels. A "weatherization" program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development also resulted in the inappropriate replacement of many original doors and windows in the district.
Architectural alterations are decreasing as interest in preservation and restoration is growing among neighborhood residents who have demonstrated an increased awareness and appreciation for the historic resources in the Woodlawn Historic District.
Of the 560 buildings and sites in the Woodlawn Historic District boundaries, 360 are contributing and 200 are noncontributing. All contributing resources are buildings. Of the 200 noncontributing resources, 158 are buildings or house trailers and 42 are vacant lots. Many of the noncontributing buildings were built after World War II and are not discernibly different from their pre-1945 counterparts. They were listed as noncontributing resources only because they do not appear on the 1946 Sanborn Insurance Map and therefore do not meet the fifty-year criteria for being designated as contributing. Most of the other buildings that are designated as noncontributing have been so remodeled that they have lost their architectural integrity. Not many new buildings are located within the Woodlawn Historic District boundaries.
The Woodlawn Historic District is a large historic district that is locally significant for both African-American history and community planning and development and also for architecture. The period of significance extends from 1867 to 1945. The 1867 date represents the subdivision of the Woodlawn suburban estate into building lots (Adams County, Mississippi, Deed Book OO:627). The 1945 date corresponds to the fifty-year eligibility requirement for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. Significant dates are 1885, the year that Natchez College was established, and 1913, the year that Prince Street School was built. The establishment of an African-American college and the construction of a brick public school building in the neighborhood were important milestones in the social and cultural history of the Woodlawn neighborhood. Before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, the social and cultural lives of Southern African-Americans revolved around their churches and schools. The development of the Woodlawn neighborhood reflects the history of the African-American community in Natchez from Reconstruction through World War II, and the buildings within the district constitute the city's largest and most varied collection of historic vernacular architecture. Many of the buildings have important associations with the history of the African-American community in Natchez.
Most of the contributing buildings are residential, with exceptions limited to a frame hotel, a public school, two college buildings, and four frame commercial buildings, one of which is now a church. Many of the contributing houses are shotgun houses or simple galleried cottages with side-gable or hipped roofs, whose only link to a distinctive architectural style are doorway and porch detailing in the Italianate, Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Craftsman styles. Although the Italianate style appears only in the detailing of houses, like 19 and 21 Bishop Street, the Queen Anne, Colonial Revival, and Craftsman styles are strongly interpreted in some houses, which are locally significant examples of their styles.
The most significant example of the Queen Anne style in the Woodlawn Historic District is the cottage at 907 North Union Street. The three most significant Colonial Revival houses are located at 927 North Union Street, 13 Claiborne Street, and 1002 North Union Street. Both 13 Claiborne Street and 1002 North Union Street were built in the Queen Anne style and later remodeled. Among the most significant Craftsman Bungalows are two examples located at 930 Martin Luther King Jr. Road and 1006 Martin Luther King Jr. Road. The Craftsman style continued to be popular in the Woodlawn neighborhood until the early 1950s. Although their construction dates render them noncontributing, the later Craftsman houses are not discernibly different from their earlier counterparts. Several examples of post-World War II Craftsman Bungalows are found along East Woodlawn Street at 17 East Woodlawn Street, 19 East Woodlawn Street, and 21 East Woodlawn Street.
The Woodlawn Historic District is located in the old northern suburbs of the City of Natchez and shares a common boundary with the Upriver Residential Historic District, listed in the National Register in 1983. Both historic districts trace their origins to the post-Civil War subdivision of antebellum suburban estates into building lots. Although sharing a common boundary, the two historic districts differ widely in character and density. The houses in the Upriver Residential Historic District are generally large houses with generous lots; the houses in the Woodlawn Historic District are generally small cottages on small lots. Their common boundary along Elm and Bishop streets also represents a racial division in the post-Civil War development of the northern suburbs of the city.
The Woodlawn Historic District is the largest of three, locally significant, historic African-American neighborhoods in Natchez. The city's oldest African-American neighborhood extends along St. Catherine Street and its cross streets. Due to urban renewal activity in the 1970s and 80s, the St. Catherine Street neighborhood no longer constitutes a single historic district. Today, two significant clusters of historic resources survive along St. Catherine Street 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 was listed in the National Register in 1995. A nomination is planned for the Brumfield School Historic District. The third historic neighborhood is Minorville, which is separated from the Woodlawn Historic District by Martin Luther King Jr. Road [formerly Pine Street]. Minorville developed in the late nineteenth century on the subdivided property of Concord, the suburban estate of the Minor family. A survey and National Register nomination is also planned for Minorville.
