Gardeners know that in order to have an attractive green space it must first be prepared, then planted and maintained. Without maintenance regardless of the work to create something lasting for public consumption, unless it is watered, weeded and cared for on a regular basis, it will wither and die. So it is with neighborhoods that like gardens must prosper or perish depending on the care given to preserve them. A good horticultural example is the green space on the northwest corner of Poplar and Peachtree, planted and maintained by a neighbor, it is a welcome sight daily to the many who travel our neighborhood.
There are three major organizations in Belhaven Proper responsible for its development and upkeep. These are the Greater Belhaven Foundation (GBF), the Belhaven Improvement Association (BIA) and the Greater Belhaven Security Association (GBSA). These organizations are supported and in many undertakings augmented by the neighborhood’s garden clubs and friends of its parks.
Both Belhaven Proper and Belhaven Heights are listed on the National register of Historic Places. Both are served, as well as their representative interests, by the three major originations shown above and two active garden clubs – the Belhaven Garden Club and the older Greater Belhaven House and Garden Club. It is the Belhaven Garden Club which is active in Laurel Street Park projects and sponsors Belhaven Boo each Halloween on Belvoir Street for families who want to dress up and participate in a safe ‘trick or treat’ activity.
The GBF is the mother ship of our guardian associations. It was created and carefully nurtured to carry us into a successful future. It represents a diversity of people, architecture and interests which contributes to preserving neighborhood values.
The GBF was created in 1999 as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization for the purpose of developing the arts and cultural potential of a historic neighborhood. A farsighted board of directors outlined its mission and hired former Clarion-Ledger reporter and columnist and later Jackson Public Schools public relations director Virgi Lindsay as its first executive director. This was a prophetic hire as Mrs. Lindsay not only gave the Foundation leadership for 17 productive years but through her hard work and administrative skills placed our neighborhood in the forefront of desirable places in America to live. Now city councilwoman Lindsay represents Belhaven and Jackson’s entire ward 7 on the Jackson City Council to which she was overwhelmingly elected in 2016.
The GBF was fortunate to have strong leadership in its formation. Minutes from its initial meeting on November 11, 1999, list the following board members: Bryan Barksdale, Sam Begley, Danny Cupet, Katie Hester, Tom McCraney, Jim McCraw, Richard Moor, Alan Moore, Waddell Nejam, Henry Tyler, Leroy Walker, Sara Weisenberger, Cory Wilson, Robert Wise (representing BIA) and Jimmy Young.
Some of the noted Belhavenites, past and present, who have contributed to Greater Belhaven’s reputation for excellence are Patti Carr Black, celebrated author of children’s books and other works; Dr. Roger Parrott, president, Belhaven University; attorneys Louisa Dixon, Rod Clement, Stratton Bull, Steve Funderburg and Robert Van Uden; architects Emmett J. Hull, Noah W. Overstreet, A Hays Town, James T. Canizaro, Brett Cupples , Michael Barranco, Robert Canazaro and Bob Farr; artists Miriam Weems, Marie Hull and Cleta Ellington; developer Lucius Mayes; planners
Corinne Fox; former Ward 7 city councilwoman Margaret Barrett –Simon, and Virgi Lindsay. There were a number of others who helped launch our neighborhood foundation but these were the resident pioneers.
The Foundation’s major accomplishments through the years include the amendment of the original 1996 Belhaven Historic District to include the extant Belhaven Heights Historic District (1999). This was expanded in 2002 to encompass areas bounded by Riverside Drive and Peachtree Streets. In June 2003, the Foundation completed extended renovation of its current office at 954 Fortification Street made possible through the Fortification Street Historic Overlay District.
The redesign and reconstruction of Fortification Street was the Foundation’s first early accomplishment. Planning groups brought together engineers, architects, politicians, city representatives and the general public to help design and implement this corridor. While final completion took more than a decade to accomplish, there is little doubt that without the combined efforts of the Foundation and the adjacent neighborhoods, the project might never have been completed.
