Gina Sheridan: “I Work at a Public Library”

As a life-long patron and former employee of the public library system, I was delighted to discover the work of Gina Sheridan, whose wonderful book and blog, I Work at a Public Library, has provided me hour upon hour of fun and wonder. Sheridan’s pithy, off-beat, quirky accounts of the incidents and exchanges that take place in what she refers to as a “neutral place” range from the poignant to the hilarious and make for fascinating reading no matter who you are. What’s more, I was thrilled to find out that Gina is a former pupil and current colleague of my great friend Jeff Weddle, who is an associate professor of Library and Information Studies at the University of Alabama. Gina graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her life and work so I could share.

A bit about me: I grew up in a St. Louis suburb, the middle of five kids. I have an older sister, an older brother, and a younger sister and a younger brother. I’ve always found this sort of special. My mom was always trying to kill herself (and still hasn’t succeeded) so we grew up fast. The girl siblings made it out smart and happy, and the boys made it out alive but damaged. I got married at 19 because it meant a fresh start and it seemed like the thing to do at the time. We lasted seven years. My brain exploded at college as I learned more about the world and its occupants, and he was kind but couldn’t keep up. I moved to Savannah, GA for fun for a couple of years before graduate school in Tuscaloosa, AL. My first professional librarian position was in Fresno, CA where I met husbear and started I Work at a Public Library because I wanted to try out Tumblr and was in awe of almost every person I met at the library. Even though I’ve been writing since I was young, first bad poetry and then so many blogs! I never sought to be a published author; it was such a fluke how it happened.

You say you “curate” the stories, which I find a curious way to say you compile and edit the stories. Describe the process of submission to blog, in other words, the stories you receive, where do they come from (geographically), what are your criteria for acceptance, and while you say “Most are offered without comment …” what sorts of stories do you find need or deserve some sort of comment?

I love the word curate because I collect the stories from all sorts of places, not just the submission button on the blog. Sometimes I find a great story on a friend’s Facebook page. Sometimes it’s a story told in passing at work. Yesterday, one came by snail mail! Sometimes people will text or email me a snippet of a story and I have to carefully flesh it out for it to make sense and appeal to a general audience. Often it’s something I personally experience. But there are times I start typing it up and realize it’s not quite right, or won’t mean enough to anyone other than me. Those are the ones that are hard to explain. Many of the submissions I receive (perhaps 40% of them) are way off base, something I’ll discuss in another answer below.

The stories come from all over the world–I’m surprised how many submissions I get from people in Canada and Australia in particular. Most are from current or retired library workers, but I get some messages and stories from library users who have had weird or funny or touching experiences at the library.

I like to offer up the stories objectively, without comment or judgment for the most part. I do this so that readers can get a picture of events that actually take place without my opinions murking it up. However, the “bullies” tag is inherently subjective and a few others sprinkled here and there provide commentary on how I feel about the subject or situation. When I share a link to Facebook, it often accompanies a sentiment. There are times I can’t help myself.

Do you find that people are confused by the things you (and I) find amusing about library patrons? Do you ever get any feedback from people who find the blog offensive in any way, for instance condescending?

99% of the Tumblr interactions are overwhelmingly positive. The same is true of the interactions on the associated Facebook page and Twitter feed. There have been very few negative comments or reactions. While I try to avoid my own book reviews, I did catch a few of the IWAAPL book that expressed things like, “I could’ve written this.” or “This could’ve happened anywhere, not just a library.” or “What is so special about these stories?” or “Libraries are WAY worse than this watered down bullshit.” Those sorts of things. And I agree! But that’s what I find so cool about the subject. It’s not unique. I love paying attention to my surroundings and the people I meet. Sometimes you look up and see something brilliant in the mundane. Not everyone does, though. I think most people who don’t get it just stay away or keep quiet–in any case, I don’t hear from them!

Yes, the characters are colorful and often entertaining, but what do you mean by “their jackets are dusty, subtext confusing, and even if they don’t fit in anywhere else in life, all of them belong at the library.” I think this is charmingly intriguing, and would like as full an explanation as you feel you can provide.

The American public library is one of very few places in the world where everyone is truly welcome. As long as you abide by a few simple (common sense) rules, you can stay from open to close, you don’t have to make a purchase, no one will ask for your membership card or judge what you are reading (or not reading). All of this means that public libraries attract all sorts of people, of course. And this includes employees! Some of the quirkiest people I know are librarians. Librarians aren’t just cardigans and margaritas, people!

Here’s a question I’m sure you get all the time: Where did you get the idea for I Work at a Public Library?

I’ve been blogging for many years. Blogs are a free and easy place to collect things and find community. I used to have a “Quotes of the Week” blog where I shared funny things I heard throughout the week, with a complete lack of context. I also have “Here, Hold This” which contain iPhone photos of my husband holding miscellaneous items. IWAAPL was a place I could collect the library stories that amazed and touched me. Plus, I wanted to try out the new-at-the-time platform called Tumblr. I didn’t realize it would become popular and I never imagined it would turn into a book deal. Several years in, an agent contacted me on Twitter and it was only a couple of months later that a publisher offered us a contract. It really was the right combination of people at the right time–I call it a fluke because there are so many other blogs out there with way more readers than I have.

Sure, your stories illustrate the “quirkiness” of humanity, but what else? What else do they have to say about the human condition, particularly in terms of the thirst for knowledge, or the need for information?

Some people come to the library because they don’t have many other places to go, or people to talk to. Some are indeed thirsty for knowledge and aren’t at all afraid to ask any question under the sun. People feel pretty safe at the library and library workers love to be busy and helpful answering questions others may scoff at. But working with the general public can be difficult at times. When someone is exhibiting poor behavior, I see it as a challenge–how can I deescalate the situation? How can I smooth things over so the person and the staff member is happier than when I found them? I tell my staff, “Start with yes and always err on the side of customer service.” That seems to work pretty well, but some people carry their baggage with them everywhere and nothing helps.

The biggest surprise to me is the response from library workers, young and old, just starting out or retired, professional or paraprofessional. The stories give them hope, validation, humor they can relate to, nostalgia. Radical librarian Sanford Berman and I are pen pals because he happened upon my book! He sends me clippings of old newsletters and sends me notes on the backs of grocery lists. I cherish our correspondence very much.

Be honest and tell me you do get submissions that you consider inappropriate for your blog. What sorts of submissions would fall under this category? Accounts of child abuse, perhaps? Criminal activity of other sorts?

Nothing that dramatic! The worst sorts of submissions I receive have a huge slant toward the negative. Some people just don’t “get” the vibe I’m going for. They want to vent about “crazy people” or their co-workers or boss. These are stories of poor customer service. Some are mean-spirited or could be perceived that way. That’s not cool with me (and frankly, it’s boring).

What sort of reception has your blog received among librarians? Are you a celebrity at conventions? (Weddle once told me that librarians will hold meetings/conferences at the drop of a hat, and as a former librarian, I know he’s right.)

No! I’m so not a celebrity. There are so many rockstar librarians actually making a difference in the industry–Jason Broughton, Taneya Gethers, David Lee King, Scott Bonner, Melissa Jacobs, Patrick Sweeney. These guys are change agents and library advocates, I’m just a blogger!

Is “Cuckoo Carol” a real person, or is she an amalgamation of assorted nuts you have known? (I suspect the latter, btw … )

Carol is a real person named Meg. She was such a character who kept me on my toes. The nickname came from her–“Just call me cuckoo!” she once said to me. When the book was coming out, I gave her a call at the library where I knew her (because I knew she’d be there–she was there for 10+ hours per day. I even knew where she’d be sitting so they could go get her and tell her she had a phone call). Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: “Meg, it’s Gina, the librarian who used to work there. Do you remember me?”
Meg: “No! Is this a sales call?”
Me: “No, no, nothing like that. Listen, I remember you fondly. Anyway, I’m writing a book about funny things that happen at the library. You’re in it. Are you cool with that? Do you want to read the stories ahead of time? You are basically going to star in a chapter.”
Meg: “That’s the story of my life!”
And she hung up.

You confess that most of the stories are in your book, I Work at a Public Library. How has the book been received?

About 75% of the stories in the book were new (never published on the site). I just checked: the site has 850 stories to date! The book is not at all a runaway bestseller or anything like that. It’s a great bathroom read and makes a good gift for library lovers and book people. I’m proud the book is out there in the world.

How do you view the role of librarians in society now? Petty bureaucrats or guardians of the public trust?

Librarians of today are space makers, community teachers, innovators, change agents, information helpers. We help people find jobs, get their mind off their troubles, learn to read, learn to love to read, and we offer free classes and lectures and performances. In St. Louis during the Ferguson turmoil, both protesters and non-protesters felt safe coming into the library to find some respite, get a drink of water, charge their cell phones, use a computer, etc. It’s a neutral place that is much needed today.

Photo by Inti St. Clair
Photo by Inti St. Clair

First Pres: Our Cornerstone Church

“That realm is best and most stable which is ruled in accordance with God’s will alone,
and the worst and weakest is that which is ruled arbitrarily.”
Ulrich Zwingli

Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church (FPC) is a prime example of stability. It is located at 1390 North State between Pinehurst and Belhaven Streets. The current church, which opened in 1951, began its history 114 years before at the corner of N. President and E. Capitol Streets in Mississippi’s first state house building. Greater Belhaven’s only church was organized on a Saturday afternoon, April 8, 1837 by the Rev. Peter Donan and four persons: Mrs. Margaret E. Mayson, Mrs. Susan Patton and Mr. and Mrs. John Robb. There was a pastor (Rev. Donan), but no elders for two years, no deacons for six years nor an individual house of worship until 1845. In its first two years of existence, the church had but three new members. (1)

The State of Mississippi owned considerable land in the downtown area of Jackson in the early 1800’s. It made land available to religious denominations in the vicinity of Smith Park and First Presbyterian purchased a tract a bit north and east of the original designations at the corner of Yazoo and North State Streets. Its first home edifice was erected on this site in 1845-46. Somehow, it escaped the fiery ravages of General W.T. Sherman 18 years later and was razed in 1891. It was replaced by a small red brick building in 1893 (left) which served the congregation until the opening of the present structure in 1951. The final service in the old church was preached by Belhaven College President Dr. Guy T. Gillespie on August 26, 1951. (2) (3) (4) (15)

The land on which the church rests today (Hinds County MS parcel number 13-38), was owned by a group of developers in 1925. These were early Jacksonians S.S. Taylor, C.E. Klumb, S.K. Whitten Jr., W.N. Watkins and H.V. Watkins. This group sold the land on December 4, 1925 to W. N. Cheney, R.S. Dobyns, Carl L. Faust, W.E. Guild and Stokes V. Robinson. The Pinehaven Realty Corporation purchased the property from this group on March 1, 1927 for $12,700. (5) (6) (7) For the much of the following 23 years, Pinehaven Realty Corporation maintained the land where the church sits today. A single dwelling and out building were shown on the 1925 Sanford Fire Insurance map. The majority of the land between Pinehurst and Belhaven Streets was vacant and remained so until purchased by First Presbyterian Church on September 20, 1950. Prominent Jacksonian and church member Chalmers Alexander was instrumental in this transaction. (8) (17)

According to Jacksonian Judge Swan Yerger, much of this north end of the 1300 block of north state was a field which served as a softball diamond for the older Power School boys who were enrolled in the old Power School on Pinehurst. The spent their recess and many hours after school on this diamond. Since the inception of the church in 1837, First Presbyterian has had only 12 permanent senior ministers. The tenures shown below do not include interim or guest preachers.

