Cottage Coming Back To Life

Published 7:00 pm Sunday, February 13, 2011

They loved to ring that bell.

On any given night from 1966 to 1976, when the Rev. Billy Geraldwas president of Whitworth College, he could count on a fewmischievous students sneaking up to the iron bell in the middle ofcampus and giving it a good, loud ring at midnight, rousing him andhis family from their slumber inside Elizabeth Cottage. For a manmanaging a college and taking night classes at Southern Miss, sleepwas precious, and sleep lost was even more so.

After one midnight ring too many, he lay in wait for them withshovels, buckets and lights. When the bell rung, he sprang with hisimplements.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

“I told them, ‘Y’all seem to enjoy being out at night, so Ithought y’all could come help me dig up some stumps,'” the79-year-old recalled. “I took them to the back side of campus andput them to work.”

On that long night of digging and heaving, one student swore hispunishment was unjust, that he had not rung the bell.

“I said, ‘That’s OK, you can hold the light while they dig,'”Gerald said. “I took them out for a coke afterward.”

For Gerald and his family, there is a decade of memories – somefond, some aggravating – locked inside the crumbling walls ofElizabeth Cottage in the center of the Mississippi School of theArts campus. The memories of that 10-year residence may be strong,but the grand old home that housed the Whitworth presidents is ashambles, full of gaping holes and hanging boards, surrounded by asynthetic orange net that keeps students away from a structure notsafe for entry.

All the years he’s lived in Brookhaven, Gerald has ignoredit.

“I couldn’t hardly stand to come up here and see it like that,”he said.

But one day soon the Gerald family will see Elizabeth Cottagethe way they remember it.

MSA supporters both public and private gathered around the98-year-old home Friday afternoon to celebrate its coming rebirth.A complete exterior and partial interior renovation will begin intwo weeks.

Historic Renovations of Yazoo, Inc., will install a new roof andsiding, repair all the doors and windows and remove the added frontporch to rebuild the house’s larger, original front porch. Theproject should be completed in July.

“It’s to preserve the outside, to get the building weather-tightand looking good on campus again,” said Alan Ramsay, renovationcompany owner. “The bones of that building are real good. It has nosignificant foundation or structural issues, and it’s neverleaked.”

The exterior job is priced at $76,000, but MSA has roughly$125,000, raised through a Mississippi Department of Archives andHistory grant and matching funds provided by the school’sfoundation and the Brookhaven Trust. The remaining funds will beused to start the house’s interior renovation.

MSA Director Suzanne Hirsch told supporters Friday the renovatedElizabeth Cottage would not only be brought back aesthetically butalso put to use. It will serve as a classroom for the school’sliterary arts department, and upstairs living spaces will berestored to allow guest artists for the artist in residence programto stay and work with arts students for longer periods.

The home will also serve as a meeting place for MSA leaders andtouring dignitaries.

“The project’s significance is not only preserving the historyof Whitworth and what came before us, but about preserving thefuture of MSA,” said Suzanne Hirsch, executive director of the artsschool.

Elizabeth Cottage was built in 1913 under the direction of Dr.Inman W. Cooper, president of Whitworth from 1902-1925. Thebuilding was named after his wife, Elizabeth, and they were itsfirst tenants.