We have examined the origins and development of the Jackson Belhaven Heights neighborhood in previous sections of this history. It is a historic neighborhood entering the city in 1840, only 18 years after Jackson’s founding. We have seen the rich heritage of the famous Boyd Home (Oaks), Colonel Hamilton’s introduction of the first Belhaven College, the notable distinction of Judges Hill and another structure that you might say was “under the hill”. We have visited the past in Greenwood Cemetery, the final resting place of many of the city’s early builders and now it’s time to take a look at the future.
You may have noticed a renaissance in housing along the 800 block of Jefferson and on Harding, Spengler and Lorraine Streets. Much of this can be attributed to Jennifer Welch and her company Belhaven Residential. In an interview with MS Welch, she told how this came about.
“I decided after completing my first year in college that I was not interested in medical school though my father wanted me to become a doctor. He encouraged me to intern with various companies to find an interest, so one day I walked into Waddell Nejam’s office and asked if he would let me work for free for a few weeks. I was soon offered a part- time job which I did while an undergraduate at Millsaps College. Following college, Mr. Nejam offered me a full-time position and I worked for him until 2005. The following year I began to manage property in Greater Belhaven for my family while attending the Millsaps MBA program. Two years later I earned my real estate broker’s license and began to do third party management. I also bought my first apartments at 917 Harding Street.”
“In 2007, my father and I decided to renovate the property just south of the Oaks House Museum. The City of Jackson Historic Preservation Commission presented me with an Award of Merit for the restoration. That same year, I renovated the space at 730 North Jefferson which is now my office.
“In March 2017, I renovated an eight unit complex at 1107 Bellevue Place and in September 2017, purchased 790 Lorraine and we are currently working on 927 and 935 Harding Street. My current plans are to renovate 814 and 836 Jefferson Street.” Jennifer also donated land for the small park called the Entergy Station adjacent to the entrance to the Museum Trail at the intersection of Greymont and Moody Streets.
Jennifer and her oldest brother are now owners of the old railroad beanery at 1032 Spengler St. and financed its restoration into a duplex. The downstairs still has its original tin tile. The renovation followed MDAH recommendations and guidelines and the project received Historic Tax Credits. She currently serves on the board of the Oaks House Museum and the Belhaven Heights Community Association and is president and board member of the Mississippi Apartment Association. She lives at the old Lyell home at 935 Bellevue and loves the Belhaven Heights neighborhood. “I have made a conscious decision to live among my tenants. My leasing office screens our prospects before accepting them and I am proud of my staff, my properties and my renters. My level of commitment and service to the neighborhood has made a noticeable improvement to certain streets. I also encourage our tenants to take part in neighborhood activities and get to know one another. My job is not only to provide housing, but to provide community.”
In May 2018 a mural was unveiled on the north face of the Belhaven Residential building at Jefferson and Harding Streets. The mural depicts a sense of unity though the diversity of ideas and education. The Belhaven Heights mural is the result of a partnership between the Mississippi Heritage Trust, the Oaks House Museum and Belhaven Residential to create a landmark of interest in the neighborhood it symbolizes and the theme of preservation. The commissioned artist is Jackson native Douglas Panzone. Jennifer hopes that the completion of this mural will encourage the upcoming Museum Trail participants to visit the Oaks Museum and other attractions coming to the area.
The Belhaven Heights neighborhood is filled with talented and accomplished individuals and families. One of these is Cal and Laura Christel Horlings, their two children and several cats who live on Madison Street. The Horlings have lived in the Heights since 2006 and Cal has served in several capacities, including vice president, of the Belhaven Heights Community Association. Cal is the Director of Customer Support at the Bomgar Corporation in Ridgeland and Laura Christel works with Wycliffe Bible Translators for the translation project of the Choctaw people of Mississippi. She has had various roles including administrative, linguistic and ethno musicological. Their interests and avocations are both diverse and productive in support of their community. Both Horlings are musicians. Cal has played trumpet with the Mississippi Community Symphonic Band and the Mississippi Swing. He also plays djembe (African drums) and enjoys running in the Mississippi Blues Marathon. Laura Christel has degrees in piano performance, linguistics and exegesis, plays the viola and is a member of the National Arbor Foundation.
