Walt's Look Around: Shirley House to open to public Saturday - MSNewsNow.com - Jackson, MS

Walt's Look Around: Shirley House to open to public Saturday

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I suppose if you were to pick out the icon of the Vicksburg National Military Park it would be the Illinois Memorial. Forty-seven steps of Stone Mountain, GA granite, one for each day of the Siege of Vicksburg, lead up to the Georgia white marble memorial building above it modeled after the Pantheon. But in a prominent position next to the Illinois Memorial is the only structure remaining in the park that was here during the actual siege, the Shirley House.

The house was originally called Wexford Lodge and was built in the 1830s. Judge James Shirley bought it in 1851 and his family was living there at the time the Union Army swarmed in from the east and camped in his house and his yard.

It had been a pretty populated neighborhood for open country at the time. But the Confederate Army burned all of the other houses nearby so the Union wouldn't be able to use them. The Shirley House was about to be torched when the Union Army topped the hill nearby. Mrs. Shirley and a young son were the only people at home when the invasion force set upon them. Mrs. Shirley promptly hung out a white flag of truce and, long story short, her house survived the war.

It did not survive unscathed however. After the pulverizing it took being caught in the crossfire in the siege, the Shirley family was never able to live in it again. Park Ranger Carla Koch says the house had only one major use after the war.

Carla Koch: It was used as a smallpox hospital for the Union Army and it was just dilapidated completely after that.

Walt: Alice Shirley donated the house and the property to the War Department at the turn of the 20th Century for inclusion in the Vicksburg Park with the stipulation that the house be restored and that her parents be reburied in the back yard. Which it was, and they were.

However, the Shirley House is rarely open for tours of the interior. But with this being the 150th anniversary of the Siege of Vicksburg this year, with the big reenactment taking place Memorial Weekend in the park, you can expect to find the Shirley House more accessible than it usually is.

One hundred fifty years later the peaceful Wexford Lodge sits in a picturesque setting as it did when it was first build nearly 180 years ago. Only now, it has the Pantheon in its side yard.

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