CORINTH INFORMATION DATABASE Version 1.3 © 1995 Milton Sandy, Jr.

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Corinth's Architectural Heritage:
The Burned-Out Shell



To Corinthians and visitors alike, the 400 block of Cruise Street in Corinth offers a panoramic first impression of the town's central business district.  The block is dominated by the building occupying 405-409 Cruise Street, constructed in the Italianate style of architecture popular in the mid- to late 1800's.  Although the structure at 409 Cruise is intact, the 405-407 part of the building is a burned-out shell, the facade belying the rubble behind the beautiful brick storefronts.  Regardless of its condition, this building is of prime importance to the Downtown Historic District because of its architectural style, historical significance, and location.  In 1973 the Federal Government placed the building on the Historic American Buildings Survey, the only commercial structure in Corinth to be included.

Public and private records show that the south side of this block has been in almost continual use for commercial purposes since the town's founding.  These buildings have been used for a variety of enterprises, including saloons, manufacturing concerns, livery stables, drug stores, restaurants, groceries and dry goods houses, several with upper story boarding rooms. Generally, the owners of the buildings have not personally operated the businesses themselves on this particular side of the block, unlike most other downtown properties.

The structure situated on lots 3, 4, and 5 on the south side of Block 27 of the Mitchell & Mask Survey of Corinth is in the Italianate style, popular in the United States from 1840 to 1885.  The Italianate influence in commercial buildings is characterized by narrow arched windows, often adorned with embellished hoods.  Storefront characteristics include ornamental iron supports called "pilasters" between the door opening and windows.  A turn-of-the-century photograph of the building, then Morrison-Hinton Grocery in Corinth, shows elaborate pilasters with distinctive massive arches.  These arches and pilasters were probably manufactured locally by the W. T. Adams Manufacturing Company.

The first of these lots to sell was Lot 4 (405 Cruise Street), the center parcel in the group.  Houston Mitchell, one of the developers of Corinth, conveyed it to McCullar & Davis on June 30, 1856.  In September 1856 Houston and Martha V. Mitchell and Hamilton Mask sold Lot 3 (407 Cruise Street) to Joseph J. Phillips, a young man from a prominent farming family in what was then Tishomingo County.  The sale of Lot 5 (409 Cruise Street), the current location of Durm's Office Supply, occurred on March 5, 1858, when James C. Terry of Eastport purchased multiple town parcels.  Terry (1824-1903), a founder of Iuka and Burnsville, Mississippi, was a financier connected with the Mitchell & Mask enterprises.

Deeds from 1856 to 1861 indicate that the storehouse on Lot 4 was owned by F. A. Whitmore in August 1860.  The deed contained a notation,  "Drug Store now occupied by Peter W. Nash."  Out of a possible eight building lots on the south side of the block, the 1861 Mathew A. Miller sketches of Corinth show a total of four buildings.  One of the buildings on the south side of the block was possibly a double structure on two lots.

Land tax records in 1861 for old Tishomingo County show property ownership and "total value" of all the lots as follows:  Lot 1 - F. E. Whitfield, $1,500; Lot 2 - owner not given; Lot 3 - J. J. Phillips, $400; Lot 4 - B. T. Whitmore, $1,000; Lot 5 - Taylor Frost & Co., $1,500; Lots 6 & 7 - W. L. Duncan, $2,500; and Lot 8 - Thomas & William Irion, $2,000.  It is likely that the J. J. Phillips' town property lot is one of the two vacant lots noted on the Miller sketches for that side of Block 27.

In 1865 following the Civil War, depressed economic conditions caused frequent property transfers and forced sales.  In the desperate times during Reconstruction in the South (1868-1870), many parcels of land in Corinth were sold for taxes.  This was, in fact, the circumstance of Lot 3, owned by Joseph J. Phillips.  However, in February 1871, Joe Phillips reclaimed Lot 3 from the State for $32.58 in delinquent taxes.  In March and April 1880, Mr. Phillips acquired Lots 4 & 5, just east of his 1871 Lot 3 purchase, for $500 each.  The sale prices of Lots 4 and 5 indicate that the lots were vacant at the time of purchase.  The earliest Sanborn Fire Insurance Map for Corinth, executed in 1885, shows buildings on these three lots on Cruise Street.  By that time, two and three-story buildings covered the entire south side of the block.  Therefore, the construction of the three sister buildings on Cruise Street must have occurred between 1880 and 1885, probably shortly after Joseph J. Phillips’ acquisition of these lots.  These sister buildings, which visually add so much to the architectural character of Corinth, were constructed for him. 

