Happy 20th anniversary at Anchuca to Tom Pharr! The difference is in the details and you are a difference maker. You could live anywhere and design beautiful homes and work spaces, but we are glad that you chose this corner of the world. You see beauty behind what has been covered up and potential where there is a blank canvas. You are a great storyteller, sharing the history of our community in a way that draws people in and sends them out with a different view. You continually encourage others to join in the cause of historic preservation. In this one neighborhood, you have turned a garden into a gathering spot (with delicious food)! You have saved homes and reimagined them, including Springfield house. You have added five new homes that fit seamlessly into the fabric of the neighborhood, adding value to everyone else as well. You have donated your amazing talent for design to other areas of the city and given advice to many. Wish we had a photo of you working at Anchuca as a teenager to celebrate this milestone in your full circle story. We salute you and your tireless commitment!
The following article and photos appeared in The Vicksburg Post on July 18, 2021.
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.
“Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost (1923)
No doubt my love of the poem “Nothing Gold Can Stay” by Robert Frost is related to my affection for the 1983 film adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. When two of the main characters – Ponyboy and Johnny – recite this short poem and discuss its deeper meaning, their words became permanently etched in my memory as I watched this scene play out untold times. (This also helped as I had to memorize and recite poetry for a grade in my senior English class!) However, these words recently came back to me in a different way.
If you live in this area, you will be familiar with the golden glaze of pollen that covers everything during this wonderful time of year. As lovely as the new blooms of spring are, the layers of pollen can present an array of problems from seasonal allergies to spring cleaning. Mae Burns, who owned Anchuca from 1978 until 1998, found a practical way to tackle this situation, which also coincided with the busy Spring Pilgrimage. She changed the paint color of Anchuca from its traditional white facade to a golden one to disguise the pollen (aka “Anchuca Gold” at our local Sherwin Williams). And so, the plan remains for Anchuca to Stay Gold!
Note: Like Anchuca, many of Vicksburg’s historic structures started out as red brick but were later painted or stuccoed over to help seal and preserve the old bricks. Planter’s Hall is an example of original red brick structure, and at Christ Church, there is an area that shows the original red brick.
A note about Anchuca’s original cast iron, coal-burning fireplaces
We hope you are staying warm on this unusually cold and icy day in Vicksburg. These frigid temps have us thinking about curling up with a good book by the fireplace, and also asking the question, “Did you know…?”
Anchuca’s cast iron, coal-burning fireplaces, a modern convenience at the time, were some of the first in Vicksburg. Jane and Victor Wilson, a coal and ice merchant and one of the town’s most influential citizens, are credited with adding the impressive Greek revival-style addition to the home in the late 1840s. This addition not only made Anchuca one of the first columned-mansions in Vicksburg, but also included many beautifully-designed, architectural details that are still seen today. Unlike the other wood-burning fireplaces throughout the home, the coal-burning fireplaces were supplied by Mr. Wilson’s coal yard, located just at the bottom of the hill.
Anchuca’s original, coal-burning fireplaces are beautiful architectural details.
Of course, they are not working fireplaces now (even though once replaced by gas heaters) as it would pose a safety hazard. Also, you may have noticed that Anchuca’s chimneys on the front addition are not visible from the outside as they were damaged in the devastating tornado of 1953.
Anchuca’s original chimneys were destroyed by tornado in 1953.
Stop in Vicksburg was highlight of civil war-themed cruise
Every day aboard the America Cruise Line’s America was spectacular, especially for those of us who were thrilled to be educated by the great great grandson of Confederate President Jefferson Davis as a shipmate on this boat trip up the Mississippi through Civil War territory. An added bonus was the dual entertainment of Laura and Bill Wiemuth who know how to combine musical talent, even a bit of magic, with a vast knowledge of the Mighty Mississippi. Afternoon talks by both Bertram Davis and Bill and evening music and laughter headed by Laura and Bill, coupled with fascinating tours of museums, towns, and battlefields make for an indescribably wonderful cruise.
But if there is a single day to be identified as a highlight of the trip, it was the spontaneous day we spent walking around Vicksburg with Bertram and Carol Davis and a close friend of theirs, Tom Pharr. Bertram explained the trip was ‘an extra,’ being tried by the cruise line to see if people would like it and whether it should be incorporated on future trips. I give that suggestion an A plus, and then some!
