Abandoned plantation house in Mississippi

Hollywood Plantation - The Burrus House, Benoit Mississippi
Date added: August 23, 2022 Categories: Mississippi House Mansion
Northwest facades (1975)

Hollywood is the only structure associated with the locally prominent Burrus family that remains in Bolivar County, Mississippi. It was constructed by John C. Burrus (1818-1879), who was among the first to settle the county after its lands were removed from Indian control by the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. Although a native of Huntsville, Alabama, where he practiced law until 1842, Burrus had established a plantation in Bolivar County early enough to appear on that county's first tax roll, taken in 1836. According to the same records for 1840, Burrus's holdings consisted of 913 acres of land, valued at $3,652, and 34 slaves. Burrus continued his absentee ownership until 1842 when, according to family tradition, mistreatment of his slaves caused him to forsake his law career and settle permanently on his Bolivar plantation.

Between 1842 and 1848, Burrus lived at Neblett Place and later at Wood Yard, where Mississippi River steamboats were supplied with wood from the dense forests once common in the Delta. In 1848, he moved his family five miles inland to Egypt Ridge, where he established a fourteen hundred acre plantation named "Hollywood." Until the present structure was completed in 1861, the family resided in a simple six-room log house which stood until the 1930s. Wholly utilitarian by nature, this crude structure was a great embarrassment to at least one family member, who anxiously awaited the completion of the new, more sophisticated dwelling. While a student at the University of Virginia in 1859, Burrus's son Charles wrote: "... I shall be very glad to get over to the new house. We will be much more comfortable and everything otherwise will be better arranged. The truth is I felt ashamed at living in the tumble [sic] down house we live in now... We can make the new place very beautiful by proper care. I shall plant every kind of flower there I can obtain for I am fully determined to have a pretty yard and garden" (Charles Burrus to Elizabeth Burrus, May 30, 1859, Burrus Papers). Although the name of the architect, or more likely the master builder, responsible for the designs of Hollywood remains unknown, contemporary family correspondence gives vague references to the actual building progress. On June 1, 1858, Burrus's wife Louisa wrote her daughter: "The workmen are here & have begun to make the window and door frames & things of that kind" (Louisa Burrus to Lizzy Burrus, Burrus Papers). A year and a half later the house was almost complete when she wrote: "They are burning the brick & the chimneys will soon be finished. They are finishing off upstairs--as all below is done. The parlor & dining rooms are very pretty" (Louisa Burrus to Flossy Burrus, November 23, 1859, Burrus Papers). Because "the painter [was] so slow in coming," the house remained unfinished in May of the following year (Louisa Burrus to Flossy and Elizabeth Burrus, May 20, 1860, Burrus Papers). After almost three years of building, Hollywood was finally completed in early 1861, although it stood without the originally proposed balcony.

From the time of his removal to Bolivar County, Burrus was active in local political affairs. In 1847, he was elected president of the seventh Board of Police, forerunner of the County Board of Supervisors, and was subsequently reelected to that body in 1853, 1855, and 1862. Although he did not serve in the military during the Civil War, Burrus aided the Confederate cause by allowing General Peter Burwell Starke to camp his men at Hollywood and, according to family tradition, by harboring General Jubal Early during his surreptitious escape to Mexico after the surrender at Appomattox. Because of its inland location, Burrus's plantation was not damaged by the Federal gunboats which habitually shelled the structures lining the Mississippi River. It is partially for this reason that the Burrus residence remains the only significant antebellum "mansion-type" plantation house extant in Bolivar County.

The political and economic climate of the Reconstruction period afforded Burrus little opportunity for public service. He was elected Justice of the Peace in 1865 but only two years later placed last in a four-man contest for sheriff, having received only five votes. With his death in 1879, Burrus's estate passed to his only surviving son, John Crawford Burrus, Jr. (1847-1928), who served in the Civil War with the 9th Texas Cavalry until his capture in December, 1864. Upon his release in March, 1865, Burrus had returned to Hollywood and joined his father in the effort to save the plantation from financial ruin. In the closing years of the nineteenth century, Burrus became involved in local politics, serving on the Bolivar County Board of Supervisors from 1890 to 1896, after which he became a Justice of the Peace (1896-1900). In 1904, Burrus was elected to one term (1904-1908) in the state house of representatives, followed by a term (1908-1912) in the state senate.

