A History of Belhaven: Part 1, Birth of a Neighborhood

This, the first of four in a history of the Belhaven neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi, was written by resident, journalist and historian Bill Harvey.

When people ask if I live in Jackson, I tell them, “No, I live in Belhaven”. While the locations overlap, Belhaven sounds better. Where in Jackson is Belhaven? Conventional wisdom outlines it as Fortification to the south, State St. to the west, Riverside Dr. to the north and the Pearl River to the east. While never a political subdivision by that name, Belhaven’s name  grew up around the college and is more than just a name.

The area south of Fortification is officially known as Belhaven Heights, a neighborhood older than “Belhaven” and more official, with a history of its own.  It has its own story to tell and may do so in future writings, but for now “our Belhaven” will encompass the above parameters – with perhaps a sneaky tentacle reaching out occasionally to the west or south to briefly touch a historical moment.

Jackson in 1900 had a population of 7,914. Mississippi’s capital city since 1823, Jackson grew slowly for a variety of reasons. Union Generals Grant and Sherman burned most of the city to the ground in 1863, sparing only a few structures for use by their men and the City Hall because of the Masonic Lodge on the top floor. The city was known then and even today as “Chimneyville”. Streets were mainly gravel and mud and Town Creek flooded the downtown area on an annual basis. The business community consisted of small shops and professional offices clustered around the Old Capitol, South State and Commerce Streets. Capitol Street, other than the Governor’s Mansion, was largely residential, tree lined and dusty. It was a great leap forward in 1899 when mule drawn trolleys were replaced with electric cars much to the satisfaction of the mules.

The turn of the 20th century brought  noticeably progressive changes to Mississippi and the nation. The U.S. population stood at 76,212,000 and there were 45 states. William McKinley was president and the world, for a time, was at peace. In the year 1900, Henry Ford introduced his first commercial vehicle, an electric powered delivery wagon, Frank Baum copywrited his book The Land of Oz, which later became the Wizard and Puerto Rico became a new American territory.

Mississippi at the turn of the last century was recovering from the Great Civil War, Reconstruction and the loss of manpower from that conflict. Essentially rural and agricultural, what little it had was concentrated in a few of the larger cities. The Gilded Age had passed but cotton, while no longer king, was the dominant crop along with the lumber industry and sorghum. The Democrat party controlled all politics and for some reason the era was known as the Progressive Age.

Mississippi’s Governor at the turn of the century was Andrew Longino, its Lt. Governor James T. Harrison. The Attorney General was Monroe McClung, Secretary of State, John Logan Power and the Treasurer was J.R. Stowers. The state’s population stood at 1,551,000, growing at about 15% a year. Vicksburg was the largest city. The Vicksburg and Alabama Railroad transversed the state from west to east and the Gulf and Ship Island Railway was newly constructed from Jackson to the Gulf Coast.

The state’s capital city was beginning to wake up from the deprivations of war and reconstruction. Shopping at Christmas in Jackson was mostly done at the Rookery, a downtown variety store which specialized in toys, tinsels and festive clothing designed to gladden the hearts of little folks. Colleges, state institutions, theaters, banks, churches and department stores bloomed along the downtown streets as more merchants moved from the environs to the city. It was an exciting time.

Jackson’s northern boundary was Manship Street (North Park Addition) in 1900. The city ran south to Silas Brown and out to the area of Monument and W. Capitol to the west. Residents lived along north-south streets radiating from Capitol Street, along the river streets of Pearl, Pascagoula, Amite and Tombigbee and around Union station at Gallatin. Outlying areas were along the Clinton Road (W. Capitol), where a new cemetery, Cedarlawn had just opened, Asylum Road (later Woodrow Wilson to the northwest) and into the estates of Livingston, Whitfield and Cohea. Fondren was a separate town.

An interesting adjunct to south central Jackson was Duttoville. Built in the late 19th century by Catholic priest Father Louis Dutto, it was a self-contained village with small homes, a fire station, grocery stores, a Catholic Church and a park. It was added to the city in later years but has been nearly absorbed in modern times by urban growth.

Jackson’s strong suite in those days was its leadership. The mayor was John W. Todd who had just taken over from Mayor H.M. Taylor. Families composed of Virdens, Yergers, McWillies, Enochs, Westbrooks, Strausses Hedermans, Watkins, Greens, Spenglers, Barksdales, Galloways and Kenningtons headed up businesses and the chamber of commerce. Businesses of the day included the Clarion-Ledger, Jackson Marble Works, J.W. Everett & Sons, Jackson Steam Laundry, Mississippi Cotton Oil Company, the Lawrence and Edwards Houses (hotels), Tucker Printing Company, Jackson Lumber Company, Westbrook Manufacturing Company and Adkisson & Bauer Hardware. The newly renovated Century Theater, converted from an opera house, graced the northern side off the first block of East Capitol Street.