If there are any complaints at all, it’s that the Civil War themed cruise was not long enough! The 18 hour stay in Vicksburg, Mississippi simply doesn’t allow enough time to take in all the history of the battlefield and the siege of the city, the beauty of the area, the museums that abound about everything from Coca Cola to the USS Cairo, the first ironclad battleship that was sunk during the war. Or Anchuca, a magnificent mansion with a wonderful owner.
We capitalized on the Davis/Pharr friendship. Pharr is an equally friendly historian and a Vicksburg native who owns Anchuca and a couple of other residences in Vicksburg. Couple this friendship with the cruise line’s enthusiasm for introducing innovative programs to see if cruise goers would enjoy something out of the ordinary, and the walking tour was a huge bonus.
After an incredible morning talk about the Steamboat Sultana given by Wiemuth, and a several hour visit to the battlefield, we accepted the invitation to take the short walk to one of Tom’s houses, Anchuca, a luxurious and comfortable antebellum home, now restaurant and B&B, and enjoy tea in the drawing room. The home couldn’t be named more aptly…. Anchuca is a Choctaw word meaning happy home.
During tea, we were formally introduced to Tom, who immediately launched into a spirited explanation on the history of the mansion where he had worked during his high school years when it was a B&B as well as a tour guide and porter. Though he always dreamed of owning a home like this, Tim left Vicksburg for an education and career in architectural design but never quite forgot the teen age dream and the first architectural design he fell in love with. So 15 years ago when it became available, Tom decided to chuck his architectural work, return to his birthplace and buy Anchuca. Today, this Greek revival landmark, on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of the most historic homes on the River, enjoys a reputation for being one of the best restaurants and B&Bs in the area, and is beautifully furnished with great antiques and art.
We also learned the friendship between Tom and Bertram was more or less meant to be. While these two historians are 21st century friends, the 19th century owners and Jefferson Davis’ older brother. Joseph, were also apparently friends; Joseph was living here at the time of his death and the Confederate President himself had given talks from the front balcony, to the devastated people of Vicksburg after the siege. It’s a very small world even over the centuries.
After tea, conversation, a tour of the mansion and the promise of more to come, we climbed further up the hill from Anchuca and the levee, all the while Tom regaling the dozen or so of us walkers with tales about Vicksburg and what made it great. He pointed out the Episcopal Church in the next block where daily services were conducted during the siege to assuage the grief of the residents, only to have the present day pastor, the Rev. Sam Godfrey, come out to greet us and open the doors to invite us in for a brief rest and more history about this still very active church and community.
Starting downhill again, on a broad street lined with crepe myrtles not yet in their full summer bloom making it easy to see this tree’s unique style of shedding its bark year round, we waved back and shouted greetings to neighbors who simply came
out to say hello and welcome. Regretfully, because of time constraints, we had to turn down the cheery invitation of the charming nonagenarian who came out on her back porch to say hello and invite us in to her antebellum home for yet another cup of tea. There’s no doubt about it, Southerners are a downright friendly and outgoing people!
One more stop before heading back to the boat was at the home where Tom now lives, another antebellum beauty with fascinating architecture, amazing porches, and a wonderful blend of historic design and modern convenience. A highlight here is an upstairs office where the walls are plastered with this very dynamic architectural designer’s drawings of some of the many homes he has helped restore to their 19th century grandeur.
Heading back to the levee, we had enough time to review some of the spectacular wall painted by local artists and depicting the history of Vicksburg from when the Sisters of Mercy had a mission there through Theodore Roosevelt’s famous bear hunting expedition and many other sites that helped make Vicksburg the spectacular city it is today. Not as attractive, but perhaps an even larger part of the city’s history, is the levee wall with the markings of how high the river rose during specific storms and hurricanes.
Vicksburg survived the Civil War, fought off Northern forces for many days, swallowed hard and overcame the devastation of its 47 day siege that marked the turning point of a war that should never have happened, and today can hold its head high and be proud of its history, beauty, strength, and the people who have made it all happen.
Written by Muriel J Smith, a Freehold, New Jersey, resident and a former newspaper editor and author, for the “Atlantic Highlands Herald” and also submitted to the “Vicksburg Post”
(reprinted with permission)