For many years I walked from my home on Poplar Avenue in Jackson, Mississippi down North Street to the Welty Library.
North Street is broad and level, making for an easy, leisurely walk. Long ago, the way was lined with splendid homes, but in my last year in Jackson, the only private residence on the street, a modest, sturdy, two-story cottage built in 1923, belonged to the Horrells. When last I passed by a “For Sale” sign was planted in the front yard, where long before, Mrs. Horrell had planted masses of narcissus.
Warmed by a broad western sun, her paperwhites were among the earliest in the city to bloom, coaxed out of the ground by the toddling sun of mid-winter. She also had clumps of old daffodils, a of beautiful swath of blue-and-violet bearded irises, and a row of gnarled, ancient rosemarys that filled the air with scent and the eye with points of cloudy blue in the warming winds. Mrs. Horrell once told me the narcissus lining front walk came from her grandmother.
The area has been zoned commercial, so once the property is sold, the house might be razed, and the in-place plantings will most likely be lost. Developers’ architects view landscaping as ancillary or incidental, and plantings in-place are expendable. New developments in old neighborhoods obliterate yards that helped define the character and delineate the history a neighborhood.
You can still find old plantings struggling beneath mats of Asian jasmine throughout the city, and one November, many years ago, we freed an old street corner of choking vines, weeds, and rotting wood. In March, clumps of the old daffodil, ‘Butter and Eggs,’ came barreling out of the Yazoo clay.
Academics often deride local history as poorly-researched, ill-written, and insular.
This criticism can and is levelled at history written on any level, but who can scorn local research as insufficient when so little material is in place? As to poorly-written, hell, even Gibbon can go on like he’s working with an empty bottle of port at his elbow. As to insularity, who can say that the storming of the Bastille isn’t local history to Parisians or the Beer Hall Putsch isn’t to Munich?
The least motes of history forge the narrative, and in the smallest arenas of mankind we find a locus of the whole. Let us treasure those who compelled by their love of place put before us a likeness of how it was before our time, helping us learn who we are, revealing how this part of the world shapes our lives.
A History of Greater Belhaven is available at the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation in Jackson, Mississippi.
The story of Parkin’s Pharmacy is a story of a time. It was a time when pharmacies were still called drug stores, the pharmacist was your neighbor and there were far more independent store owners than chains.
When Jimmy Parkin returned from pharmacy school in 1950, married and started his business next to the Jitney Jungle in Belhaven later that year, drug stores were a little more informal than today. Pharmacists counted prescribed pills, mixed emulsions, unguents and compounds, sported mysterious looking glassware and even made house calls. Drug stores carried more than pharmaceuticals. They had a section for magazines and comic books and featured a soda fountain where milk shakes cost a quarter and Cokes a nickel. They would fix you a cheeseburger and fries for thirty five cents and practiced the lost art of creating banana splits for a few cents more.
There were gifts for a friend in the hospital, candy and chewing gum for the children, bobby pins and nylons for the ladies and a multitude of tobacco products for the gentleman. You could actually talk to the pharmacist without having to go through a phone maze. Prescription drugs were filled while you waited or delivered to your home and if the store was closed on Sunday – and most were back then – and you really needed a prescription filled, the druggist would like as not meet you at his place of business after church and fill it for you.
It was a time some remember and others tell of. It was a time when there was no television, smart phones or computers. Air conditioning was rare and neighbors visited on screen porches or on the sidewalks after work or in their backyard while their kids played ball on the grass. This was the world into which Mr. Jimmy Parkin opened his drugstore and for forty-seven years it served the public. It was a time of conviviality and a great time to live in the small city of Jackson.
There were four other pharmacies in the Belhaven neighborhood, all in the proximity of the Baptist Hospital. Morris Pharmacy was located on the southeast corner of Manship and State Streets. Patterson Rexall Drugs was in the middle of the block between Carlisle and Fortification Streets. North State Pharmacy was next to the fire station across from Millsaps. These stores along with Parkin’s were closed on Sundays. However, Main Drugs down Fortification at Lamar was open on Sunday afternoons and if you wanted malt, a bottle of aspirins or a light switch, the Main was the place to go. But Parkin’s was different. It was more personal. Neighbors referred to it as “That good drug store.”
