Unexpected Gift Has Become a Labor of Love for the Ellisville DAR Chapter

The ladies of the Tallahala Chapter NSDAR have worked tirelessly to renovate the Deason Home, the oldest home in Jones County, MS.

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Unexpected Gift Has Become a Labor of Love for the Ellisville DAR Chapter

The Tallahala Chapter National Society Daughters of the American Revolution was organized in 1983. Little did these ladies know that in less than ten years, their group would own the oldest home in Jones County.  The Deason Home in Ellisville was given to the chapter by Mrs. Frances Anderson Smith, the third owner of the home and descendant of both Amos Deason (first owner) and Isaac Anderson, Jr. (second owner).  The home had been in the Anderson Estate for 25 years when Mrs. Smith and her husband Welton bought it in 1965.  The Smiths began a limited restoration of the home before gifting it to the Tallahala Chapter.

In early 1991, Mrs. Smith donated the historic home to the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution with the stipulation that it be preserved as a historical entity for all the people of Jones County, present and future generations.  Another stipulation was that the house be open at intervals to school children and the general public.  Over the years Mrs. Smith, an avid genealogist and preservationist, had made acquaintance and become close friends with the DAR membership.  The local Tallahala Chapter had also held various open houses for Mrs. Smith while she was living in the house.  With these ties, she decided the time was right to act.  One day Frances just presented the chapter with the deed to the Amos Deason Home.

It took the new owners a while to set a plan in motion to restore the home to its former glory.  Mrs. Smith was responsible for having the home listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Tallahala Chapter also had the home designated as a Mississippi Landmark.  This designation made the home eligible for a Landmark Grant.  After receiving this grant, the task of restoring the home was begun in earnest.  A new roof, central heat and air, old wiring replaced with state-of-the-art wiring, re-plumbing for gas and water, and remodeled bathrooms and kitchen, were just a few of the improvements made in the early 2000s.  Sadly, the money from the grant ran out long before all the needs of the house could be addressed.

With the grant money depleted and limited funds available through fundraising, it became necessary for the ladies to do as much work as possible themselves.  The home was often lit well into the night as ladies scraped, sanded, puttied, washed walls with bleach to eradicate mildew, primed and painted each room, often after working a full day at their real jobs.  Period colors were used in each room.  The fireplaces and mantels were restored with a faux marble mantel in the parlor (faux stone was discovered under the many layers of paint) and rubbed wood finish in Grandma’s room.  Antique replacement mantels were used in Ma’s room and the breakfast room.  These fireplaces had been removed by a former owner.  Floors were sanded and either painted or stained, with the original finish replicated in each room.

With the inside of the home almost completely restored, work began on the outside.  The front porch was rebuilt in the summer of 2012.  Over the last year, the west and east side of the home have been completely restored.  Rotten wood was replaced, weatherboards were sealed with caulk, and fresh paint made the home positively glow.  The original part of the home has a very unique wood façade resembling stone blocks.  Once the exterior was restored, the sand finish was replicated to restore the look of limestone.  The outside work has become a source of pride for both the locals and Tallahala members, who can be seen driving past the home to admire its appearance, just as early settlers in Ellisville once rode past this same home to view the first painted house in the area.

All of this work carries a hefty price.  The ladies of the DAR have become very experienced in fundraising.  They host open houses regularly and the Halloween Reenactment (October 29) attracts hundreds of visitors each year. In keeping with one of the goals of the NSDAR, historic preservation, the ladies offer books about the Deason Home and Major Amos McLemore, the Confederate officer shot in the home by Newton Knight, of Free State of Jones fame.  Four volumes have been compiled from stories and obituaries found in the crumbling pages of the Progress Item, a newspaper that was once published in Ellisville.  Ellisville, Mississippi:  A Testament to Our Ancestors Volumes 1 – 4 has become indispensable for those interested in the history of Ellisville and Jones County.  Their latest book is just for fun.  Strange Happenings at the Deason Home lives up to its name, telling about the experiences of the members in the home that simply cannot be explained! These books can be purchased at the Deason Home and Ward’s Pharmacy in Ellisville.  Information for ordering books can be found on the Deason Home website, http://www.deasonhome.org.   For information about tours and open houses, call 601-577-1066.

As is true with most old homes, work is never really complete.  The home still needs to have the south side reworked.  All windows need to be rebuilt and rotting wood replaced before the much anticipated paint can be applied that will signal the completion of the exterior work on the home.  Once that paint has dried, the focus will be on the foundation, which has some major issues.  Plans for a handicap access ramp are in the works.  After approval is gained from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, the ladies will be seeking donations to help pay for this much needed addition.