“My interests in Belhaven Heights are heightened by the creativity of its people,” says Mrs. Horlings. “I love animals, enjoy gardening and the diversity both in people and architecture as well as the variety of activities available. Cal is pleased to be in this part of the story of Belhaven Heights- an exciting period of growth and revitalization while building on the cultural heritage of those who have come before. “I particularly look forward to the Museum Trail and development of the Belhaven Heights Park on Madison Street,” Cal said. “This neighborhood has great potential for families and a vibrant history to build on.”
The Horlings have a prime interest in the Wycliffe organization with Laura Christel taking an active role. Wycliffe began in 1942 as Wycliffe Bible Translators headed by William Cameron Townsend, a missionary to the Cakchiquel Indians in Guatemala. Wycliffe Associates, a support arm of this organization, was organized in 1967 by Friends of Bible Translators, a ministry which accelerates the work of Bible translation worldwide. This is accomplished by empowering people to provide a translation of the Good News in every language needing one through their time, talents and treasures.
According to literature provided by Mrs. Horlings, “Today more than 1,600 languages are still waiting for a Bible translation to begin, and Wycliffe is working faster than ever to reach those languages as soon as possible.” Laura Christel began her work with Wycliffe in 2008. Her work today is with the Choctaw people in Mississippi. What sets the Horlings family apart from the hundreds of other citizens in their neighborhood? Not a lot really. Belhaven Heights is filled with tradition, a rich history and a challenging future that is both bright and rewarding.
Over the years Belhaven Heights, through its various associations, has been vigilant in protecting its residents’ investment in a historic neighborhood. Working with the city of Jackson, these associations have crafted zoning ordinances conducive to preserving the integrity of residential living. Excessive commercial development can take away from the beauty of an area. Such commercial enterprises need to be a good fit.
A good fit for the Heights and for Greater Belhaven is the Old House Depot on Monroe Street owned by Jim Kopernak and his family composed of wife Ann Hendrick and their famous cat “Mo”. “Mo” is a native of Moselle, Mississippi, where he was discovered by his adoptive family in 2011. Jim and his wife once lived in Belhaven and avoided the Heights because of its less than stellar reputation. One factor in moving from Belhaven to the Heights was Jim’s piano which would not fit into Ann’s former residence and Ann’s exception to Jim’s tiny bathroom. Waddell Nejam, Jennifer Welch and other conscientious real estate developers set about changing the area for the better and Jim is proud to have his business and home in Belhaven Heights today.
Jim is proud of his home at the northwest corner of Bellevue Place and Madison Street. Built in 1924, the single story house is a classic Overstreet architectural model, with stucco and a red tile roof. In the ‘70’s, former owner Dr. Tommy Reuff set out to transform it into “the ultimate bachelor pad.” The plan failed halfway through when he married Ann Reuff, but the transformation project continued. The attic was finished out with staircase, guest bedroom and bath as well as major changes throughout. The kitchen is a real showplace. It sits in stately repose on Jackson’s highest hill.
Jim was introduced to the salvage business while working on his current dwelling and opened the Old House Depot in 2006. Many locals have met Jim and his co-owner “Mo”, a seven-year-old tabby cat whose birthday is celebrated at the business the day after Thanksgiving each year complete with cake and a band. Both Jim and “Mo” are happy to sponsor this occasion as well as greet customers on business days at the Depot.
Along with other neighborhood leaders Jim and Ann are interested in Belhaven Heights City Park. According to Jim, “Until recent times the city didn’t realize the park existed. Ann approached then Mayor Harvey Johnson concerning getting help in developing the green space. The city began putting in benches, mowing the grass and improved the street. Currently the Belhaven Heights Community Association is developing a pedestrian friendly remake of the park to complement the new bike and walking trail soon to be constructed.
Belhaven Heights has remained viable through the years thanks to the leadership of its various community organizations which began in 1981 with the formation of the Belhaven Heights Residential Association, Margaret Moize, president. This later became the Belhaven Heights Improvement Association (1985) and ultimately the Belhaven Heights Community Association (BHCA) in the mid-1990’s. There were other neighborhood organizations formed for specific purposes dedicated to preserving the interests of area residents.