Phillips, the seventh child of Joseph and Mary Phillips of old Tishomingo County, Mississippi, was born in 1832 in Tennessee.  In 1837, this pioneer family purchased 800 acres of land just east of an area that later developed into Corinth.  The Phillips farm was located in the area of the new Corinth High School, now within the City's corporation limits.

In the mid-1850's, Joseph J. Phillips followed an older married sister to Boggy Depot, Indian Territory.  In Boggy Depot (now in Atoka County, Oklahoma), under the tutelage of his merchant brother-in-law Eli S. Mitchell, he became a successful merchant and expanded his business interests into the nearby town of Atoka.  Although his official residence continued to be in Indian Territory, Phillips' name appears with some regularity in the records for old Tishomingo and Alcorn counties during this time period.

In 1884, at the age of fifty-two, Phillips married Miss Nellie Usher Curlee, a daughter of Mrs. Sarah Ann "Sallie" (Norfleet) Curlee of Rienzi.  Mrs. Curlee was the widow of John McFerrin Curlee.  The marriage of Joseph J. and Nellie Usher Phillips produced four children:  Jerome J., Helen, Herbert C., and Leroy Phillips.  In 1890, Joseph J. Phillips and his family moved to St. Louis, Missouri.  There he became a director at the Bank of the Republic of Saint Louis.  He was later president of Genese, Phillips & Company.  He died around 1905.

The Phillips' second son, Herbert Curlee Phillips, graduated in 1911 from Cornell University at Ithaca, New York.  After World War II, he worked as a traveling salesman for Buckskin Britches Manufacturing Company of Evansville, Indiana.  This company later became a division of the Curlee Clothing Company and later the Stanley Clothing Company.  John R. Stanley, a native of Alcorn County, Mississippi, served as president of the Stanley Clothing Company.  In the early 1920's, Phillips joined the Curlee Clothing Company of Saint Louis, Missouri, which was founded by his mother's first cousin, Shelby Hammond Curlee.  During the 1950's and 1960's, Herbert C. Phillips served as the company's president.  He died August 31, 1988, in Saint Louis. 

The Curlee Clothing Company, which for decades was a respected name in the menswear industry throughout the United States, had its beginnings at 405-409 Cruise Street in Corinth, the site of the present-day burned-out shell and Durm's Office Products. The clothing company operated at this location from 1901 to 1905 under the name of Corinth Woolen Mills.  This company was founded by Shelby H. Curlee, John Rufus Curlee, Samuel L. Nelson (1846-1921), and John C. Stanley, Jr.  According to Imogene King Stanley (Mrs. John C. Stanley, III) of Corinth, a granddaughter of Samuel L. Nelson, her grandfather and John C. Stanley, Jr., helped finance the enterprise, although they were not personally involved with the business on a daily basis. The last named director, John C. Stanley, Jr., retained his interest in the company for only about a year.  Initially, the early company in Corinth only produced men's trousers.

By 1904, the woolen mills utilized the buildings on lots 1 through 5 and had seven traveling salesmen.  Although the company moved to Saint Louis, Missouri, in 1905, its founder, Shelby H. Curlee never forgot his roots and frequently visited Corinth.  Shelby Curlee and the Curlee Clothing Company were significant patrons of pioneer aviator Roscoe Turner of Corinth.  When he died in 1944, Shelby Curlee's body was interred in the old City Cemetery in Corinth, which he had endowed in the 1930's.  His family also later donated the Curlee House to the City of Corinth in 1960.

The original leadership of the Corinth Woolen Mills was comprised of three cousins:  Shelby H. Curlee (1868-1944) considered the founder; and his cousins, John Rufus Curlee (1864-unknown) and John C. Stanley, Jr. (1889-1983).  The building itself was still owned by Joseph J. Phillips, who was married to John Rufus Curlee's sister, Nellie Usher (Curlee) Phillips.

