Laurel's Founding Families Historic Homes

Laurel's Founding Families Historic Homes

In 1882, Laurel, a quiet town in the southeast region of Mississippi was officially founded. At that time, it was nothing but miles of timber and a lowly population of around 800 people. Most of the homes and buildings were wooden structures and pigs and cattle roamed the dirt streets, but in 1893 things changed for Laurel.

The Eastmans and Gardiners are two prominent families that were substantially influential in the initial development of the town. Lauren Chase Eastman and George and Silas Gardiner were shared owners of Eastman and Gardiner Lumber Company, a highly successful lumber mill in Iowa. They were wealthy folks that resided in Clinton, Iowa, but in 1893, when timber ran out in Iowa, they packed up their families, and moved them to one of the most isolated settlements in Mississippi. They stepped off the train in Laurel, Mississippi and the men immediately got to work. They purchased a small lumber mill from John Kemper and began reconstructing and implementing labor-saving technology. By the 1920s, Laurel was shipping more yellow pine than any other location in the world. 

The men weren't the only ones making history for the once lowly town of Laurel. Catherine Marshall Gardiner, who was married to George Gardiner, the President of Eastman-Gardiner Lumber Company, was a woman of both wealth and class. She was a well traveled woman, and she was determined to transform the backwoods city into a city that was known for its world renowned architecture. Catherine had a vision for Laurel, a vision that stemmed from the City Beautiful Movement that was taking place in large cities like Chicago and New York. She was determined that Laurel, with its dirt streets and small population of now 8400 people at the time, would become part of the City Beautiful Movement.

Catherine loved New York and had always dreamt of living on Fifth Avenue. She imagined wide streets that were lined with sweeping oak trees, with stately mansion homes, and that’s exactly what she built for Laurel. The lumber barons of Iowa set out claiming their spots along the wide Fifth Avenue boulevards. The rest of the city would branch out from there. Each street would represent a level of society. Fifth Avenue is were the wealthy lumber barons resided in their mansion homes, Fourth Avenue was for the managers, Third Avenue was for the foreman, and Second and First Avenues were for the workers, and Sixth and Seventh Avenues were reserved for the merchants.

George S. and Catherine M. Gardiner Home                                                                             520 North Fifth Avenue

George S. Gardiner and Catherine Marshall Gardiner were two people that were credited with much of the rapid and successful development of the City Beautiful. In 1901, George and Catherine built their Colonial Revival home. The three-story mansion was built with a Greek temple front, ornate columns, with a large front porch. It is said that Catherine’s love for gardens was vividly seen on the grounds of their mansion home. The Gardiner home was originally known as Laurel Manor, but today the beautiful, historic mansion serves as Laurel’s historic St. John’s Day School that opened in 1950. 

Silas W. and Louisa C. Gardiner Home                                                                                    706 North Fifth Avenue  

Silas Wright Gardiner was the brother of George Gardiner and part owner of Eastman-Gardiner Lumber Co. Silas was married to Louisa Henkel Gardiner. In 1902, Silas and Louisa built their Steamboat Gothic style home. From original images, the home had a large wrap around porch on both the first and second story. At some point, the house transformed to a Colonial Revival style. The wrap around porches were removed and replaced with a smaller porch that still boast in architectural detail. Today, this home is Laurel’s historic Wisteria Bed and Breakfast.  

Phillip S. and Margaret H. Gardiner Home                                                                          706 North Fourth Avenue                                                                                                                          540 North Fifth Avenue 

Phil Gardiner was the son of Silas and Louisa Gardiner. Phil was married to Margaret Hench. In the early 1900s Phil built his two story Steamboat Gothic style mansion. The home was built with a wrap around porch on the first floor and widow’s walk on the second. On December 9, 1908, the night of Rachel Gardiner and Charles Green’s wedding, the second story of the home caught fire. After the fire, the house was moved on logs to the corner of Fourth Avenue and Seventh Street. The damage was repaired to the second story and today, the original home sits at 706 North Fourth Avenue and is occupied as a residential residence. The home still looks just as it did decades ago except the widow’s walk was removed. Phil had plans for the then vacant lot on Fifth Avenue. 

After experiencing a house fire, Phil Gardiner was set to build his next home in the same place on Fifth Avenue, but this time the home would be built with fireproof materials. The four story, Italianate Renaissance Revival mansion was built in 1910. The foundation is comprised of steel-enforced concrete. The exterior is made of Roman brick with stately brick columns surrounding the large front porch. Today, this home is occupied as a residential residence and is, perhaps, the finest representation of the outstanding architecture in Laurel. 

Wallace B. and Nina Eastman Rogers Home                                                                            566 North Fifth Avenue 

Nina Eastman was the daughter of Lauren and Sarah Eastman. Nina married Wallace Brown Rogers. This Prairie Style home was built in 1903 from redwood. The 7000 square foot mansion contains substantial craftsman details that are vividly seen from the first glance at the stately home. This home is significant to Laurel’s history for many reasons, but specifically because this is the home that Lauren Wallace Rogers grew up in. Lauren was the son of Wallace and Nina and died at the early age of 23. In memory and honor of Lauren, his parents built The Lauren Rogers Library and Museum directly across the street from their home, which is the story behind Laurel’s historic Lauren Roger’s Museum of Art. 

Today, the home of Wallace and Nina Rogers is known as the Rogers Green House and serves as an event venue. 

 Hanford N. and Juliet Gardiner Rogers Home                                                                    706 North Sixth AvenueJuliet Gardiner was the daughter of George and Catherine Gardiner. She married Hanford Rogers and in 1909, George and Catherine had this home built for them as a wedding present. The house was designed by DeBuys and Churchill, an architectural firm in New Orleans. They designed the house to resemble a Mediterranean style home. There are two flight of stairs leading to the front door that make for a grand entrance. The exterior of the mansion was poured concrete- smooth stucco with tile shingles as the roof. This home remains a residential residence. 

Charles and Rachel Gardiner Green Home                                                                                  756 North Fifth Avenue

Rachel Gardiner was also the daughter of George and Catherine Gardiner. In 1910, Rachel married Charles Green and just like they did for their daughter, Juilet, George and Catherine built Rachel and Charles a home as a wedding gift. The two sister's homes were very similar in style, but each had their own unique elements. The Green Home is a Colonial Revival style home with Mediterranean details. The exterior is smooth stucco with tile shingles for the roof. The front porch is a small porch with large, ornate columns. This home still remains as a residential residence and is actually one of the only homes that is still occupied by direct descendants of the original family. 

Photos and history sourced from Lauren Rogers Museum of Art