Major Richardson and the Big House on the Hill South of Baldwyn

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I had the pleasure last week of visiting with Cheryl and Curry Harsin in their historic home on Lee Street in Baldwyn. 

The two-story Victorian stands at the high point of a lot, facing south, which reaches both 2nd and 3rd Streets.  There was once a brick pathway descending the hill on the east side of the house which connected the living quarters to 2nd Street and a city sidewalk residents used daily for their trek to downtown Baldwyn, just two blocks away. 

Major Richardson and The Gowers, circa 1890. (Courtesy of the Simon Spight Collection.)

The large home has been preserved in a beautiful, historic state by the Harsins and previous owners. The only way for a house of this size to be feasible in days prior to 1880 (approximately when this structure was built) was to include multiple chimneys for heating.  Some of that brickwork has been removed over the years, but several chimneys remain today.  From the foyer, there are parlors at the right and left and an ornate staircase leading to bedrooms on the second floor.  The design of this home brings to mind many of the historic homes travelers across the south might visit and tour – Rowan Oak in Oxford (William Falkner), the Hermitage in Nashville (Andrew Jackson), even the Allen/Cox House also here in Baldwyn, which remains in use as a private home.

Friends for many years, the Harsins opened their home to me last week for one of my quirky reasons – scouting their interiors as a possible movie set location – and they allowed me to take pictures.  A picture is worth a thousand words, and I took a lot.

The history of the place, nestled there between 2nd and 3rd, is overwhelming.  Any house of that age has tales, and the Harsin’s is no exception. I have a general knowledge of ownership of the house through the last four or five decades.  Owners have included the Barnes, the family that owned the property prior to the Harsins, and the Gowers, a family descended from the house’s original owner – Major John Harrison Richardson.

The Harsins have a picture hanging in their southwest parlor.

“Maj. Richardson,” the only way he was known to most of the Baldwyn residents of his time, was a confederate veteran.  In the Harsin’s photo, taken about 1890, the major sits atop a red horse, the remnants of a left arm lost in battle hanging limp at his side.  In front of him, stands the family of his niece Constance Clarice “Connie” Richardson Gower.  Connie, her husband Charlie, and their children Sallie, Corrie, Thomas and John are carefully placed, perfectly posed for the family photo.  The boys are in league with their great-uncle, John mounted on a Shetland pony, mirroring the major himself, and Thomas sitting at the helm of a goat-drawn buggy, the original ATV.  The family dog lies in the foreground, his back to camera. 

It is a striking and haunting image.

Other old photos of the major exist, several along Main Street Baldwyn.  Ironically, many of those old pictures find him in exactly the same pose, horseback looking over his left shoulder, his archaic prosthetic prominently featured towards camera, perhaps intentionally as the trophy of a war he wanted remembered.

Major John H. Richardson – there’s a story there.  Pictures don’t lie.  In future weeks I hope to discover more about this iconic Baldwyn figure of old.

Today, I thank Curry and Cheryl Harsin for their hospitality of last week, and for providing me the catalyst and inspiration I needed to dive into something new.  That is, something old – my favorite thing to dive into. 

More to come.

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