Other awards and recognitions taking place under the direction of the GBF are the Mississippi Main Street Designation in 2002, the Mississippi Heritage Trust (MHT) Trustee’s Award for Organizational Achievement for the Belhaven Market (best new development), the Foundation office (2004) and the Mississippi Main Street Association’s (MMSA) Award for design in the Adaptive Re-Use Project for the 954 Fortification Street renovation. Other recognitions include the MHT Award of Excellence in Presentation for the Belhaven Neighborhood Newsletter (2008), the Jackson Historic Preservation Commission’s Preservation Award for Belhaven Park reclamation (2010) and the MMSA Award for the best Public-Private Project for this same facility (2011), the MMSA’s Spirit of Main Street Award for the partnership between the Foundation and Baptist Health Systems (2010), the Arbor Day Foundation’s “Faces of Urban Forestry” recognition (2012) and the Old House Magazine’s Best Old House Neighborhood recognition (2013).
The crowning achievement of the Foundation to date is the designation of Greater Belhaven as one of the nation’s ten Great Neighborhoods by the American Planning Association of Chicago. This designation, awarded on the basis of an extensive application process in 2014 ensured that our neighborhood is “on the map” throughout the United States as one of the country’s best places to live.
Thanks to the efforts of the GBF and a number of neighborhood sponsors family events are held throughout Greater Belhaven on an annual basis. These are known throughout our city and metro areas.
Thanks to the efforts of the GBF and a number of neighborhood sponsors family events are held throughout Greater Belhaven on an annual basis. These are known throughout our city and metro areas. Annual events include the popular Bright Lights/Belhaven Nights, held each August in areas around Belhaven Park. More than 3,000 people attended the 2017 event and the crowds grow larger each year. Other events, which are held annually include Pumpkins in the Park for children and their families, Art in the Park, which includes youth from New Stage who present Shakespearean plays, outdoor movies and music concerts.
The Foundation recently sponsored the painting of a new mural (“Paint our Future”) on the rear wall of McDade’s parking lot. Led by Rachael Misenar and Elizabeth Fowler, a group of young people spent a week in the summer heat working with neighborhood children to create an artistic interpretation of Greater Belhaven. The Foundation plans a “Community Peace Sing” in Belhaven Park in November and is active in the city’s development of the Museum to Market trail project tying Moody Street to Museum Drive with extensions planned for the future.
Belhaven Proper is the home of two outstanding public parks. For years the land at the foot of Kenwood Place and Poplar Blvd. was a tangled thicket of trees and kudzu. Through it flowed Moody Creek which no one could see for the undergrowth. Armed with a staff and dynamic board of directors, the Foundation raised $300,000 to enlarge and completely redesign Belhaven Park to create a hub for community gatherings, performances, festivals and exercises. Many throughout the neighborhood supported this project which was dedicated in 2010. Neighbors donated money for benches, landscaping and decorative lighting. The City of Jackson contributed $50,000 but it was the founders who provided time and treasure that made the park a reality. These were and are Jim and Donna Barksdale, Baptist Health Systems, the Belhaven Improvement Association, the Funderburg Family, the John R. Lewis Family, Annie Laurie McRee, Overton and Marilyn Moore, Nejam Properties, Pyron Insurance Group, Jim and Debbie Sones and Waste Management of Mississippi, Inc.
Laurel Street Park is the much older public recreational facility. Formerly known as Sylvendell Park as part of the late 1920’s subdivision by that name discussed earlier in this history, it was little more than a grassy field until two neighborhood organizations with assistance of the BIA decided to develop it into a modern day children’s playground. Older residents will remember the “playground” as being a grass starved hard surface with a few pieces of city equipment including a jungle gym, dilapidated slide, iron merry-go-round and ancient swing set.
Late in the 20th century the Belhaven Garden Club and Friends of Laurel Street Park (FLSP) formed a committee through the GBF to raise funds for park development. According to then Lyncrest Avenue resident Susan McNease, the committee, with support from the Belhaven Improvement Association, contacted residents and asked them to buy tickets for a picket fence around the north end of the facility. You could have your name on “your” picket, or your pet’s or whoever you wished. This process caught on and has been renewed several times through the years.
