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Millsaps Buie House, Jackson, Mississippi

The House That Love Saved

Every house has a history, some more glorious and romantic than others. When a stately old homestead is passed down from generation to generation, memories as well as property are inherited. It is rare in today's world of mobility, condominium living and few offspring that a family mansion built more than 100 years ago can remain in the hands of the heirs.

As you travel the main thoroughfares of some of America's most picturesque small towns and "ooh" and "aah" at the marvels of architecture that have been preserved, you know it is usually not because those edifices are in residential use. To escape the wrecker's ball they have often been sold to insurance companies, health maintenance organizations or for other commercial purposes.

That was very nearly the fate of 628 North State Street in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1981 the owners, Joe Ellis Buie Love and Sarah Buie Morris, planned to sell the ancestral home, Millsaps Buie House, to an oil company. The contract of sale stipulated the restoration and preservation of the house. The city's planning board would not approve any rezoning. These acts of good fortune created one of the most talked about and attention getting B and B establishments in the South. With the demise of the plans for an office building, the property passed to the three siblings in the Love family. Since their father had been a hotelier on the Gulf Coast, becoming innkeepers seemed very natural to them.

Visitors to the Millsaps Buie House are struck by the fact that it is a dwelling intertwined with much lore, not just a guesthouse that h as been decorated merely to attract travelers. This grand old abode was erected in 1888 for the colorful and distinguished financier and philanthropist, Major Reuben Webster Millsaps. A founder of Millsaps College in Jackson, the state's capital, Mr. Millsaps was also an officer in the Confederate Army. At his death the property went to his nephew, Webster Millsaps Buie. Webster's widow, Jo Ellis Buie, affectionately known as "Boo" lived here for over 50 years and established many traditions. One of them included serving oyster loaf at an annual family gathering on Christmas Eve.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History intensively researched the original design and construction of the structure, which was built in Victorian style. The house was entered in the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. Jo Love Little, Mary Eliza Love McMillan and James Love worked with Berle Smith, a designer who is noted for historic renovations. The goal of the project was to create a 19th-century urban retreat for the 20th-century traveler.

Guests today enjoy the services of a very fine inn— there is an around-the-clock staff—and the charm of an exceptional three-story private home. Each of the 11 bedrooms is furnished differently. All have well-chosen period pieces that are accented with elegant fabrics and rich colors. Several have sleeping porches, one has a balcony and another an observatory. To walk into the bed chambers is to step into another time, albeit with modern touches. There are private baths, cable TVs and telephones with computer data ports. One of the bedrooms includes the handsome half-canopied bed of the founder himself.

Almost all of the rooms have mantelpieces and rosewood chairs. Other features are sparkling chandeliers, 14-foot ceilings, hand-molded frieze work and bay and stained-glass windows near the interior stairs, which are framed with polished newel posts and handrails The exterior boasts a beautiful portico from which four imposing double-hei ght columns rise.

In addition to the excellent service, the house is popular with tourists and businesspeople because of the artistry with which the public rooms—a foyer, library, parlor and dining room—have been furnished. Of course, Southern hospitality means fine food, which is offered twice daily. Every evening at the social hour, hot hors d'oeuvres are served. However, the very special meal is breakfast, which includes warm casseroles, homemade breads and pastries.

Millsaps Buie House, 628 North State Street, Jackson, MS 39202. Tel. 800-787-0221. www.millsapsbuiehouse.com

Spring 1994