In 2005, Jackson’s Belhaven neighborhood passed two landmarks: the first Bright Lights, Belhaven Nights, and, shortly thereafter, the most devastating storm ever to impact the state of Mississippi. The damage wrought by Katrina has long since healed, and tomorrow, for the thirteenth year, Bright Lights, Belhaven Nights will illuminate the capitol city. In this excerpt, Virgi Lindsay, former executive director of the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation (GBNH), remembers how Jackson’s biggest neighborhood event all began.
“Camp Best, who was director of the Fondren Renaissance Foundation at the time, suggested that the GBNH should have a neighborhood festival in Belhaven. We’d been working hard on Fortification Street, and we wanted to do something fun and visible to bring people to the area. Camp and I were having coffee at Cups, and he said that we needed to do a street festival. I agreed; we already had the Belhaven Market going on, which was a Saturday event, but it was clear that we needed to take the next step.”
“There were several occasions that Virgi and I met for coffee at Cups in the early days of Fondren Renaissance Foundation and the Greater Belhaven Foundation,” Camp said. “We were fellow urban warriors in the trenches together back then, supporting each other in whatever way we could. The Fondren Renaissance Foundation had experienced some early successes with our Arts, Eats and Beats, Fondren Unwrapped, Symphony at Sunset and ARTMix (the early precursor to Fondren After Five). All of these events had one purposeful thing in common: get people outdoors in your neighborhood to show the world that it is safe to have fun there. Make it free, so everybody can come, and, use local music and art as the draw.”
Camp said that when he suggested to Virgi that she consider doing the same thing in Belhaven, she worried that they didn’t really have any restaurants or galleries for people to come to back then. “I said it didn’t matter. Make it up; make it look like you do, put the music and artists in the street and people will come. And they did.”
“So in a couple of weeks, I really began thinking about where it could be and when,” Virgi said, “And I began research on a good time to have a festival in Jackson when we wouldn’t have a lot of competition. I quickly found out that every month when the weather could be expected to be great was just full of events. But about that time, Chuck and I went to New Orleans in August, and just happened upon White Linen Night, one of the first ones they held. At that point, it was still a very quiet little event run by the residents on Julia Street. I looked around at this lovely, wonderful neighborhood event, and I thought that if New Orleans, Louisiana can have an outdoors event in August, then Jackson, Mississippi can, too.”
Virgi said another reason the Belhaven foundation chose August was because they knew that if they were doing an event in April or October that the competition for sponsorships would be very tough, so scheduling an event in August helped guarantee that the sponsors would be more generous. “And yes, everyone thought we were nuts, but we decided to give it a go. We worked with the theory that it would be the last party of the summer, so we’ve always held Bright Lights, Belhaven Nights the weekend before school starts, the weekend before football season starts.”
The very first year, 2005, Katie Hester and Cheryl Grubbs were the co-chairmen of the event. “We were going to open the gates at 5:30, still figuring things out, not sure at all how it would go. We looked up at 5:15, and there a good 500-600 people walking down to Carlisle Street. We had over 1500 people to come that first year. The Belhaven Improvement Association (BIA) volunteered to cook hot dogs and hamburgers in McDade’s parking lot. It was probably the hottest year we’ve ever had, with temperatures hovering around 100 at five in the afternoon. We had some food vendors, and BIA bought every hot dog in McDade’s, but we still ran out of food, we ran out of drinks, we ran out of everything, but as far as we were concerned, that was the most wonderful problem to have.”
Virgi remembers many near misses. “That July, Winn-Dixie had pulled out of the old Jitney 14 space, which was the second time in a short period that the neighborhood almost lost its grocery store. But just four days before the first Bright Lights, Belhaven Nights, GBNH could finally announce that McDade’s was going into the space. “There was a time when we thought that we were having our first festival and our one big anchor in the neighborhood would be lost. It was touch and go, but a week before Bright Lights, Greg McDade moved in. So instead of there being a big, dark, padlocked building at the festival site, we had a vibrant neighborhood grocery with all the energy associated with it.”
“Nobody knew what to expect,” Virgi remembers. “McDade’s ran out of change, everybody ran out of water. Then nine days later came Katrina, and retrospect it’s very emotional when you think about what a wonderful time we all had together that Saturday night, when we came together as a community without any realization that within a very short time we would pull together again in a totally different way.
We had grounding; we came to know that we’re here, we’re together. It’s a powerful memory.”
Mississippi prides itself as the Hospitality State, and indeed our arms are open to tourists of every ilk from every quarter of the globe, yet at least two fellow citizens have been brought to the outer limits of conviviality. On an October evening in 1973, Gautier resident Charles Hickson and his buddy Calvin Parker were fishing on the Pascagoula River when they heard a screeching sound behind them. “It was like air or steam or something escaping from a pipe,” Hickson said. Turning around, they saw “some kind of craft, probably 30 or 40 feet long.” They were then approached by “three things, they weren’t human beings. I know now they were robots. They had something like elephant skin, very wrinkled. These things came to us and took a hold of me, and one took a hold of Calvin. We went into that beam of light and they carried us aboard that craft.”
Charles and Calvin were submitted to the intimate scrutiny of the aliens for a half hour. “Something came out of a wall, like a big eye. It came up in front of me, it went under me, and it came up my back side. The next time I saw it, it came over my head in front of me. Then they turned me around and carried me right back out where they picked me up.” In the blink of an eye, the UFO was gone, and the men were left pondering what had happened. “I thought it might be some type of threat to the country. We talked it over and decided we would go the sheriff’s department,” Hickson said. Both men passed lie detector tests and were questioned under hypnosis. Investigators are on record as claiming that their story never wavered. When interviewed by WLOX reporter Patrice Clark 35 years later, Hickson said, “I am not trying to force anybody to believe anything. I just simply tell them what happened to Calvin and me, and they make up their own minds if they want to believe it or not. There are objects that come from other worlds out there, and those worlds are . . . I have no idea.”
The evidence of Hickson and Parker’s abduction was crucial in the establishment of the National UFO Reporting Center in Seattle, an institution that conceivably could play a critical role in the security not only of our nation, but of our world itself, which might ultimately constitute Mississippi’s greatest contribution to mankind next to Elvis.
This is a third in a series of articles on the Belhaven neighborhood by Bill and Nan Harvey. In it we look at some of our early institutions and neighbors who frequented them. Some are gone, some still remain; here’s their history.
Miss Eudora Welty (1909-2001) is generally acknowledged as Belhaven’s greatest literary treasure. A writer of true greatness and internationally recognized in that regard as well as for her Depression era photography, she was our neighbor on Pinehurst who shopped at Jitney 14, studied in our libraries, and visited along the sidewalks of our neighborhood.
Miss Welty won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1973 for The Optimists Daughter and was recognized internationally in 1996 when French Consul General Gerard Blanchot came to Jackson and pinned the red-ribboned star of the French Legion of Honor on her silk gown. Legions of articles and books have been written about Eudora Welty including a biography by Belhaven resident Suzanne Marrs. Her life and works are available in bookstores and libraries everywhere. Yet in spite of all her notoriety our famous neighbor was a gracious and humble lady whose kindness was a prime example of gentility.
There are hundreds of stories about Miss Welty, her gentle manner, and sly sense of humor. I have my own. Some of you remember the “hippie days”, when Beatle emulating young people wore their hair long, donned love beads and sported Nehru jackets. There was a restaurant at the end of South Jefferson Street which shall remain nameless, whose proprietors were of the old school. One summer evening Miss Eudora was escorted by two Belhaven College students to the establishment for dinner. The owners took one look at the young men and ordered the trio out. “We don’t serve men with long hair,” they proclaimed. Miss Welty thanked the restaurant owners and departed. Frank Hains, arts and entertainment editor for the Jackson Daily News, heard of the incident and wrote a scathing column in which he demanded an apology. Although the article could not have benefited the restaurant owners, Miss Welty defended the restaurant saying it was their right (then) to refuse service. When asked if she would return under different circumstances she smiled and evoked one of her favorite expressions, “We’d be fools if we didn’t.”
There was no facility to service automobiles in early Belhaven. Residents had to go downtown for gasoline, oil changes and minor repair work. However, that changed in 1928 when a little one pump gas station, designed by Jackson architect Hays Town was built at the northwest corner of Poplar and Hazel Streets. Through the years the little station, which resembled a miniature version of a colonial home, sold petroleum products, nostrums and notions until it closed in 1969. Architects Thomas Goodman and Sam Mockbee adapted the old station to their needs in 1978. According to Goodman, Mrs. Mathew O’Riley a Belhaven third grade teacher, named it “Shady Nook”.
Shady Nook was a way station for the neighborhood kids. Belhaven architect Bob Canizaro who lived on Kenwood, recalls he used his grass mowing money to buy fudge sickles there. Bill Harvey would meet other neighborhood kids on Saturday morning at the Nook to air up his bike tires, grab some Nabs and head for Laurel Street Park. But it was also once a popular hangout for Belhaven coeds as it sold ice cream, candy, soft drinks, peanuts, bobby pins, toiletries and….cigarettes. Today it serves as the office for Henry LaRose Realty. There were many things young ladies had to be shielded from in the 30’s and 40’s and not the least of these were cigarettes. We didn’t know as much about those things then as we do now and after all, Bogie and McCall smoked in their movies; they were stars so it had to be cool. After classes and on weekends, a few of the more daring young ladies from the college slipped down to Shady Nook to light up. No teachers or housemothers were present. Sophistication abounded. It was their refuge.