Before the Civil War, the town of Natchez did not have segregated housing patterns. Free African-American diarist William Johnson lived across the street from the townhouse of William Newton Mercer, one of the area's wealthiest planters. Free African-American Nelson Fitzhugh lived on the same block as the Presbyterian Manse and Green Leaves [see Koontz House], home to the wealthy Koontz family. In addition to free African-Americans, Natchez was home to town slaves who lived in rear wings or detached buildings behind the homes of free residents of the town. After the Union Army occupied Natchez in 1863, newly freed slaves fled the plantations and crowded into the town of Natchez. Many men joined the Union Army and many elderly men, women, and children were housed in barracks built by the Union Army.
The African-American population of the town of Natchez doubled between 1860 and 1870 (Ronald L.F. Davis, The Black Experience in Natchez 1720-1880 [Denver Service Center: United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1993], p.200), and newly freed African-Americans needed places to live. Entrepreneurs recognized this need as a development opportunity and bought property for subdivision into building lots. The Freedmen's Bureau and the Colored Building and Loan Association assisted in providing financing for African-Americans to build their own homes. Developers also took advantage of the need and built rental houses throughout the city. It was not unusual in historic downtown Natchez to find a great mansion house across the street from a row of small houses occupied by African-Americans. Many of the small houses in the historic downtown have been lost to deterioration and the upward social mobility of the city's African-American population. Until the mid-1970s, the National Historic Landmark mansion Dunleith (also known as Routhland) faced a picturesque row of small, board-and-batten cottages occupied by African-Americans.
In 1867, the suburban estate known as Woodlawn in the old northern suburbs of the city was divided into building lots which were then sold to African-Americans (Deed Book OO;627). The area now bounded by North Union Street, Bishop Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Road (formerly Pine Street), and Woodlawn Street comprised the original Woodlawn subdivision. The Beaumont family owned Woodlawn before the Civil War (Deed Book T:2), and their family name survives as a street name within the subdivision. The pre-Civil War house on the Woodlawn tract survived the subdivision but burned later in the nineteenth century. The developers retained the name Woodlawn for the street at the eastern edge of the subdivision plat, and this street would later become the major thoroughfare of a greatly expanded neighborhood that would retain the Woodlawn name. One of the first recorded sales of a lot in the first Woodlawn subdivision was in 1868 to Byron Johnson, son of the diarist William Johnson (Deed Book PP:246), but no house built by Johnson survives.
The Woodlawn neighborhood soon expanded to the east of Woodlawn Street with the 1868 subdivision of the Maury family estate into what was called the Woodlawn Addition (Deed Book PP:253). The Maury family estate would be subdivided again later in the nineteenth century to enlarge the Woodlawn neighborhood (Deed Book 4C:813). The Maury family house and its outbuildings are depicted on the 1864 Map of the Defences of Natchez and Vicinity drawn by the Corps of Engineers (photograph of Map of the Defences of Natchez and Vicinity, Historic Natchez Foundation), but no record has been found to document its appearance or its demise.
Other areas of an expanded Woodlawn neighborhood were acquired through the subdivision of other suburban antebellum estates. In 1870, the Douglas Walworth family lost Elmo, which consisted of 19.48 acres along North Union Street (Deed Book PP:708). Approximately 14 acres of the Elmo estate became home to Natchez College (1010 North Union Street), which was founded in 1885 (1992 Natchez College Handbook, Historic Natchez Foundation). Elmo's grand Greek Revival mansion, which echoed the appearance of the mansion D'Evereux, was the main college building until it was destroyed by fire between 1901 and 1904 (Natchez, Mississippi On Top, Not "Under the Hill." [Natchez: Daily Democrat Steam Print, n.d., ca. 1888, and 1901 and 1904 Sanborn Insurance Maps of Natchez, Historic Natchez Foundation). The State Baptist Convention of Mississippi established Natchez College, which played an important role in the education of African-Americans for over a century (1992 Natchez College Handbook).
Anne Moody, who wrote Coming of Age in Mississippi, was a student at Natchez College. She wrote about the college, the Woodlawn neighborhood, and the town of Natchez in her landmark book, which is on the required reading list of many American colleges and universities. Natchez College sold the northeastern half of its property for the 1953 construction of Sadie V. Thompson High School, which is outside the boundaries of the Woodlawn Historic District. The college (1010 North Union Street) closed in the 1990s and the future of its campus and buildings has not yet  been determined. The Women's Auxiliary Building and Huddleston Memorial Chapel join Prince Street School (102 Prince Street) in being the most imposing buildings in the Woodlawn Historic District. Associated with Natchez College is the Robert and Sarah Mazique Owen House at 1002 North Union Street. Robert Owen was president of Natchez College in the early 1900s, and his family's house, though now in deteriorated condition, was built in the Queen Anne style and later remodeled to become one of the finest Colonial Revival houses in the Woodlawn Historic District.
