Mont Helena is a Colonial revival style home built atop a ceremonial Indian mound in the Mississippi Delta. In 1896, Helen Johnstone Harris and her husband, George Harris built their "retirement" house on land that Helen had inherited. When the home was completed, the Harrises had their furnishings brought by rail from their previous home in Madison, MS. Fortunately those items were still on the train when fire completely destroyed the new house. Undaunted, Helen and George began rebuilding.
The house was designed by George Barber, an architect, most famous for his Queen Anne Victorian style house plans. During its early years, Mont Helena was one of the premier homes of the Delta.
Steep wooden stairs led from the base of the mound up to the wide front porch. Groupings of Ionic columns supported a balustrade porch roof. Bay windows with intricate tracery, a porte cochere, numerous dormers and tall brick chimneys all added to the imposing facade.
The first floor led into a hallway running the length of the house; opening from this were formal parlors, a dining room and a library. In the front parlor, a massive heart pine stairway led to a broad landing, then turned to rise to the second floor.
A Palladian window with Gothic arches in the panes was prominent on the second floor. Also located on the second floor was Dr. Harris’ private chapel. Dr. Harris performed many christenings and weddings in this room. Seven bedrooms, each with a coal burning fireplace and heavy wooden mantels also occupied this floor.
Mont Helena’s uppermost floor, a large attic space, was lit by a huge arched window and numerous dormers. A basement and a widow’s walk completed the house.
Helen Scrymgeour Johnstone Harris & George Carrol Harris
Helen Scrymgeour Johnstone Harris was born on May 21, 1839, to John T. Johnstone and his wife, Margaret Thompson Johnstone. Pursuing the reports of rich , fertile soils in Mississippi, John T. Johnstone left North Carolina and established residence in Livingston, MS, which is present day Madison, MS. His journey to Mississippi took him north to Rolling Fork where he purchased land for another plantation he called "The Helen Place."
Helen’s father, John, died suddenly at the age of 47. Fulfilling the dream of her parents, Helen led the life of a privileged young Southern girl. Helen’s home, Annandale, contained forty finished rooms and construction had taken three years to complete. Helen was privately tutored and traveled extensively.
As a young woman, Helen suffered great heartache after being engaged to a young man, Henry Vick, of Nitta Yuma. She was to have married him in 1859, but, Henry was killed a week before the wedding in a duel.
In 1861 as the Civil War began, Helen began helping the Confederacy by providing necessities to the troops. "The Helen Johnstone Guard" was formed as Helen had the soldiers fitted for uniforms. The soldiers wore hats with brass lettering "HJG" in honor of Helen.
In 1862 Helen met Reverend George Carrol Harris, an Episcopal clergyman, at the Chapel of the Cross in Madison, MS. The Chapel of the Cross was built in 1851 by Helen’s parents.
George served as a chaplain in the Confederate army. He was lauded a hero due to his dedication to remain and provide aid during the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tennessee. He served as Rector in many different cities during his career. George’s extensive studies in theology earned him the degree of Doctor of Sacred Theology.
Helen and George fell in love and were married in August of 1862. They had three children, two boys and a girl. Their oldest child, a son, died several days after his birth. Helen spent her life with George in the typical fashion of the era. She cared for her children, assisted George in the church and enjoyed the social life befitting her status in the community.
In 1896, the Harrises retired to "The Helen Place" in Rolling Fork. George accepted the position of Rector at the Chapel of the Cross in Rolling Fork. They built a home on the highest point on the Helen Place and renamed the plantation "Mont Helena."
After 49 years of marriage, George died in 1911. Helen continued to live at Mont Helena until her death in 1917. They are both buried in Mound Cemetery in Rolling Fork.
In December of 1855, Helen Johnstone and her tutor, Miss Elizableth Hatheway traveled to "The Helen Place," the plantation in Rolling Fork owned by Helen’s father. While visiting Helen was bothered by the fact that the workers on the plantation did not have a place to worship. Helen made a promise to build a church and in 1878 a small church was built on the plantation. The Methodist Episcopal Church still stands on the grounds of the plantation and houses the original church bell in the bell tower.