Throughout the late 1920’s and early 30’s Belhaven continued its eastward growth. Streets which had been named for individuals were now being named generically. Streets west of St. Ann and St. Mary were established but Piedmont, Howard, Divine, Myrtle, Belmont and Ivy were still in the process of being developed. One little street which ran from Riverside to Belmont no longer exists – a victim of the new interstate which eliminated it in the early 1960’s. That street was Enterprise and deserves a place in our history.
Whatever happened to Enterprise Street One short block from head to feet. From Belmont down to Riverside, Eight little Houses side by side.
Like Persimmon and Olive Streets It was one block long and 30 feet deep, Like bigger brothers it was a part Of children’s laughter after dark.
No curb or gutters or walk-alongs, Just a row of Craftsman homes, The pavement was of crushed grey slate, Where boys and girls would roller-skate.
Over thirty years it had its place Near the park it once did face, And when it lost out in sixty-one Its memory lies where the traffic runs.
Short and sweet was Enterprise Street, No longer here for us to greet, But like other pieces of our past Its presence here will always last.
There are still mysteries on our streets. Some neighbors remember the little private library on the south side of the 2000 block of Laurel where concrete steps led to a side building no longer there. Where was Vinegar Bend? Was Poplar Boulevard designed to be a true boulevard with a median and sidewalks? Intersecting sidewalks leading into Poplar stop short of the street itself. Was that public land to be part of Poplar? Why was Persimmon never developed east of Greymont? Early maps show it going through to St. Ann. Were there walkways bridging the dead ends of Monroe? Where did Euclid get its name? Did Milsaps students name it for the father of geometry? Does anyone know?
In 1925, Belhaven Heights Part 2, an irregularly shaped subdivision, was platted. The subdivision bordered the Belhaven campus on the west, from Poplar north four blocks to Laurel, along St. Mary and St. Ann Streets opening up a much larger area going north to Riverside Drive and east from the college to Myrtle. Within this subdivision Jackson land developer L.L. Mayes saw an opportunity for affordable housing for young families. Mayes began the development of the Sylvandell subdivision in the late 1920’s and many of its homes of varied architectural style can be found on the east side of the 1400 block of St. Mary Street and around the southeastern corner of Laurel to what was then called Sylvandell Park.
Other developers were discouraged by the rough and hilly terrain but not Mr. Mayes then living with his family in a neoclassical home on Pinehurst. In addition to building homes he commissioned sculptor Joseph Barras, to design a concrete entrance of wide steps anchored by nymphs and leading down to the bucolic setting which became Laurel Street Park. Along the path into the park were fairy tale figures of Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf and others. Behind the homes on St. Mary and Laurel Streets were woodlands to the west and a meadow to the east. A descending natural stairway led from the white borders down to ravines, undergrowth, and two small creeks. The walkways coursed through rustic walls emulating old English countrysides. Homes were built of buff brick – trimmed in white, and topped with light, apple green tiled roofs. The homes were set among the trees, as if in a forest which was designed to make them more attractive from the street. The entranceway to what was to become Laurel Street Park was at the eastern terminus of Pinehurst Street. This stately entrance was guarded by the mythological Pan and his nymphs the remains of which are visible today.
Pan and his friends have gone back to the flocks and shepherds from whence they came and the little footbridge, children’s statues and walkways have returned to the soil. The creeks run quietly and children still play in the park but if you look carefully along the driveway at 1331 St. Mary, you will see Pan with his flute, a paean to what exists today, a subdivision whose beauty can be found nowhere else in our neighborhood.
Nearby additional developments were taking place. The Belhaven Park subdivision which includes Pinehaven, Parkhurst and River Park, platted 11/3/1939 by the Presbyterian Church USA. The Belvoir subdivision which includes Belvoir Place and Circle was platted 6/26/51 by the Belhaven College Board of Trustees. What was once the northern end of Belhaven Lake is now a sinuous tree lined street of stately homes, some the former residence of families who planted the live oaks along Riverside Drive.
Belhaven’s only church was organized April 8, 1837 by the Rev. Peter Donan and four members: Mrs. Margaret E. Mayson, Mrs. Susan Patton, and Mr. and Mrs. John Robb. For two years there was only the pastor and the founding group but no deacons, elders nor individual house of worship until 1845.
The State of Mississippi owned large tracts of real estate in downtown Jackson and in the early 1800’s made land available to religious denominations in the vicinity of Smith Park. Several local churches located in this area and remain today but the Presbyterians felt preordained to exchange their tract for land at the northwest corner of State and Yazoo Streets. There they worshiped until relocating to 1390 N. State in August, 1951. The land on which the church rests today 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. The 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 for $12,700 on March 1, 1927. For much of the following 23 years the Pinehaven Realty Corporation maintained the land where the church stands today. A single dwelling and out building were shown on the 1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map. The majority of the land between Pinehurst and Belhaven Streets was vacant and remained so until purchased by the church on September 20, 1950. Prominent Belhaven resident Chalmers Alexander was instrumental in this transaction.
According to Jackson native Judge Swan Yerger, much of the 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 spent their recess and many hours after school on this diamond.
Two great accomplishments of First Presbyterian Church are its unwavering support of Belhaven University which ensured its survival and prosperity throughout many years and the establishment of the First Presbyterian Day School in 1965. Regardless of your religious persuasion, First Presbyterian Church is a cornerstone in our neighborhood. It draws young families to its day school, students to its chosen university and Christians to its message. In the words of John Calvin (1509-64), “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.”
Jitney Jungle did not begin in Belhaven but it found a home here. W.B. McCarty and Jud and Henry Holman were cousins who came to Jackson from Greenwood and opened a small grocery in 1912 at the intersection of Adelle and Grayson (Lamar) Streets. They invested a borrowed $1,000 in their business and called it Jackson Mercantile Company. Through the teens and twenties of the 20th century the young men expanded their grocery businesses, even adopting a popular slogan “Save a nickel on a quarter”. According to Mr. Will McCarty, Bill McCarty, III’s grandfather, the owners were looking for a name a bit catchier than a mercantile company. Even the later McCarty-Holman Stores nomenclature was a bit prosaic. It was a habit of Judge V.J. Stricker who lived nearby to invite the three young merchants residing at Mrs. Josephine Bailey’s boarding house on Adelle Street to his home for Sunday dinner. The merchants asked Judge Stricker to suggest a new name for their stores.
The end of the First World War saw returning soldiers anxious to buy an old car for riding about town. They called it a “jitney”, slang for a London taxicab and street jargon for a nickel. Since a cab ride to town in Jackson as well as London cost a nickel the term “jitney” was popular and it was customary for patrons to shop with “nickels jingling in their pockets”. With the store’s slogan in mind and stock in the new stores looking like “a jungle of values”, the judge suggested the merchants rename their enterprises Jitney Jungle Stores. The first store under the new name was at 423 E. Capitol Street which opened April 19, 1919. Now you know.
The 1930 Jackson City Directory shows the birth of our neighborhood Jitney Jungle on Fortification in that year. It was the 14th store in the chain and its first manager was Charles Alford. The new store was small but was developed into a “super store” through a remodeling and a formal grand opening on November 10, 1933.
Mrs. Betty Edwards, daughter of co-founder William B. McCarty said that the Belhaven Jitney made a special point of catering to women. ”When you entered the store there was a platform area to the left for ladies to sit and visit before they shopped. A woman taught knitting and ladies could sit or read. It had the first female rest room in a Jackson grocery store. There were chairs for children and inexpensive house dresses for sale in racks near the front entrance.” Ladies from some of Jackson’s most distinguished families shopped regularly at Jitney 14. They included Mrs. Emmitt (Marie) Hull, Mrs. Fred Sullins, Mrs. James Canazaro, Mrs. R.E. Kennington, Miss Eudora Welty and Mrs. Percy Weeks, Willie Morris’ grandmother, who lived across Jefferson Street. Willie spoke of the store in his 1989 book Homecomings – A Return to Christmas Gone
The new Jitney was a Tudor revival style designed by Belhaven resident and architect Emmett Hull. It later became known as English Village containing the grocery and a new drugstore owned by Price Cain. The main entrance to the store faced Fortification Street. It was the second grocery in the United States and the first in Mississippi to have air conditioning. It contained a bakery, a refrigerated meat counter and a glass front delicatessen where the beloved “Mrs. Pitts” performed her pastry creations for a number of years.
Throughout the years Belhaven’s neighborhood Jitney Jungle continued to expand, modernize and enjoy commercial success until it was purchased by a northern conglomerate in March 1996. It was later bought out by Winn-Dixie and in 2005 by Greg and Kathy McDade. In 1996, the Jitney Jungle chain’s sales volume was $1.2 billion¬, quite a return on the $1,000 investment by three young entrepreneurs 84 years before.
