Monday, July 25, 2011

The Cutrer Mansion (or: Where I went to Kindergarten)

In 1916 Blanche Carter Cutrer saw the childhood residence she had always known on Clark Street moved to make room for a new home being built for her family.  The new home, located at 109 Clark Street, was built in an Italian Renaissance Villa style.  The architect, Bayard Cairns, spared no expense in the home and surrounding grounds.  The floors were of black and white marble, the sunken gardens so elaborate a gardener was brought in from Italy to tend them.  The servants’ quarters were located across Friars’ Point Road on the riverbank of the Sunflower River.

This photo is of the home during the residency of the Cutrer's. According to J.W. and Blanche's grandson John Cutrer the home was known as 'Belvoir' to the family.

                Blanche Carter Cutrer, the only daughter of Clarksdale founder John Clark, was the wife of a wealthy and prominent lawyer named Jack Cutrer. It was said that he was a highly sought after criminal lawyer and supposedly only lost one case during his entire career. They had four children: John Jr., Elise, (Ann) Blanche, and Reggie.  Their home served as a point of interest and gossip for the town as they brought in world travelers, actors, and other society notables.  During this time the Cutrer's would bring in many notable musicians who would play in their grand home.  Of these the most notable is perhaps W.C. Handy who is said to have been a great friend to the family and Handy himself stated that the Cutrer's treated him very well.

                Tennessee Williams lived with his grandfather, Walter Edwin Dakin, in Clarksdale during the time of the Cutrers’ prominence and has used them as a source of inspiration for several of the characters in his plays including Blanche Dubois from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’.  Though they had hoped to build a home that would be the talk of Clarksdale for generations to come, it was to last little more than a decade.  Jack Cutrer passed away in the 1920’s and Blanche followed him in 1934.

                After Blanche’s death and following the desolation of the Great Depression, her daughter Ann Cutrer moved back into the Clark house next door and converted the Cutrer mansion into improvised apartments and it became a rental property and remained as such until 1949.

This photo of the Cutrer mansion was taken shortly before being bought by St. Elizabeth Catholic School.

                In 1949 the mansion was bought by St. Elizabeth Catholic Church and used as a convent for a year, and then was made into a convent and school.  It served the school until the mid-1990’s when the cost of repair and upkeep became too much for the church to maintain and it was advertised that the church would be demolishing the building.

                After the announcement of the demolition there was a public outcry to save the historic home.  The church stated that it simply could not afford to maintain the property and unless the $750,000 that it would cost to buy the mansion and all adjoining school property could be raised by the city they would have no choice but to tear it down.  The first to donate to the cause of saving the Cutrer Mansion was the Reverend Kent Bowld, then priest at St. Elizabeth Catholic Church who gave $5,000 of his own money to the fund. 
                When the Clarksdale Press Register ran the article about Reverend Kent’s generous donation calls poured in including several checks to match the priest’s donation.  Over $58,000 was raised in the week following the article and more poured in by the day.  The church even offered a 6 month reprieve on the demolition so that time could be allowed for the town to raise the necessary money to buy the property.  The money raised by this community support became the seed that lead to Delta State University and Coahoma Community College partnering and with their added support the property was purchased and renovated into the Cutrer Cultural Arts Center.

This is a photo as the manse appears today as the Cutrer Cultural Arts Center. 

             Unfortunately I was unable to locate pictures of the interior in time for this blog though I know they exist as I've seen them.  I also spent a large portion of my early childhood in this home as I went to school at St. Elizabeth in the mid to late 80's and had class in the chapel and sunroom of this historic building.  I even went as far as to leave one of the doors unlocked after school one day in 4th grade simply so that I could return after hours to wander around and explore my 'haunted' school.  I was, of course, caught and given a stern warning but my love and adoration for this building, not only as a piece of Clarksdale history, but as a piece of my own history has never been diminished. 

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