A harbinger of the BHCA was the Belhaven Heights Neighborhood Plan published in December 1995. The plan was a joint effort by the City of Jackson and the Belhaven Heights Improvement Association. . Advisory committee members from the neighborhood were Keith Conner, Linell Corban, Meta Hogue, Michael Leo, Kaalon Mann, Margaret Moize, Annette Pressley, Poly Shank and Dr. Sara Weisenberger. Today’s Belhaven Heights Community Association grew out of the culmination of the various organizations previously mentioned. Based on information contained in the Association’s December 1996 newsletter, the Heights, BHCA began in late 1996 in the homes of some of its resident leaders. Its first board consisted of Dr. Sara Weisenberger, president; Gary Hall, vice-president; Lynne Crater, secretary; Jim McCraw, treasurer and Anne Pressley, member at large.
Other early neighborhood leaders through the years include David Uecker, Shelia Massimino, Cindy Yancy, Danny Cupit, Bridget White, Cmdr. John Tisdale, Waddell Nejam, Charlie Smith, Billy Robbins, Landon Huey, Alex McCord, George McAdory, Mark Aderhold, Peter Hilton, Kacy Hellings, Stephanie Moore, Steve Funderburg, Michael True and Nana Kratochvil. There have been many others who have served their neighborhood and its Association over the years, but these were the pioneers.
McCord is the current president of BHCA heading a board made up of Jennifer Welch, Sam Begley, Quint Hunt and Laura Neill. The secretary is Kate Dutro. The mission of the Association remains as it has over its history addressing property issues, cleanup and zoning. Alex McCord and the BHCA have provided valuable information toward this article. A Heights resident since 1998, Alex is familiar with the needs of his area. He is an architect and has been instrumental in long range planning for his neighborhood. In addition he has designed a concept for Belhaven Heights Park which now awaits funding to be developed and built. He sees traffic calming, preservation of historic residences and practical zoning ordinances as keys to an optimum future for the Heights. He supports the construction of the Museum Trail and adjacent park and is working with the city planning department on future development in these areas.
McCord spoke to the purpose of the Belhaven Heights Community Association and its place in the Greater Belhaven Historic District matrix. “The BHCA is not unique from most neighborhood associations of its kind. Our primary function is to provide an active and alert organization that can be counted upon to address issues facing the neighborhood, whether good or ill. We pride ourselves on being a ‘community’ association open to all residents – not just homeowners.”
The Association president went on to say, however, “We would be shortsighted to not appreciate that we ultimately must work to promote and protect our neighborhood for the good of those who have invested in it, namely our home and business owners. At the same time, we want to know all our neighbors as they too have an investment in a solid neighborhood and may also one day have a stake in it. We sponsor social as well as service events and foster committees for any project deemed worthy of effort by us or by residents at large.”
The Belhaven Heights Community Association, like the Belhaven Improvement Association and the Greater Belhaven Security Association, is represented on the board of the Greater Belhaven Foundation and as such serves to bind together the interests of all representatives of Greater Belhaven. The Belhaven Heights renaissance is palatable with a future as bright as its history is rich. It is a neighborhood of achievement and a deserved pride that stands on the threshold of exciting days ahead. Like all successful entities that success is built on the strength of its people. Belhaven Heights is a true example of what unity can accomplish through the diversity of ideas.
This concludes the four part series of articles on Jackson’s Belhaven Heights neighborhood. It has been a pleasant and educational privilege for these writers to have met and shared ideas with a variety of interesting and accomplished people. Our thanks go out to those mentioned in these articles and to Jackson’s early developers who had the vision to build something to last beyond their lifetime. We stand in humble appreciation of these efforts.
Bill and Nan Harvey
Acknowledgements and sources of this material include the current BHCA board of directors, Jim Kopernak, Cal and Laura Cristil Horlings, Jennifer Welch, the Belhaven Heights Neighborhood Plan, Heights newsletters 1996 – April/May 2001, the Belhaven Heights subject file at the MDAH and the Greater Belhaven Foundation.