Growing up we called them the “pink apartments”. The flamingo-colored complex spanning the eastern side of the 1200 block of Kenwood was constructed in 1938 by Jackson architect James T. (Jack) Canizaro. What makes these units unique today is the period they represent once providing homes for some of America’s greatest generation. In conversations with Mr. Jack’s son Bob, who lives in Evanston, IL, we learn that the architecture is Art Moderne, a style copied from homes in southern California. Bob Canizaro spoke not just of the residence built by his father, that he grew up in, but of the times themselves.
“Many tenants came and went in our apartment building. There was a Dutch couple, Colonel and Mrs. Von Oven, who lived there during World War II. He was in the Royal Dutch Air Force in training at Hawkins Field. The Dutch flyboys were notorious for their antics in downtown Jackson, often flying low down Capitol Street and waving at the girls in the high rise office buildings. A woman who worked for us heard a loud noise one day, looked out the kitchen door and saw the colonel flying down Kenwood Place.” No small wonder we won the war.
Mr. Canazaro spoke of other military personnel who lived in his family apartments. “I was fond of a tenant named McGehee. He and I were regulars at the old Jackson Senators baseball games. We were close to Dr. Estelle Maguira who lived in our middle apartment. After she left, William Fulton, former director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting moved in.”
Bob and I discussed the neighborhood around the apartments as it was back in the 1940’s. He remembers Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Wright, Fred and John Reimers, John Hanley Walsh, Robert Stockett, Kirby Walker, Guy Lowe, John Potter, Gilmer Spivey, Bernard Meltzer, Tupper and Doug Drane, Howard Shannon and many others. He spoke of Mrs. Downing’s kindergarten at Poplar and Jefferson, Power School, Stockett Stables, playing ball on the Reimers “back forty” where the Kennington Home was built. He told of rubber gun wars playing in the “big ditch” which is now Belhaven Park, catching lightning bugs in a bottle and going for ice cream and sodas at Shady Nook.
There were sights and sounds then which have faded into history: the lonely whine of the GM&O diesel locomotive, the starting whistle at the Buckeye Oil Mill, lawn mowers cutting grass for money to buy comic books at Cain’s drugstore, animal sounds from the far away Jackson Zoo and the early morning cries of street vendors as they plied their wares down Manship.
The Pink Apartments are filled now with new families and young moderns seeking their own place and dreams. I would hope as they stroll the sidewalks down to Poplar or up to McDade’s they will reflect on the art of Mr. Jack Canazaro, his legacy to our neighborhood, and the times in which he lived.
Jackson, like much of America, entered its golden years in the 1950’s. Far sighted mayors Leland Speed and Allen Thompson were rapidly building a city approaching a population of 100,000. The great war for democracy had been won and with bubble gum, cars, and affordable housing once again available there was no end to what a free people could do to ensure a prosperous future.
On the northern edge of the Belhaven neighborhood, Bailey Junior High School opened in1938; winning national awards for its architectural style developed by Hays Town. The State Medical Center held its first classes on the old Highway Patrol property in 1955. Ike was president, Governor Hugh White was balancing agriculture with industry in Mississippi and the lights did not go out on Jackson’s Capitol Street until long after midnight. Meanwhile, a skinny kid from Tupelo walked into a recording studio in Memphis and sang a song for his mother that changed the course of American popular music forever.
A one-story frame commercial building with a flat roof, home of the Overby Company, sits on 1808 North State. But like so many structures that have endured 90 years it wasn’t always so. It opened as North End Grocery in 1928, named for the northern terminus of the street car line, and served a number of small commercial enterprises before becoming North State Pharmacy in 1947. It was a typical drug store, owned by a Belhaven couple whose surviving widow wishes to remain anonymous. It was the place to go before and after classes at nearby Bailey for its soda fountain and pinball machine. I have to confess, I was there myself, quite often as a teenager, in the early 1950’s. Many years later I sat down with the lady who was the co-owner and she told me a story I will share with you.
In the middle 1950’s there was no interstate system around Jackson. Highway 51 ran down North State into downtown. A traveler going let’s say from Memphis to New Orleans had to pass by North State Pharmacy and Mr. Dixon’s Texaco Station next door. One spring day in 1956 someone did.
Elvis Presley once visited the Belhaven neighborhood. Not for long but forever. My friend smiles today in remembrance of all the things we were and while the drugstore never had a jukebox, it did serve a milkshake to the king of rock and roll. According to my friend a pink Cadillac pulled into the Texaco on a fine spring morning. The occupants were a singer and his band on their way to a performance south of the city. While the car was being serviced Elvis Presley and a couple of his band members walked into North State Pharmacy and Elvis ordered a milkshake. My friend recognized the singer but said nothing. She was too dignified to make a fool of herself and besides she was pregnant. But customers in the store knew what was going on and there was a mad dash for the pay phone. Elvis and his entourage did not linger. When the car was ready they moved on, but for the remainder of the day people flooded into the store wanting to know which booth Elvis sat in and how did he look.
Our next section will show how our neighborhood matured with expanded residential and commercial growth, a dynamic education system, increased medical facilities, a theater for the performing arts and a strong network of foundations and associations that would ensure its future.
My bête noir in the Archives reading room is a great soul who on occasion graces me with a sniff and slight curl of his lip when I tell him what I’m researching, indicating that my efforts are mere puppy-dribble in the field of serious scholarship, and I should go home and not bother the genealogists. “Oh, I’ve been hearing that since I was a child,” he said when I asked about Vicksburg not celebrating the Fourth of July after surrendering to Grant until “surrendering” to Eisenhower some ninety years later.
What he meant was that the purported myth is antediluvian chestnut, overworked, overdone and uninteresting. I on the other hand found it intriguing not for the supreme irony of Vicksburg, a city in rebellion against the United States surrendering on that nation’s Day of Independence from Great Britain, but because the situation offers some insight into Southern patriotism. When did patriotism become reestablished in Southern culture? How long was it after the Civil War and Reconstruction that Southerners came to identify with, support and yes perhaps even love the United States of America?
The fact is that Vicksburg did surrender to Grant on July 4, 1863. The city’s citizens and defenders were simply exhausted to the point of desperation by a siege that had lasted forty-seven days, and Pemberton, commanding general of the Confederate forces—himself a native of Pennsylvania—hoped for sympathetic terms from Grant by surrendering on Independence Day (Grant paroled the captured military, not because of the date, but because he never imagined in their dejected state that any would ever fight again; some, however, did). Thereafter for eighty-two years, until July 4, 1945, a scarce two months after Allied troops under Eisenhower accepted the surrender of the Axis forces in Europe, the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi held no public observance of Independence Day, and even then there were cries of “Sacrilege!” from older residents, and by all accounts the celebration was a muted affair. The following year some attempt was made to make the July 4th celebration more overt, but even then opposition was offered by those who clung to the memory of that summer morning in 1863 when the hungry, weary city garrison of 30,000 laid down its arms and the city silently watched as Grant’s Army of the Tennessee occupied a city draped not in bunting but in mourning.
Two years later in 1947 quite a different situation presented when General Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe and current chief of staff of the U.S. Army, accepted invitations from Senator James Eastland, Representative John Bell Williams and Governor Fielding Wright of Mississippi to make the Fourth of July address in Vicksburg. It’s conceivable that Eastland, Fielding and Wright extended the invitation in hopes of luring Eisenhower to run on the Democratic ticket, though it’s more likely that the three simply intended to make political hay out of the general’s visit. Ike, on the other hand, a committed scholar of military history, was eager to see the military park, which for the record had been established in 1899.
To be sure, Ike had likely been apprised of the holiday’s history in the city, but he was also already treading political waters. Later that month, on July 11, President Truman offered to run as Ike’s running mate on the Democratic ticket if Douglas MacArthur won the Republican nomination, but Eisenhower was still struggling to stay above politics, as had William T. Sherman had upon learning that he was being considered as a possible Republican candidate for the presidential election of 1884. (Sherman declined, saying, “I will not accept if nominated and will not serve if elected.”) Eisenhower had not announced any party affiliation and cited Army regulation 600-10.18.i forbidding partisan political activity by serving officers. Eisenhower eventually defeated Robert Taft for the Republication nomination in 1952 and won in a landslide that excluded the Solid South. His running-mate Richard Nixon was to flip that thirty years later.
It must be said that Southern patriotism was certainly well-established long before Ike came to Vicksburg in 1947. Florence King states that the rest of the nation was surprised at the numbers of Southerners who flocked to recruiting stations during the Spanish-American War (1898), but then Havana is on our doorstep, as was dramatically brought back home in October, 1962. Spanish-American vet Teddy Roosevelt—whose mother was a Georgia belle—built the biggest navy in the world and expanded U.S. influence over the globe, and the South was a strong participant in the various chauvinistic, jingoistic isolationist movements that swept the country in the periods leading up to the two world wars. But it wasn’t until after the Allied victory in World War II, and the return of Southern G.I.s from far-flung corners of the earth, that patriotism became solidly entrenched in the Southern Zeitgeist. Vicksburg’s surrender to Eisenhower stands as a watershed for that mindset, which is still solidly entrenched today.