The Parkin tradition began in 1930 when Sam Parkin moved to Jackson from Little Rock, Ark. and bought Philip’s Drugs on West Capitol Street. The store was renamed West End Pharmacy. Sam Parkin’s son Jim became a pharmacist also and in 1950 bought the old Cain Drugstore on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Fortification. It was part of the original Jitney 14 which was built in 1927. In 1933, Cain’s moved into a separate facility as part of the newly constructed English Village and remained at the 904 Fortification Street address until the Parkin purchase. The grand opening of the Belhaven Parkin’s Pharmacy was February 9, 1951. It was a big event in the neighborhood.
In the 1960’s the store moved around the corner into the former Ben Franklin store location then later to a separate building where Lou’s restaurant is today. Some of the store’s neighbors were Pridgeon’s Florist, Snow White Cleaners and The Staircase. Doug tells the story of a day his father was chosen to be a pallbearer. He called the cleaners early that morning and when a woman answered the phone dad inquired, “Is this the Snow White?” “Hell no,” the woman replied angrily, “and this ain’t the seven dwarfs either!” “Dad had all day to think about that one.”
The Parkin drugstore chain became Medistat Pharmacies in November 1983 but the Parkin family still retained control of their operation. The six family-owned pharmacies including the Belhaven store were sold to the Jitney Jungle chain in March 1995, which in turn was sold in 1997.
According to the grand opening ad in the Jackson Daily News, future patrons registered for prizes such as an electric toaster, flashlight, alarm clock and thermos bottle. The soda fountain, featuring Seale- Lily products, pictured Bill Robinson, Lillie Beckwith and Bob Pilcher. Dick Wiggins and Therrell Fortune ran the drug and cosmetic counters and John Archie was in charge of free deliveries to homes in the area. The pharmacists were Jim Parkin, Sr. and Charles Stringer.
The cosmetic counter was unique to Jackson drugstores. Called the Gilded Cage, it was located so to be clearly visible through the store’s front full-view window. The hanging birdcage at the center gave it its name. It contained fixtures in white and gold in French provincial style, set off by delicate white ironwork. Right across the aisle was the men’s toiletries and cosmetic department called “The Saddle”
The success of Parkin’s was the result of a combination of factors. It was the times, the customers and the staff. “The folks most important in my childhood memories, Doug Parkin said, “are my dad, of course, pharmacist James E. Colmery, John Archie, Bill Nobles and Saundra Edwards. There were many others but these had the most impact on my life.
“Mr. Colmery was a wonderful man to me as a kid. He would entertain me in the pharmacy, always with a smile. There was a glass enclosed compounding room in the center of the pharmacy, a fairly cutting-edge concept for the time, and he called it the ‘monkey room’. Naturally, that became one of my favorite places to go in and make faces at him. He laughingly responded in kind.”
“My dad always welcomed us kids, to his store. These were my brothers Jim, Jr. and Cole along with my sister Beth and me. We spent a lot of time there and were given pretty much free rein. We saw firsthand the attraction of other kids, the comic books, the toy racks and the soda fountain. There were sometimes extra cherries added to the cherry phosphates. It was a children’s paradise.
“As we got older we were taught to make sales and record charges at the cash register, run the soda fountain, dust shelves, rotate stock, sweep and mop the floors. We even drove the delivery car on occasions and most dreaded of all, empty the fountain sump tank under the building. When we were older my brothers and I interned there as pharmacy students.
“Christmas was a special time at the drugstore. We sold countless boxes of candy and other gifts that had to be wrapped. We used the heavy weight glossy red and white wrapping paper and every bow was cranked out on a Sasheen bow-maker. You didn’t want to get your finger caught between the bow pin and the bows impact socket or Christmas might be more painful than you would have preferred.”
Bill Nobles, Saundra Edwards and John Archie were constants at Parkin’s for as many as 40 years, speaking to a generation and beyond of satisfied customers and a neighborhood landmark “down by the Jitney.”
Doug described Bill as his father’s “right hand man”. “There was nothing about the store that Bill didn’t know and there was no one who traded there Bill wasn’t friends with. Bill was always asking about our customer’s families.”