In 1890, the Buckner family subdivided portions of Spanish-era Airlie into building lots which are located at the northwestern corner of the Woodlawn Historic District (Deed Book 3E:140). Buckner Avenue is named for the Buckner family who owned Airlie, the only surviving suburban estate house of the four — Airlie, Elmo, the Maury place, and Woodlawn — that were subdivided to create the Woodlawn Historic District. Eleven houses along the western edge of the district, which is bordered by Bishop Street, are not located within the subdivisions of the four suburban estates that created the Woodlawn Historic District. They were included within the boundaries of the Woodlawn Historic District, because their lot size and architectural character relates more to the Woodlawn Historic District than the Upriver Residential Historic District that they border.
Several street names in addition to Woodlawn, Beaumont, and Buckner provide links to the history of the neighborhood. Lincoln Street and Grant Street honor the president and general who were heroes to the newly freed African-Americans who moved into the Woodlawn neighborhood. Parker Street is named for the Parker brickyard that was once located near the street. Bishop Street, which is the western boundary of the district, was named in honor of the bishop of St. Mary's Cathedral. Bishop Street was the eastern boundary of the Rose Hill suburban estate that belonged to the sisters of Bishop Chanche and was subdivided into building lots by Bishop Janssen in the 1880s after the Rose Hill house was destroyed by fire in 1860. Smith Street was named for the Smith family that once owned a relatively large portion of the subdivided Maury estate. Bud Scott Lane is named for the regionally famous jazz musician Clarence "Bud" Scott (1856-1938), who is often mistakenly listed in music directories as a New Orleans jazz musician. Natchez was always his primary residence, although he played frequently in New Orleans during the first third of the twentieth century. Bud Scott's house still stands at 1011 North Union Street (Natchez City Directory, 1925, 1935, and 1946, Historic Natchez Foundation), which is just east of Bud Scott Lane.
The most famous one-time resident of the Woodlawn neighborhood is the late Richard Wright, author of Native Son and Black Boy. Wright was born in 1908 in rural Adams County to a sharecropping family. He spent part of his early childhood on Woodlawn Street in the home of his maternal grandparents Richard and Margaret Wilson. The Wilson family home is located at 20 Woodlawn Street (Natchez City Directory, 1914, and 1910 and 1925 Sanborn Insurance Maps of Natchez, Historic Natchez Foundation). One of Wright's earliest memories was setting the curtains on fire and burning a portion of the house (Michel Fabre, The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright [Chicago and Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993], p.9). The Wilson house is remarkably unaltered except for a bungalow remodeling of the entrance portico that probably occurred after 1916, when the Wilsons moved to Jackson (Fabre, p.17).
Preservation activity in the Woodlawn Historic District is increasing. Neighborhood meetings have been held to involve residents in a survey of neighborhood buildings. A series of shotgun houses at 25, 27, 29, and 31 Garden Street have been restored by one family who have long resided in the neighborhood. The Historic Natchez Foundation is taking its Heritage Housing Program into the Woodlawn neighborhood, where it plans to restore one house and build three new infill houses as part of an affordable housing partnership with a private developer. The City of Natchez has applied for a federal HOME grant to rehabilitate approximately thirty contributing buildings in the Woodlawn Historic District. Rehabilitated buildings will be designated local landmarks and will be placed under the jurisdiction of the Natchez Preservation Commission. The city has received a grant to correct drainage problems, build curbs, and repair and build sidewalks. The neighborhood steering committee plans to work with the Historic Natchez Foundation to produce an architectural and historical guide to the Woodlawn Historic District. Residents of the Woodlawn Historic District have demonstrated a growing awareness and appreciation for their historic neighborhood.
Adams County, Miss. Chancery Clerk. Deed Books 00, T, PP, 3E, and 4C.
Davis, Dr. Ronald L.F. The Black Experience in Natchez 1720-1880. Denver Service Center: United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1993.
Fabre, Michel. The Unfinished Quest of Richard Wright. Chicago and Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.
Morgan, Duncan, local historian. Interviewed by Mary W. Miller, Historic Natchez Foundation, at Natchez, Mississippi, June 1, 1995.
Natchez, Mississippi. Armstrong Library. Sexton's Records for the City of Natchez.
Natchez, Mississippi. City of Natchez. 1950 Aerial Photograph of the City of Natchez.
Natchez, Mississippi. City of Natchez. 1955 Sanborn Insurance Map.
Natchez, Mississippi. Historic Natchez Foundation. Natchez City Directories 1914, 1925, 1935, and 1946.
Natchez, Mississippi. Historic Natchez Foundation. Research Files. Natchez African-American History.
Natchez, Mississippi. Historic Natchez Foundation. Sanborn Insurance Maps 1886, 1892, 1897, 1901, 1904, 1910, 1925, 1946.
Natchez, Mississippi. Historic Natchez Foundation. Site Files. Natchez College.
Natchez, Mississippi On Top, Not "Under the Hill" Natchez: Daily Democrat Steam Print, n.d., ca. 1888.
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. Photographic copy at the Historic Natchez Foundation.
† Mary Warren Miller, Preservation Director, Historic Natchez Foundation, Woodlawn Historic District, Adams County, Natchez, MS, nomination document, 1995, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.