So it was that on July 4, 1947, the city of Vicksburg, Mississippi, instead of laying down its arms, opened them for another U.S. general. An estimated 50,000 people attended the festivities, which included picnic lunches spread in public parks, plenty of florid speeches, miles of bunting and fireworks over the broad waters of the Mississippi River. The celebration also included a solemn noon-day salute to honor the memory of the Confederate casualties of the siege; the city had forgiven, but not forgotten.
This is the second in a series of articles on the Belhaven neighborhood by Bill and Nan Harvey supplemented by links to more detailed stories published earlier in Jesse Yancy’s Mississippi Sideboard. In this part we discuss the first developments in the neighborhood which include early homes, residents, streets and institutions.
The area that became the Belhaven neighborhood began around 1900 with small residential developments along North State Street. Gradually the growth pattern spread north and east as open land was subdivided and homes constructed. More than 20 subdivisions were platted north of Fortification to the future Riverside Drive and east of State Street to the modern day I-55.
The first subdivision in the district, the North Park Addition platted on April 17, 1900 by owners George W. Carlisle, et. al., included the southwest corner of what was to become the Belhaven neighborhood east from North State to Kenwood and north from Fortification to Poplar. Today only a small portion east of Jefferson Street remains in the Belhaven Historic District. The next subdivision, North Belleview, which platted in January 1905 by Hollingsworth and Magruder, is a rectangular subdivision north of present day Belhaven Street to Euclid and east to Edgewood to Peachtree.
Additional information on Belhaven development can be obtained from Hinds County plat maps and the narrative application by the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation to the U.S. Department of Interior National Park Service for the designation of the Belhaven area as a historic district.
The first houses in our neighborhood, the J.N. Flowers-Max McLauren home at 1505 N. State and the Swearington-Smith home at 1501 were built in 1904. The Mims-Dreyfus Home at 1530 North State was added in 1905. Early construction centered around the new Millsaps College which opened on its present site in 1890. The 1700 block of North State, Park Ave. and portions of Oakwood Street were part of this early development which was outside the city limits whose northern boundary was Manship Street. Two prominent homes in the early development of our neighborhood are the Fairview at 734 Fairview Street and the Kennington Mansion at 1020 Carlisle.
The Fairview, a colonial revival mansion, built in 1908 by Cyrus Warren, a local lumberman, now serves as a bread and breakfast inn owned and operated by Peter and Tamar Sharp. It was for many years the home of the D.C. Simmons family and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
The Kennington Mansion was originally built in 1912 by Jackson businessman R.E. Kennington. It was named for an estate in England of similar neo classical revival style. The original mansion fronted Kenwood Place but falling prey to Yazoo clay was demolished and rebuilt facing Carlisle in 1934. The Kennington family grounds were composed of 23 acres, a nine-hole golf course, greenhouses, barns and stables. There was a lake east of the main structure whose bottom was in the approximate location of the intersection of Fortification and Whitworth Streets.
Early in the 20th century Rev. Bryan Simmons, a Baptist minister, told of a fight that occurred in Jackson near the Illinois Central Railroad depot on Capitol Street. One of the combatants was shot and critically wounded. Among those who came to the scene was a young doctor with a small local practice established in 1905. His name was Harley Roseborough Shands. Dr. Shands realized emergency surgery was necessary. Since there was no local hospital in which to take him Dr. Shands successfully treated the gunshot victim at his small office on Capitol Street. Dr. Shands brought the first microscope to Jackson used in a medical practice.
In September 1905, another doctor reported a case in south Jackson that he thought might be yellow fever. Crowds gathered on Capitol Street to await the verdict of Dr. Shands’ microscope. When the words came “No yellow fever”, the crowds cheered and “there was much handshaking, backslapping, laughter and rejoicing.” Dr. Shands knew of another Tulane medical graduate whose father had served for many years as pastor of Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church. This older physician was Dr. John Farrar Hunter who in addition to practicing medicine operated the J.F. Hunter & Company drug store at the corner of Capitol and State Streets. Recognizing the need for more professional medical care in the city, the two doctors established the Hunter and Shands clinic in 1907.
In 1908, the two physicians bought a house and lot at the southeast corner of North State and Manship Streets, known as the Echols property and transformed the eight room residence into a small but well equipped medical facility. Prior to this, the only services which could be even loosely called hospitals were a handful of local sanitariums and a few private residences of licensed physicians where emergency appendectomies were sometimes performed on kitchen tables. Doctors made house calls in those days and relied a great deal on nurses.
It was obvious that Jackson needed a larger facility for treating the critically ill. The realization of this need was shared by the Rev. W.F. Yarbrough, pastor of the first Baptist Church who had come to visit a patient in the Hunter and Shands Clinic. Through Rev. Yarborough, doctors Shands and Hunter offered their small facility to the Mississippi Baptists after several other denominations had turned it down. At a meeting of the Mississippi Baptist Convention in the fall of 1909, Rev, Yarbrough offered a resolution that the Convention “look with favor on the offer of property valued at $5,000 in the City of Jackson for hospital purposes and that a committee be appointed to study the proposal.” Drs. Hunter and Shands offered their property as a gift with only their $5,000 in equipment investment to be compensated. On December 16, 1910 the hospital committee met with the two physicians and accepted its offer which was finalized in a letter dated October 12, 1910. The committee took charge on January 1, 1911 and the Mississippi Baptist Hospital came into being.
As Christian evangelist Robert H. Schuller (1926-2015), once said, “Today’s accomplishments were yesterday’s impossibilities.” One of yesterday’s impossibilities became today’s Mississippi Baptist Medical Center. Through the vision, generosity and determination of three early Jackson citizens the city’s first real hospital was established in our neighborhood a little over 100 years ago. It was Belhaven’s first great institution and a significant modern supporter of our fine neighborhood foundation.
Jackson’s expansion north and eastward continued sporadically through the teens and early twenties of the 20th century. Many of the newer streets were outside the city and bore different names than those we know today. Early streets were named by developers, prominent citizens or for families who owned land along their borders. Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps of the period give us a window to view where we might have lived when the neighborhood was young.
There were streets and avenues and places and circles some at different times on a single thoroughfare. Original street names often changed when brought into the city or when someone realized there were duplications that could be confusing. For example, at one time in 1925 there were three Park Avenues. State Street, named for that “great street” in Chicago, has always borne that name but some of its intersecting street names would not be recognizable today. Poplar Boulevard from State to Kenwood was Wells Street, Pinehurst Place was Harper, Fairview, named for Mr. Warren’s home, went only to Edgewood and the eastern two blocks were Morehead Ave. Oakwood was Mims Place. As you move eastward Kenwood was one of those Parks, as was Edgewood and a portion of Peachtree. Greymont was Sullivan Street, Linden Place from Poplar to Pinehurst was Opper (Upper?) Drive, Pine was Jefferson extended, the first block of Marshall was Taylor, portions of Manship were Persimmon, Laurel was Willow and Riverside was the Pumphouse Road.
Belhaven Street was not one of the earliest streets entering State but was constructed shortly after the college relocated to Peachtree in 1911. Rose Hill was originally designed to be a circle. It was to be bisected by Springbrook and once entered St. Ann between the 1100 and 1200 blocks. It was never fully built as the railroad reneged on its agreement to deed the land to the city and Rose Hill’s circle was never completed.
Riverside Drive did not come into the city until 1930, but prior to that was known as the Pumphouse Road. According to Belhaven resident Muller Addkison, the gravel road followed Riverside’s overlay but turned and extended southward from the water plant along the Pearl River and on to Devil’s Elbow beach. A few cars, horses and foot traffic could be seen on a Sunday afternoon along the riverside and young men would take the College girls riding along the banks. Annual floods, a new highway and time itself took out the road and left just the river and a few bankside fishermen as monuments to its existence. It’s gone now, a victim of progress.
A development that stood out was Gillespie Place, particularly its first block off State Street. Gillespie Place marked the southern end of the Gillespie Farm which consisted of land purchased shortly after the Civil War by Capt. William Marion Gillaspie (Gillespie) (1823-1893). Capt. Gillespie came to the Jackson area from Purdy County, Tennessee. He was a school teacher, had knowledge of pharmacy and was associated with Planters Insurance Company.
Captain Gillespie purchased 40 acres of meadows and woods for $840 which became the Gillespie Farm. His home near State Street was secluded in a wooded area where only the gables could be seen from the road. The rough outline of this property today would start at Gillespie Place, run north to Arlington and east to the center of today’s 700 blocks. Mrs. Charlotte Charles said that the eastern terminus of the farm was her house and lot at 762 Gillespie.
After the Captain’s death the old Gillespie Place home burned. It is said that the he left a fortune in silver buried on the grounds of his homestead and thus the land became the target of a number of treasure hunters bearing shovels and harboring high hopes. But that is just a legend and by definition a legend is interesting and historical but not verifiable. Or is it?