Rev. Peter Donan – 1837-41
Rev. S.H. Hazard – 1841-42
Rev. Leroy Jones Halsey – 1842-48
Rev. Halsey built the first church sanctuary
Rev. Isaac James Henderson – 1849-53
Rev. L.A. Lowery – 1853-55
Dr. John Hunter – 1858-95
Dr. James Buchanan Hutton – 1895-1939
Dr. R. Girard Lowe – 1940-52: When this man knelt to welcome little children to Sunday School, he was a giant.
Dr. John Reed Miller – 1952-68: Dr. Miller was active in missions and in 1962, led the church in founding a Winter Theological Institute which was continued as Reformed Theological Seminary. For 16 years his sermons were broadcast on radio and beginning in the early 1960’s, the morning worship services were televised.
Dr. Donald B. Patterson – 1969-83: During Dr. Patterson’s ministry Twin Lakes Conference center was established near Florence and he served as chairman of the steering Committee that formed the Presbyterian Church of America. The PCA was Founded in 1973 and is focused on the infallibility and historicity of the Scripture and the Westminster Standards. According to Dr. William K. Wymond, minister of music and media, “We distinguish ourselves by these tenants.”
Dr. James M. Baird – 1983-95: Dr. Baird gave leadership to three new building programs, popularized the Church’s TV ministry and was instrumental in involving the church’s Mission Mississippi movement.
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, III – 1996 – 2013: The son of an eighth generation ruling elder, Dr. Duncan recently resigned his pastorate to take over the position of Chancellor of the Reformed Theological Seminary. (1)

The Rev. David Strain took over the responsibilities of pastor in early 2015. Since that time several other worthy churchmen have helped fill the pews on Sunday morning. Today’s original sanctuary was opened Sunday, September 2, 1951 with the first service preached at 7:30 p.m. by interim pastor Dr. Albert Sydney Johnson. Additions to the original building have been the Lowe Fellowship Hall in 1956 which included additional Sunday School space, Westminster Hall in 1986 and Miller Fellowship Hall which contains the music suite, choir suite and kindergarten. A study center is located on the northeast side of the church which includes a gymnasium and three stories of Sunday School space. The present sanctuary was expanded in 2005-07 and currently seats 1,380. (2) (15) Since its inception 176 years ago, Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church has been housed in but three permanent buildings in three locations. It has been served by 12 elected ministers, for an average of just under 15 years each. This consistency is proof of the stability to which Zwingli alluded and is testimony of the continuity and permanence of this institution.

“And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church;
and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
Matthew 16:18

On July 10, 1950, while the present sanctuary was under construction, the church cornerstone, which dates from 1891, was transported from the old building on Yazoo Street to the left side of the new church’s front door. Dr. Girard Lowe oversaw the insertion of documents pertinent to the time. These included a bible, a church history, the church roll, various bulletins, a list of major actions leading to erection of the new building, names of the building committee, a roster of the major contributors up to that time, the departmental leaders and daily newspapers chronicling the event. (9)

The mission of First Presbyterian Church is that which is the answer to the question posed by the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is man’s chief end?” Man’s chief end and the mission of the church is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  Today’s church is composed of over 3,100 members, 2,550 of whom are resident members that represent 1,375 families. Many currently live in the Belhaven neighborhood. There are 105 staff members including those at Twin Lakes Conference Center. The church is governed by a 70 member Session which is made up of elders. The minister’s role is to provide spiritual leadership.  Property and care of the church is done by deacons. Ministers belong to the Presbytery. Major decisions are normally made by the Session with senior ministers selected by the congregation. Early growth of the church was overseen by its senior pastors and pioneer Jacksonians such as the Power, Williford and Wells families, Judge Julian P. Alexander, Bob Cannada, George Lemon Sugg and R.E. Kennington. Many leading elders and youth leaders have also contributed to church growth. (2)

“Those who have arrived at very eminent degrees of excellence in the practice of an art or profession have commonly been actuated by a species of enthusiasm in the pursuit of it.”
John Knox

 The Presbyterian ministry throughout its history, which dates back to the Reformation, has been shaped by the knowledge of Christian faith and the principles of the history which surrounds it. Since the Reformation church leaders have placed a high premium on the education of its ministers and laity. A primary source of this knowledge is the Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS). The RTS was started in Jackson, Mississippi in 1966 by five men, four of whom were elders in First Presbyterian Church. Its purpose is to train for the ministry based on a high view of scripture and historic Westminster standards. With ancillary campuses in Orlando, Charlotte, Dallas and Washington, DC, it offers advanced degrees in bible studies, missions and family counseling. (10) Belhaven University has received significant support from FPC for a number of years.

A thriving institution today, Belhaven experienced some fallow years in the early and middle 1900’s involving its endowment and accreditation. In spite of the heroic efforts of its third president Dr. Guy T. Gillespie, the school struggled to maintain its viability. The designation of the college as a co-educational institution in 1954 helped the situation but it was its transfer by the Synod of Mississippi Presbyterian Church in the United States to the Belhaven College Board of Trustees in 1972 that ensured its modern independence. FPC elders serve on the College’s board and significant support is provided by the church. (11) FPC has historically supported private academies which base their mission on Christianity and character. Chamberlain–Hunt Academy in Port Gibson has a history that goes back to 1830 at Oakland College in Rodney. Founded as a military school, its fortunes waxed and waned through the years and were quite low in the mid 1990’s due to decreased enrollment. In 1996, members of the First Presbyterian church in Jackson and French Camp Academy in Choctaw County–in which the church also has an interest–purchased from a local bank the historic buildings, over 200 acres of land and the school’s educational equipment. This purchase ensured the viability of the Port Gibson facility at that time. (12)

Twin Lakes Conference Center near Florence was obtained in 1970. It serves as a summer camping facility in warm weather months and an events center the balance of the year. Over the years millions of dollars have been invested in this first class facility which is available for rental by outside groups. (13) FPC is youth oriented beyond Twin Lakes and its regular ministry. It supports the neighborhood Christian Center in the minority community which emphasizes Christian ethics, academic tutoring and breaking the chains of poverty. (2) Other outreach programs include work with Mission Mississippi, world missions, campus student groups and assistance in starting new churches within the PCA movement. The First Presbyterian Day School was established in 1965 and is located in Miller Hall on Pinehurst Street. The day school contains grades k-6 and currently has a student body of about 650. It involves normal school curriculum, which according to Dr. Wymond, “is based on a Christian and world life view.” It is designed so that the school and church complement each other. While this school can present some traffic challenges when taking in and letting out, it greatly strengthens the character of the neighborhood and is an attraction to numerous young families, many of which have remained in Belhaven after their children finish the sixth grade. (14) (2)

Let us not cease to do the utmost so that we may incessantly go forward
in the way of the Lord;and let us not despair of the smallness of our accomplishments.”
John Calvin“

When asked of the church’s future plans, Dr. Wymond stated “the First Presbyterian Church is always looking for opportunities to serve and preach the gospel. He further added, “No new projects are scheduled at present except to help the city. We are here for Jackson and as an institution to anchor the neighborhood, to conduct bible studies in the Mid Town neighborhood and be helpful and supportive of the church.” (2) On a rainy Sunday morning on the first day of October 1950, Billy Harvey, age 11, stood before the 400 member congregation in the little brick church on the corner and accepted Christ as his personal savior. He held a bible given to him by his parents and a Shorter Catechism provided by the church. Dr. Lowe asked the congregation to accept him into church membership and, standing, they agreed. Looking back through the prism of 63 years he would joyfully do so again. One hundred and seventy six years ago a pastor and four early Jacksonians met in a statehouse in a tiny city only 15 years in existence. They planted the seeds of a great church and a monument to their faith.

Photo courtesy Dale Partners

Today the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson rests firmly on its foundation, its steeple soaring toward the heaven we aspire to and towers over the memories of old Power School to the south on State Street and the rambling Green Apartments to the north. It surveys to the west what was at its construction the Hederman home at Marshall Street, the beautiful Vaughan Watkins house at Webster and Beth-Isreal Cemetery in between, ever facing east. Its mission remains the glorification of God. It is not moving to the suburbs. It is not changing its doctrine. It is not going away. Like Peter’s rock, it represents a hallmark of stability and is grounded in the inspiration of its purpose belonging to all as a beacon of faith, a citadel of strength and a cornerstone of our neighborhood.

Bill & Nan Harvey
September 2013

SOURCES

(1) Church history from web site
(2) Interview with Dr. William K. Wymond, minister of Music and Media, (09/30/13)
(3) Historic marker, NW corner of Yazoo & State Streets
(4) FPC archives
(5) Hinds County deed records, book 174, page 22, (12/04/1925)
(6) Hinds County deed records, book 190, page 284 (03/01/1927)
(7) Hinds County deed records, book 676, page 87 (09/20/1950)
(8) Jackson city directories 1930-50
(9) Program, Laying of the Cornerstone, FPC, 07/10/1950
(10) Reformed theological Seminary, Internet Wikipedia, (09/04/2013)
(11) Gordon, James F., Jr., A History of Belhaven College 1894-1983, Jackson, MS Belhaven College (1983)
(12) Chamberlain-Hunt and French Camp Academies web sites
(13) Twin Lakes Conference Center web site
(14) Mission Statement, FPC Day School, A Kingdom School, Established 1965
(15) Jackson Daily News, Sunday 8/26/51
(16) Conversation with Judge Swan Yerger (09/29/13)
(17) Sanford Fire Insurance Company map – 1925

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

(A) Thanks are extended to Dr. William K. Wymond, minister of Music and Media at First Presbyterian Church for his kind contribution of time to explain much of the background of today’s church
(B) Appreciation is extended to Rev. Brister Ware, minister of Pastoral Care for his efforts to coordinate permission and approval of this article
(C) Appreciation is extended to the senior pastor and others associated with the governmental structure of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson for their support and approval of this article.

Belhaven: Our Neighborhood University

Belhaven University has been around for a little over 120 years – longer than the neighborhood in which it resides and only five years removed from the beginning of neighboring Millsaps College. The college began as a girl’s school, progressed to co-educational sixty years later, burned three times, and merged with an institution that no longer exists. It provided pasture for cows in its early days and boasts campuses throughout the southeast today. But I may be getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.

Who Was Dr. Fitzhugh?

Dr. Louis T. Fitzhugh (1841-1904) was the founder of the modern Belhaven College and served as its initial owner and first president. He came to Jackson in 1894, following a successful career as president of Whitworth College in Brookhaven. He had previously been a member of the faculty at the University of Mississippi. He launched Belhaven as a private school for girls and was influenced in his academic endeavors by Millsaps College and his association with the W.B. Murrah family. Fitzhugh’s new school was named for the old Belhaven mansion purchased from Colonel Jones Hamilton. The house, called Belhaven in honor of the Colonial’s ancestral home in Scotland, was located on raised ground near the present day intersection of N. Jefferson and Boyd (Bellevue Place) Streets. At the entrance of the original home, carved in the stone step, was the name Belhaven, which was also inscribed on the cut glass chandelier shades in the interior of the home. The Hamiltons were descended from Lord Belhaven of Scotland. Fitzhugh served as president of Belhaven until his death in 1904, at which time he was succeeded both as president and proprietor by James Rhea Preston. (2) (3)

Fire and Fate – Historical Twins

Three separate fires played a major role in the College’s early history. Belhaven was chartered as a private, one owner (Dr. Fitzhugh) institution in 1894. It was designed to be a four-year girl’s school. It was located in Dr. Hamilton’s deeded mansion on Boyd Street (now the 900 block of Bellevue), and was called Belhaven College for Young Ladies. This structure was totally destroyed in a massive fire on February 7, 1895 and replaced the following year with a single dwelling frame structure on the same site.

