Shortly before Governor Edmond F. Noel’s inauguration on January 21, 1908, several Jackson businessmen recommended the sale of the Governor’s Mansion and the commercial development of the city block which the 1842 mansion occupied. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger, calling the mansion a “ramshackled old barn,” also urged the legislature to dispose of the sixty-six-year-old building which was in poor condition in 1908. Some businessmen also wanted to demolish the Old Capitol building which had been replaced in 1903 by the “New Capitol.”
Governor Noel and the First Lady, Alice Tye Neilson, did not favor either proposal and they saved the mansion from destruction. Under their leadership, Mississippi’s historic Governor’s Mansion underwent its first major renovation.
While the mansion was being renovated, which required about twelve months, Governor Noel and his family lived in the Edwards Hotel. The original family cottage on the north side of the mansion was replaced by a modern two story family annex and the original staircase was replaced by a single flight of stairs leading to an interior balcony. Because yellow bricks were used in the construction of the family annex, the entire mansion was painted yellow and remained that color until its exterior was painted white in the early 1940s.
Noel, who was born on his family’s plantation in Holmes County, Mississippi, on March 4, 1856, was an influential state legislator before his election as Mississippi’s chief executive. After serving in the Mississippi House of Representatives and as a district attorney, Noel was elected to the Mississippi Senate in 1895 and re-elected in 1899. As a state senator, he authored Mississippi’s primary election law and a constitutional amendment providing for an elective judiciary.
After an initial defeat in 1903, Noel was elected governor in 1907. His administration was characterized by many progressive reforms, especially in education. Among the major educational reforms passed during his term were the consolidation of rural school districts, the establishment of agricultural high schools which later became the state's junior college system, the establishment of a teachers college at Hattiesburg, and the beginning of agricultural extension work.
Other major reforms achieved during Governor Noel’s administration included a child labor law, a pure food law, the establishment of a state charity hospital, and the enactment of a statewide Prohibition law, which outlawed the production and sale of alcohol.
After his term expired in January 1912, Governor Noel remained active in state affairs. In 1918, he ran for the U. S. Senate but was defeated by Pat Harrison. Two years later, he was returned to the Mississippi Senate and was re-elected in 1924. During his second senate term, Governor Noel died at his home in Lexington on July 30, 1927.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Kelly, Thomas E. Who’s Who in Mississippi, 75.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 82; (1920), 141.