The Gillespie Farm was subdivided into lots and sold with the first home at 749 Gillespie Place built in 1910 (Carnahan House). The Captain’s widow, Mrs. William Gillespie, daughters Frances Gillespie Carnahan and Mary Gillespie Pierce joined with several other developers in disposing of the farmland after his death. Architectural styles on the block are craftsman, colonial and Tudor revival. Even today, the block resembles a window into the New Orleans Garden District. Seta Alexander Sancton, a former resident of 720 Gillespie Place, wrote The World from Gillespie Place (1987), an interesting and entertaining book about her block containing stories of her growing up on the Place near North State. Copies may be obtained at local Jackson libraries.
In 1916 Jackson had seven elementary schools. These were Poindexter on Robinson (Jackson’s first elementary school), George on Roach St. (Duttoville school), Poindexter on W. Capitol, Davis on N. Congress, Galloway on Bailey Ave., Jim Hill on Lynch St. and Smith Robertson on Bloom St. There was no school north of Fortification and east of State to serve Jackson’s fastest growing neighborhood.
According to Department of Education board minutes for August 21, 1916, a resolution was passed naming the new school at the corner of N. State and Pinehurst Place for Col. J.L. Power (1834-1901). While not a school man, Col. Power served on several boards and committees that provided administration to Jackson’s early school system. Col. Power distinguished himself in the 1st Artillery Regiment, Company A of the Confederate Army. After the war he worked in the publishing business and helped establish the Mississippi Standard which later merged with the Clarion Ledger. For 27 years he 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.
The first Power School building had an entrance facing State Street but a later expansion placed the primary access at 709 Pinehurst directly south of today’s First Presbyterian Church. Land for the school was acquired from J.T. Harper (11/17/15), W. Carnahan (02/11/15) and F.L. Mayes (10/29/15). The two story brick schoolhouse was designed by N.W. Overstreet and Hays Towns and was completed in time for its first classes on September 18, 1916, at a cost of $30,000. The original school building contained five classrooms. Power’s first teachers were first grade, Miss Emma Green; second and third grade, Miss Mable Bridges; fourth grade, Miss Ruth Reed; fifth and sixth grade, Miss Jim Hailey; and seventh grade, Miss Marcia Gibbs who served as the school’s first principal. Memories of some of the early students at old Power may be seen and shared in the link to this section.
Over the next 30 years the first Power School suffered from a problem many of us in our neighborhood endure today – Yazoo clay. The building became unstable in the early 1950’s and was closed in 1954. However, a new Power School was being constructed at 1120 Riverside Drive and today serves as an incubator for some of Jackson’s most gifted students.
Belhaven College endured many struggles in its early years just to survive. We have mentioned its beginnings with the acquisition of Col. Jones Hamilton’s property by Dr. Louis Fitzhugh in 1894 and its destruction by fire the following year. The school was rebuilt on the same grounds and Mrs. J.R. Preston, wife of its second president, remembers in a mid-20th century address details of the first campus in Belhaven Heights.
“It comes vividly before me, the grounds of ten acres, most of which was in the campus, the rest in pasture for Jersey cows where in the spring they stood knee deep in clover. I can still see the campus naturally adorned 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. A quaint landmark was the style 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.”
A second devastating fire destroyed the school in October 1910 and the Boyd (Belleview) site was abandoned. Construction began immediately on today’s present Peachtree campus on and the school was renamed the Belhaven Collegiate and Industrial Institute on July 25, 1911.
We come now to the end of Belhaven’s early years, years of innovation, growth and a pioneering spirit. There is little doubt that our neighborhood would prosper and continue its progress toward a special place in our city. Our next section, the middle years, will continue this progress. There will be a seasoning of our namesake college, the state’s first air conditioned supermarket, the little filling station that became a refuge, the day a king came to visit, a subdivision within a subdivision, a new park, our most famous resident and much more. Two events occurred in 1925 that would set this stage: the city limits were expanded northward to Euclid and eastward to Peachtree and C.W. Welty would sell his home on N. Congress and move his family to 1119 Pinehurst. Mr. Welty had a 16-year-old daughter named Eudora.
This, the first of four in a history of the Belhaven neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi, was written by resident, journalist and historian Bill Harvey.
When people ask if I live in Jackson, I tell them, “No, I live in Belhaven”. While the locations overlap, Belhaven sounds better. Where in Jackson is Belhaven? Conventional wisdom outlines it as Fortification to the south, State St. to the west, Riverside Dr. to the north and the Pearl River to the east. While never a political subdivision by that name, Belhaven’s name grew up around the college and is more than just a name.
The area south of Fortification is officially known as Belhaven Heights, a neighborhood older than “Belhaven” and more official, with a history of its own. It has its own story to tell and may do so in future writings, but for now “our Belhaven” will encompass the above parameters – with perhaps a sneaky tentacle reaching out occasionally to the west or south to briefly touch a historical moment.
Jackson in 1900 had a population of 7,914. Mississippi’s capital city since 1823, Jackson grew slowly for a variety of reasons. Union Generals Grant and Sherman burned most of the city to the ground in 1863, sparing only a few structures for use by their men and the City Hall because of the Masonic Lodge on the top floor. The city was known then and even today as “Chimneyville”. Streets were mainly gravel and mud and Town Creek flooded the downtown area on an annual basis. The business community consisted of small shops and professional offices clustered around the Old Capitol, South State and Commerce Streets. Capitol Street, other than the Governor’s Mansion, was largely residential, tree lined and dusty. It was a great leap forward in 1899 when mule drawn trolleys were replaced with electric cars much to the satisfaction of the mules.
The turn of the 20th century brought noticeably progressive changes to Mississippi and the nation. The U.S. population stood at 76,212,000 and there were 45 states. William McKinley was president and the world, for a time, was at peace. In the year 1900, Henry Ford introduced his first commercial vehicle, an electric powered delivery wagon, Frank Baum copywrited his book The Land of Oz, which later became the Wizard and Puerto Rico became a new American territory.
Mississippi at the turn of the last century was recovering from the Great Civil War, Reconstruction and the loss of manpower from that conflict. Essentially rural and agricultural, what little it had was concentrated in a few of the larger cities. The Gilded Age had passed but cotton, while no longer king, was the dominant crop along with the lumber industry and sorghum. The Democrat party controlled all politics and for some reason the era was known as the Progressive Age.
Mississippi’s Governor at the turn of the century was Andrew Longino, its Lt. Governor James T. Harrison. The Attorney General was Monroe McClung, Secretary of State, John Logan Power and the Treasurer was J.R. Stowers. The state’s population stood at 1,551,000, growing at about 15% a year. Vicksburg was the largest city. The Vicksburg and Alabama Railroad transversed the state from west to east and the Gulf and Ship Island Railway was newly constructed from Jackson to the Gulf Coast.
The state’s capital city was beginning to wake up from the deprivations of war and reconstruction. Shopping at Christmas in Jackson was mostly done at the Rookery, a downtown variety store which specialized in toys, tinsels and festive clothing designed to gladden the hearts of little folks. Colleges, state institutions, theaters, banks, churches and department stores bloomed along the downtown streets as more merchants moved from the environs to the city. It was an exciting time.
Jackson’s northern boundary was Manship Street (North Park Addition) in 1900. The city ran south to Silas Brown and out to the area of Monument and W. Capitol to the west. Residents lived along north-south streets radiating from Capitol Street, along the river streets of Pearl, Pascagoula, Amite and Tombigbee and around Union station at Gallatin. Outlying areas were along the Clinton Road (W. Capitol), where a new cemetery, Cedarlawn had just opened, Asylum Road (later Woodrow Wilson to the northwest) and into the estates of Livingston, Whitfield and Cohea. Fondren was a separate town.
An interesting adjunct to south central Jackson was Duttoville. Built in the late 19th century by Catholic priest Father Louis Dutto, it was a self-contained village with small homes, a fire station, grocery stores, a Catholic Church and a park. It was added to the city in later years but has been nearly absorbed in modern times by urban growth.
Jackson’s strong suite in those days was its leadership. The mayor was John W. Todd who had just taken over from Mayor H.M. Taylor. Families composed of Virdens, Yergers, McWillies, Enochs, Westbrooks, Strausses Hedermans, Watkins, Greens, Spenglers, Barksdales, Galloways and Kenningtons headed up businesses and the chamber of commerce. Businesses of the day included the Clarion-Ledger, Jackson Marble Works, J.W. Everett & Sons, Jackson Steam Laundry, Mississippi Cotton Oil Company, the Lawrence and Edwards Houses (hotels), Tucker Printing Company, Jackson Lumber Company, Westbrook Manufacturing Company and Adkisson & Bauer Hardware. The newly renovated Century Theater, converted from an opera house, graced the northern side off the first block of East Capitol Street.
In the midst of this growth and urban development an institution was born in 1894 when Dr. Louis Fitzhugh acquired the Jones Hamilton mansion near the northeast corner of Bellevue and Jefferson Streets. He established a school for girls the following year. It had seven students and Dr. Fitzhugh. The home was destroyed by fire shortly thereafter but was rebuilt and named for Colonel Hamilton’s Scottish forbearer, first Lord of Belhaven.