Joseph Phillips' heirs sold all three lots to Samuel L. Nelson & M. Filmore Baxter on April 4, 1906, for $1,500.  For a few years around 1908, the Morrison-Hinton Grocery Company, wholesale merchants, rented all three buildings.  However, by 1913 the Sanborn Fire Insurance Map showed vacancies for all three buildings.  The 1913-1914 Corinth City Directory, compiled by the Piedmont Directory Company, lists 405 Cruise as being occupied by Weddle's Garage and 407-409 Cruise occupied by Charles H. Delp and Son Furniture Company.  Neville Delp and Boone Delp assisted with the furniture company.   Lawrence Delp occupied part of the 407 Cruise Street building working with picture frames and upholstering.  Neville, Lawrence and Boone Delp resided with their parents, Charles and Elizabeth Delp, at 1003 Fifth Street. 

On December 17, 1918, Nelson and Baxter deeded the three buildings to Benjamin F. Liddon for $7,500.  Seven years later, on January 19, 1925, Liddon deeded the parcels and buildings to his only child, Mrs. Norine Liddon McCullar.  Upon her death Mrs. McCullar's daughter, Shirley (McCullar) Simmons, owned the buildings.  Her husband, Frank Simmons, managed the Liddon/McCullar real estate after World War II.   While in company of his wife's grandfather, Benjamin F. Liddon, Simmons recalled seeing a tenant, Harry Roebke, hoisting an unusually heavy load in the elevator located in the west building (405 Cruise).  Simmons expressed concern that the load was too heavy for the elevator, but Mr. Liddon assured him that the elevator could easily handle the cargo.  Liddon amplified, "No, I can remember when the Curlee Clothing Company had about 100 sewing machines in there.  The elevator floor would sustain that load."  Sewing machines in those days, Simmons said, were made of very heavy cast iron frames.

Shirley (McCullar) Simmons, the granddaughter of B. F. Liddon, recalled that the second floor was used in the 1930's as a holding area for chickens in their coops by "Chicken" Noel.  The chickens were later shipped wholesale by train.  Discarded chicken coops were often scattered on the Cruise Street sidewalk.  Frank Simmons elaborated, "A lot of times townsfolk would stop and buy a live chicken.  Their store employees would go out back and ring the chicken's neck off and deliver it in a paper sack ready for boiling and plucking."   Today, of course, the Health Department would not permit housing chickens on any floor in the central business district.

On September 29,1981, when the buildings were 100 years old, two of them caught fire. The businesses occupying the buildings were Durm's Office Supply at 405 Cruise Street and The Old Curiosity Craft Shoppe at 407 Cruise Street.  An appliance in the craft shop apparently produced the blaze.  Both buildings sustained heavy damage and were uninsured except for their contents.  J. Douglas Durm of Durm's Office Supply saved a newspaper report of the fire, which stated that the fire threatened the entire block.  However, because of the firewall on the 409 Cruise Street building (now occupied by Durm's Office Machines), an even worse disaster was averted.  Mr. Durm salvaged much of his inventory, and in 1982 purchased the intact sister building (409 Cruise) where he is located today.

Although the properties were subsequently purchased by owners who had intentions to restore the buildings, to date no restoration has been started.  Friends of the Siege & Battle of Corinth purchased the two burned-out shells in 1995.  To save the historic front of the buildings, this group installed structural braces in the interior.

Architectural historians and preservationists, at both the state and national level, when visiting Corinth strongly emphasized the value of the buildings to the character of Corinth.  "It's your most notable commercial building," Mimi Miller, then with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, informed the Corinth Preservation Commission. "It's architectural style is significant.  It is your first view of your downtown."

Historic buildings are artifacts and are frequently the only tangible evidence of our community's history.  They can provide insights into forgotten or only partly remembered culture, activities, events and people of the past.  Like family heirlooms, our buildings contribute to our sense of place, giving us a connection and identity as to where we come from and who we are.  A community that protects its heritage shows the world that it is a safe place to raise a family and invest in the future, because of its respect for tradition.

© 1998 Stephanie L. Sandy

 

Photo and Illustration Credits

Photograph of the Morrison-Hinton Wholesale Grocery taken on October 12,1908, shows the fine pilasters and arches of this Italianate building.  Photo courtesy of Mrs. Sara Rinehart Hinton of Corinth, Miss.

The 1885 Sanborn Fire Insurance Map of Block 27 Mitchell & Mask Survey of Corinth, Miss., shows the block, lot and building pattern.  From the collection of the Mitchell Library, Mississippi State University, Starkville, Miss.

 

© 1998 Stephanie L. Sandy

 

 

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