Published July 06, 2017
When the Sisters of Mercy first came to Vicksburg in 1860, they did so with a mission to help the community by opening a school and convent that would act as a gathering point for the residents of their new home in Mississippi. The nuns set to work immediately creating spaces for gathering and learning, unaware that just one year later, a civil war would break out and change their new convent’s history forever.
Already set up with a mission to enrich the community, the convent soon became the place soldiers came to seek medical care and attention, and the nuns spent the next four years nursing the sick and tending the wounded soldiers. Centuries later, it would be the sisters’ good-natured role in the Civil War that landed their building on the National Register of Historic Places. After the war, the nuns continued to educate children in the halls until 1991, when they relocated the school and convent.
The five buildings of the convent — the Cobb House, circa 1830; the Sisters of Mercy Convent, 1868; the Auditorium, 1885; the Academy Building, 1937; and the O’Beirne Gymnasium, 1955 — sat unused for only a few years before the city of Vicksburg purchased the property and established it as the leading cultural center in the region. Today, the Southern Cultural Heritage Center (SCHC) offers cultural education and artistic enrichment to residents and tourists with programs, workshops and cultural events.
The SCHC still holds a special place in the heart of locals, many of whom attended Catholic school in the building before it was converted into a center for meetings, events and special programing. An area that once housed writing desks and lesson boards is now a multipurpose space for gathering and holding meetings. Today, the center rents out the auditorium, a convent building that includes a chapel and two large parlor rooms, a beautiful courtyard for outdoor events and many classrooms for everything from receptions and performances to diverse community educational and recreational activities.
The meeting spaces at the SCHC are spread throughout five different buildings constructed from 1830 to 1955. Multiple meeting spaces allow for a variety of events to occur throughout the day. The Auditorium dates to 1885 and is the largest of the meeting spaces, with a maximum capacity of 400 guests, and features a stage, an expansive open floor and an option to add on one or two courtyards. The Convent Chapel holds up to 100 guests, and the Convent Parlor Room can be rented out as a single room for up to 50 guests or a double room for up to 100 guests. There are two academy classrooms available for rent in the 1937 schoolhouse; each holds up to 50 guests.
Meeting groups have their choice of culinary options when booking events at the SCHC, as there is no on-site caterer. Groups can bring in a caterer of their choice or choose from a list of Vicksburg’s many local caterers, among them Storycook Favorites J&B Catering Service. Although barbecue and Southern-style green beans are favorites among many of the meeting guests, it wouldn’t be a true Mississippi event without a healthy slice of Mississippi mud pie, and there are many amazing versions around the town from which to choose. Alcohol is allowed with the understanding that the party hires a bartender with liquor liability insurance.
The staff at the SCHC are pros at organizing events and programming, and they are eager to help ensure that all events and meetings run smoothly inside their National Register of Historic Places-recognized buildings. All rentals at the SCHC include the use and setup of tables and chairs providing that the event’s planners turn in their desired layout no later than one week before the event. Decorating and personal setup are available one working day before the event at no additional charge during normal operating hours at the center with prior notification.
The SCHC buildings are a main attraction along Vicksburg’s tourism route, not only for their historic significance from the Civil War, but also because “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” was filmed partially in the auditorium. Guided group tours of the buildings can be booked in advance, and group rates are available. Along with preplanned programming that the SCHC offers, groups can head downtown for a larger taste of Vickburg’s cultural offerings. The SCHC’s downtown Vicksburg location means event guests have immediate access to the city’s top attractions, including museums, restaurants, shopping and the Mississippi River, all within walking distance.
Southern Cultural Heritage Center
Location: Vicksburg, Mississippi
Type of Venue: Off-site, cultural center
Nearby Accommodations: Hampton Inn and Suites Vicksburg