A neighborhood was born.
Bill and Nan Harvey; June, 2017
Sources for History of Belhaven: Part 1
Carroll Brinson, Jackson/A Special Kind of Place (Published by the City of Jackson, 1977)
Julie L. Kimbrough, Images of America, JACKSON (Arcadia Publishing, 1998)
Grady Howell, Jr., Chimneyville: Likenesses of Early Days in Jackson, Mississippi (Chickasaw Bayor Press, 2007)
James F. Gordon, Jr., A History of Belhaven College 1894-1981 (Jackson, MS, Belhaven College (1983)
“Jackson City Directory” (1904/05) – Multiple pages under street section
Demographics, various internet sources in public domain
Capitol St. 1908 – Chimneyville: Likenesses of Early Days in Jackson, Mississippi (Howell) p. 95
The Rookery – Chimneyville: Likenesses of Early Days in Jackson, Mississippi (Howell) p. 124
North State St. – 1900 – Images of America – Jackson (Kimbrough) p. 105
Jackson Street Cars – Images of America – Jackson (Kimbrough) p. 106
Jones-Hamilton Home (original Belhaven College- artist rendition) – Belhaven University Archives
That Faulkner wrote about the Kentucky Derby for Sports Illustrated should come as no surprise, nor that his essay “Kentucky: May: Saturday” is not only about what happened on May 7, 1955, but a masterly examination of the Derby as a quintessential American event and of the sport of kings itself.
The assignment was his second from the fledgling Sports Illustrated (founded by Henry Luce the previous August), his first being an exercise in dissonant apposition. That January Faulkner attended his first hockey game, one between the Montreal Canadiens and the New York Rangers, and in “An Innocent at Rinkside” wrote: “It was filled with motion, speed. … discorded and inconsequent, bizarre and paradoxical, like the frantic darting of the weightless bugs which run on the surface of stagnant pools”. The poetry of hockey eluded the Mississippian.
James Street, the Mississippi minister-turned-journalist-turned novelist, was given the original ’55 Derby assignment, but Street died the September before the race. Sports Illustrated offered Faulkner $2000 plus a week’s expenses, including a $100-a-day chauffeured limousine; the kicker was a $500 bonus if the piece turned out to be as exceptional as they hoped from the Southern Nobelist. No fool he, Faulkner accepted immediately and after a trip to New York in April and the first days of May, he left the city for Louisville, where his publisher Don Klopfer sent him a note to the Brown Hotel informing him that he had won the Pulitzer Prize for A Fable. “It’s an easy 500 bucks for you,” Klopfer write, “and we’re all mighty pleased, although I don’t suppose you give a damn.” On the contrary, Faulkner, who considered A Fable his masterpiece, was quite pleased and those visiting the handsome, nattily-attired writer in his suite found him puffing on a briarwood pipe, smiling.
Far from rinkside in Madison Gardens, at Churchill Downs Faulkner was in his element; his father Murry had been a livery-stable owner in Oxford, he enjoyed riding as well as fox hunting and he had a fine eye for horseflesh. In an interview with The Courier-Journal, Faulkner reflected, “It’s interesting that you have tried to train blood and flesh to the perfection of a machine but that it’s still blood and flesh.” During his stay in Louisville Faulkner was accompanied by SI’s turf writer Whiney Tower, who was instructed “to try to see that our guest did not become so preoccupied with the available whiskey that he neglected his assignment.” To ensure against that seemingly likely possibility, Faulkner was to turn over 300 words each evening of their weeklong stay in Louisville for Tower to wire via Western Union to New York.
Tower, a legend in his own right and the nephew of Lexington horse-farm owner C.V. Whitney, found Faulkner to be “thoroughly professional”. “His knowledge of horses and their bloodlines went way back,” Tower wrote, “and I think the best part of his week may have been the day we skipped away from Louisville to visit farms in Lexington. At Claiborne Farm, he was very much taken with Nasrullah, later to become one of the all-time great stallions, and sire of, among others, Bold Ruler, another champion sire. But no horse he saw in Lexington that long day entranced Faulkner nearly so much as a beautiful gray, Mahmoud, an Epsom Derby winner, then 22 years old and galloping effortlessly in his paddock at the C.V. Whitney farm. On the way back to Louisville, Faulkner napped, but near Frankfort, he awoke suddenly, nostrils twitching above his mustache. “He sat straight up, rolled down his window and inhaled deeply,” Tower wrote. “‘I thought so!’ he exclaimed. ‘I don’t mistake that smell. There’s a distillery damn close to here.’”
As race day approached, Faulkner became more fascinated by the activity at Churchill Downs. Before his first trip to the press box, Tower wrote, Faulkner “asked in an excited schoolboyish way” whether he might meet acclaimed sportswriter Red Smith. The two proceeded to handicap the day’s races. Tower noted that Smith “relied mostly on past performance” in determining his bets, while Faulkner favored the conformation of each horse.
“Kentucky: May: Saturday” ran in the May 16, 1955 issue of Sports Illustrated. Written in five parts to accentuate the build-up of tension and excitement that exploded in the two-minute race that had drawn over a hundred thousand people from all over the world, the essay was not so much about the race itself as a—somewhat rambling; it is Faulkner, after all—meditation on what the Derby means, a piece so subjective that Faulkner didn’t even mention how “Swaps”, ridden by Bill Shoemaker, had held the lead from the start and won despite a thrilling challenge from “Nashua”.
“THREE DAYS BEFORE”, framed the event in historical perspective: “This saw Boone: the bluegrass, the virgin land rolling westward wave by dense wave from the Allegheny gaps, unmarked then, teeming with deer and buffalo about the salt licks and the limestone springs whose water in time would make the fine bourbon whiskey; and the wild men too — the red men and the white ones too who had to be a little wild also to endure and survive and so mark the wilderness with the proofs of their tough survival — Boonesborough, Owenstown, Harrod’s and Harbuck’s Stations; Kentucky: the dark and bloody ground.” He linked this past history with his own present: “And knew Stephen Foster and the brick mansion of his song; no longer the dark and bloody ground of memory now, but already my old Kentucky: home.”
“TWO DAYS BEFORE”, he turned to the race: “Even from just passing the stables, you carry with you the smell of liniment and ammonia and straw — the strong quiet aroma of horses. And even before we reach the track we can hear horses — the light hard rapid thud of hooves mounting into crescendo and already fading rapidly on. And now in the gray early light we can see them, in couples and groups at canter or hand-gallop under the exercise boys. Then one alone, at once furious and solitary, going full out, breezed, the rider hunched forward, excrescent and precarious, not of the horse but simply (for the instant) with it, in the conventional posture of speed — and who knows, perhaps the two of them, man and horse both: the animal dreaming, hoping that for that moment at least it looked like Whirlaway or Citation, the boy for that moment at least that he was indistinguishable from Arcaro or Earl Sande, perhaps feeling already across his knees the scented sweep of the victorious garland.”
“ONE DAY BEFORE” looked back to former races: “It rained last night; the gray air is still moist and filled with a kind of luminousness, lambence, as if each droplet held in airy suspension still its molecule of light, so that the statue which dominated the scene at all times anyway now seems to hold dominion over the air itself like a dim sun, until, looming and gigantic over us, it looks like gold — the golden effigy of the golden horse, “Big Red” to the Negro groom who loved him and did not outlive him very long, Big Red’s effigy of course, looking out with the calm pride of the old manly warrior kings, over the land where his get still gambol as infants, until the Saturday afternoon moment when they too will wear the mat of roses in the flash and glare of magnesium; not just his own effigy, but symbol too of all the long recorded line from Aristides through the Whirlaways and Count Fleets and Gallant Foxes and Citations: epiphany and apotheosis of the horse.”
“THE DAY” began ruminating about the horse, which once moved man’s body and goods, but now moved only his money. Food-supplying animals would, he prophesized, eventually become obsolete, but not horses, since they provide mankind with “something deep and profound in his emotional nature and need, a sublimation, a transference: man with his admiration for speed and strength, physical power far beyond what he himself is capable of, projects his own desire for physical supremacy, victory, onto the agent—the baseball or football team, the prize fighter. Only the horse race is more universal…”
“4:29 P.M.” is emotionally drained, an analytic response to spent anticipation: “We who watched have seen too much… we must turn away now for a little time, even if only to assimilate, get used to living with, what we have seen and experienced.” He focused on the dispersal of the crowds and the disgruntlement of the losing backers. “And so on. So it is not the Day after all, it is only the eighty-first one.”
“For reasons best known to ourselves,” Hodding Carter, Ben Wasson and Kenneth Haxton decided “one low-water night some time back” to organize “still another addition to the multiplicity of publishing houses whose directors dream of an America that will some day read instead of write.” Their brainchild, Levee Press, ranks among those small publishing enterprises—the Woolfs’ Hogarth and the Webbs’ Loujon, for instance—that are distinguished by the quality of their production. Though its output was miniscule by any standards—only four publications in roughly that many years totaling somewhat less than 3000 copies (2635 “official” count)—Levee Press imprints command a significant price among an elite of discerning bibliophiles because the names of the four authors—Foote, Welty, Faulkner and Percy—resonate in the state, the region and the world. Had Levee Press maintained production at such a level of quality, the Greenville publishing house could very well in time have become one of the premiere imprints in the nation, but indifference, dissent, certainly some combination of the two—melded to bring an end to it.
