1925 Crawford House: Designed after an Italian villa
1925 Crawford House: Designed after an Italian villa
By ELLEN CIURCZAK
Sep. 16, 2018
HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — When Daniel Mann was getting ready to marry his wife Dorothy in September 2004 there was one big problem — Hurricane Ivan. The Category 3 storm had hit Alabama where many relatives lived and the damage done had guests wondering if they could attend the wedding.
The bright spot in the chaos was the 1925 neo-classical, revival-style Crawford House on Hattiesburg's Court Street where the Manns had planned their ceremony and reception.
"We went and saw the Crawford House and fell in love with it — it's a beautiful space," Daniel Mann said. "The ambiance of it is nice. We got married on the steps out front — great for pictures."
The 4,800-square-foot stucco dwelling was designed to look like an Italian villa. With a sweeping staircase leading to a large front porch overlooking about 2 acres of tree-laden property, many couples had chosen it for their wedding day.
On the historic resources inventory for the state of Mississippi, it was originally home to one of Hattiesburg's first doctors — W.W. Crawford and his wife Ada. Now, Mitzi Russell, a business development associate with MMI Dining, and her husband, Rink, a retired insurance broker, live in the house.
"We have had the house since 2000," Mitzi Russell, 53, said. "We ran it as a business — an event venue — until 2009. Then we moved into it as a residence."
Crawford House has served many purposes in addition to event venue and has had several prominent residents.
According to the Hattiesburg Area Historical Society, W.W. Crawford was one of many doctors flocking to the growing town of Hattiesburg shortly before the turn of the century. Hattiesburg had a need for medical folk as it had experienced the dreaded yellow fever and a frightening outbreak of small pox.
Crawford came to Hattiesburg in 1901 to open an infirmary. The South Mississippi Infirmary was built according to plans from Charles Mayo of Mayo Clinic fame.
The infirmary was opened on Plum Street with two other leading Hattiesburg doctors, C.W. Bufkin and J.D. Donald. In 1903, Crawford became the sole owner.
But in early summer 1904, fire destroyed the building. The rebuilding had barely been completed when a second fire again devastated the structure.
A third infirmary was built on Walnut Street, mere steps from Crawford House. During his time in medical practice, Crawford, a leading surgeon in the state, became known for his use of radium — a substance so radioactive it is rarely used today.
Ada Crawford, along with her sister, Mae, worked at the infirmary. Ada Crawford had met W.W. Crawford when he was a young doctor at Bellevue Hospital in New York. As a registered nurse, she was adept at helping out at the infirmary.
The couple had two children, Walter, born in 1906, and Helen, born in 1911.
After 45 years at the infirmary, W.W. Crawford retired in 1946. The infirmary closed in May 1956 and patients transferred to either Forrest General or Methodist hospitals.
While busy at the infirmary, W.W. Crawford had some other notable accomplishments.
"Crawford was instrumental is getting Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg," Mitzi Russell said. "The city lobbied to have it called Camp Crawford."
The camp was named in honor of Isaac Shelby, a hero of the American Revolution and the first governor of Kentucky, from which many of the soldiers were coming.
It was during World War I that W.W. Crawford spearheaded the effort to bring Camp Shelby to the Pine Belt. He was commanding officer of the surgical staff at the camp for some time.
The Southern Medical Association was also organized through his efforts and he served as dean of its past presidents.
W.W. Crawford died in November 1954 at the age of 82. His wife stayed on at Crawford House for nearly 20 more years, until her death in 1973 at the age of 94.
"She lived here a good long time," Rink Russell said. "One of the rooms upstairs is where she was.
"There's a buzzer in the door jam for her to call the nurse."
Crawford House is in a unique location — next door to Sacred Heart Catholic School and Hulett-Winstead Funeral Home. Ada Crawford used to delight in seeing the children of Sacred Heart.
"She would call Sacred Heart and ask them to walk down a class of kindergartners and she would give them saltines and water," Mitzi Russell said.
No one lived in Crawford House after Ada Crawford died.
"It stayed vacant and fell into disrepair," Mitzi Russell said. "Then in 1976 it was possibly purchased out of an estate by Wally and Cindy McLaughlin.
"They lived in the house over a year and made it into an antique store."
So began the many transformations of Crawford House. In 1979, Judge Mike Randolph purchased it. He is now a presiding justice on the Mississippi Supreme Court.
"Mike and Kathy Randolph used it as a family home and then operated his law offices out of here until about 1995," Mitzi Russell said.
In 1995, Mitzi Russell's parents purchased Crawford House and made it an event venue. At the time, the Hattiesburg Historic Neighborhood was in a state of transition and neighbors were opposed to the plan.
Russell's parents fought the opposition and eventually operated a successful location for weddings and reunions from the home.
Mitzi and Rink Russell had taken over the business when Hurricane Katrina hit. It devastated the two-acre lot.
"We lost 43 trees," Mitzi Russell said. "Water oaks, oaks, tulip trees, poplars.
"The house was minimally damaged."
In June 2009, the Russells moved into Crawford House with their two young sons — Sloan, 6 weeks old, and Garrett, 2 at the time.
They had to get used to some of the home's peculiarities. There were five bedrooms, but only one closet. They have now converted one of the bedrooms into a walk-in closet.
There are 3½ baths, but none now includes the claw-footed tub the Russells found in the maids' quarters in the basement.
The little window in the kitchen that the butler used as a pass-through for ice is now covered up by equipment.
The spacious grounds are beautiful and often mistaken by passers-by for a public park. Despite several "Private Property" signs, the Russells frequently kindly put up with dog-walkers and photo-takers.
"It's an old house — it's a heck-of-a-lot of work," Mitzi Russell said. "But there's plenty of space for all of us.
"You feel like you're sitting up in the trees when you're upstairs. You look out the window, and there are birds' nests and birds."
Rink Russell said there have been many changes to the house over the years.
"I met a woman who worked at the law firm, and she said there used to be a library and (that) there was an attorney who fell through the fireplace," he said.
Rink Russell also appreciates the house being located on the only substantial hill in Hattiesburg.
"I've still got my sleds and my brothers' sleds and (when it snows), we'll get our sleds out and use 'em," he said.
But mostly the Russells appreciate their historic house located in a historic Hattiesburg neighborhood.
"I can't think of a better place (to be)," Rink Russell said. "When you get up in the morning, you can hear the (Sacred Heart) kids say the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer.
"At Christmas, there's a Christmas tree across the street. There's concerts in the park, and we can sit on the deck and listen to them."
And to think, the Russells almost didn't move into Crawford House. In 2009, they put it on the market while they had another house for sale at the same time.
"We probably preferred the 1890s Victorian down the street, but it sold and this one didn't," Mitzi Russell said. "I can't say this was a mistake."
For Daniel Mann, Crawford House was the ideal place to hold his wedding.
"We liked the 'vintageness' of it — the fact that it was older," he said. "It was what we were looking for.
"When we found out about it, we thought it would be perfect. (The wedding) went off great. It turned out be a wonderful day."
Information from: The Hattiesburg American, http://www.hattiesburgamerican.com