Calhoun County provides north Mississippi with a bucolic idyll between the burgeoning metro areas of Tupelo and Grenada. The Skuna and Yalobusha Rivers run east to west through Calhoun at equal distance into the Yazoo via the Tallahatchie, so geographically the county is divided into thirds. The land is typical of north central Mississippi; rolling wooded hills creased by bottomlands. Given the proximity to Oxford, the county provides a model (if not original) of Yoknapatawpha, but the county seat, Pittsboro, arguably the smallest county seat in the state, is sleepy village, contrary to Faulkner’s bustling Jefferson. Pittsboro sits atop a ridge of hills that marks the southern edge of the Skuna River Valley. To the south, the land slopes in a more leisurely manner to the Yalobusha River just south of Vardaman, Derma and Calhoun City.
Jo Brans is a member of the Reid family, which has lived in Pittsboro for time out of mind. Brans’ writings have explored many subjects, most in a much more scholarly vein, but Feast Here Awhile is a thoughtful examination of the changes in American cuisine from the 50s to the 90s. Feast Here Awhile (the title, by the way, is taken from Shakespeare’s Pericles, I,iv,107) is the story of her own culinary coming of age that takes her from the gentle hills of north Mississippi to Belhaven College in Jackson (which was strictly for young ladies until the year after she graduated, in 1955), to various locations in Texas, Minnesota and, finally, New York City as well as through two marriages, one to an American journalist, the other to a Dutch academic. Brans moves from her mother’s kitchen through college cafeterias, Texas eateries and European fare on to DeNiro’s TriBeCa Grill.
She also moves through (predictably, since the book has a pronounced literary bent) Child, Beard and Rosso, managing to mention Proust, Welty and Kerouac on the way. Indeed, Brans is somewhat of a compulsive name-dropper, both of the famous and the near-famous, but I was infinitely proud of her for managing to squeeze in Ernie Mickler and his wonderful White Trash Cooking. In short, Feast Here Awhile is a personal encapsulation of the American culinary experience in the second half of the twentieth century, and a compelling read from any standpoint. It helps, of course, to be up on the literature, culinary and otherwise, but Brans is an excellent writer and rarely boring. I would recommend this book for any Southerner interested in food and cooking, more specifically Mississippians of that bent and particularly the good people of Calhoun County itself.
In preparation for this article on her, I attempted to get in touch with Brans for an interview, but countless attempts to discover her publisher or literary agent failed. Finally my friend Michelle Hudson, who heads up the reference department at the Welty Library asked, “Have you tried the phone book?” Well, no. Sure enough, in minutes Michelle gave me a number to call. When I did, early on a Saturday evening, a polite young man answered the phone and said he’d pass my message on to Jo. Within an hour Ms. Brans called. After making sure I was from Calhoun County (that didn’t take long at all) we chatted. She said she’d think about my request and let me know. Some three days later, I received her reply. I reproduce it here as evidence of her talent and grace.
Dear Jesse, After serious reflection, I have decided that the project you propose is not for me. I enjoyed writing Feast Here Awhile. I am pleased to find that it has found favor with readers, including, especially, you. Many folks, over the years since its publication, have looked me up (“on purpose,” as we Southerners say) to offer thanks and to relate their own pleasures at the table. I would have had material for several sequels. But no, I thought, and think, not. Essentially I have said in Feast what I have to say about the changes in American eating over the last five or six decades. It’s all there, from the joys of good home cooking and the family dinner table to the more complicated pleasures of Julia Child and those whom she terrified, taught, and liberated–usually all three–and beyond. Feast Here Awhile is also a personal odyssey, if that’s not too highfaluting a term for just growing up. I ate my way from childhood in a small Southern town through various stops along the road to life in New York City, and recorded the trip, hit or miss, in “The Food Book,” which became Feast. Though food was the focus, I was always aware as I typed away that I was recording the arc of my own life. No news for either of us there: that’s what writers do. Jesse, I’m flattered that you want to work with me, but don’t be content to retread. I really like your piece about Sambo Mockbee and I suspect, from our brief communication, that you want to be a writer, not an editor. If I’m right, cut loose. My way in was food. Maybe yours is food, too, but your food, not mine. Find your own way in. Tell your story. And send me a copy when the book comes out. Good luck and God bless, Jo Brans
The old Power School closed in 1954 because of structural problems. The following year a new Power opened at 1120 Riverside Drive with the same faculty and continued providing traditional elementary education until a significant and ultimately landmark event occurred in the early 1980’s. Funding was secured through an Emergency School Aid Act grant (ESAA Magnet), written By Dr. Swinton Hill, assistant superintendent for federal programs, with assistance by Joyce Holly. This program brought $1.2 million to the Jackson Public Schools. From September 1981 to June 1982, an initial block grant of $396,000 from this fund was used to introduce a new Academic and Performing Arts Complex (APAC) into the fourth and fifth grade curriculums. It also opened the door for additional funding for Bailey Magnet and Murrah High Schools, which would become key contributors to this farsighted educational network.
