Chalmers Institute Receives $80k

“Chalmers Institute Receives $80,000” – a report from the Marshall County Historical Museum (text as printed in The South Reporter on December 19, 2013)

On December 10, 2013, Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc. (PMCHS) announced on their Facebook page that Chalmers Institute, located on 151 S. W. Boundary Rd., will be the recipient of an $80,000 grant from the 2013 Community Heritage Preservation grant program.

The grant was awarded by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) to further support the rehabilitation of the Chalmers Institute. Chalmers was originally built in 1837. In its occupancy, it served as a literary institute, a university, and later, a residential building. It has been unoccupied since the 1980s, and has been under rehabilitation since 2009.

That’s the gist of the story. When we delve deeper into the grant’s requirements, the excitement expressed by Preserve Marshall County is more easily understood by, well, the rest of us. Grants are, generally, difficult to get. In this case, one can’t even begin to apply for such a grant without first being an official “Mississippi Landmark”, which involves another process of application and evaluation. Only nonprofits and municipalities can apply, and the property must be of significant historic value to the State of Mississippi.

Chalmers, being the first chartered university in Mississippi, carries its weight as a historic school. It officially became a state landmark in 2003 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

To further elaborate, a quick search on the MDAH’s website shows that in Holly Springs alone we have a total of 22 state landmarks, as designated by MDAH. This includes historic homes, museums, and government buildings. In the state of Miss. there are 973 official landmarks.

The Mississippi Department of Archives and History picked only 26 from across the state to receive a piece of the $2,980,194 lump sum associated with the Community Heritage Preservation program. Granted, and the pun is intended, not all 973 locations would have applied, but the competition still exists.

In fact, three of our town’s state landmarks applied for the grant, and two received it. Rust College has been granted $400,000 for the rehabilitation of Carnegie Hall, located across campus at the Mississippi Industrial College campus site.

According to Preservation in Mississippi, a news blog dedicated to the nitty-gritty of preservation, the amount will be go toward the structure’s stabilization. If Rust follows the path of Chalmers’ stabilization, sealing the structure from the elements with a new roof and windows is the next step.

And, like Chalmers, Carnegie probably won’t be a “restoration”, per se. The idea behind “rehabilitation”, rather than a pure restoration, is that it’s a more affordable way of turning these landmarks into functional spaces for community use.

As both a historic and a functional space, they anticipate a greater draw for tourists. With a greater tourist draw, it all translates to more revenue for our local businesses.

Chelius Carter, who is both the director of the Marshall County Historical Museum and the president of PMCHS, says that the Chalmers Institute has been of interest to the Museum for two decades (hence this article, which celebrates Marshall County history, and the Museum’s interests).

Ms. Lois Swaney-Shipp, the long time director of the Museum, researched funding to purchase the Chalmers Institute in 1993. She was unable to secure enough support for the project at that time, but her work inspired the future efforts of Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs, Inc.

Now, the question exists: what will Chalmers be when its finished? Carter says that PMCHS has an idea. “We look at this as being developed as a North Mississippi Heritage Center for the Culture and Arts,” he says. “It’s a loose, feel-good idea, but it’s a broad umbrella to pull things under. It could be a performing and visual arts venue.”

Carter notes that visual artists looking for a working studio and gallery space may be interested in setting up shop. With spaces in Oxford and Memphis increasing in price, creatives are already looking for alternative spaces within driving distance of their network. Chalmers could become a co-op that provides just that.

“It all goes to advocating, and developing Holly Springs as a destination to bring people in,” says Carter.

He cites The Wrecking Ball, the capital fundraising event for Chalmers, as a working example. While there is a local, core group of people in Marshall County who are annually supportive, the vast majority (about 2/3rds) of financial supporters are coming from the Delta, West Tenn., and Oxford.

There’s a still a long way to go before completion, but every little bit has helped. At this time, the Chalmers Institute has two grants in place, both through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. The first was received in 2011 for the amount of $49,156, and is what PMCHS is working with now. The second is the $80,000 grant that was just announced.

PMCHS anticipates receiving the remaining $81,344.19 of the $90,000.00 in state funds that were originally allocated to the project in 2003 to the City of Holly Springs’ former administration.

Other Preserve Marshall County & Holly Springs programs that have received funding assistance include the “Behind the Big House” program, which received four grants from 2011 to 2013. Two grants have been netted through PMCHS’ partnership with North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, Inc. in 2012 and 2013.

The rehabilitation of the historic Chalmers Institute building is expected to be complete in 2015. At this time, PMCHS has rebuilt the west wall of Chalmers, “the most structurally compromised part” of the building. Carter says the 2013 grant will be used for roofing, and the rehabilitation of the floors, walls, and ceilings.

“Tourism and historic preservation are the greenest infrastructure one can have in their economic tool kit – you are putting existing built resources back into service,” says Carter.

“We cannot thank enough the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and our solid local supporters for their continued support and assistance in this,” says Carter. “They (MDAH) have been pretty much in our corner all along, and thus, have helped us financially now twice. They believe in this project, and the state believes in this project. People inside, and outside of Holly Springs believe in this project.”

Be on the lookout for another “report from the Museum”, a bi-weekly article from the Marshall County Historical Museum, in The South Reporter.

We would like to thank those in this readership that braved the arctic elements and came out last week for the 25th Annual Christmas Tour of Homes. In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about Marshall County history, you can visit the Marshall County Historical Museum anytime between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Saturdays are by special arrangement. Call 662.252.3669 for details.

Megan Wolfe
About the Author:
I'm a San Francisco photographer and writer currently based in the South. My work is inspired by weathered history, interviews with locals, and wanderlust.

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