Fulton leaders and members of local beautification group the Fulton Community Volunteers (FCV) have dueling concerns over the upkeep and use of Fulton’s historic home Cates-Gaither House, also known as “The Cedars.”
The two groups debated the use of the city-owned house, which was designated a historical landmark by the Mississippi Department of Archives in 2012, during last week’s regular meeting of the Fulton Board of Aldermen. Upward of 20 FCV members filled the board room’s seating area to express their concerns that the home isn’t being cared for as a historic building should.
The group asked to assume responsibility for the home’s care and upkeep. In exchange for being caretakers, the group be officially allowed to hold their meetings inside the home.
Acting as spokesperson for the group, longtime FCV member Danny Gaither said older buildings like the Cates-Gaither House require extra care and attention. It can be a lot for the city to maintain on its own.
“If the home is neglected, it will go down quickly,” Gaither told the board. “We are also concerned about the care of the expensive antique furniture that has been donated.”
Gaither noted that the FCV has worked thousands of hours, obtained grants and made donations toward the restoration of the 160-year-old dogtrot.
The group has held their regular meetings inside the house for years, but were recently denied further usage of the building without first seeking permission from the city. On March 7, officers with the Fulton Police Department were dispatched to the house to request the group vacate the house, citing they had not been given permission to use the city-owned property.
The group was again denied use of the home on March 14. According to Gaither, a police officer personally delivered to him a letter denying the FCV use of the property. In the letter, Mayor Barry Childers stated the group hadn’t filed an application to use the house.
The city has since changed the locks on the house. Several members of the FCV had keys to the original locks.
Childers expressed concern about the cost of allowing the group free use of the building. He argued if the FCV were allowed to meet in the house free-of-charge, the city would have to allow other groups to use it for free as well.
Gaither and other members of the FCV reiterated that the group was willing to work with the city to see that the home and its furnishing are well-maintained in exchange for use of the building.
Despite the mayor’s concerns, other members of the city board expressed support for the proposal. Alderman Brad Chatham suggested the FCV’s offer could ultimately benefit both groups, relieving the city of some of the responsibility of maintaining a historically-protected building and giving FCV a place to hold their meetings.
Board attorney Chip Mills suggested creating an official agreement, something similar to the lease agreement between the city and Boy Scout Troop 32, which uses a city-owned building on Main Street to hold its meetings.
Chatham said he was willing to meet with the FCV to work out details of the arrangement. The city and FCV seem to be working toward such an arrangement.
This wasn’t the first time the FCV and city leaders have clashed over use of the Cates-Gaither House: In November, city leaders balked when the group announced they’d be using the building to host a fundraiser. City leaders claimed the group had not sought permission to use the building in such a way and questioned whether or not such a use would violate the Mississippi Department of Archives and History regulations.
Their concerns were unfounded – using the building to host a fundraiser did not, in fact, violate any rules – but the disucssion did result in the creation of an official form for use of the property.
The effort to save the 160-odd-year-old home began in 2009. The property’s owner, Fulton United Methodist Church, needed to take down the building, which was in dire need of repair, to make room for a new parsonage. Any group willing to move the building was welcome to have it, however. A small volunteer group, then-called Preserving Itawamba County’s History (members of which later formed the Fulton Community Volunteers), requested city officials to claim the 150-year-old home. Group members offered to volunteer to raise money to have the structure moved and, eventually, renovated.
City officials agreed, and in November of 2011, the Cates-Gaither House, also known as The Cedars, was moved approximately 200 yards west of its original location. The Cates-Gaither Home was awarded a grant of $60,960 through the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in 2010 and was designated a historical landmark in 2012.