How many of us have stopped at a gas station with cross front facing gable roof porticos supported by Greek Doric columns? How about one with an entablature below the pediment of the gable? Sure you have if you have dropped by the real estate office of Henry LaRose at 944 Poplar Blvd. or gassed up at 1301 Hazel Street and had a Popsicle back in the day.
The Shady Nook Service Station was built in 1928 (columns added in 1933) at Poplar & Hazel by A. Hays Town, a Louisiana architect who was getting his career started with N.W. Overstreet in Jackson. Mr. Town lived 101 years and designed over a thousand buildings throughout the country including Bailey Magnet School in 1938. Through the years his creation served as a provider of Sinclair (remember the dinosaur on the road maps?), Conoco, Phillips 66 and Chevron oil products. Later the building became the renovated home for the design, planning and selling of homes and office space for new horizons.
A caption under a photo in the July 29, 1937 edition of the Jackson Daily News described Shady Nook as “The only northeast Jackson residential section concern of its kind. Here the autoist can get everything in the way of expert auto service. This includes tire repairing, washing, greasing, and general lubrication. There are hundreds of satisfied customers who trade here exclusively.”
Through the years Shady Nook had numerous managers and product providers. The first was Robert U. McDaniel in 1928, followed in 1930 by R.L. Foster. That was in the days when it had only the one regular gas pump. Ethyl had not yet arrived. In five year intervals there were C.H. McKeithen & Samuel Reid (1935), H.H. Cutrer (1940), jobber Hugh S. Williford (1945), Roy Daffener (1950), W. Fay Demmings (1955), George M. Hill (1960), Jack DerMoushegian (1965), and Merle Ainsworth (1967). The final listing of Shady Nook as a service station was in the 1969 Jackson City Directory with W.B. Tull as manager. Following the final year as an independent neighborhood service station, Shady Nook remained closed until Goodman and Mockbee Architects bought it in 1978. When Thomas Goodman and Sambo Mockbee adapted the structure for themselves, two draftsmen and a secretary a lot of work was needed to convert the old gas and oil format to a modern, odor-free office. “We had no problem with the conversion,” said Goodman, “except to pull eight 5,000 gallon gas tanks out of the ground. One of them still had gasoline in it and we had to sleep with it overnight.”
Goodman and Mockbee moved on to larger quarters in 1980 and the building was sold to Tommy Thames, where it remained until 1985 as J.H. Thames Real Estate. For a number of years the building remained vacant or served as temporary housing for neighborhood events or a political headquarters (Dick Molphus in 1997). Henry LaRose moved into 944 Poplar on November 30, 1997 where his office remains today.
But how did Mr. McDaniel’s old Sinclair station become Shady Nook? Ah. Therein hangs a tale with its origins as nebulous as a curl of smoke. Down around the corner on Hazel and up Pinehurst a block or so was this all-girls school we know as Belhaven College.
Back in the Roaring Twenties, the matrons who guarded their little flock of princesses had to be careful where their charges would stray if not carefully supervised. Consequently, a number of local Jackson day and night spots were declared off-limits as they could tempt the unwary with transgressions such as cigarettes or beer or – God forbid – unchaperoned men. Shady Nook, however, was new and after all, a service station, not an alehouse so it was a time before guardians of virtue at the nearby college got around to issuing a forbidden designation for the facility. Thomas Goodman did a little research on all this before moving in.
It seems the little service station on the corner had become a hangout for the Belhaven girls. In addition to gasoline sales, the establishment had a small grocery store inside which sold candy, gum, ice cream, soft drinks and…cigarettes. It seemed that some of the girls would find their way down Hazel Street after class to the store and purchase a pack of smokes, lighting them up behind the store just like Bogie and Bacall. One of the girls was a student named (Mrs. Matthew) O’Riley, later Goodman’s third grade teacher. According to Goodman, It was Ms. O’Riley who suggested the name Shady Nook to the new owner and the name has stuck to this day.
Over the years many of the older residents of the Belhaven neighborhood remember their association with Shady Nook. Mr. Bob Canizaro recalls when he used his grass mowing money to buy Fudge sickles. Young Billy Harvey would take his bike by to air up the tires and buy a coke from a primitive drink machine where you slid your bottle down a little horizontal track and pulled up a spacer to get your soda. Kids would come by on their way to Laurel Street Park on Saturday mornings for a pack of Nabs or a bag of peanuts and it was always a good stop after school for an ice cream cone. All the while station attendants pumped $.25 gas, wiped windshields and checked the battery and oil. There was a bay on the left where cars were washed. The opposing space on the right was where cars were serviced and tires repaired. There was a counter in front for displays of combs and bobby pins. There were glass jars for candy and peanuts. There were some potted plants around for “atmosphere”. A few old trees were on the right and rear of the building shading the tiled roof.
Today Shady Nook is the real estate office of Henry LaRose, who first learned of the building’s history while dating Ann Tull in 1963. Her father Bailey Tull was then an employee of the service station. “As I walk up the front walk each morning,” Henry says, “I give thanks to God that I work here. Anyone with a passion for Belhaven and with a real estate license could walk into this building and make a good living.”
Today the trees are larger or gone. The gas sells down on State Street for over $3 a gallon. Gum, candy and Dixie cups no longer cost a nickel and cigarettes are more than the gasoline. Henry has maps, computers and modern lighting. The telephones ring with a Led Zep riff instead of the old bell you could hear for a city block. There’s an arch now in front and the potted plants are gone, but never the memories. We hope that as long as there is a corner of Poplar and Hazel there will be a Shady Nook; that behind the modern façade of tiles and sheet rock and air conditioned comfort, there will be within the eight inch walls old grease spots and tire patch burns and perhaps an initial or two of some small boy who parked his bike long enough for the attendant to apply a hot patch to his tire puncture or that suspicious curl of smoke wafting up from that risqué co-ed entering womanhood with a Chesterfield like the one she saw Ingrid Bergman wave about at Rick’s Place the week before at the Paramount.
Shady Nook: It’s down at Henry LaRose’s place. For 87 years it has been a convenience and a part of this place we call Belhaven. Like many of us, it has a new façade and has stood the test of time.
Bill and Nan Harvey, August 2012
Nan Ertle Harvey is a native of Yazoo County, a graduate of Mississippi College and has lived with her husband Bill in the Belhaven neighborhood since 1994. She worked in a research position in the Department of Microbiology at UMMC, retiring in 2003. Nan’s hobbies are photography, nature study and family research. She is a volunteer at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Bill Harvey is a native Jacksonian, living most of his life in Belhaven. A MSU Bulldog, he has had careers in journalism, education and as development director of the Andrew Jackson Council, Boy Scouts of America. Bill enjoys photography, music, writing articles for neighborhood sources and sharing experiences with friends at a local coffee shop. (Text copyright Bill and Nan Harvey, used by permission of Bill and Nan Harvey.)
(1) Shady Nook Photo: Jackson Daily News July 29, 1937
(2) “The Shady Nook Gets a New Lease on Life” by Lynda Smalbout, Clarion Ledger, May 14, 1979
(3) “Life After Death for Gas Stations?” by Andy Kanangiser, Jackson Daily News, Dec. 20, 1979
(4) Interview with Henry LaRose, LaRose Realty, August 27, 2012
(5) Narrative draft, application to U.S. Dept. of the Interior, National Park Service/National Register of Historic Places, August 20, 2012, p. 197
(6) LaRose Realty photo: Bill Harvey