Bill came to Parkin’s as a part-time employee in 1956 and went full-time in 1957. He remained with the establishment until 1997 when he left to work at a retirement home in Clinton. Mr. Parkin had come to him and told him he needed someone to manage the business so Bill gave up his regular job at Evans Lumber Company to do so. He was 19-years-old. In an interview Bill told of his duties through the years. “Mr. Parkin hired me to run the drugstore while he ran the pharmacy. I was the bookkeeper, but I also did the ordering, the pricing, put up displays, and helped with deliveries, worked in the soda fountain and around the pharmacy itself. I saw the business from the inside out and realized what another employee (Doug Drain) later put into words, ‘When I worked at Parkin’s as a teenager, I learned all that was needed in life to be successful’”.
Doug Drain became a success and he called Doug Parkin a couple of years ago. “He relayed to me that one of the leading economic professors in the nation recently asked him where he got his education before attending a university. Doug told him the name of the university and the economist replied, “No, you got your real education working at that drugstore as a kid.”
The famous and the everyday neighbor shopped at Parkin’s. Eudora Welty was a regular customer and dropped by the store each day to purchase a New York Times and a Wall street Journal. Sometimes Tom Spengler would stop by, buy the papers and take them to her. “She was a quiet lady,” Bill remembers, “even after she became famous and was always kind and friendly. She wouldn’t let anybody wait on her but me.” Well-known artist Marie Hull was also a regular as were the Reimers, Holmans, Stocketts, Giddens, Heidelbergs, Gammills, Kenningtons, Irbys, Wells, Macks, Lewises, Manships, the banker Tom Scott and Drs. Ward, Cavett, Womack, O’Ferral and Garrison. The Wrinkled Roosters, an informal men’s coffee club, met in the store in the mornings and a ladies group in the afternoons.
The store had a soda foundation as most did back then. It was a popular lunch spot that sold drinks, burgers and sandwiches. An article by Phil Wallace in the Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News tells of the soda fountain “that takes you back to a sweeter, slower pace of life. You sit on tall stools or at double tables and inhale the delicious atmosphere of another era, the smells and sounds of, say, the summer of ’52. People are happy and friendly enjoying the simple things of life – like a chocolate malt or double cheeseburger with a friend, scenes that once inspired the artist Norman Rockwell.”
Bill tells about a day the grill caught fire from grease that had accumulated underneath. “We had to act fast. I had heard that water would not extinguish a grease fire so I grabbed a couple of handfuls of washing powder and doused the flames. Meanwhile, a customer wanted a hamburger. I tried to tell him the grill needed cleaning before cooking but he kept insisting on it. So, I cooked him his hamburger and he ate it. He must have had the cleanest stomach in town.”
Bill remembers many stories in association with his tenure at the drugstore. “When Patterson’s Rexall Pharmacy closed on North State, Mr. Parkin bought their large upright safe. He sent Bill and two young employees to move that weighty and unwieldy object from Patterson’s to the store some three blocks away. “We were able to shove it up a steep inclined driveway to the street but finally gave up being heroes and hired a delivery company to take it the rest of the way.”
Stories abound over the years. Bill told of two ladies who came in one day to return a purchase. The older woman told her daughter, “Go out to the car and bring in that package on the front seat.” The daughter dutifully did so and when it was opened it contained a half pint of liquor. “No, not that one, dear,” she calmly exclaimed, “the other one, the Milk of Magnesia.” There was another customer who “rooted me out of bed at 3 a.m. one morning to get some sleeping pills. I needed some myself after that episode.
“There was a Mr. Hardwick, who delivered mail to the store and had a dog named Richard. He and Richard had conversations in the store during mail deliveries and the two seemed to have real rapport. Customers were never certain who initiated the conversation or where it would lead. However, the two seemed to understand each other.”
Perhaps Bill’s most interesting story involved a horse drawn sleigh. Mr. Parkin was close friends with Robert Stockett, Sr., who had a stable of horses down by the Pearl River. He would borrow the horses for a while in winter weather and deliver items to customers in the snow. “We even had a store display of that sleigh and its drivers but thankfully, those horses were not real.”
Saundra Edwards came to work at Parkin’s as a teenager in October, 1965. “She would do anything you asked her to do,” Doug said. “She was like a big sister to me and I often referred to her as ‘Sunshine’.” Like Bill, her duties included everything from greeting customers to sweeping the floor. “Bill and I worked the stock, tended both the back and front of the store, helped out in the pharmacy and in the contract post office which was added in the early ‘70’s. When the power went off we had to crank the cash register. You should have seen that thing. It would have been an antique today.”