Dr. Jean Simmons, coordinator of the Power APAC Performing Arts Division, joined the academic planning in the early fall of 1981 as the program was being developed and put together a curriculum drawn from the expertise of each department chair and faculty. Her efforts established credibility with local professional area arts organizations, educational institutions and the general public.
All Jackson students are welcome to audition and test for inclusion in the APAC program regardless of income or background. Former student Amber Williams, a 2013 Power APAC student, credited the program for her developing interest in dance. “Power APAC influenced my interest in fine arts of all forms, especially dance. Dancing is my personal form of expression and artistic vision. Since enrolling in Power, I decided to add dancing to my academic pursuits.” Amber continues in her field of interest today having gained the ability to focus on her strengths and talents in order to make beneficial decisions concerning her future.
The four areas of the performing arts in which Power APAC shares instruction with Bailey and Murrah are dance, drama, music and the visual arts. In these areas Power has partnered with numerous Belhaven neighborhood and Jackson institutions to bring first hand experiences to students. Some of these organizations are New Stage, Belhaven University, Mississippi Museum of Art, ETV, Mississippi Symphony Orchestra and the Mississippi Opera. Local artists with whom students have worked include Miss Eudora Welty, Margaret Walker Alexander, Beth Henley, Mary Ann Mobley, Gary Collins, Sam Gilliam, Ed McGowan, Jamie Wyeth and Leontine Price.
Power APAC has prospered under the leadership of school Principal Marlynn Martin who came to Power in June 2010 after a distinguished career in academia and school administration. The school has received a multitude of honors from local and national sources including the distinguished John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts National Schools of Distinction in Arts Education Award in 2010-11 and recently was designated a 2016-18 Exemplary School by the Arts School Network, the largest professional membership organization of specialized arts schools in America.
Old Power and Power APAC have been part of Belhaven’s basic education fabric for over 100 years. Regardless of the time and circumstance both share the goals of preparing our children for the world of their day and structuring their lives in order to achieve their maximum potential. They have been and are graced by excellent teachers and administrators dedicated to making society better than they found it in their own day. From Miss Marcia Gibbs to Dr. Marylynn Martin, the mission of each administration has been to teach children and encourage them to reach their highest level of achievement. John Logan Power would be proud of his namesakes and our neighborhood and city owe much to that fine name.
New Stage Theater began its life at 7:30 p.m. January 25, 1966, in a converted Seventh Day Adventist Church at the corner of S. Gallatin and Hooker Streets. It was a cold night, temperature 25 degrees, and what little heat generated in the building found ways to escape through cracks under its doors. Its first production was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, a radical production for its time.
The theater was created the previous fall by a farsighted group of nine, Ford and Jane Reid Petty, Patti and Carl Black, Howard and Beth Jones, Kay and Jim Childs and Jackson Daily News Amusement Editor Frank Hains. According to Jim Childs, New Stage had three goals: the establishment of a serious theater with a professional director, staff and actors who produced contemporary works selected for their artistic merit; a theatrical forum open to all and a theater where you did not have to join and become a member to attend productions. Jane Reid Petty was the driving force behind the group who hired New Yorker Ivan Rider as its first director.
New Stage was a groundbreaker in Jackson during the 1960s. Not only did it bring productions of a modern and sophisticated content but through an association with Tougaloo College, courageously faced the issues of integration and civil rights associated with the arts.
No new artistic venture with any degree of unconventional mission could have survived and thrived during those formative years without influence. Eudora Welty, already well known and respected in the literary community, joined the New Stage board in 1970, placing her name among its roster of artists. Several members of the Tougaloo College faculty lent their names to the new enterprise as well as members of the theater department at Jackson State University. In the early 2000s, Bill McCarty, III, of the prominent Jitney Jungle family, stepped up from his role as a volunteer board member to full time general manager. Without Bill’s tireless work and family financial support New Stage would not be what it is today.
New Stage moved to Belhaven in 1978 when it acquired the Little Theater building and mortgage at the corner of Whitworth and Carlisle Streets. Today it serves a community far beyond Jackson as more than 35,000 Mississippians attend performances each year. It boasts a statewide educational touring program, school fest matinees for students, performs in touring shows and sponsors youth productions of Shakespeare in the Park each spring. In 1995, the theater’s education program received the Governors Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Today, New Stage produces five main stage shows per season, has a 41 member board of trustees and is supported by ticket sales, grants, subscriptions and hundreds of financial donations from throughout the state.
While topical in its productions, New Stage does not hesitate to occasionally step back in time for a historical perspective. It recently concluded a record breaking performance of the Million Dollar Quartet which featured the music of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Nightly packed houses stood and cheered those magical memories and artists from 60 years ago. From Virginia Woolf to Jerry Lee is quite a stretch, but for over four sold out weeks, there was a Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and Virginia Woolf would have enjoyed it too had she been there.
