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Manship House Is Southern Star of Gothic Revival

June 19, 1988|DAVID TREADWELL | Times Staff Writer

JACKSON, Miss. — In the early 1830s, Charles Henry Manship pulled up stakes in his native Maryland and came to this Deep South city to seek his fortune. A decorative painter, he was to leave his mark on Jackson in a big way.

The town, then a fledgling state capital, was in the midst of a building boom. Manship found work soon after his arrival on the construction of what is now the Old Capitol. But before long the handsome, dark-haired newcomer went into business for himself, opening a shop where he sold paints and fine wallpaper as well as his skills as a decorative artist.

As Jackson continued to grow, Manship's business flourished and he became one of the town's leading merchants and artisans. During his long and productive life he also served Jackson in many public offices, including the post of mayor during the Civil War.

Gothic Revival Villa

Perhaps his greatest legacy to his adopted hometown, however, is the olive-colored "cottage villa" with cream Gothic trim that he built in 1857 on what was then a four-acre lot in a sparsely settled neighborhood. A rare Southern example of Gothic Revival style, it served not only as a residence for him and his large family but as a showcase for his decorative talents.

Through techniques of graining and marbling with paints, Manship made ordinary pine doors look like rich mahogany or oak, gave pine mantelpieces the appearance of black-and-gold marble and turned wooden baseboards into elegant slate.

He also added his own distinctive touches to the house's architectural design, including a raised foundation, central hall and floor-to-ceiling windows to improve the ventilation and keep the house cooler during Mississippi's sweltering summers.

Refreshing Change

Today, faithfully restored and operated as a house museum by the state, it is a refreshing change from the white-columned, antebellum Greek Revival mansions for which Mississippi is better known. Besides its architectural and decorative novelty, the Manship House offers an close look at a seldom seen side of 19th-Century Southern home life: that of a prosperous but unpretentious merchant-class family.

Gothic Revival, which is characterized by steeply pitched roofs and pointed-arch windows, reached its zenith as an architectural style in the United States between 1840 and 1860. Although it was extremely popular in the Yankee Northeast, it never caught on widely below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Manship apparently took the design of his home from an 1850 architectural pattern book, "The Architecture of Country Houses" by A. J. Downing, a leading exponent of Gothic Revival. A house almost identical to Manship's is pictured in the book.

Inside the Manship House are three bedrooms, a parlor, sitting room, dining room and--unusual for the time--an indoor bathing room.

Golden Anniversary

The interior has been refurbished to appear as it did around 1888, the year Manship and his wife, Adaline Daley Manship, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with their 10 surviving children.

Many of the furnishings are original, including the marble-topped center table in the parlor around which the family often gathered in the evening to read to each other. The sideboard in the dining room and the print of Confederate President Jefferson Davis above it also are original. The print was a gift to Manship from Davis.

Photographs, diaries, letters and contemporary news accounts supplied information about many of the interior details, but family recollecdions were even more helpful. Members of the Manship family lived in the house continuously from the time it was built until it was acquired by the state archives and history department in 1975.

One sees examples of Manship's wood graining and marbling skills throughout the house, painstakingly restored by Malcolm Robson, a fifth-generation decorative artist from Surrey, England.

His Favorite Room

Manship's greatest undertaking was the dining room, his favorite spot and the largest room in the house. There the walls were plastered, covered with heavy wallpaper and then painted and grained from floor to ceiling to resemble oak paneling.

To create the effect, a graining color was applied to a golden base coat that covered the wallpaper. While the graining color was still wet, a Chinese hog-hair "flogger" was dragged over it and flogged, leaving behind the flecked appearance of oak.

Next, metal combs of various sizes were pulled over the graining color to complete the raw oak look. Pencil brushes then were used to apply dark and light figuring. Finally, coats of varnish were applied for protection and luster.

The house is more than just a restoration, however. It also is an effort to interpret the everyday life of the Manships.

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