Mrs. J.R. Preston, wife of Belhaven’s second president, remembered in a mid-20th century address details of the first early campus. “As I recall the scenes of Belhaven as I first knew it, the white buildings with green blinds came before me, the two story dormitory and school building as one, with a porch adorned with attractive grill work, running along the front; the cupola rising above all, by its presence. I see beautiful, far-reaching views to be seen from all buildings for there was no northeast Jackson then. Belhaven frontIt comes vividly before me, the grounds of ten acres, most of which was in the campus, the rest in pasture for the Jersey cows, where in the spring they stood literally knee-deep in clover. I can still see the campus naturally adored with the native trees, oak, elm, hackberry and a few magnolias, with a row of pink crepe myrtle for the southern boundary. Still to be seen from the south as one drives down Belleview (now Bellevue), were the rockeries (rock gardens) adding a formal touch and there was a basketball field nearby. I recall the graveled driveway entering the campus at Mr. C.H. Alexander’s home, just south of Boyd Street on Jefferson. A quaint landmark was the stile by which pedestrians gained access to the board walk leading directly to the dormitory. This climb by day was breath-taking, and by night more than spooky”.

Dr. Preston (1853-1922) came to Belhaven from his presidency at Stanton College in Natchez. He was a former State superintendent of education and largely responsible for the public education system in place in Mississippi today. The State’s official motto Virtute et Armis (Valor and Arms) was coined by Preston and has appeared on the Mississippi coat of arms since 1894. A second devastating blaze began on October 19, 1910, from a furnace spark which landed in the dining room of the main building. According to Mrs. Kenneth Kraft and Mrs. Henry Mills, Dr. Preston’s daughters who witnessed the fire as children, the October day was dry and windy. The fire wagons came immediately, but the hydrant was at the foot of the hill. With no water pressure, nothing could be done. Preston decided for business and personal reasons not to rebuild Belhaven. He discussed his decision with his pastor J.B. Hutton of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson. As a result, the Presbytery received as a donation by Preston title and charter to the school which was renamed the Belhaven Collegiate and industrial Institute on July 25, 1911. The Boyd Street site was abandoned and construction began on a new academic building on the corner of Harper and Park Streets– later to be renamed Pinehurst and Peachtree. Belhaven Street, to reach from the center of the campus to North State, was a dotted line on the maps of the day, a dirt road and as they say “only a gleam in the eye.” Fate would intervene again in a number of ways 16 years later. (3), (4), (5)

How Did Fitzhugh and Preston Halls Get Their Names?

On August 9, 1927, lightning struck the main building and destroyed the major part of the plant and most of its contents. This was the building facing Peachtree Street which housed dormitories on the first and second floors, a kitchen and dining area on the north end and a chapel and gymnasium on the south. One can only imagine what went through the mind of President Guy T. Gillespie as he received a Western Union wire while on board a train to Princeton University to deliver a speech. It appeared at first that the building was a total loss. Yet from the ashes of that summer day rose the phoenix of the modern day Belhaven University. It reset the course of the school’s history. The board of trustees met the following day and began plans to rebuild. Meanwhile, Gillespie had plans of his own. While taking an architecture course at Columbia University, he was required to do a design project. He applied this experience to the task at hand. He never really liked the campus being all one building and so he developed a plan for taking out the burned center section creating two distinct buildings which are Fitzhugh and Preston Halls today. Between the buildings was built a concrete lagoon with columns on either side. The beautiful lighted fountain which can be seen from far down Belhaven Street stands in this location now. (3) (6) (7)

The Years of Famine

Dr. Guy Gillespie began his presidency in 1921 and remained as head of the college for 33 years. He faced nearly insurmountable challenges in areas of endowment, enrollment and accreditation during his tenure. It would be no stretch to say that while Fitzhugh and Preston fathered the institution, Gillespie saved it during its formative years. The battle for accreditation, the lifeblood of every serious educational institution, began in earnest at a May 21, 1929 meeting when Gillespie announced to his board that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools had denied accreditation to the school. Their reasons were that endowment was $100,000 short of the required amount, the library needed 2,000 additional books, faculty salaries were far below the Association’s minimum and the faculty included only one Ph.D. The following 25 years were a testament to tenacity, endurance, courage and prayer. While church, local municipalities, out-of-state funding sources, local businesses and private individuals did their best to help the college meet its endowment needs and other accreditation criteria, there was a depression to contend with followed by a world war.

Through perseverance and God’s help on the morning of June 1, 1946, Gillespie was able to read the following statement to his board: “The outstanding event of the year was the admission of Belhaven College to membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools at the annual meeting of the Association in Memphis on March 28, 1946, and with the full accreditation of the institution as a standard liberal arts college.” Academically, Belhaven was legitimate. Its future was secured. Other historical landmarks were the designation of Belhaven as a co-educational institution in 1954, transfer of the college by the Synod of Mississippi Presbyterian Church in the United States to the Belhaven College Board of Trustees in 1972, and renaming the college Belhaven University in 2009. (3)

A Historical Anomaly

While many consider the birth of Belhaven as 1894, when Fitzhugh purchased the Hamilton property and received a charter for the establishment of the school, others point to 1883 as the beginning. Technically, others are correct. We have discussed the college’s difficulties with achieving accreditation which hindered its growth and academic credibility. One means of addressing this deficiency was a merger with the Mississippi Synodical College in Holly Springs on April 14, 1939. Consolidation of the two colleges took place under the following terms:

(1) Mississippi Synodical College would not close (but eventually did), but continue as a part of Belhaven College.
(2) Consolidation would take place as of June 1, 1939, and the Belhaven College Board would assume functions of the Mississippi Synodical College Board of Trustees.
(3) Assets and liabilities of the Mississippi Synodical College would be taken over by Belhaven.
(4) The Christian aims of both colleges would be preserved.
(5) The endowment, assets, and other permanent funds of Mississippi Synodical College would be kept intact and used as nearly in accordance with the intention of the original donation as possible.
(6) After liquidation of the outstanding indebtedness of Mississippi Synodical College, the residue would be used in the construction of a building or in some way to perpetuate the name of the college on the campus of Belhaven.
(7) Records of the Mississippi Synodical College were to be preserved at Belhaven.
(8) Dr. Robert Franklin Cooper, president of Mississippi Synodical College, was named vice-president of Belhaven.

Mississippi Synodical College opened in 1883. This date was adopted by the Board of Trustees as the founding date of Belhaven as it represented the oldest founding date of all of the institutions (Belhaven had merged with the McComb Female Institute when it was reopened by the Central Mississippi Presbytery in 1911), which were eventually absorbed into the college. (3) (8)

Today’s Belhaven

Belhaven University has come a long way from Fitzhugh’s dream of a Christian girl’s school in 1894 and that hot, windy afternoon in 1910 when Preston’s daughters watched fire consume that dream a second time only leading to a third. The college has survived three fires, a depression economy, elusive accreditation, myriad ownership and four name changes.

Today’s Belhaven University is a private four-year liberal arts institution and sits on a main Jackson campus of 42 acres bounded by Peachtree Street, Pinehurst and Greymont Avenues and Belvoir Place. It is composed of 13 classroom, dormitory and administrative buildings, a lake, a bowl, a pavilion, a commons and a lighted fountain. An Alumni Center is located on the west side of Peachtree Street near Riverside Drive. Every four years the City of Jackson hosts the International Ballet Competition and Belhaven University provides lodging for a majority of its participants from throughout the world. According to the Department of Communications, there are a total of 3,500 students, 1,100 traditional, with 500 living on the main Jackson campus, with 300 adult students on the Lefleur Campus. Seventeen hundred adult studies and graduate students are enrolled on campuses in Memphis, Houston, Orlando, Chattanooga and Atlanta, plus participating in a growing online program.

There are 27 undergraduate studies programs on the Jackson campus and five graduate studies programs including degrees in business and public administration. The ASPIRE Program, located in a facility on I-55 north in Jackson, provides an encouraging educational environment where adult graduate students can complete their degree programs while maintaining their careers and personal lives. The school competes well in the NAIA’s Mid-South and Southern States Athletic Conferences and the Baseball Blazers are looking forward to a stellar season this spring.  A total of 17 bachelor and 13 graduate programs are housed on ancillary campuses in cities mentioned above. Associate degree programs are available on these sites as well. There are also extensive online studies available to the modern student. Remember back in 1929, when the library was 2,000 books short, insufficient for accreditation? The Hood Library now has 115,000 volumes and 500 periodicals. The Jackson campus has a faculty in excess of 90 professors and instructors, 20 of whom are Ph.Ds. The school has an endowment just under $5 million. (10) (11)

What Can We Do?

What can we do as a neighborhood to support this institution we see in many ways as our own? We can reflect a moment and ask ourselves some questions.

Have you spent some time on the campus walking trails lately to see all the new construction? Have you spoken with students or faculty members or walked along the lake by the practice fields and noticed the ducks and an occasional fisherman on a Sunday morning?
Did a friend or relative attend Belhaven back in the day; are they students now or plan to be?
Did you sit with your mother as I did as a child in the 1940’s by the lagoon filled with goldfish between Fitzhugh and Preston Halls and listened to her tell you of her own college days at Belhaven in the 1920’s? (She and the goldfish are gone but the memories and a magnificent fountain remain.)
Have you or those you know of a later generation visited Bitsy Irby Visual Arts and Dance Center at Peachtree and Euclid Streets, the Entergy Pavilion down the hill from the Bailey Commons or the Belhaven College of the Arts with its magnificent ballet performances on the western rise of Riverside Drive for an evening of cultural enrichment?
Did you know Eudora Welty who lived across the street? Do friends have coffee in her Shoebird Café in the McCravey Triplett Student Center? Did they visit the bookstore?
Have you done reading or research at the Warren Hood Library or voted in its Barber Auditorium?
Have you sat on the white benches along the faculty walk in Gillespie Commons?
Do you know anyone who built a home in Belhaven in the 1950’s or 60’s on Belvoir and knew it was once the northern shore of Belhaven Lake?
Did you swim or canoe in the lake as a kid or today watch its fountains display theior beauty near the practice fields?
Did your gang play football or baseball as children the bowl on Peachtree or watch your own children play soccer there only last week?
Have you seen or listened to the school’s free gift of the beautiful Belhaven Christmas Tree singing each season by the lake?
Have you or one of your friends bought a home in the neighborhood and in some cases spent more on renovation than the purchase price just so you can live here? Do we as residents and friends fully understand who gave our neighborhood its name?
Do you feel a sense of pride when people ask you where you live and you can tell them “Belhaven”?

There is always something which can be done to preserve a heritage of faith, courage, achievement and vision. There are commitments to be made, memories to be acknowledged, friends and associates to influence and work to be done. Dr. Fitzhugh will take the time in his eternal classroom to open to us his own book of life and acknowledge our support so that perhaps his hall and college will remain with us another hundred years attesting to the excellence of Christian good will. We have in Belhaven University a treasure and cornerstone to one of America’s great neighborhoods. You do not even have to go to school to realize how fortunate we are.

