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Historic preservation group tables Skipwith relocation

The Courthouse Square Preservation Commission wants to treat the city of Oxford the same as it would an individual or business by requiring planners to present plans on what is expected to replace the Skipwith Cottage if it’s relocated near the Oxford-Lafayette County Public Library.

Jim Pryor, who heads up the Historic Properties Commission, which maintains the city’s historical properties like the LQC Lamar Museum, Burns-Belfry Multicultural Center and Museum and Cedar Oaks, presented plans before the commission Monday to move the Skipwith Cottage from its current location next to City Hall to a grassy spot across from the public library, north of the Skate Park.

The cottage sits on top of the roof of what was the RSVP office. Due to mold and leaks from the roof, city officials say the cottage needs to be moved soon so that the roof can be replaced and other repairs can be made so RSVP can move back into its office. RSVP is currently renting office space.

Pryor has gone before the Board of Aldermen and has been approved to spend almost $60,000 to move the cottage to the new site. Pryor’s commission studied several areas over the last few months and selected the site near the library to give the cottage visibility and functionality.

“The library and schools could use it for programs,” he said. “Functionality is as important as visibility in keeping a historical structure alive.”

The cottage once sat on the property of what came to be known as the Skipwith House, which was torn down in 1974. The home was owned by Peyton Horatio Skipwith, who used the cottage as his office. He bought the home after the Civil War when he moved to Oxford from New Orleans where he had been a successful cotton broker and merchant involved in the slave trade.

Some concerns

Commission members expressed some concerns about the location, including Commissioner Lee Benoit who said the area isn’t “the safest” since it’s near the Skate Park.

Pryor said he has asked the Oxford Park Commission if there is a lot of vandalism at the Skate Park and was told it wasn’t an issue.

“If there is, we’ll take care of it,” Pryor said.

Benoit asked why it was so urgent and if the city would consider waiting and moving the structure to where the old central fire station is located on North Lamar Boulevard. After the fire department moved out of the building, into its new fire station on McElroy Drive a year ago, the aldermen discussed putting a small pocket park there. However, Assistant City Planner Katrina Hourin said Monday there were no definite plans in place for the park and the aldermen have not made any formal decision on what will be located on that lot. Even if a park is put there, that could take a year or two and Pryor said the city, if they wanted to spend another $60,000, could vote to move the cottage again to that location.

Making plans

Moving a historical structure is treated much like one that is being demolished where the landowners must present plans as to what will be built in its place, or a landscape plan if nothing is being built.

“It’s about treating the city like we would anyone else who comes before us,” said commission member Judy Riddell.

Pryor said he imagines some benches and plants would be placed where the cottage now stands.

“I would guess the tile would be replaced and it is made to look nice,” he said.

Hourin said there are no plans right now to replace the cottage with another structure. Two years ago, the city paid Howorth, an architect, to develop a conceptual plan for a breezeway that would come from a possible parking garage behind City Hall onto the Square; however, the city has not moved forward with any plans to build the garage and so, no plans have been approved for the breezeway where the cottage is currently located.

Pryor said he has arranged for the cottage to be moved on Oct. 27 and 28 but that date could be changed by a week or so if necessary.

“I wouldn’t want to put it off for a month or more as we’re heading into winter,” he said.

The commission voted to table Pryor’s request for a Certificate of Appropriateness until a recessed meeting on Oct. 22 and asked the city planners to present whatever plans the city had as to what will be in the location of the cottage once it’s moved.