Saundra’s impression of Mr. Parkin is that he was strict and professional in his approach to serving the public. He was friendly as long as you did your job. “If a customer asked for an item,” Saundra remembered, “we didn’t just say, ‘look over yonder’. If we had we would have been fired. We went over and helped him find it.”
Saundra, like Bill, has a lot of stories to tell regarding her years at the pharmacy. “I can’t use names, but I can tell you there were some characters. There was an elderly lady, the widow of a well known attorney, who would come to the Jitney next door for her lunch at the delicatessen. Rather than stand in line patrons would take a number and wait for it to be called. She would come early, take the number “1” and after being served put it in her purse. The next day she would bring it out and present it again to be the first served. She would do this on a regular basis. The staff knew what she was doing but the customers seemed not to mind so she stayed number 1 for the remainder of her patronage.
“Another prominent resident had plenty of money and property. She did not feel she should accept government assistance. She refused Medicare and other forms of government assistance. ‘The government needs the money more than I do,’” she explained. She would have been a rarity today.
When asked if there was anyone who did some unusual things, Saundra told of a woman who came in the pharmacy with a watermelon she had bought at the Jitney next door. “She sat in the aisle and ate it, spitting the seeds out on the floor. Mr. Parkin told her to stop and clean it up. She got real ugly and demanded he give her a dollar.”
John Archie was the deliveryman but he was far more than that. A veteran of Cain’s (Ca. 1933) before he came to Parkin’s he was a fixture in those establishments for over half a century. The City of Jackson even proclaimed a John Archie Day to celebrate his 50th anniversary. “John was very conscientious and would tell my dad when he felt something needed to be done,” Doug remembers. “When the delivery vehicle’s tires would show excessive wear he would go to my father and tell him, ‘doctor, the car needs new shoes’.”
John’s duties included a wide variety of items for distribution. Perhaps the most interesting involved a hunting item. It seems an employee of Parkin’s West End Pharmacy made turkey calls out of condoms. That pharmacy had run out and called the Belhaven store for reinforcements. The only candidates they had came in a box of a hundred which John Archie dutifully accepted for delivery. He studied the merchandise for a moment, looked up and said, “That guy must really be something, huh Doc?”
“We knew of some crazy things that went on at the Jitney, next door,” Mrs. Edwards .recalls. “We knew a lady who would go to the canned food aisle, open several cans of peas and select the one she liked the best. She just left the others open on the shelf. There was man who would dress like a woman, shoplift meat from the butcher counter and carry it to ‘her’ new Cadillac. One of our drugstore patrons recognized this tactic, yelled at the ‘woman’ to stop and jumped in front of ‘her’ car to prevent ‘her’ from leaving until the police arrived. There was another lady who got in the wrong car in the parking lot. It seemed that the key fit the same ignition as her identical model nearby. She was an Elvis fan and listened to him on her car’s sound system. When she turned the key she heard some different songs and realized something was wrong. Fortunately she discovered her error before the owner arrived.
“Then there was the drunk who fell off a stool at the soda fountain and the lady who left her false teeth in the car of a neighbor who had driven her home the day before from the nearby washateria. There was the couple who would pass out quarters, sometimes dollar bills to people in the parking lot. We know there are people in public places that ask for money but how many do we know who voluntarily distribute it?”
Bill worked at Parkin’s for 40 years, Saundra for 32 and John Archie for 36. Why did they do it? You have to ask? Saundra went to work for a psychiatrist after leaving the drugstore after the Jitney’s sale to Winn-Dixie. “Considering the experience I had over the years,” she said, “I felt I was well qualified.”
John Archie was the delivery man. He began when Mr. Parkin opened his store and through the years delivered throughout the neighborhood in a panel truck decorated with pills of all hues and sizes. John did not have regular hours. Perhaps on paper he did but his familiar vehicle and salutation rang through Belhaven far into the night and weekends in all types of weather. He almost never missed a day of work.
Parkin’s sold many items other than prescription drugs. It carried cosmetics, newspapers, confectionaries and gifts. These were delivered daily by one of the most familiar and friendliest faces ever to grace the Belhaven neighborhood. “Hi John Archie,” the children would call out as the delivery truck sped down the streets to carry drugstore products to those who for one reason or another could not come by and pick them up. “Hi Doc,” he would reply with a smile and a wave. Need a valentine box of candy or a Christmas gift? Call Parkin’s and it would be on its way. Order a few groceries from the Jitney next door? They might somehow find their way into the old truck along with the drugstore items. Want a message carried to a nearby house? John Archie could deliver it as well. There was always, “here you are Doc. Thanks for shopping Parkin’s.”