Bill Harvey
February 2012

Sources

(1) Parrott, Roger, “Letter to Alumni and Friends of Belhaven” (December 2011)
(2) Gillespie, G.T., Dr. Louis T. Fitzhugh, Commencement Address (1954)
(3) Gordon, James F., Jr., “A History of Belhaven College 1894-1981”, Jackson, MS, Belhaven College (1983)
(4) Preston, Mrs. J.R., “Memories of Early Belhaven”, speech (undated)
(5) Belhaven College, Sanford Map Company, sheet 19 (1918)
(6) Waibel, Paul R., “Belhaven College,” Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing Co. (2000)
(7) Parrott, Roger, “Thinking About Higher Education” Belhaven Tartan: (Winter 2011)
(8) “Belhaven University”, Wikipedia Encyclopedia (January 2012)
(9) Parrott, Roger, quote from e-mail (1/13/12)
(10) Belhaven University Department of Communications
(11) Belhaven University website

Acknowledgements

Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation Executive Director Virgi Lindsay for the idea

  1. Henry Mills, M.D., grandson of Dr. and Mrs. James Rhea Preston for his kind hospitality and for sharing personal documents as to the early history of Belhaven
  2. Bryant Butler, Director of Communications, Belhaven College, for invaluable information on Dr. Louis Fitzhugh, photograph reproduction of the Hamilton Mansion and current Belhaven data.
  3. Charles Guidine, Archivist, Belhaven College Reference and Periodical Library for photos and access to current archival files
  4. Nancy E. Harvey, my wife, who provided technical assistance in writing; proofing and encouragement
  5. The Belhaven neighborhood itself by making this project worthwhile and for the privilege of allowing me to enjoy my old age as one who grew up with its landmarks, its institutions and its people.

Belhaven’s Haunted Beanery

There’s a beanery in Belhaven Heights. Over a lifespan of 80 plus years it has been host to wayfarers, a Rebel…and a ghost.

Before I get ahead of myself, let me explain what a beanery is. The term dates from the year 1887 in England and was loosely thought of as an inn for travelers on their way to further destinations. It had nothing to do with coffee or tea or a vegetable. In America, a beanery became the name of a hotel for railroad men; a place to rest, to eat, to sport or reflect on their way to further destinations. The term beanery came to mean “let’s go eat” and breakfast, the primary meal for freshly awakened sojourners, was served by “beanery queens” – waitresses, some left over from the night before. Our beanery stands at the curved intersection of Spengler and Madison Streets in Belhaven Heights. Built in 1927 as a two-story craftsman residence, it resembles a fugitive image from the Old West with a downstairs porch and upper balcony that could have welcomed the likes of Jesse James or Doc Holladay.

According to present owner Steve Colston who has done his own research on the building, the structure was purchased from Mrs. Louise Middleton by J.W. Miller in 1930 and was called Miller’s Café,Millers Place blog with Humphries Barbershop on the east corner. It was subsequently renamed Millers Place and remained so for a number of years. According to Colston, back in the day you could get an upstairs bed for $.35 a night and for an additional ten cents, access to a shower, probably a good investment. Plate lunches were available downstairs where the special was a large bowl of soup for a quarter. Over the years the building passed through several hands and purposes. Mrs. Louis Miller ran the restaurant in the 1940’s, while J.W. took care of upstairs. From Herbert Stair’s restaurant in 1950, it became the GM & O Beanery Restaurant in 1954, Hugh Tullos’ restaurant a year later and the Spengler Street Café through the early 1960’s. It was vacant for several years before housing the Central Systems Company in 1973. It was bought by Colston in 1976, where it served as the Steve Colston Photography Studio for 35 years.

Throughout its early history it was a rough and tumble home for hundreds of men en route to thousands of destinations along countless twists of fate. Then came the railroad. The Gulf, Mobile and Ohio (GM&O) Railroad, as later generations remember it, began operations in 1940 when the Southern Railroad sold its Mobile & Ohio bonds to the Gulf, Mobile and Northern Railroad. The GM&O then combined with the GM&N to form the GM&O. As a point of interest, Colonel William Clark Falkner of Ripley, grandfather of Nobel Prize winner and famous Mississippi author William Cuthbert Faulkner, was instrumental in the formation of the Southern Railway in northeast Mississippi in the 1870’s. The modern day GM&O had two points of origin, New Orleans and Mobile, with headquarters in the latter. The New Orleans line passed through Jackson and connected with the Mobile tracks at Meridian. This main line then extended north through St. Louis and the Ohio valley. The GM&O passenger train which passed through Jackson was named The Rebel and a sister train, The Hummingbird, connected Memphis, Birmingham and Montgomery. The Rebel may still be remembered by older Jacksonians as the sleek red and silver locomotive which pulled into the depot under the old Pearl Street bridge west of Jefferson Street daily before heading north past the fairgrounds and by our old beanery toward the heartland of the nation. The GM&O has one great distinction among railroad lore. It developed the first diesel locomotives in the country and I can still remember their whistle and roar from my open bedroom window on Manship Street when I was in my single digits.

The GM&O tracks on the eastern edge of Jackson carried far more traffic than the Rebel. While not as exciting as the dashing passenger train, the freights conveyed endless dry goods, oil and lumber into Middle America. Rebel travelers detrained at their depot and repaired to meals at the Elite, Bon-Ton, Belmont and Mayflower Restaurants and lodged in the Heidelburg and Edwards Hotels. Soldiers were returning from the Great War (WW I) and small town girls took the train to the capitol city to visit the bustling shops that once thrived on Capitol Street. Engineers and workers on the freight lines ate nearer their work stations and many times lodged at the beanery at 1032 Spengler. This was where the railway shops were and a roundhouse just east of their night’s rest.

GM&N “The Rebel” at the station, June, 1938

My own familiarity with the beanery was as a teenager in the middle 1950’s. My friend Jimmy and I would walk down the hill from his house on Madison Street and visit the place for a hamburger. My latest visit to the building, courtesy of Mr. Colston, revealed a downstairs room much smaller than I remembered when I was 15. The old bar was still there with only five stools remaining and the corners where the jukebox and pinball machines rang out their allure were filled with the dust and debris of half a century. Jimmy and I were underage – even for a hamburger in an establishment that sold beer, but the proprietor would let us stay awhile and watch the railroad men play the pinball machines for money and listen to Hank and Lefty on the jukebox before there was a Willie. It was a thrill for us to be in what we thought of as a nightclub of worldly men, not knowing or at that point in our lives caring that their temporary diversions and long-term loneliness were for only a time assuaged by a can of beer and a little steel ball. We were not allowed to go upstairs. This was probably a good thing. But had we sneaked up those stairs in the rear instead of just going home to our folks, we might have seen the ghost.

No old haunt worth its copper plumbing would be complete without a ghost. Of course our beanery has one and not only that – it’s been documented. In a feature article in The Times-Picayune’s “Dixie Magazine” dated October 28, 1978, Maybelle Gorringe interviewed owner Steve Colston who confirmed the specter.

“One day my grandmother and I were working inside the building to complete its restoration and be able to move in. I was in one room and my grandmother was working in another nearby. Suddenly, she heard footsteps overhead and called to me. I went upstairs but didn’t see anybody, but I heard the footsteps too.” Colston set about talking with neighbors about the structure. Upon authority of several informants he heard two men had met mysterious deaths there. One was literally stomped to death over a woman in an upstairs bedroom, the other fatally shot on the stairs leading up to the second floor. A former owner’s statements found echoes in the memories of other anonymous testaments. One said, “I know a fella who helped a girl escape from there after World War II, when it was a house of prostitution,” but was afraid to talk of the man who got shot on the stairs because “relatives of the man are still living and I’m afraid to talk about it.” Colston said some railroaders told him stories of police raids. One said he saw police back a paddy wagon up to the door and load it full of people arrested for gambling. On another occasion police chased a man from one of the upstairs rooms to the nearby rail yard and shot up three train cars getting him out. Other tenants told stories of curtains moving in an upstairs window, someone walking from the sink to the bed, and on another occasion a man and his business partner were inside the building when “the wind began to blow. Suddenly we heard the damndest noise you’ve ever heard. We rushed up the stairs and looked into each room. We found the ceiling had fallen in one of them.”

Colston said that several of his employees witnessed unexplained activities over the years. One said he was in an upstairs room with the door closed when the doorknob suddenly began to turn. He thought another employee was upstairs and called out. A woman who was downstairs saidghost blog she heard him and thought he must be talking to himself since no one else was in the building. Colston said light fixtures have fallen from the ceiling without apparent reason. He has also heard a mysteriously tinkling bell, and although getting used to footsteps and turning doorknobs, he still was reluctant to go upstairs at night. “Any time I do, I feel the hairs stand up on my arm and chills run down my back.” Other strange events have taken place in the old beanery over the years. The 1979 flood covered the first floor of the structure and when workmen replaced the floors they discovered human bones and a boot. Could this have been the unfortunate soul killed on the stairs? Was there a ghost? Is there one now? Could it be that being a professional photographer Colston could have a specter silhouetted on a lost negative in a forgotten drawer of his old roll-top desk? Were there footsteps in the hallway? Did the bell ring? Did the doorknob turn and voices mumble in the night? Or was it just the wind?

Trains have always held a fascinating place in our nation. From the Union Pacific to the super trains in the west and the northeast, these serpentine and silver ships of the land have fired the imagination with adventure, danger and riches. Jimmie Rodgers and Arlo Guthrie sang of them, Thomas Wolfe wrote of them and pioneers rode them to new lands and opportunities from coast to coast. Along their tracks are the lives of the millions they connect. In depots and freight yards across our country are the chapters of our history. There were thousands of beaneries and millions of patrons and countless memories woven along the rails. And so our beanery stands today and after 88 years still remembers when it was Miller’s Place or home to Louise Middleton or when Steve Colston was young and making pictures of a vibrant Jackson. Now it silently looks over the rear of a barbecue restaurant, swaths of Johnson grass and a warehouse grown over by weeds. Its architecture is unchanged but gone are its bedrooms, its beer and fries, its colorful patrons and the old jukebox of country favorites. The roundhouse has passed into history, the tireless railroad workers and vagrants to their thousand destinations and the girls and roustabouts from the second floor to the denouement of their lives. Not even the tracks remain or the water tank or the steam.

spengler hotel blog harveyYet, if you look closely at an upstairs window on the east side of the balcony, you might imagine Maybelle’s ghost, watching and listening itself for the thunder and rumble of the Rebel, the clash of switching boxcars and that mournful whistle of an early diesel locomotive heading north toward the river trestle, pulling behind it a time forever gone, where only an empty beanery and a ghost remain.

Bill Harvey
February 2012, revised March 2015
Copyright Bill Harvey, 2015

Sylvandell: More than a Myth

Tucked away in the environs of our historic neighborhood is a bit of Greek mythology. A wooded area at the eastern end of Pinehurst Street was once the dream of Jackson land developer L.L. Mayes who saw in its forests, hills and streams a domicilable setting for young families to begin their lives. Mr. Mayes began the development of Sylvandell in the late 1920’s and many of its homes of varied architectural styles may be found in the 1400 block of St. Mary Street (east side) and around the southeastern corner of Laurel Street to Laurel Street Park.

