Information Possibly Outdated
The information presented on this page was originally released on January 21, 2015. It may not be outdated, but please search our site for more current information. If you plan to quote or reference this information in a publication, please check with the Extension specialist or author before proceeding.
Historic home offers educational options
CARROLLTON -- As Mississippi legislators return to work at the state and federal levels, they may not recall the historical impact of great bygone public servants such as Carroll County’s J.Z. George.
History radiates from the walls of Cotesworth -- former home of George, one of Mississippi’s greatest statesmen -- but the land around it also has volumes to tell visitors who want to step back in time.
Gary Jackson, Mississippi State University Extension Service director, said he sees great educational potential connected to the George home and property, situated in the middle of a beef cattle farm just north of North Carrollton.
“As Mississippi experiences growth in agricultural and historical tourism and education, I see many connections Extension can make with this beautiful property in the center of the state,” Jackson said. “There is also a growing horticultural interest in heirloom plants and designs.”
George was a Carroll County lawyer who served 16 years in the U.S. Senate. More than 150 years ago, he purchased the property that included a roadside inn and hundreds of acres of rolling farmland. The property remained in the family until 2013, when George’s great-granddaughter, Katharine Saunders Williams, sold the home and 5 acres to Cotesworth Culture and Heritage Center, a nonprofit organization.
Jackson said he envisions the property being used as an outdoor environmental and learning lab that would include the gardens and landscaping.
“Eventually, Cotesworth could be to heirloom horticulture what MSU’s Crosby Arboretum in Pearl River County is to nature and the environment,” he said.
Williams said she shares the desire to use the property to educate the next generation about agriculture and history. The active 81-year-old woman has great pride in the legacy of her great-grandfather and understands well the effort it takes to produce food for the table. She works and manages her 800-acre beef cattle farm.
“I’ve been around farming all my life and strongly believe in the importance of family farms,” Williams said. “Young people today need to know where their food comes from, and agricultural education needs to be a big part in the future use of this farm.”
Williams has about 120 cattle with calves. She started with a purebred Brangus herd and then crossed to produce commercial cattle. She uses chicken litter to fertilize hay fields and pastures.
Williams said she worries that hard work ethics are lost on today’s generation.
“None of us can rest on the reputations and work done by our parents and grandparents,” she said. “It has always been important for me to get out on this farm and make it into something special.”
Her great-grandfather named the Greek Revival mansion after Cotesworth Pinckney Smith, a friend who served as a Mississippi Supreme Court chief justice. In the late 1880s, George added a six-sided library on the south lawn to house his vast collection of law books.
George was instrumental in establishing agricultural experiment stations at land-grant universities in 1887. George County is named in the statesman’s honor. He served as a U.S. senator from 1881 until his death in 1897. In honor of his accomplishments, Mississippi sent a bronze statue of George to the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall Collection in 1931. The other prominent Mississippi leader honored in that collection was Jefferson Davis.
Mary Carol Miller of Greenwood serves as an officer on the board of directors for the culture and heritage center. A lifelong friend of Williams, Miller said Cotesworth is a significant part of the Highway 82 heritage corridor from Greenville to Columbus.
“Mississippi does not have many homes of this quality available for historic and educational use,” Miller said. “We are anxious to get a restoration plan in place so that we can begin our long-term objective of making it into an educational venue.”
George’s desk, where he composed much of the 1890 Mississippi Constitution, is among the select pieces of George family furnishings remaining in the home.
“The home can offer insights into so much of our state’s history and politics, as well as rural life in the late 19th century,” Miller said.
Lydia Chassaniol, state senator from Winona, is chair of the Mississippi Senate Tourism Committee and has been a driving force behind the cultural and heritage project in Carroll County. She originally learned about the house and its history from Williams’s husband, who was her high school history teacher.
“J.B. Williams would take classes to Cotesworth to teach us about the state’s history,” she said. “Today, it offers many educational purposes, ranging from politics and law to agriculture and even about movie history, since both ‘The Help’ and ‘The Sound and the Fury’ were filmed there.”
Chassaniol said designating Heritage Highway 82 from Columbus to Greenville as a historic corridor will benefit every town along the 175-mile stretch across the state.
“Visitors can see unique sights all along the route, and their economic impact can benefit every town they stop in for food, fuel or other shopping experiences,” she said.