Complete renovation of the park began in 2001. Emily Coakley is reported to have researched and contacted Learning Structures out of Somersworth, New Hampshire, who sent three men to supervise and participate in the build. The local planning group was provided designs of various pieces of playground equipment, items were selected and the company drew a schematic of where everything would be constructed. The dragon tire structure is the only original piece of equipment in the park today but updates and improvements continue on a regular basis.
Betty Smithson, former GBF employee, and her husband Lee shared their memories of the park in its early redevelopment days. “There was a core group of moms and kids who used the park. We all became friends through our regular meetings there. The city was removing old playground equipment which was deemed unsafe and injuries were all too common. Emily Coakley started the movement and led the rest of us who joined in the conception, planning and building of the new playground. Jenny Mayher was a major player as was Vernon King and I. Vernon devised the fundraising plan with our first Art for the Park in the home of Mark and Nancy Seepe. More than $50,000 dollars was raised from various sources to begin work on the park.
“So many people helped build the park. The ones I remember are Dan and Rachael Dear, Tom and Annie Laurie McRee, Ranjan McBata, Louis Coleman, Hiram Creekmore, B.D. Steadman, Carole Fraiser, Kathy Waring, and Katherine Wiygul. A wonderful group of carpenters happened to drive by on the Friday of the build. They came back Saturday and built the pavilion.”
Other neighborhood residents who are reported to have worked on the project include David and Katie Blount, Garrett Martin, Beverly Ray, Andy Hilton, Beth Graham, Treasure Tyson and Jim McIntyre. There were doubtless others and this history would welcome them coming forward with their names and story.
Beth Graham, president of the Belhaven House and Garden Club, gives the younger group (Belhaven Garden Club) credit for helping spearhead early park planning along with the Friends of Laurel Street Park. “This park serves as one of the most popular spots for neighborhood children and their parents. It features a playground, pavilion and large green space often used for soccer and pickup Frisbee. It is ideal for picnics and other outdoor events.”
Tisha Green, a former GBF employee, remembers her own reasons for developing an interest in the park. “We all loved Belhaven and wanted ‘our’ park to be as fantastic as the neighborhood itself. We wanted it for our kids to swing, climb and have birthday parties. We wanted a clean and safe place for families to gather, meet and get to know one another. We wanted to do something really special for our future. This park was truly a grass-roots effort.”
Laurel Street Park remains today a partnership with the City of Jackson, is supported by FLSP and the Belhaven garden clubs, receives ancillary help from the Belhaven Improvement Association and is visible testimony to what a neighborhood can do when it is organized and dedicated to a meaningful goal. The park is funded primarily by a biennial event at the Fairview Inn where Art in the Park raised more than $20,000 this past April. Other donations are encouraged and made available on the various websites supporting our neighborhood organizations.
The Belhaven Improvement Association (BIA) was founded in 1965 for the purpose of making Historic Belhaven a safer and more beautiful neighborhood for all to enjoy. BIA is a non-profit establishment governed by a 15 member volunteer board of directors and is devoted to bringing the best of environments to our residents and visitors.
Today’s BIA mission is addressed through marketing, promotion and beautification projects such as neighborhood welcome banners, street signs, strategic landscaping, historical markers, entry columns and security enhancements. The first historical marker was dedicated at the Fairview Inn on September 14, 2017. Eleven additional markers are planned commemorating landmarks in our neighborhood. Decorative entry columns are currently under construction on Greymont and Peachtree Streets.
BIA, as part of its new Comprehensive Beautification and Security plan, is actively working to craft a long-term blueprint to make Laurel Street Park sustainable. The Association is working with the city of Jackson to maximize the park’s potential. Future plans include the restructure of the creek that runs along the east side of the property and addressing the creek’s adjacent erosion problem. Other projects will focus on additional landscaping, better security and lighting, creation of a stroller/bike friendly pathway, creating a better “border” for the park proper so that it can contain mulch, building up the area around the playground equipment and adding to equipment as funds allow. The July Party in the Park was a great success and the BIA planning committee is looking into a future concert series on the green.