Pinehurst Street (named for the Pinehurst subdivision) was cleared and developed around 1915 as an integral product of Captain William M. Gillespie’s land purchase prior to the Civil War. Captain Gillespie moved to Jackson from Tennessee and for $840 purchased a country place consisting of 40 acres along the “Canton Dirt Road”. The Gillespie Place, which was the origin of the Belhaven neighborhood, was later known to be comprised of portions of North State, Arlington, Hazel and Wells (Poplar) Streets. After the captain’s death the old Gillespie place burned, but was known to have been surrounded by beautiful woodlands so dense only the gables of the house could be seen from the road. It was said that Captain Gillespie left a fortune buried on the grounds of his homestead and thus the land became the clandestine haunts of a number of treasure hunters shovels in hand. That legend, however, is a tale for another day.

Prior to the mid-twenties, that portion of Pinehurst Street that developed east along the southern campus of Belhaven College and on to St. Ann Street was previously known as Harper Street. At its terminus at newly-developed St. Mary (‘s) Street, it dipped into hostile typography: ravines and ditches, hillocks and gulches, filled with a multitude of critters and cries in the night. Most potential developers viewed it as worthless terrain. But not L.L. Mayes, then living with his family in a neoclassical home designed by Emmett Hull, which still stands on the southwest corner of Peachtree and Pinehurst Streets.

Entrance to Sylvandell

Mayes saw a residential niche in the six acres he initially purchased in early 1928. He was sensitive to the needs of young families who either could not afford to buy or preferred to rent their starter home. Mayes described his acreage as a “beauty spot where one would expect to hear Pan playing on his reed pipes and to see fairies and wood nymphs dancing in the dells to his irresistible music.” He therefore commissioned Mr. Joseph Barras, sculptor, to design a concrete entrance of wide steps anchored by nymphs and leading down to the bucolic setting which became Laurel Street Park. Behind the homes on St. Mary and Laurel Streets there were woodlands to the west and a meadow to the east. A descending natural stairway led from the entrance to a simple bridge and winding walkways built of crushed gray slag with white borders which dropped down to ravines and undergrowth and a “babbling brook”. The walkways coursed through rustic walls emulating old English country sides. Interspersed were several benches and tables also designed by Mr. Barras and cast by the N.W. Wright Stone Works that also cast the figures for the main entrance. Homes were built of buff brick, trimmed in white and topped with light apple green tiled roofs. Both the front and rear of the homes were set in a forested atmosphere designed to be attractive from the street.

Each new home was comprised of a living room, dining room, one or two bedrooms, tile bathroom, kitchen, basement, storage attic, “warm air plant”, electric cooking stove and hardwood floors. They averaged 1,000-1,200 square feet and according to the 1930 census, rent ranged from $65 per month at 1466 St. Mary to $85 per month at 1436, with rates based on the overall structure and size of the lot. There was a screened side porch for hot summer evenings, later closed in by most when AC arrived in the late 40’s. Community garages were built at suitable points so as not to take space and esthetics away from the original building. The homes were furnished prior to rental for according to an ad by the R.E. Kennington Company in 1929, “it has been our pleasure to furnish the shades, rugs, draperies and furniture for the living rooms, bedrooms and dining rooms of the beautiful Sylvandell homes.”

In addition to Kennington’s store, there were a number of local companies, firms and individuals who contributed to the ambience of Sylvandell. Among these were Enterprise Furnace Manufacturing, A.F. Nash, plumber, Eagle Lumber and Supply Company, Stephenson Brick Company, Jackson Lumber Company, Ricks Storage Company, McCleland, Addkison & Bauer Hardware, D.P. Denny, contractor, E.W. Cook Lighting Fixtures, Ray Wright Sheet Metal, Capital Paint and Glass Company, Moseley, Nelson & Smith Insurance, C.A. Hollis, builder, Ellis Stewart, painter and decorator and Planters Lumber Company.

While not directly in the Sylvandell plat, some residents remember a small building at the top of the hill on Laurel Street where some stone steps now lead to a vacant lot. The structure near this lot is reputed to have been a neighborhood library and careful examination of this garage building shows where this might have been possible. This was most likely a private effort on the part of a literary resident. It was a small but meaningful service to surrounding residents. But whose effort was it? Who cared enough to take the time? Who now knows?

Corinne Fox is a current resident of Sylvandell. As a former Jackson city planning director, she is professionally familiar with neighborhoods, architecture, codes and building policies. She has owned and lived in her home on St. Mary Street since 1971. Corinne knows the history of the development and remembers the remains of the alley dividing portions of her block and the community garage behind what is now an apartment unit on Laurel Street. For 41 years she has never regretted moving from other Jackson locations to Sylvandell and learning of its history since eye physician Dr. W.L. Hughes was her house’s first tenant in 1930. Other early residents in these homes according to the census were Bernard Lowe (fire insurance agent), P.R. Galbreath (automobile dealer), Donald Munroe (geologist and weatherman), Hamilton McRae (wholesale hardware), Freeland Gale (store clerk), Lacey Hughes (dentist) and Ernest Laird (bank cashier). “The people who settled this area were of some prominence,” she says, “and still are today through their myriad interests, achievements and gifts to this community.”

“I love being in this house,” she responded when asked of her home. “This is an area with an ideal mix of people – young, old, all income levels and interests in life. I feel safe here with furnishings of my earlier life and among friends who are part of my life today. My new neighbor is an FBI agent. No wonder I feel so safe!”

Special Agent Robert H. Ruby, who grew up in Starkville, came to Jackson from New Orleans about a year and a half ago. He kept hearing good things about “a small town setting (Belhaven), sitting in the middle of Jackson”. He at first considered building a new house on a vacant lot, but later decided to renovate an existing structure in Fondren or Belhaven. A Belhaven realtor told him about one of the Sylvandell homes which had fallen into serious disrepair. Upon first inspection of the property Robert said “no way”. But the more he learned of the neighborhood the more determined he was to live not only in Belhaven but that very house. His decision was made. “It took 13 months from the time I obtained the property to get the multitude of clearances from the city which had originally wanted to demolish the existing structure. I spoke with a builder who is college buddy and he told me he could make the house look like new while keeping the original appearance.” The task is now complete and Robert has moved into the house which is a showplace and he plans to have it as his “home forever”.

When resurrecting old structures one of the first things you want to know is if there is a ghost. “Of course there is a ghost,” Robert says, “one of a former tenant, and he welcomed me with sights and sounds the first week I lived here.” The first night, while Robert was sleeping, there was the sound of a picture falling from the wall. He turned on the lights, investigated but could not find where this had occurred. The second night he thought he heard a key turn in the front door. Again, no evidence. On the third night there was a ‘crash’. No motive could be found. Although there have been no incidences since, the new tenant feels confident he has been accepted by his ghost and there will be no further contact.

A garage in Sylvandell

You may now wish to pause for a moment and enter the heart and thoughts of the young couple viewing their new dwelling for the first time some 80 years ago. You can imagine their dreams of starting their life together in prosperous times, planning their family and roads to success. You might think of them walking hand in hand on the pathways along the stream, pointing out the hues in the foliage and discussing improvements and the larger home they would one day own. You can also see in the mind’s eye the development of this neighborhood and the foundations of its larger future.

The fairies and nymphs are gone now. Well, almost. The concrete foundations of Pan’s pipes remain crumbling at the dead-end of Pinehurst and the steps and little footbridge across the brook and into the park have returned to the soil. Sylvandell has given way to Greater Belhaven. Laurel Street Park is entered from the north. The remaining homes are now of varied hues and the woods have grown over the little footpaths. Driveways and garages have replaced the hidden community carports originally earmarked for resident’s vehicles. Pan and his music have gone back into the flocks and shepherds from whence they came. But a single nymph remains, hidden along a nearby driveway in the vicinity of her once statuesque beauty. She is quiet now and pensive, recalling her origins in folklore and proud of her singular role of helping frame one of Belhaven’s most classical neighborhoods.

The Nymph of Sylvandell

 

bill-and-nan-harvey-web
Bill and Nan Harvey

Nan Ertle Harvey is a native of Yazoo County, a graduate of Mississippi College and has lived with her husband Bill in the Belhaven neighborhood since 1994. She worked in a research position in the Department of Microbiology at UMMC, retiring in 2003. Nan’s hobbies are photography, nature study and family research. She is a volunteer at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Bill Harvey is a native Jacksonian, living most of his life in Belhaven. A MSU Bulldog, he has had careers in journalism, education and as development director of the Andrew Jackson Council, Boy Scouts of America. Bill enjoys photography, music, writing articles for neighborhood sources and sharing experiences with friends at a local coffee shop. (Text copyright Bill and Nan Harvey, used by permission of Bill and Nan Harvey)

Sources:

1) “Keith’s Beautiful Home Magazine”,  Jackson Daily News, March 3, 1929
2) Corinne Fox, Sylvandell resident
3) Robert H. Ruby, Sylvandell resident
4) 1930 Census (Hinds County, Mississippi, Beat 1; City of Jackson, Ward 5)

The Mississippi Heritage Amendment: An Independent Opinion

A group is collecting signatures for a constitutional amendment that asks the following question:  Should the Constitution be amended to restrict or define Mississippi’s heritage, religion, official language, symbols, universities, and state boundaries?

Sounds innocuous, right? But try reading the whole thing. You’ll see how insidious and silly it is all at the same time. You hate to take it seriously, but some provisions are very carefully worded so as to woo voters into thinking they’re voting for an amendment that actually accomplishes something. Reporting by media outlets thus far has been both inaccurate and incomplete, so having been given plenty of space by the editor of this blog, I’m going to outline the entire initiative and try to suss out what it means to do.

Introductory paragraph: “Upon the passage of the Heritage Initiative, the Constitution of the State of Mississippi shall be amended to include and incorporate all the following twelve provisions.” Hear that? The following would be enshrined in the state constitution if this ballot initiative passes. Here’s what you’re voting on:

Number One: “The State of Mississippi hereby acknowledges the fact of her identity as a principally Christian and quintessentially Southern state, in terms of the majority of her population, character, culture, history, and heritage, from 1817 to the present; accordingly, the Holy Bible is acknowledged as a foremost source of her founding principles, inspiration, and virtues; and accordingly prayer is acknowledged as a respected, meaningful, and valuable custom of her citizens. The acknowledgements hereby secured shall not be construed to transgress either the national or the state Constitution’s Bill of Rights.”

I don’t see how it can be construed as naming “an official state religion” as one media outlet put it. However, it does leave out other religious groups important to our state’s history and culture. Nice job of showing your ignorance, guys. But what practical effect does it have? None that I can see.

Number Two: “English shall be the official language of the State of Mississippi. All governmental or public non-emergency or non-judicial services, functions or communications in Mississippi shall be in the English language only, except for specific foreign language instruction in the public schools, and except for the option of Latin or French for jurisprudence, medicine, heraldry, and other traditional uses.”

I just love the exceptions here. They give the illusion that this part of the bill is well-reasoned and thought-out. To be fair, laws do exist on the books that say that financial records have to be kept in English for tax purposes. But this amendment seems to be aimed at killing English-as-Second-Language language instruction in our schools and disallowing the printing of government forms in other languages besides English. And it doesn’t say a thing about American Sign Language. Is that banned by this amendment? Inquiring minds and all that.

Number Three: “The state flag of Mississippi shall be the state flag adopted in 1894, which has been in continuous use since 1894, and which was confirmed by statewide vote in 2001. The state flag of Mississippi shall be displayed in front of all public buildings, including but not limited to all state, county, and municipal buildings and any school receiving state funding. Wherever the national flag is displayed on public land or in public buildings, a state flag of equal size shall also be displayed. In Mississippi public schools and other public institutions, whenever the pledge of allegiance to the national flag is recited, the state flag salute shall be recited immediately thereafter. The state flag salute shall be: “I salute the flag of Mississippi and the sovereign state for which it stands with pride in her history and achievements and with confidence in her future under the guidance of Almighty God.”