In the late 1940s, during the “golden age” of Mississippi literature, the output was phenomenal, with Welty and Faulkner as cynosures in a stellar flurry of belles lettres including works from Carter himself, who had commandeered the Greenville Delta Democrat-Times—as he had the Hammond Daily Courier—into a newspaper of integrity and distinction, an achievement acknowledged by the Pulitzer jury that awarded him the prize for editorial writing in 1946. Hodding was at the peak of his career; his reputation as a capable spokesman for a progressive South was solidly entrenched across the nation. Ben Wasson, who had worked in New York theater with Leland Hayward and acted as Faulkner’s first literary agent, wrote on the arts and as a literary critic for the newspaper. Kenneth Haxton, a composer and husband of National Book Award nominee Josephine Ayers Haxton, who wrote under the surname Ellen Douglas, worked full-time at his family’s department store, Nelms and Blum’s (his mother was a Blum), where he had installed a bookstore. Carter also had young Shelby Foote working for him at the Delta Democrat-Times then, and while Hodding can dryly drawl about the enterprising intentions of him and his cronies in their cups, it was Foote who came up with the idea to publish a book using the resources of the Delta Democrat-Times.
Shelby Foote grew up in Greenville alongside his fraternal friend Walker Percy under the patriarchal wing of planter/poet William Alexander Percy. Foote, like Walker, had literary ambitions which in time both realized, but in early 1947, Foote had just turned 30, had only one major work in progress (Tournament), and his expenses were mounting. Apparently quite on his own initiative, he decided to print and publish his own work with the limited resources of the Delta Democrat-Times print shop. Since his enterprise just happened to mesh with their own previous plans to publish books in the hub of the Delta, Ben Wasson, representing Hodding Carter and Kenneth Haxton, asked Foote if he would add the name “Levee Press” to the pamphlet they had heard he was planning to print. “We gonna call it the Levee Press,” Wasson said, nodding out the window at the earthworks against the river.
From within the Tournament manuscript, Foote excised the grim story of Abraham Wisten, the tragic story of an ambitious Jewish immigrant, entitled it The Merchant of Bristol and hired co-worker Bill Yarborough to typeset and print 260 copies of the 20-page novella on June 2, 1947. Foote stapled them together himself and—with considerable pluck—signed, numbered and marketed his work in the book section of Nelms and Blum’s at $1.50 a copy. More than one wit remarked that just as much would buy a good dress shirt, and sales were predictably disappointing, not only perhaps because of Foote’s perceived pretentions but more likely because as a publication, The Merchant of Bristol is nothing more than a pamphlet, reminiscent of the blue essay books used for university examinations. Wisten’s tragedy was reprinted in Foote’s first work of fiction, Tournament, in 1949.
Writing in the Commercial Appeal on July 6, 1947, columnist Paul Flowers announced, “Freshest literary venture in the South today is the Levee Press at Greenville, Miss. (there’s always something going on among the literati of Washington County.) The Levee Press is the idea of a group of writers, for the perpetuation of stories, essays, and other literary material which may not have enough general interest for publication on a national scale, but too good to be forgotten… Shelby Foote broke the ice with a short story, published in pamphlet form, and 250 copies, each one numbered and autographed, went out to persons who had subscribed. The project is non-profit and there’s no incentive except to keep alive bits of writing which ought to live. More small volumes will be coming from the Levee Press. It will not be commercial, and no one connected with it is looking for material gain (except Foote, of course: JY) However, most, if not all of its insiders are welling manuscripts in the open market, but they will publish at home, just for collector’s items some of the pieces nearest their hearts.” Flowers doubtless received this description of the Levee Press’s objectives from Hodding Carter himself by way of promotion, and perhaps this is an echo of the “reasons best known to ourselves” that he referred to some six years later in Where Main Street Meets the River, where he claimed—again, after the fact—that the purpose of the Levee Press was to “publish limited, signed editions of new, relatively short books—“novella” sounds better—by established Southern writers.”
With the publication of A Curtain of Green (1941) and The Wide Net and Other Stories (1943), Welty had garnered three O. Henry awards and a Guggenheim fellowship, which made her a clear candidate for publication with the Levee Press. Wasson “brazenly” asked Welty if she would permit the new publishing firm to issue one of her manuscripts as a book and had told her the plans for the new press. In Count no ‘Count, Wasson recounts, “The great and gracious lady replied that she approved of such a venture, that Mississippi needed a limited editions press, and that, as it happened, she did have a manuscript. It was a novella, Music from Spain.” In December, 1946, Welty traveled to San Francisco to visit her friend and ofttime paramour John Robinson, rented her own apartment there in January and between then and March wrote a lengthy story, “Music from Spain”. The story stands at somewhat of a distance from the body of Welty’s oeuvre because it is set outside of Mississippi, in San Francisco, its narrative is stream-of-consciousness and it is distinctly erotic—indeed, homoerotic— a daring element in a work for publication in Greenville, Mississippi in the late 1940s. After contacting Welty’s agent, Diarmuid Russell, Carter and company contracted Welty for 750 copies was agreed to give her 25 per cent of the $2.50 price—Wasson claims $4—in exchange for non-exclusive rights to “Music from Spain”.
When Ben Wasson proposed that Levee Press “do a Faulkner”, the other two laughed. Even though Faulkner in 1946 was one of three finalists for the first Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Award (second to Rhea Galati), he was by most other standards the single most important Southern American writer of his day, but Wesson had a card up his sleeve. Not only had he been Faulkner’s agent when Faulkner was struggling to publish Flags in the Dust, but it was Wesson who for fifty dollars a week pared down Faulkner’s novel for the demands of Harcourt, Brace. For two weeks, while Faulkner sat nearby writing The Sound and the Fury, Wasson cut almost a fourth of the book, and Harcourt, Brace published the truncated version on January 31, 1929, as Sartoris. Some might say that Ben Wesson was calling in a debt, but for whatever reason, in late February, 1948, Wesson traveled with Carter to Oxford for an evening at Rowan Oak. Faulkner, “at-first-reticent”, gradually warmed his visitors, who left with an original manuscript, a “horse race piece” Faulkner suggested they call “A Long Dangling Clause from a Work in Progress.”
On March 1, Faulkner reported his commitment to his agent, Robert K. Haas: “Hodding Carter and an old friend of Mine, Ben Wasson, have what they call the Levee Press, at Greenville, Miss. Three times a year they get out an issue, which is sort of a colophon thing: a single story or article, limited number. I am letting them have the section of the big mss. Which Ober offered to Partisan Review and was declined. It will resemble a special edition pamphlet, bound of course, signed by me, to sell at $2.50. I get 25%. This is all right with Random House, isn’t it? The section is about 80-100 pages typescript. They will call it Section (of from) Work in Progress. I think. I want to do it mainly to confound the people who say nothing good out of Miss. The Press is less than a year old, is already getting known even though in slightly precious circles, like Yale reviews etc. Its foundation is Carter’s Greenville daily newspaper. His name is familiar to you, probably: lecturer, liberal, champion of Negro injustice though no radical, no communist despite Bilbo and Rankin.”
So it was with these commitments an announcement was made in the Commercial Appeal on May 2, 1948: “The Levee Press probably will be doing some celebrating about that time also (2nd week in May with publication of Cohn’s Where I Was Born and Raised), announcing books by Eudora Welty and William Faulkner, to be issued by the Greenville house. That won’t hurt the Levee Press, either, starting off with a pair of names such as Welty and Faulkner, for those are two writers highly esteemed in the English speaking world. The Levee Press may turn into an important venture in the American publishing world. It got off to a modest beginning about a year ago with a short story by Shelby Foote.”
For the Welty book, Carter stepped up his game considerably. Always the consummate newspaperman, he purchased a Jansen type plate that he had admired in certain Knopf publications. With no local bindery available, he contracted that job to a publishing company in Texas Dickens. Carter also hired local artist Elizabeth Calvert to design the colophon, a stylized “L” bracketing a river steamer, which was ensconced beneath those of Welty and Faulkner (Percy died in 1943). Ken Haxton designed and drew the Picassoesque/art deco guitar for the terra-cotta cover and chose for each of the seven section headings musical motifs from the Spanish composer Isaac Albeniz, Recuerdos de viaje, “En la Alhambra”. Writing in The New York Times Book Review in 1949, Charles Poore called the volume a “handsome example of bookmaking”. Music from Spain was incorporated into Welty’s third collection of short stories, Golden Apples, published by Harcourt, Brace in 1949. Welty’s 25 per cent of the $2.50 take was the price of literary notoriety in Mississippi at the time, but on the current market a (quality) copy of Music from Spain published by the Levee Press sells for $1000, a distinguished association copy, inscribed and signed by Eudora Welty, to authors Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon: “To Caroline + Allen/ with love/ from Eudora”.)