The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution was founded in 1890 to promote historic preservation, education and patriotism. Its members are descended from the patriots who won American independence during the Revolutionary War. With more than 177,000 members in approximately 3,000 chapters worldwide, DAR is one of the world’s largest and most active service organizations.  DAR members are committed to volunteer service having served more than 12.5 million hours in communities throughout the world during the past three years.  To learn more about the work of today’s DAR, visit http://www.DAR.org or connect with DAR on social media at facebook.com/TodaysDAR, twitter.com/TodaysDAR and youtube.com/TodaysDAR.

Where’s the Privy?

Ground penetrating radar helps locate the outbuildings on historic properties. Two such buildings were recently located at the Deason Home.

The Deason Home originally had only 4 rooms attached to the house – the parlor and 3 bedrooms.  This meant that there were many outbuildings on the property that were actually a part of the home.  We know there was a separate kitchen, smoke house, barn and of course, a privy.

Recently, we were fortunate to have Dr. David Holt and Dr. Grant Harley from the University of Southern Mississippi Geography Department bring ground penetrating radar to help us determine the location of some of these outbuildings on the Deason Home property.  GPR uses radar pulses to image the subsurface.  It is completely nondestructive, using radio waves to locate objects underground including rock, soil not originally found in the area, water and remnants of old structures.

The original Deason Home property included 700 acres.  Many of the outbuildings were probably located on what is now South Jones school property.  Dr. Holt ran the GPR all over the yard of the Deason Home.  He found water not far below the ground and also located a sizable area where it appeared dirt had been removed and then fill dirt brought in to fill in the hole.

Dr. Holt discovered the position of two outbuildings which more than likely belonged to the Deasons.  To the right of the house, there is a filled in well.  Just in front of that well, there was once a large structure.  With its proximity to the well and home, we are reasonably sure that this building was the original kitchen.  After closely studying the oldest picture of the home (pre 1890), we can actually see this structure to the side of the home.  The privy was also found on the back of the property to the left of the home.  It was quite a hike from the house, but surely the distance was a necessity!

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Look over and to the left of the front steps and you will see what we believe is the old kitchen.

 

We are very grateful to Dr. Harley and Dr. Holt for their interest in our home.  Every little detail we can glean helps us to better understand the history of this wonderful old home.

For more information, please visit our website – http://www.deasonhome.org

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It’s how old?

Dendrochronology, the study of tree rings, is used to date structures. The Deason Home findings were surprising.

The Deason Home is the oldest home in Jones County.  Several years ago, the Tallahala Chapter NSDAR, owners of the Amos Deason Home were contacted by Dr. Grant Harley, geography professor at the University of Southern Mississippi.  Dr. Harley teaches a dendrochronology class, which is the study of tree rings. This scientific method of dating is based on the analysis of patterns of tree rings or growth rings.  Each ring represents one year of growth for the tree with temperature and moisture affecting the amount of  growth for that year.  Data is collected from trees in the area as well as old structures to give the researcher a baseline to compare samples taken from additional structures and trees.  Wood from existing structures can be analyzed to determine the date(s) of construction.

Dr. Harley and his students first visited the Deason Home in September, 2014.  They took samples from the weatherboards (the blocks on the house that resemble stone), from underneath the house and from the attic.  The team was especially excited to find wood in the attic with bark which assured them that they had complete samples.  Different parts of the home were added at different times, so samples were taken from each part of the house. These samples were extracted with a hollow shaft drill bit.  Once the samples were removed, the location of each sample within the house was cataloged and a map of the house was drawn.  The samples were taken back to USM to be polished and studied to determine their age.

This study has become a labor of love for Dr. Harley.  He has returned to the home several times to gather more samples to confirm his findings.  He is presently compiling the results of this study to be published in an academic journal in the coming year

Surprisingly, Harley’s team has dated the beginning construction of the house as the mid 1830s, a full decade before the accepted date of 1845.  We know that Ed Chapman began construction on the home but died before it was completed.  Evidently, he started the home earlier than we knew and the home must have remained unfinished for a while before Boyles McManus finished it.

The addition to the home has always puzzled those connected to the home.  Interior rooms have windows facing the halls and it has always been a theory that the addition was an existing building or buildings joined to the existing home.  We know the rooms were added around 1890.  Testing proved that the trees in this portion of the home were actually cut between 1855-1865, so it appears this portion was built during that time period and added to the Deason Home and so it appears the addition was not new construction.

Additional information from this study tells us that the trees used in the Deason Home were growing before Columbus came to America.  This is almost impossible to comprehend.  The proud old cedar tree beside the home was also tested and dates back to the 1830s as well.  The Deason Home is an amazing structure and we are so fortunate to have it standing today and its condition is a tribute to the builders who constructed it.

For more information about the Deason Home, please visit http://www.deasonhome.org.  The home is open for tours on the first and third Saturday of each month.