This provision does not establish a “Confederate pledge of allegiance” as reported by one media outlet. It does render a state flag salute that is just as offensive to non-Christians as the American flag’s current pledge of allegiance. Way to win votes, fellows.

Number Four: “Mississippi’s official and sole state nickname shall be “The Magnolia State”. Mississippi’s official and sole state motto shall be “Virtute et Armis”; said state motto shall appear below the eagle on the state’s coat-of-arms. Mississippi’s official and sole state song shall be “Dixie”. Whenever the national anthem is played in a public venue or at a public event in Mississippi, either “Dixie” or “Go, Mississippi” shall be played immediately thereafter.”

So not only does Ole Miss get to play “Dixie” at football games and other sporting events again, so does State, Delta State, Valley, Alcorn, JSU, Southern, and all other universities and schools. Not only that, it gets played at military events, dance recitals, public meetings, etc. etc. ad nauseum. The amendment nonsensically says that “Dixie” is the only state song, but “Go, Mississippi”, the current state song, can be substituted for it. If you’re going to offend, guys, at least be consistent about it.

Number Five: “ All newly issued and all replacement Mississippi car tags, driver licenses, identification cards, welcome signs, and historical markers shall include: an image of the state flag of Mississippi, an image of the Magnolia flower, and the words “Mississippi” and “The Magnolia State” in elegant font.”

Problem: does this amendment vacate all the laws passed by the legislature establishing various license tags for veterans groups, advocacy groups, schools, etc? I admit I get chapped at seeing a Mississippi plate with “Roll Tide” across the bottom, but do we really need a state amendment for that? And what does “in elegant font” mean? I guess no Comic Sans for these people. Here’s where it gets fun.

Number Six: “The official and sole mascot of the University of Mississippi shall be “Colonel Reb”, whose appearance shall be an accurate reflection of Colonel Reb’s definitive appearance on the cover of the 1947 University of Mississippi yearbook (the 1947 Ole Miss). University of Mississippi teams shall be the “Rebels”. The official and sole alternate title of the University of Mississippi shall be “Ole Miss”; no other alternate titles, abbreviations, or bynames of the University of Mississippi shall be used in any official capacity. The University of Mississippi traditions of playing “Dixie” and of displaying hand-held flags of any size, with or without flag sticks, at athletic events or in athletic venues shall not be infringed. The annual Ole Miss homecoming titles shall be “Colonel Reb” and “Miss Ole Miss”. One year after the Heritage Initiative’s passage, a life-sized, classical, and heroic statue of University Greys soldier Jeremiah Gage shall be erected on the edge of University Circle, positioned centrally in front of the Lyceum; said statue shall stand on a base five feet high with a metal plaque affixed listing the name, rank, and hometown of each University Greys soldier; the funding thereof shall be from non-public sources.”

NOW we’re getting to the important stuff—university mascots and school traditions. Curiously enough, the name “Rebels” isn’t mentioned in here.  Don’t miss that new statue to be erected on the Ole Miss campus, with non-public funding, of course. Really? Don’t you people have anything serious in this state to worry about? It gets better. They’re not only going to interfere with Ole Miss’ way of doing business, they’re going to do it at Mississippi State and Southern, too.

Number Seven: “The official and sole mascot of Mississippi State University shall be “Bully”, who shall be an English Bulldog. Mississippi State University teams shall be the “Bulldogs”. The Mississippi State University traditions of carrying and ringing hand-held Cowbells, of prominently featuring Bully in the form of a live canine Bulldog at athletic events or in athletic venues, and of honoring the founding college president, Stephen Dill Lee, shall not be infringed.”

Take that, NCAA haters of cowbells! Our constitution will trump your rules any and every day! Don’t forget the reference to Stephen D. Lee. If you don’t recognize him, don’t worry. I’m sure you can guess whose cousin he is.

Number Eight: “The official and sole mascot of the University of Southern Mississippi shall be “Seymour d’Campus”, who shall be a “Golden Eagle”. University of Southern Mississippi teams shall be the “Southerners”. The University of Southern Mississippi traditions of celebrating Mardi Gras and of prominently featuring a live horse named “Son of Dixie” shall not be infringed.”

Did you even know about these traditions? I didn’t. How far back with revisionist history are we going to go, anyway? But don’t the rest of you institutions of higher learning feel left out. The authors of this amendment have a provision for you, too:

Number Nine: “Alcorn State University, Delta State University, Jackson State University, Mississippi University for Women, and Mississippi Valley State University shall not be required to consolidate or merge, and they shall be permitted to remain distinct public institutions of higher learning.”

Pandering, much? How many extra votes do you think you’ll get with this one? If people even get around to reading it after digesting the other provisions.

Number Ten: “The month of April shall be ‘Confederate Heritage Month’ in the State of Mississippi, annually proclaimed by the Governor and declared by the Secretary of State. Annually throughout the month of April, all primary and secondary public schools in the state shall acknowledge ‘Confederate Heritage Month’ and include within the curriculum appropriate information about Mississippi’s Confederate history, heritage, achievements, and prominent people, including Mississippi’s African American and Native American veterans. The last Monday in April shall be ‘Confederate Memorial Day’, an annual state holiday; all state, county, and municipal non-emergency departments and buildings, including but not limited to public schools, universities, courts, and offices, shall be closed in observance thereof. Non-emergency public employees within any department or building closed on Confederate Memorial Day shall have a non-compensated holiday on this day, unless the State Legislature voluntarily allocates compensation to said public employees for this holiday. The right to acknowledge, observe, and celebrate ‘Dixie Week’ throughout the seven days preceding Confederate Memorial Day shall not be infringed.”

Do they not study the Civil War in school anymore? Isn’t that enough? Why do we need a dedicated month for this information? The Constitution is for more important matters than what state holidays are celebrated. And what on earth is “Dixie Week”? How does one celebrate it? One of many unanswered questions in this bill.

Number Eleven: “In honor of the Mississippians who served under this military flag, the Confederate Battle Flag, measuring at minimum four feet by four feet, shall be permanently displayed on a flag-pole directly behind and above the monument to Confederate women on the state capitol’s exterior grounds. The right to place and display flags at veterans’ graves shall not be infringed. Within Mississippi, all publicly owned, publicly held, or publicly managed Confederate or Confederate-themed items, including but not limited to monuments, statues, works of art, relics, markers, signs, names, titles, structures, roads, parks, graves, and cemeteries shall be preserved and maintained by the state government, which may delegate applicable duties to the respective counties or municipalities for this purpose; for all cases in which said items were renamed, the more historical name shall take precedence and be reestablished in full.”

And how does one determine the “more historical name?” Another unanswered question. (Author’s note: I know the answers to most of these questions. I’m just being silly.)

And finally, Number Twelve: “The borders and boundaries of the State of Mississippi are hereby restored; the repealing of Article 2, Section 3, of the Mississippi Constitution, is hereby nullified; and said Article 2, Section 3, shall be reinstated and reactivated, in its entire pre-1990 wording. The jurisdiction and laws of the State of Mississippi, and the rights and liberties of her citizens, shall exist within her borders and boundaries. The borders and boundaries of the State of Mississippi are hereby restored; the repealing of Article 2, Section 3, of the Mississippi Constitution, is hereby nullified; and said Article 2, Section 3, shall be reinstated and reactivated, in its entire pre-1990 wording. The jurisdiction and laws of the State of Mississippi, and the rights and liberties of her citizens, shall exist within her borders and boundaries.”

I researched this idea of pre-1990 borders and came up with precisely zilch. Does this mean New Orleans belongs in Mississippi now? Or does Mobile? Or does Memphis? Anyone out in internet land is free to comment and enlighten me. But obviously it’s of some importance to these people and their cause.

But people can be reassured of some sanity—according to the “revenue statement”, “Implementation of the Heritage Initiative would not require a net increase in government expenditures beyond an estimated maximum of $250,000 per year (less than 0.005 percent of the state’s current fiscal year budget), which the State Legislature may apportion from the state’s General Fund and/or Special Fund. Most of the Heritage Initiative’s provisions would not require any additional government expenditures or allocations of revenue; for the provisions that involve revenue, the State Legislature may reasonably apply the least costly means to carry out the provisions of this initiative.”
Isn’t that good to know? Only a quarter-million dollars of your hard-earned tax money should go to implementing these ideas. Isn’t that comforting?

But what is their cause for which they need $250,000 of public money? It seems to me all this initiative is good for is slapping 21st-century American citizens in the face with 19th-century racial politics, pure and simple. I have a mission with this article—it’s to make any and all public figures who associate themselves with this initiative politically radioactive. These ideas do not belong in the same room with those of adults. These people need to go sit in the time-out corner and think about what they’ve done. All they need are somewhere around 107,000 signatures to put this amendment on the ballot. Make sure yours isn’t one of them. Educate your neighbors. Ridicule the supporters. And tell them to grow the *&^% up.

(Julie Whitehead is a political observer, writer and teacher living in Brandon, Mississippi.)

A Reunion in Calhoun County

As the brutal heat of the Mississippi summer subsides in September, lingering in the warm afternoons, slipping off in the nights, people plan their gatherings, homecomings and reunions. Such it was with Allison Eastman Green, who lives in rural Calhoun County, in the community of Rocky Mount. Allison lives near her mother Mary Eastman, who came from a big family in Louisiana of seven sisters and one brother. Mary, a widow, has had her sister Jean visiting for several weeks, and on a recent weekend, three other sisters, Rose, Kay and Mott came to her home for a visit.

“Let me tell you,” Allison said, “that mother and Jean were just as excited as two kids getting to go to Disney World. They cleaned the house, decorated the yard and prepared a feast. It was an overwhelming experience for me to just be a small part of this. My Momma was so excited. What a blessing!”

And feast it was, with baked ham, sweet potato casserole, potato salad, fresh home-grown sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, fried squash, homemade pickles, deviled eggs, slaw, beets, corn bread and rolls, baked beans, fudge, strawberry cake, sweet potato pie and pecan pie with plenty of sweet tea and freshly squeezed lemonade. These are staples of the Southern table, and though I am bound in a remote, unfriendly city where such foods are most often little more than a memory, it strengthens my soul to know that they are still gracing the homes of people who gather in the rolling hills of north Mississippi when the cool winds blow and on clear nights you can see the heavens.

 

 

CS’s: A Neighborhood Tradition

CS’s Restaurant at 1359 ½ N. West Street has for years served and influenced the Belhaven and Midtown neighborhoods. It has a narrative and history reminiscent of an earlier and more tranquil Jackson, and like the kites flown at old Riverside Park, thereby hangs a tale. The life of this establishment has been the common denominator of being located on the southwest corner of North West and Adelle Streets with a street number varying from 1357-1361. It has been an eatery in one form or another for 77 years. It remembers when streetcars ran up and down West Street and the country was still in the grasp of the Great Depression. Millsaps boys would sometimes grease the car tracks so that the vehicle could not climb a nearby hill. Boys have always been boys.

The property shared tenancy with the Millsaps College chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity in 1937.The site was originally the home of this fraternity and was a residence for several families prior to that dating back to 1930. It was originally (and later) the College Grill, becoming Adelle Grill in 1939. It retained this name until 1959, when it again became the College Grill under new ownership. In 1969, it became Hollingsworth’s Fine Foods under the proprietorship of Lloyd W. Hollingsworth and remained such until 1976 when it became known as Everybody’s Restaurant. How it became CS’s remains a state secret.