Though Levee Press’s relationship with Eudora Welty is undocumented, Faulkner’s exchanges are unsurprisingly high-profile, with vibrant accounts provided by both Carter, in Where Main Street Meets the River and Wasson, in Count no ‘Count, given that the author was awarded the Nobel Prize during the publishing process. Carter, Wasson and Haxton shortened the title of the Faulkner manuscript to Notes on a Horsethief. “It was good,” Carter claimed, “even though a few readers have since complained that they never before had read thirty thousand words divided into only three sentences.” Again, Levee Press extended its resources for Notes on a Horsethief. Elizabeth Calvert’s flowing, linear artwork for the rich, Sherwood green cover and the endpapers, described by Jean Stein as “horses in flight”, are striking and dramatic. Horsethief is arguably Levee Press’s highest achievement both in terms of art and letters.
Notes on a Horsethief was printed on November 4, 1950, and the following January, on the 23rd, Estelle Faulkner phoned Carter, telling him that her husband had decided that there was no sense in unpacking the nine hundred and fifty books he had received the month before for signing only to ship them right back, and he had put the unopened crate in his station wagon early that morning and was on his way to Greenville. Carter alerted Wasson, who “smuggled” Faulkner into Hodding’s office at the Delta Democrat-Times, sent out for the crate of books, and an ad hoc assembly line was organized with Wasson opening the books for a signature, Faulkner—standing, in a half-crouch—signing and numbering them and a young woman from the bindery took it from him to blot the signatures and replace them in the box. Carter sent out to Al’s Café for beer. “Hospitality dictated that I do something for a man who had driven one hundred and twenty miles just to stand in my office and sign his name to copies of a book for which he could have received far more than our limited edition’s twenty-five percent royalty could bring him at six dollars a copy,” Carter wrote, recording “for the factual-minded” that Faulkner’s ration of signed books to beers turned out that day and the next morning to be “sixty volumes of Faulkner to one bottle of Budweiser.”
Notes on a Horse Thief was published scarcely a month before Faulkner accepted the Nobel Prize Stockholm’s City Hall on December 10, 1950. The nine hundred copies sold out quickly, and soon copies were selling for as high as $25 in. Irving Howe, reviewing this “privately printed and fabulously pieced story” in The Nation, said it was “a bad piece of writing,” but Charles Poore in the New York Times Book Review, called it “at once a brilliantly told story of a manhunt and a subtly woven allegory on man’s fate.” Notes later became a section in Faulkner’s much-belated Pulitzer winner, A Fable, with gracious thanks from the author to Levee Press for permission to reproduce the material.
Choosing the next work to be published proved problematic; Carter, Wasson and Caxton intimated later that it had been their intention to publish Mississippi writers exclusively, but in the end it just turned out that way. In fact, Carter was considering publishing a book of poems by James Gould Fletcher of Arkansas that had been turned down by his New York publisher, but at the last minute the decided to print them after all. Wasson wrote to Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers and Robert Penn Warren, but none had a manuscript of suitable length ready for publication. Writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten, who Gertrude Stein had appointed her literary executor, sent some unpublished works by her, but the three principals of Levee Press found them so mystifying that they returned them, regretfully, to a subsequently indignant Van Vechten. Unknown writers (including Greenville son Howard Mitcham jly) submitted hundreds of manuscripts, but none of them seemed good enough.
The shadow of William Alexander Percy looms large in Greenville, and Carter, Wasson and Haxton all knew the man well and admired him immensely. Percy died in 1942, and Knopf published The Collected Poems of William Alexander Percy in 1943, with a second edition the following year. Yet Ann Stokes, who claimed to have worked with Percy in editing the poems for the collection, claimed that she had variant forms of some of the published poems that should be printed, and insisted with no small degree of persistence that Hodding Carter publish these poems as well. Carter felt some degree of obligation to Stokes, who sold him the land on which he had built his new Feliciana house. Ben Wasson thought publishing Percy’s poetry was redundant and the book would not sell, and Carter, while engaged in a lengthy and complicated correspondence with Alfred Knopf, whose company held the copyright to the Percy poems, actually went so far as to ask Knopf to deny him permission to reprint the poems, Knopf consented, giving Carter no excuse to refuse Stokes’ nagging.
Of Silence and of Stars, with a forward by Carter, edited by Anne Stokes, decorations by Elizabeth Calvert, was issued in mid-1953, the title taken from the poem “Home” (“I have a need of silence and of stars…”). It is a handsome volume, with a deep blue cover featuring a sketch of herons somewhat similar but not as striking as the horses on the Faulkner cover, and the end papers are illustrated with drawings of cypress in a bayou. A note on the dedication page is a quote from Faulkner’s Nobel acceptance speech. Stokes dated each poem and divided them into three groups: those written before 1915, those written between 1915 and 1920 and those completed after Percy’s World War I experiences. Six hundred and fifty copies were printed, and while each copy was numbered, of course they are unsigned.
Although Ben Haxton placed “The Levee Press” on the title page of his 1997 work The Undiscovered Country as a tribute to the spirit of the enterprise he shared with Carter and Wasson, Of Silence and of Stars proved to be the last book issued by Levee Press. Carter toyed with the idea of publishing “lost literature” of the South, particularly a stirring antebellum courtroom plea that Natchez lawyer Sargent S. Prentiss made in a Kentucky court to save the lives of three Mississippi planters involved in a bloody brawl while attending a wedding, this idea never came to fruition, and after failing to get a manuscript from Tennessee Williams, the Levee Press passed out of existence. Carter, Wasson and Haxton all had other, more pressing involvements, and Wasson, evidently the principal behind the publishing venture, clearly lost interest after the Percy work was foisted on the press. Still, the output of the Levee Press is a high-water mark in the publishing history of Mississippi and a notable achievement that’s likely never to be duplicated in this state or any other.
My sister Cindy was a beautiful woman, and when she was young competed in pageants. Cindy was graceful as well as one of the most informed, well-read people I’ve ever known, but though she was a world-class baton twirler and played passably a clarinet, singing and dancing simply weren’t her strong points.
Nonetheless for a county-level Miss Mississippi preliminary, my mother (a formidable woman who loved her children) decided that Cindy should forego her baton-twirling—which Momma considered totally déclassé—and instead dance to the title tune from the Broadway musical Thoroughly Modern Millie. Cindy practiced her heart out, but she placed first runner-up to a girl who belted out “Stand By Your Man” with such fury that the windows of the Calhoun City school gym rattled. (She also went to MSU; Cindy was enrolled at Ole Miss, and since three of the five judges were State fans, Mother declared that was the deciding factor in their judgement.)
As a result Cindy gave up competitions, and I inadvertently memorized the soundtrack to Thoroughly Modern Millie, including a tune called “The Tapioca”. For the past thirty years (or so) this song (“Join me in the Tapioca?”) was the closest I ever got to actually eating tapioca, since this pudding just isn’t something you typically find on the Southern sideboard. Consequently and moreover tapioca has always in my mind been associated flappers, Fitzgerald and the 1920s. But recently I’ve had a bee in my bonnet over tapioca, a dish I hadn’t thought about in any depth for over thirty years, one I had yet to even taste, and nothing else would do except for me to cook and eat it. Call it mental floss.
Now tapioca isn’t something you typically find in Southern supermarkets; oh, you might find containers of the pudding already made, but almost never the starch itself, usually sold as “pearls”. Tapioca pearls come in two sizes, large and small; the large pearls are about the size of a jeweler’s pearl, whereas the small pearls are the size of those candy sprinkles you’d buy to put on cakes and ice cream. Both are simply a processed form of cassava starch. Pearl tapioca is a common ingredient in South, East and Southeast Asian desserts such as falooda, kolak, sago soup, and in sweet drinks such as bubble tea, fruit slush and taho, so it probably shouldn’t come as much of a surprise to you all that the only place I could find it was at Mr. Chen’s up on I-55, my favorite shopping destination in the city. I can get anything from Mr. Chen.
Nobody and I do mean nobody cooks tapioca exactly the same way. Everybody soaks the pearls, but for different lengths of time; everybody uses milk for cooking, but everybody uses a different kind of milk; everybody uses eggs, but some use yolks only, some use whipped whites, some use whole eggs, and I read at least two recipes that used all three and called it Colchester pudding. The only thing everyone agreed on was that the pudding needed to be cooked at an even, high heat, but not boiled.
Me, I soaked a cup of large pearls in two cups of water overnight. In the morning they looked very much like cottage cheese. I put the drained tapioca in a slow cooker on high with four cups whole milk and one cup whole cream (you could of course use five cups half-and-half, but I just didn’t have any on hand). After two hours of occasional stirring, the tapioca had thickened considerably, so I beat a whole egg with three egg yolks, tempered it into the mixture by adding the hot tapioca to the eggs bit by bit until it could be added without curdling, cooked it for another half hour then sweetened with a half cup of sugar and flavored with two teaspoons vanilla. This procedure makes enough tapioca pudding—actually more a custard—for at least a dozen people. I served it with raspberry sauce, and at first taste felt as if I stood on the edge of a far-away bay staring at the light on a distant dock.