In the midst of this growth and urban development an institution was born in 1894 when Dr. Louis Fitzhugh acquired the Jones Hamilton mansion near the northeast corner of Bellevue and Jefferson Streets. He established a school for girls the following year. It had seven students and Dr. Fitzhugh. The home was destroyed by fire shortly thereafter but was rebuilt and named for Colonel Hamilton’s Scottish forbearer, first Lord of Belhaven.

A neighborhood was born.

Bill Harvey; June, 2017 

 Sources for History of Belhaven: Part 1

Text:

Carroll Brinson, Jackson/A Special Kind of Place (Published by the City of Jackson, 1977)

Julie L. Kimbrough, Images of America, JACKSON (Arcadia Publishing, 1998)

Grady Howell, Jr., Chimneyville: Likenesses of Early Days in Jackson, Mississippi (Chickasaw Bayor Press, 2007)

James F. Gordon, Jr., A History of Belhaven College 1894-1981 (Jackson, MS, Belhaven College (1983)

“Jackson City Directory” (1904/05) – Multiple pages under street section

Demographics, various internet sources in public domain

Photos:

Capitol St. 1908 – Chimneyville: Likenesses of Early Days  in Jackson, Mississippi (Howell) p. 95

The Rookery – Chimneyville: Likenesses of Early Days in Jackson, Mississippi (Howell) p. 124

North State St. – 1900 – Images of America – Jackson (Kimbrough) p. 105

Jackson Street Cars – Images of America – Jackson (Kimbrough) p. 106

Jones-Hamilton Home (original Belhaven College- artist rendition) – Belhaven University Archives

Cardoon: A Farm to Table Fail

The evolutionary success of our species is in part—a rather large part I suspect—due to the fact that Homo sapiens is an omnivore, meaning we’ll eat damn near everything, even one another. Still and all, a line must be drawn when options are available, and though we owe the brave soul to first eat oysters an everlasting debt, we should reserve only the merest pat of gratitude for the first to eat a thistle.

I have no truck with foods that are overly fussy, over-involved or overpriced—the latter particularly if they’re served for the sake of show—but I’m also adventurous in the kitchen (with mixed results) and since this year I’m growing cardoons, I had to take the plunge. A cardoon is basically a big-ass thistle (the Latin word for thistle is cardo), and cardoons have been grown as a foodstuff around the Mediterranean for millennia. I happen to be growing cardoon because it is a striking plant with silvery-gray serrated leaves up to four feet long growing from a deep root in a spiraling sprawl. Their appeal in the garden is architectural, though they do provide a great habitat for ladybugs, a definite plus for the tomatoes.

Also called an artichoke thistle, the flower bud of a cardoon can be eaten much like an artichoke, but cardoons are usually grown for the table due to the thick spines of their leaves which stripped of the leaf-ettes resemble celery stalks, and from what I could gather are prepared for the table rather much in the same way. Now, that cardoons look like and are cooked like celery should have given me a clue that they weren’t going to make a big impression on me, since celery is very much an incidental in my kitchen, a must-have for soups and stews, and raw with a dollop of pimento cheese on a cold plate, but otherwise not a vegetable I’d serve itself as a side.

When the sectioned cardoon stems were still tough as shoe-leather after a recommended 30-minute boiling, I even went so far as to put them in a gratin, reasoning that almost every damn thing tastes better with cheese. But after all my trouble, the cardoons were simply atrocious: tough, tasteless and utterly without appeal. I’ll be content to enjoy the beauty of the plant and think thrice before I bring it to the table again.

 

Crystal Wings

Disjoint wings, and unless you’re a compulsive chicken-stock person—trust me, I used to be one, take therapy—discard tips, deep-fry until lightly crisp, toss with sloshes of Crystal Hot Sauce and dashes of granulated garlic, then bake on a rack in a moderate (300) oven until dry and lightly crisp. These refrigerate well, but do not freeze.

Spanish Eggplant

You could call this a variation of eggplant Parmesan or you could call it a variation of moussaka but truth be told this method of preparing eggplant for the table—en casserole, with tomatoes, onions and peppers—has been a standard for centuries all over the Mediterranean, the distinction here being roasted red peppers, pimientos, sweet thick-skinned red peppers. This dish is fine right out of the oven, but best served cold as a side for grilled meats.