Pat Boland, the current owner, bought Everybody’s in 1978. In visits with Pat, he spoke of how he used to eat at the restaurant while still in high school. One of eight children, he remembers how much his parents enjoyed dining at the old Rotisserie at Five Points, and “I wanted to be in the restaurant business even then. When Everybody’s became vacant I bought it. I wanted to do something new and different both with the menu and the atmosphere.” He started with naming menu items for employees and customers. Many associate the menu with the Inez Burger. Inez Birchfield came to work at CS’s in 1979, left temporarily in 1990 and returned in September 1997. The original Inez Burger was “stolen from the Jackson Municipal Airport”, where Pat once worked and put on CS’s menu in 1980. It consists of homemade chili, nacho cheese and Jalapeno peppers. Other “name” burgers include the Suzy (bacon, Swiss cheese & grilled onions) and the Joe B (bacon, mozzarella and Jalapenos). Mexican, Mushroom and Everyday burgers, which come in different sizes, round out the burger menu and of course, ‘you can have fries with that.’ Plate lunches and entrees are also available.

In 1986, the beer laws changed from 18 to 21 years old and CS’s became more of a true restaurant than a hangout. The atmosphere is unique. Gone are the college motifs, the booths, fraternity crests and at times – but not all the time, the jukebox. Today the front door and walls are adorned with bumper stickers, handbills, photos, posters and pennants spanning nearly half a century. An estimated 3,000 beer cans from the same time period cover wall shelves with some from as far away as Australia. The collections were the brain child of Pat and two partners who thought their walls should “say something.”

I have my own memories of the restaurant from when I was a teenager in old Jackson and the establishment was called the Adelle Grill. Regardless of the name or time this little cafe was a Mecca for Millsaps students who in the 1950’s shared Cokes, shakes and dreams in individual booths. There were several tables in the back for “fine dining.” There was the ubiquitous jukebox playing records by Stan Kenton, Dave Brubeck and the Four Freshmen (no rock’n roll or Hank in this culturally refined milieu), and that staple of the 50’s – the pinball machine in the corner near the front door. Should a member of the college crowd have occasioned a glance in that direction, he or she would have seen the adolescent Billy Harvey easing a ball toward the “special” hole where free games awaited. His bike on the sidewalk outside and his heart on the game, Billy wished desperately to grow up a little more so he could be a college man and sit in one of those curtained booths with a girl who looked like glory. Bert Case and his family lived directly across Adelle Street in a two-story brick home attached to Case’s Canteen, one of Jackson’s many “ma and pa” groceries and incidentally, near the site of the city’s very first Jitney Jungle store (at the corner of Adelle and Grayson – now North Lamar), back in 1912.

The prices, fashions, trends and dreams have indeed changed over the years – but we can still ‘have fries with that’ and enjoy our lunch among the memorabilia that forms the texture of our past. Bert moved on to prominence at WLBT-TV and subsequently WAPT; his old home now a parking lot. Hollingsworth’s is now CS’s where the burgers are bigger. The shakes, booths, jukebox and pinball machine are gone as is Billy’s bike and the years he rode it. The “glory” girls are grandmothers now and the music is – to put it positively – “different”. But CS’s has a history and Inez was not the first famous inventor of a good burger to add to Saturday afternoon memories of our youth.

Adelle Grill > College Grille > Hollingsworth’s > CS’s. I’ll drink to them all!

Bill Harvey
September 2014

Bill Harvey is a native Jacksonian, living most of his life in Belhaven. An MSU Bulldog, he has had careers in journalism, education and as development director of the Andrew Jackson Council, Boy Scouts of America. Bill enjoys photography, music, writing articles for neighborhood sources and sharing experiences with friends at a local coffee shop. (Text copyright Bill Harvey, used by permission.)

The Powers That Be

Many in our neighborhood know Power School as the modern APAC facility at Riverside and Peachtree Streets, winner of major national awards and a proud educational exponent of excellence in the arts. But there was an old Power School as well, now a church parking lot, but instrumental in the early education of a number of Jackson’s finest citizens.

Old Power (1916-54)

John L. Power
John L. Power

The original Power School was named for John Logan Power (1834-1901). According to board minutes for August 21, 1916, two resolutions of definite importance were passed. The first concerned the election of Mr. Edward Bailey as Jackson Public School superintendent and a subsequent resolution named the “new elementary school for Col. J.L. Power.” (1)   While not a “school man”, per se, Col. Power served on several boards and committees which provided administration to Jackson’s early school system. A native of Tipperary, Ireland, he came to the United States when he was 16-years-old. In 1862, he entered the Confederate Army as a sergeant in the 1st Artillery Regiment, Company A. He served in the Vicksburg Campaign and was a prisoner of war until pardoned in July of 1863. In 1864, he was made superintendent of army records, with the rank of colonel. Col. Power was in the publishing business prior to the Civil War, being owner and publisher of the Jackson Daily News which he purchased in 1860. He subsequently helped establish the Mississippi Standard, which was later (1866) merged into the Clarion. In 1887, he and R.H. Henry of Brookhaven consolidated their two papers, the Jackson Clarion and the Brookhaven Ledger, into the Clarion-Ledger. In 1896, he sold his interest in the paper to become Secretary of State. He was re-elected in 1899 and served in this capacity until his death in 1901. For 27 years, Col. Power was superintendent of the First Presbyterian Sunday School and was a ruling elder in that church. He was Grand Secretary of all Mississippi Masons from 1869 until his death. (1) (2)

The first Power School was built in 1916 with an entrance facing North State Street on its southeast corner. The original entrance is shown on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History photo at the end of this article. Several years later, the school was expanded eastward and the main entrance faced Pinehurst Street across from what is now First Presbyterian Church. Land for the school was acquired from J.T. Harper (11/17/15), W. Carnahan (2/11/16) and F.L. Mayes (10/29/15). The two-story brick schoolhouse, designed by N.W. Overstreet and Hays Towns, was completed and ready for business by the fall of 1916. (3) (5)  According to an article in the August 27, 1916, Jackson Daily News, “Attention is called to the fact that the Col. J.L. Power School, which is now in process of construction, will be open by the first school day in September.” Classes actually began on September 18, 1916. The article goes on to state, “The final touches will be added in a week and the building will be in good shape for occupancy. Every new and up-to-date device, appliance, convenience and sanitary condition has been provided for the children who will, beginning with the coming session, begin school here. “ The Board of Education wishes to call attention to the fact that boundary lines have been established with regard to this new school and they will be strictly enforced. The boundary lines (are) defined as follows:  “On the south, the Power School will be bounded by Fortification Street, except those children who live on Fortification Street, west of State Street. These will continue to attend the Davis School. The (Power) school is bounded on the west by the Illinois Central Railroad tracks and on the north and on the east by the city limits.” (10)

Old Power School
Old Power School

Old Power was situated on the north end of town. Gillespie Street and east-west streets running southward into downtown Jackson were fairly well developed as shown by residences in the 1916 Jackson City directory. There were a few homes on the west side of North State (Canton Road) but most land areas were open fields and meadows. Pinehurst Street was largely undeveloped. (4)  The 1946 Sanborn Fire Insurance map indicates Power as facing north. It was a red brick structure with a east and west wing. The building had electricity and was heated by a gas furnace. “Air conditioning” was furnished by open windows. The main entrance was at 709 Pinehurst Street but there were also entrances off North State on the west and a basement entrance facing east. (5)  Architecturally, it was built along the lines of other early Jackson grade schools, e.g., Davis, Galloway, Poindexter, George, Lee, (Jim) Hill and Smith-Robinson. The original school building contained five classrooms. The school’s first teachers were first grade, Miss Emma Green; second and third grade, Miss Mabel Bridges; fourth grade, Miss Ruth Reed; fifth and sixth grade, Miss Jim Hailey; and seventh grade, Miss Marcia Gibbs, who was also served as the school’s first principal. (10) (1)

Several former students at old Power remember the structure well.  Mrs. Charlotte Charles, Judge Swan Yerger and Mr. Muller Addkison were contemporary students at Power in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. Mrs. Charles lives in her three generation family home on Gillespie Street. Mr. Addkison lives in his family home on Gillespie Street and Judge Yerger is retired and a resident of northeast Jackson, although he spent much of his boyhood on Poplar. (7) (6) (8) Mrs. Charles remembers Power as follows. “The first floor contained grades 1-3 separated by a large center hall. There was the cafeteria on the south side and two cloakrooms. The second floor contained grades 4-6, an auditorium, adjacent library and the principal’s office. Bathrooms were in the basement.” She remembers the black slate blackboards and the rows of desks bolted to the floor. Desks were wooden with tops that raised over a space for books and supplies. The west yard facing State Street contained wooden swings, see-saws, rings for swinging and a hand propelled merry-go-round. There was also an open lot where the younger kids played their games and occasionally baseball.  “We were caught up in the war effort (WWII) as children,” Mrs. Charles said. “We planted a Victory Garden during the war and filled Red Cross boxes to send overseas to troops. Although the cafeteria served good food, some of the neighborhood children, including myself, came home for lunch each day.” (7)

All three of these early Power students were synchronous. All remember the same teachers from their years in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. According to all, first grades were taught by Miss Minnie Hill and Miss Emma Green; second grade by Miss Mary McLemore and Miss Alfreda Misterfeldt; Third grade, Miss Hattie Casey and Miss May Fulmer; fourth grade, Miss Elaine Mack and Miss Ellisine Butler; fifth grade, Miss Frances Parnell and Miss Marguerite Briscoe; and sixth grade, Mrs. Gray Hillsman and Miss Elizabeth Williamson. The principal was Mr. R.B. Layton (10) Miss Briscoe became principal upon the reassignment of Mr. Layton to Bailey Junior High in 1942, and continued in that role through the closure of old Power in 1954 and until her own retirement in 1960 at the new Power on Riverside Drive. She was replaced in her fifth grade classroom by Miss Nancy Parks. (1) (6) (7) (8)

Jackson oilman and republican philanthropist Billy Mounger remembers one earlier teacher. “I remember a Miss Miazza, my fourth grade teacher, who was good looking”. She became a ‘Mrs.’ Later in the year.” (9)  Judge Swan Yerger is most complimentary of his teachers. “These ladies were dedicated to their profession and took great personal interest in their students. They were good examples to follow.” (6)  Good behavior was necessary for learning in Power’s early years. According to Judge Yerger, “Miss Green had an enclosed dunce corner similar to a child’s room in her classroom but I don’t remember anyone being sent there. Excessive talking could get you sent to the hall in front of the classroom or you could be sent to the cloakroom.” Miss Green handed out rewards as well as corrections. She would send little slips of paper home with the well-behaved children on which was written the word “good” or other positive comments . Miss McLemore would use a ruler to maintain order. “She would ask a boy to hold out his hand for a mild slap to remind him to mind his teacher.” (6)

judge swan Yerger
Judge Swan Yerger

Judge Yerger remembers the classroom layouts and entrances on three sides of the building. “There was an auditorium on the second floor,” he said, “with a stage and folding seats. The east side of the building was mostly grass where the primary playground was located. “There was a ‘jungle jim’ see-saws and a slide. The west side was infrequently used and the northside was, of course, the main entrance. There was an alley behind the east yard where kids would ride their bikes and park them in racks located inside the basement door. Some children would be dropped off at the school by their parents in the morning and we would walk home, sometimes stopping by a friend’s house on the way. Children from further away would ride the bus.”  Walking and biking were primary means of transportation back when old Power was new. Only a few households could afford the new 1916 Dodge Brothers automobile or its companion the Maxwell. Remember Jack Benny?  Judge Yerger remembers an open field across from the school on Pinehurst where the older boys would play softball during recess and after school on a diamond laid out for that purpose. First Presbyterian Church, constructed in 1950, stands on the old sandlot today.