Then one day in the spring of 1987, John Archie did not come to work and an irreplaceable part of our neighborhood stopped forever. While Jim Parkin was the head of the business and Bill and Saundra, along with a host of others were its appendages, John Archie was its heart. There are those who remember him to this day and loved the man for his kindness and who he was. Home deliveries are a thing of the past but the memory of the man who called everyone “Doc” remains with us. Rest in peace John Archie.
When asked of his impression of Mr. Parkin when he worked in his drugstore, Bill Nobles thought for several moments. “We worked so long together it was like we were brothers but like all families we did not always get along. Let me put it this way. I had several opportunities to leave for better wages and benefits but I loved that old drugstore and its customers. I stayed and so did Saundra for whatever reasons and looking back I’m glad I did.”
Several Belhaven residents have lasting memories of Parkin’s Pharmacy. Cindy Wood: “I used to go there for shakes and burgers in the ‘80’s. I remember when Bill went to Brent’s. He actually remembered me.” Julie Propst: “Eudora Welty sat at the same table on every visit and ate the egg salad sandwich. I’d skip school at Murrah and go and just sit and listen to her.” Lynn Haspel: “Parkin’s was a mainstay in our neighborhood with not only a pharmacy but a fountain for soda, sandwiches and a post office. Bill and Saundra knew us and our children. The kids would be allowed to charge lunch and we would get the bill and pay it at the end of the week. Good old days!”
Cleta Ellington: “Edward (Judge Ellington) always said we belonged to Parkin’s rather than River Hills. Those great burgers!” Linda Showah: “Such fond memories. When we came from the Delta to visit my grandmother on North Street, it was an adventure to walk to Parkin’s for a milkshake.” Gate Hogan: “I used to get the slawburger when I was a kid. I loved that place. Natalie Maynor: My memories are from when it was Cain’s.”
Mr. Parkin was well known and respected in his profession. He served on the University of Mississippi Association Board and was president of the Mississippi Pharmacist Association. He was president of the State Board of Pharmacy for four years and was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Jackson where he was a Life Deacon. He was a member of the Jackson Rotary Club and served on the Mississippi Walking Horse Association’s board of directors as vice-president.
The final site of Belhaven’s Parkin’s is now Lou’s restaurant and those who founded the establishment and patronized if for nearly half a century have passed on, relocated or remain with us as seasoned veterans of another era. In an interview for this article Doug reminisced about his childhood experiences in his father’s store. “I truly wish my own children and grandchildren could have had the opportunity to experience the family of Parkin’s Pharmacy and the pure joy of spinning on a soda stool, reading comic books and special ordering whatever they wanted at the fountain. On behalf of the Parkin family, our grateful Thank You is extended to all who allowed my dad to enjoy his profession, who seemed to regard him as the Mayor of Belhaven and who, either as co-workers or customers, loyally stood with him through the years. Were he with us today, he would be gratefully relieved that he is not forgotten.”
Good memories last forever and ensure that Mr. Jimmy Parkin will not be forgotten. That good old drug store he started back in his youth which rang with our laughter and the old stories of its time is with us still and has become a fixed star in the familiar firmament we know as Belhaven.
Bill & Nan Harvey October 2018
Sources: Interviews with Doug Parkin (August 28; October 17-20;30, 2018; Bill Nobles and Saundra Edwards (September 18 & 26, 2018); “You’re Invited to the Grand Opening of the New Parkin’s” (ad), Jackson Daily News, February 9, 1951, Section Two; “Stars Cosmetics”, Drug Topics Magazine, October 14, 1968, p. 1; “Medistat: The Parkin Family tradition Continues” (Communiqué Section, Clarion-Ledger, October 1, 1984, P. 3); “Soda fountain reflects days of yesterday”, Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News Focus Section, May 7, 1987, P. 1; “Jitney buys 6 family pharmacies”, Clarion-Ledger Business Section, March 25, 1995, p. 5B; obituary, Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home, May 24, 2013; Various neighbor comments as shown.
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.
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.