For the seasoning, use a mixture of dried herbs: three parts basil, two parts thyme, one part parsley and one part oregano. You might sniff and say, “Well, that’s just the same thing as that ‘Italian seasoning’ stuff they sell in the supermarket,” to which I would reply, “No, it is not, because the ratios are different; the supermarket blend has far too much oregano, which will make anything you use it in bitter, so there!”) Use plenty of fresh garlic; at least two large cloves. As to the cheese, you’re going to need a queso blanco though any soft unripened or semi-hard cheese—like a Monterey jack, just sayin’—will work quite well.

Peel two large eggplants and cut into thick slices. Brush these liberally with olive oil—you don’t have to use EVO, people, any good olive oil will do—and grill or broil until slightly blistered and soft. Sauté half a large or one small yellow onion with a sweet thin-walled pepper such as a banana or a poblano—you want about two cups of each, coarsely chopped—with the garlic. To this mixture, add a #300 can of whole tomatoes, quartered with juice and reduce by half. Season to taste—about two tablespoons, perhaps—with the herbal mixture along with a dash (or so) of crushed red peppers, layer two roasted and peeled red bell peppers—or six cherry peppers, if you have them—and eggplant with this mixture, top liberally with cheese and bake in a very hot oven until bubbling and cheese is lightly browned. It’s great with pita.

 

A Garden on the Corner

In everyone’s life there comes a time to keep a garden, and as a healthy middle-aged man with a nurturing spirit, this was mine. The only tools I had were determination and a small shovel.

It’s difficult to find a sunny spot for a garden in Belhaven, but I found one on the corner of Peachtree and Poplar. Year in and year out, the sun shines relentlessly for six to seven hours a day, and the corner lies to the south below a rise that shields it from blistering winter and buffeting summer winds. So I began planning a garden there on a patch of hard-baked soil on public property with a stump in the middle of it.

Surprisingly, having a stump on public property proved to be a plus; dealing with City Hall takes effort in any town, but in Jackson it takes courage tempered with arduous persistence and enduring patience. As it happened, during his brief interim administration in 2009, Mayor McLemore, in a visionary and generous spirit, issued an appeal for citizens to help make the city more attractive by planting gardens on waysides, an appeal to civic pride that perfectly fit my agenda. So I placed a call, and sure enough the city sent a crew; in hours the stump and most of the roots–I still find vestiges–were exhumed and ground into sawdust used to fill the hole left behind.

Then the shoveling began. It took weeks to get a good start because the soil was so hard-packed and big roots were still in place, but kept digging. I had to find soil where I could–don’t ask!–but slowly a garden began to take form, and almost a decade later is still growing on an L-shaped verge between a very busy intersection and a seldom-used parking lot.

On the eastern edge a sidewalk from the north once led to the corner, but its south end had long been covered when the parking lot was built many years ago. Still, since many people came to the corner down that walk, it was clear that I had to provide some way for pedestrians to walk through or around the garden, so I built two short walkways: one a southerly continuation of the old sidewalk that eventually became covered with silt and another shorter one constructed with flagstones and gravel, quite well-traveled, that leads west through the garden into the parking lot. I built four beds along the incline from crown of the hill with some old railroad ties that I found discarded beneath a bridge down the street and with concrete construction rubble that seems to be everywhere here, and a series of beds with brick edging along the southern border on either side of the entrance to the parking lot. When I told a visitor that I wanted to dig up the opposite corner and plant daylilies, he called me a benign blight, a left-handed compliment if I ever heard one.

Plants come solicited from friends and neighbors, some I find on my own; some are—more and more often—left on the purlieus of the garden for adoption, and occasionally I buy seed and sets at Hutto’s. The garden, like any other, has been a learning experience, an engine of maturation and discovery, finding out what will grow well and what won’t on my own more often than from others, learning the angles of sunlight, measuring the rain, all lessons in interacting with light and water and determining levels of care. In time, it has achieved balance and rhythm in step with my own long slow dance through the seasons.

After eight years the street corner has become a joy for me and others: In the spring, the parsley and mustard white and yellow, the iris raise alabaster and porphyry blossoms and the garlic, chives and onions begin breaking through the cool earth; early summer brings butterfly roses, echinacea, zinnias of red and gold, bee-grazed basils of every stripe, bright cosmos, small sweet tomatoes and a clump of papyrus that sways in afternoon rains; autum brings sunflowers that tower over marigolds drooped with butterflies, Clara Curtis spreads her pink bosom and the asters clustered around the sundial erupt in cornflower blue; kitchen greens bring color and provision through the dun and grey of winter before the narcissus tribe seeks the sun.

In time I will join those who have gone before me, but maybe after I go some will come to care for the corner, to hoe and sow, to give water when there is no rain, to keep at bay the grass, asphalt and sand.