One of Judge Yerger’s many memories of Power was being selected as a Safety Patrol captain in the sixth grade. As a Patrol Boy he helped children cross the busy streets around the school and worked with Sgt. Allen, a Jackson PD motorcycle safety policeman. “Of course there were fewer cars then,” he said. The judge proudly attests “I still have my badge.” Judge Yerger has graduated so let’s be careful when crossing North State. (6)  Mr. Addkison remembers a number of his contemporaries from the halls of old Power. Some of these were James Boyd Campbell, Martha Harris, later to become Mrs. Campbell; Frances Heidelberg Coker, Wesley Ann Travis, Bob Travis, James Elliott, Catherine Swaze, Mary Ann McNeil, Martha Henderson, Libby Mounger, Fred Sanders, B.B. McLendon, Shannon Williford.  There were also Dennis Brown, Billy Cook, Bobby Davat, David DeCell, Anne Foy, Ronnie Horowitz, Barkie Johnston, Jane Laird, Billie Mahaffey, Bob Merryman, Betty Small, Bobbie Thrower, Dot Tingle, Olive Caldwell, Natalie Chance, Betty Eckles, Jack Flood, Billy Fulgham, Pete Hand, Ralph Hester, Bryant Horne, Chester Jones, Boyne Oxford, George Reed, Billy Riecken, Dolly Ann Shortridge, Claude Smith, Lois Smith, Ernest Spencer, Jimmy Stout, Haskell Turner, Victor Vance, Frances Ann Beecham and Virginia Cavett. (8)

All of Power’s students were not as conventional as Charlotte, Swan and Muller. Billy Mounger began his schooldays at Power in its final kindergarten session in 1931. Author of the book Amidst the Fray (2006), he shares his own experiences at Power School.

“I was an individualist,” Mr. Mounger attests. “I remember when Miss Green would give out the ‘good’ cards. Jane Best got one everyday, but I never got one.”  Young Billy relates how he got “run over” when he was in kindergarten. “I came out of kindergarten one day and realized I had missed my ride. There was a crossing policeman at North State but I decided to cut across the Millsaps campus to where we lived at the time. A lady in a Model A Ford ran over me on State Street. She broke my leg, knocked out some teeth and sent me to the Baptist Hospital. I had a cast on my leg for weeks but I have forgiven her.” Mr. Mounger related some of his experiences and impressions at Power to “just being me.” “We didn’t have much playground,” he recalls. “We had to improvise on the lot across the (Pinehurst) street and find things to do during recess in or near the main building. We could also listen to the World Series in the auditorium. One of the things I do remember is that while the building was not that old it was structurally unsound. It was held together with iron rods with stars on each end.” Young Billy made a discovery in his fifth grade class. School administrators had recently changed the grading system from A,B,C, etc. to VS (very satisfactory), S (satisfactory), N (normal) and U (unsatisfactory). The new ratings compared the current student achievement with that of the previous term. “I would take my report card home with a ‘satisfactory’. “My father would be upset because it would appear I wasn’t making progress. I was being compared to my former status not an advancement and hence could do no better. Dad would say, ‘why you’re just normal. You can do better than that’.”

William "Billy" Mounger
William “Billy” Mounger

Students were placed in 1930’s Power according to a “tracking method”. “I sat in the third grade with 28 girls and 13 boys,” Mr. Mounger said. “It took a while for me to realize I was in with the ‘higher’ students. Girls must have been smarter than boys in those days – or more motivated.”  Regardless of early behavior, leadership comes out in many forms. “Individualist” Billy Mounger was made a captain of the school’s Safety Patrol in the sixth grade. “I got demoted from the captain’s role for kicking a door in the classroom, almost hitting the principal. This even carried over to my high school days. I am probably the only West Point graduate to get kicked out of Junior R.O.T.C. at Central.”  Some of Billy Mounger’s friends at Power were Mrs. Homer (Jane) Best, Dr. Harold Caver, Doris Allen Jones of Bryant Galleries, Eddie Guillot, “Boots” Watkins, who headed up the first electrical engineering company in the state; Dickie Deaver who became a scientist, future oral surgeon Sam Sanders and Polly Wells who was selected most beautiful both at Central High and Ole Miss. (9) While “prominent” is a matter of individual taste, all four early Power students were the sons and daughters of pre-war Jackson citizens who grew up in a time of structure, sacrifice and personal responsibility. “We respected our teachers,” Mr. Mounger said, “We considered them on the same level as doctors and always invited them to our events.” Jackson was better for the time these youngsters spent at Power School and the families who sent them there.

Public transportation consisted of city buses which deposited kids at the school corner where crossing guards like Swan Yerger and Billy Mounger helped them across busy streets. Many students walked from home or rode their bicycles. You bought a meal ticket for $1 a week and ate in Mrs. Henrietta Yerger Lewis’ or later Mrs. Margaret Lloyd’s cafeteria. Mr. Mounger remembered Mrs. Lewis, the mother of his friend Van Lewis, as the cafeteria manager when he was at Power.       “Those who did not have a dollar for a ticket were provided one by the state. They could also bring lunch from home and eat in the cafeteria with their friends.” Young Billy Mounger remembers well when a single lunch meal cost anywhere from a dime to fifteen cents. “We lived over on Keener Street near the Mississippi Children’s Home when I was at Power. This was before the family moved to St. Ann in Belhaven. My father, who did not make money at the time, would give me ten cents each day for lunch. The fifteen cent lunch included milk and a dessert. My father also would not let me go to school barefooted in warm weather saying he did not want people to think his children had no shoes. Some of my classmates who lived in Belhaven at the time did come to school barefooted and I was jealous of their independence.” (9)

The co-author of this article was an individualist also and a first grader at Power in 1945-46.  I’ll tell you a little story about Billy Harvey and old Power School. As mentioned, it was a small building compared to today’s schools as Jackson was a much smaller (and more settled) place. Elementary schools back then were true neighborhood fixtures drawing their students and much of their faculty from well defined areas in the vicinity of their homes.  There have always been degrees of learning ability although this fact today is either ignored or blamed on society. In short, some students were smarter than others or had a better learning foundation at home. Unfortunately, all pupils were seated in the same classrooms – even special ed students who were described as “slow”. There was no provision in Mississippi, other than military schools such as Chamberlain-Hunt academy, for “problem” youth. As previously mentioned, I was an individualist.

Davis School on Congress
Davis School on Congress

I lived on Manship Street which was in the Power School district. Davis School was on the other side of Fortification. When I was five years old, a debilitating illness prevented my starting in the first grade with my contemporaries. I was sent to the Preventorium in Magee to recover. I did not have TB, but this was a state run facility for all types of youth who had to rehab from a serious illness.  While at the Preventorium we were given instruction at the grade level analogous with our chronological age. We had the same readers as the Jackson Public Schools so we still had Dick and Jane but they were read in Simpson County. When I returned to Jackson and my family, my mother, a third grade teacher, was hell bent and determined I would not fall behind. Consequently, she taught me reading, simple math, spelling and basic grammar at a higher level than first grade. Mothers want to be proud of their off-spring, want them to say smart things and if you don’t watch them, will unintentionally encourage their little treasures to be show-offs. Alas.

When I was able to attend public school I was placed in Power. Billy Harvey would be classified today as ADD or some similar type nervous disorder. Then (1946), I was considered to have the heebie jeebies, was an unruly child in spite of corporal discipline at home and spent much time in the hall outside the classroom. One of my tricks after getting “sent to the hall” for putting live grasshoppers in Mrs. Covington’s desk was to go down to the basement and hide. There I would watch old Henry, the janitor, stoke the furnace and he would let me know when Miss Briscoe was looking for me. “Henry,” she would call down the downstairs hall, “Have you seen Billy Harvey?” “No’m,” Henry would lie as I hid under the stairs. Henry and I shared a lot of conversation down in the furnace room, mostly about Miss Briscoe and after a while I would re-emerge saying I had been in the bathroom all that time and wanted to get back to my desk. By then Mrs. Covington, a Godly woman, had forgiven me and Miss Briscoe was none the wiser. I was good until the next time. I have to say after all these years that Henry was my friend. I bribed him with $.18 tins of Prince Albert Tobacco to inform me of impending danger and will have a tin of it ready as soon as I see him in heaven. After that, we are going to look for Miss Briscoe.

Old Power School’s day was done. Yazoo clay, structural problems and a rapidly growing Jackson community had taken their toll on Belhaven’s premier elementary school. First Presbyterian Church needed the land. The neighborhood was attracting many new families. It was time to move on to a new and larger building and in 1954 the school closed, to reopen at 1120 Riverside Drive. And what doors it opened!

Bill and Nan Harvey October 2013

Bill and Nan Harvey
Bill and Nan Harvey

Nan Ertle Harvey is a native of Yazoo County, a graduate of Mississippi College and has lived with her husband Bill in the Belhaven neighborhood since 1994. She worked in a research position in the Department of Microbiology at UMMC, retiring in 2003. Nan’s hobbies are photography, nature study and family research. She is a volunteer at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Bill Harvey is a native Jacksonian, living most of his life in Belhaven. A MSU Bulldog, he has had careers in journalism, education and as development director of the Andrew Jackson Council, Boy Scouts of America. Bill enjoys photography, music, writing articles for neighborhood sources and sharing experiences with friends at a local coffee shop. (Text copyright Bill and Nan Harvey, used by permission of Bill and Nan Harvey.)

Sources & Acknowledgements:

1. A History of the Public Schools in Jackson, Mississippi (1832-1972), William
Moore Dalehite, Board of Trustees, Jackson Public Schools, 1974, pp. 138-39;
291-92
2. Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society, edited by Franklin L. Riley,
secretary, Vol. III; Oxford, Mississippi, printed for the Society, 1900, p. 73
Courtesy of the Mississippi department of Archives and History (2013)
3. Story of Jackson, William D. McCain, Vol. I, J.F. Hyer Publishing Company,
Jackson, MS 1953, P.250
4. Jackson City Directory (1916)
5. Sanborn fire Insurance Company maps (1925,1946)
6. Telephone conversations with Judge Swan Yerger (10-03-13) (10-17-13)
7. Interview with Mrs. Charlotte Charles (09-27-13)
8. Interviews with H. Muller Addkison (10-08-13) (10-24-13)
9. Interview with William D. Mounger (10-11-13)
10. Jackson Daily News , Sunday, August 27, 1916, page 5

Special thanks to Mrs. Nancy Smylie, assistant to Dr. Marlynn Martin, Power APAC School for background information on the history of the school and her personal appreciation of its mission; Mrs. Charlotte Charles, Judge Swan Yerger, Mr. H. Muller Addkison and Mr. William D. Mounger for sharing their personal experiences at Power back in the day; Dr. Jean (Sister) Simmons for her extensive contributions to Power APAC School and for leading discussions on both the old and new schools; The Mississippi Department of Archives and History for the photo of the original Power School; A History of the Public Schools in Mississippi (1832-1972), William M. Dalehite 1974 (p. 13), for photo of John Logan Power; and Old Henry, to whom I shall always be grateful.