Two years after his retirement from public service, John C. Burrus, Jr., moved into the nearby residence of his only surviving child, Mrs. Margaret Burrus Barry. Ceasing to serve as a Burrus dwelling, Hollywood was rented to tenants and soon fell into a state of disrepair. The first plea for the preservation of Hollywood came in 1933, a mere five years after Burrus's death Describing the deteriorating condition of the house, a local historian wrote: "Much of the back part has fallen away but the main part of the house remains".

Building Description

Hollywood is a large deteriorating frame dwelling house situated on the west side of state route 448 one quarter-mile south of Benoit, Mississippi. The site has been known as Egypt Ridge since 1844, when a disastrous Delta flood failed to reach its elevated position. Based on traditional architectural principles as interpreted by local craftsmen, the design of Hollywood is best described as vernacular Greek Revival. Standing two-and-a-half-stories high above a foundation of brick piers, the house is divided into five equal bays with the entrance placed on the center axis.

A prostyle portico, with only two of its Corinthian columns remaining, is attached to the facade. Installed in 1955, these columns replaced the originals which were characterized by robustly turned, bell-shaped capitals, fluted shafts, and molded bases. To further promote the sophistication of the principle elevation, the framing of the facade and tympanum is covered with shiplap siding to contrast with the clapboarded secondary elevations. Of the remaining architectural features, the entrance frontispiece in antis is particularly noteworthy. Two fluted columns with provincial turned capitals and bases are paired with engaged piers of similar detail to support an architrave, frieze, and dentiled cornice. Beyond the frontispiece and paneled recess there remains only the outline of the entrance with its narrow transom and sidelights separated from the doorway by pilasters. Above the entrance is a second pilastered frontispiece and a paneled door, which was meant to give access to a balcony that was never installed. The facade fenestration is completed by the tall, glassless window openings, diminished on the second level, which flank the center bay. Each window architrave is capped by a simple molded cornice, an enrichment not found on the less ambitious secondary elevations. Here architectural treatment is limited to the four interior chimneys with their shallow reveals, the rear doorway which repeats the design of its counterpart on the facade with sidelights and a transom, and the entablature which is carried from the portico to follow the rake of the gabled ends. A double gallery, its doors communicating with the two back chambers and the upper passage, ran the full length of the rear elevation until its destruction by fire in the early years of the 20th century. The kitchen, which was connected to the gallery by an open hyphen, has also disappeared.

As conceived by provincial craftsmen, the interior of Hollywood is designed with the same restrained ambition that is characteristic of the exterior. Interior spaces are arranged according to the traditional double-pile formula, with double parlors on the north and two large bedchambers on the south side of a central stairhall. Vandalism and decay have stripped the house of its major woodwork including the eight mantels and the stair balusters, banister, and newel. The scrolled step-ends and a single extant base of a turned baluster give evidence of the stair's original appearance. Window architraves, interior frontispieces and niche-surrounds survive as fine examples of the local joiner's skill. Each door. opening off the center hall is treated with an eared architrave supporting a simple box cornice. Special emphasis is given to the double parlors where doors and windows with paneled soffits are flanked by pilasters supporting a wide frieze and molded cornice. The woodwork of the secondary rooms, including the library and bedchambers of the upper story, is limited to baseboards and window and door architraves composed of a wide facia surrounded by a simple backband typical of the 1850s.

The second floor complies with the established double-pile plan except for the use of closets that separate the library and bedroom on the southern end. One of these closets houses the small winding attic stairs.

Hollywood Plantation - The Burrus House, Benoit Mississippi Northwest facades (1975)
Northwest facades (1975)

Hollywood Plantation - The Burrus House, Benoit Mississippi Front elevation (1975)
Front elevation (1975)

Hollywood Plantation - The Burrus House, Benoit Mississippi 1936 view
1936 view