United States Courthouse
Backstory and Context
Natchez Institute was founded in large part using funds donated by local businessman and philanthropist Alvarez Fisk. In doing so, Fisk helped establish the city's public school system (Fisk was also a member of the Mississippi Colonization Society, which settled free blacks and freed black slaves to Africa). The idea for the hall originated in 1850 during a meeting of the school's Board of Visitors. Construction began in 1852 and was completed the next year. The work was done mostly by slaves owned by the general contractors.
As noted above, Institute Hall became a popular gathering place for the community. In fact, for the rest of the 19th century it was the primary entertainment venue in Natchez. A part of the basement was converted into a public library in 1883, which continued to operate until 1965. Given its popularity as an entertainment venue, the building eventually became known as Opera Hall by the 1890s. However, in 1901 a new entertainment venue and school were built, which, apparently, left Institute Hall unused for many years. Then in 1921, the American Legion renovated the building as a memorial to the veterans of World War I and the building was renamed Memorial Hall as a result. In the coming years, it was used as a museum to display regional artifacts and memorabilia, storage for voting booths, and even as a venue for boxing matches. Performances were also held as well.
The decades took its toll on the building and it was in need of serious repair by the 1970s. Work to restore it didn't begin until 1987 when the Natchez Foundation bought it and made initial emergency repairs. The old building became a courthouse in 2007 after it was decided that the U.S. District Court in Southern Mississippi should be downsized and relocated. Institute Hall was chosen and renovated. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
McCahon, Mary. "Neibert-Fisk House." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. January 22, 1979. https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/GetAsset/NRHP/79001295_text.
Miller, Mary Warren. "Institute Hall." National Park Service - National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form. June 20, 1979. https://npgallery.nps.gov/GetAsset/2b1efb0e-1a1a-4eb2-ae44-23240be5cb30.
"U.S. Courthouse, Natchez, MS." U.S. General Services Administration. Accessed November 20, 2020. https://www.gsa.gov/historic-buildings/us-courthouse-natchez-ms.
Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:United_States_Courthouse_(Natchez,_Mississippi)