BIA President and Beautification Committee chairman Reed Hogan, III, M.D. says, “The value of our green spaces cannot be overemphasized. This is such a critical piece of community and what creates the very essence of neighborhood. We are devoted to making sure that Belhaven’s public green spaces are improved and are of maximum value to each resident’s quality of life.”
The Greater Belhaven Security Association (GBSA) was formed in 1985 for the purpose of providing drive by protection for neighborhoods in Belhaven Proper and Belhaven Heights. Its mission, as a nonprofit organization, is to promote and preserve neighborhood safety and enhance quality of life in Greater Belhaven. According to its president John Lewis, “Our goal is to provide our residential and commercial neighbors peace of mind with the knowledge that GBSA will respond to their security concerns 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”
Members of GBSA receive upon request house checks, escorts to the door of their home and response to burglar and fire alarms. The Association works closely with city and county law enforcement to coordinate maximum response to home and business emergencies. Both members and non-members can call the officer on patrol (601- 720-6452) and report any suspicious activity.
Mr. Lewis encourages all residents of Greater Belhaven to become members of the GBSA. Its dues and conditions are described on the Association’s website.
Greater Belhaven residents and commercial establishments are encouraged to visit the website of all three neighborhood associations and stay current with neighborhood news and each other through the GBF electronic newsletter and the Nextdoor social network. Special recognition should go to Laurel Isbister and Bethany Gilbert for their work on the Foundation’s new website launch in 2017. The Historic Belhaven logo, designed by neighbor Lou Frascogna, may be seen on signs and bumper stickers throughout the neighborhood.
Did Colonel Hamilton know what he started? Were the owners of the first two homes on North State aware in 1904 of where it would lead? Did the developers Carlisle, Moody, Harper, Magruder, Mayes, even the old captain, have the foresight to know what they were building? Did the individuals and families who settled throughout the various subdivisions realize they were a part of something special? Somehow I feel they did so ask yourself, what is Belhaven’s greatest asset?
Take a moment to reflect on what makes our neighborhood as unique today as it was a hundred and twenty years ago. You can say its leadership. Certainly that’s a requirement. Without it all the best efforts and intentions are scattered needlessly to the winds of obscurity. You can say its money or sweat or the things we’ve purchased to donate. But these are just objects and pass with the occasion they provide for. You can say it’s the high tech networks which keep us up to date on everything from needing a repairman to watching over one another. You can say it’s the vision and dreams of the pioneers who built us and the inspiration they provided to do it well. It is all these ingredients blended together and cemented with time as one generation learns from its antecedent and one neighbor reaches out to another.
Whether you rent or own, whether you are a native or just passing through you are walking in the footsteps of the artisans, craftsmen, artists, musicians, writers, teachers, architects and other professionals whose vision built our neighborhood. Throughout it’s more than a century of existence Belhaven’s catalyst has been its character.
Each step we take forward leaves behind a footprint of our past. Yesterday meets tomorrow along our roadways and under our oaks as families old and young walk along our sidewalks, in our parks and support our common interests. Our older citizens look back upon their own experiences, seasoned enough to know they live in a special place. Our younger residents, starting their families and futures here, will reflect often upon where they spent some of the best years of their lives.
Today, we keep up with one another through the convenience of modern technology and share our mutual concerns and stories so that we may remain informed and safe. We look after our pets and those of others as well. We take pride in our appearance, keeping our property up expecting others to do the same. We ask that our neighbors behave and they ask us to set the example. We really, truly care for each other. Don’t we?
So when someone asks you “where do you live?” You can tell them, “I don’t live in Jackson, I live in Belhaven.” They may look at you a little askance but they will know from your smile what you know, that Belhaven is greater than a city street and more than just a name. It contains on every street and byway, in every fresh mown lawn, in every trip to our neighborhood stores, in every rescued pet, our greatest asset. And that is you.
Bill & Nan Harvey
August – November 2017