We can’t leave this topic without a tribute to Jackson’s Little Theater. This amateur collection of volunteer actors and directors began its life on Carlisle Street in 1925. An outgrowth of similar European theater movements of the 1880s and 90s, it had its genesis in 1911 and 1912 with the formation of theaters in Boston, Chicago and New York. The movement reached Jackson in 1924 in the person of Margaret P. Green who organized the Little Theater Players of Jackson the following year. Its non-profit mission was to cultivate, advance and promote education in dramatic literature, expression and art. It did so for 53 eventful years.
In those 90 plus years when young and old took their friends and families to first the Little Theater and later New Stage they must have done so with a subliminal understanding of what William Shakespeare wrote so many years before:
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts.”
As You Like It, II,vii
For four generations the Belhaven neighborhood has had the privilege of attending plays and musicals down on Carlisle Street. Many famous playwrights, actors, directors, audiences and supporters have passed through its doors and played their roles for entertainment and historical enlightenment. The curtain is set to rise on New Stage’s 52nd season, just another attraction to one of America’s great neighborhoods.
Baptist Medical Center Jackson has evolved since its inception in 1908, when Doctors Harley Shands and John Farrar Hunter united in a successful effort to provide Jackson’s first true brick and mortar medical facility. It has since grown from its origin at the southeast corner or Manship and State Streets to a six block long complex running from Fortification to Marshall. It is now Mississippi’s premier health provider. In addition to the main campus in Belhaven, there are 21 Center clinics with 107 providers in the metro area. With the addition of the clinics and the medical center, the entire organization has been named Mississippi Baptist Health Systems.
A 2016 report to the community shows a facility with 3,000 employees and approximately 500 physicians on the medical staff. Net revenue was $454 million with approximately $18 million in charity care.
The modern day Baptist has embarked on a multitude of local health projects. These include the Baptist Medical Office Building containing 13 specialty clinics, expansion of woman’s and cardiovascular services, a Madison Performance Center, a joint venture with MS Sports Medicine and SouthStar, and the Belhaven Building, a multipurpose facility, which opened in 2013 in concert with Landmark Healthcare. This building was constructed to accommodate a variety of professions and residents. It currently houses the Manship Restaurant, a Trustmark Bank, a parking garage and is backed on the south end with 11 luxury townhouses (Belhaven Village).
On May 1, 2017, Mississippi Baptist Health Systems signed a shared mission agreement with Baptist Memorial Health Care in Memphis. As a result of this agreement, Baptist Memorial became Mississippi’s fourth largest employer and the largest health care system in the state. Baptist Memorial hospitals offer patients in all areas access to the region’s largest network of doctors and specialists.
In February 2018, Baptist will launch an electronic medical record called Baptist OneCare. The software powering this program is used in integrated health networks, community hospitals, academic medical centers and children’s organizations. Its biggest convenience for patients is “My Chart”, a free app assessable via Smartphone or computer, allowing patients to schedule appointments, refill prescriptions, direct message their care providers, access lab results and much more.
As a good corporate citizen, Baptist continues to provide charitable support to community and philanthropic organizations. These include the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, Head for the Cure brain cancer research, March of Dimes and Baptist Foundation’s annual Cyclists Curing Cancer Century Ride in September.
The Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation and its constituency owe much to Baptist Medical Center. More than 16 years ago, Baptist and the Foundation began a partnership to preserve and enhance Greater Belhaven. Many of the improvements and benefits we see each day in our neighborhood were made possible through this partnership.
Baptist Medical Center has received numerous recognitions for its health care performance. In 2017, Healthgrades named the center one of America’s 100 best Hospitals for orthopedic surgery and one of the nation’s 50 Best Hospitals for vascular surgery. In addition, for two years in a row, Baptist received Healthgrades Outstanding Patient experience Award.
Awards were not limited to physicians and specialists. In 2017, after ten years of work, the hospital received the nation’s top honor for nursing excellence called the “Magnet”, given by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, an affiliate of the American Nurses Association. It was the only hospital in Mississippi to receive this designation.
There have been a number of other awards and recognitions received by Baptist Medical Center whose early health care developers had the foresight to lay the path for a long and eventful journey. There will be a number more to come. (6)
What would Dr. Shands think of his and Dr. Hunter’s idea spawned over a century ago? He is not here to tell us but in an interview with his granddaughter Susan Shands Jones, she felt she knew. “My grandfather was a stern but very professional man. He cared deeply for his patients and their families. When he was not growing camellias he was doing surgery and would be quite impressed with today’s modern and well-equipped surgical suites and how much heart treatment has improved”.
Baptist is coming up on its 109th year of service to the health needs of our community and state. Yet, the facility remains a good neighbor and enthusiastic supporter of our own future right here in the neighborhood where it first began.
Belhaven University has come a long way from Louis Fitzhugh’s dream of a Christian girl’s school in 1894 and that hot, windy afternoon in 1910 when the college’s second president Dr. James Rhea Preston’s daughters watched fire consume that dream a second time only leading to a third on the Peachtree campus in 1927. The college has survived these conflagrations, a depression economy, elusive accreditation, myriad ownership and four name changes. The school became a University in 2009.
Today’s Belhaven University is a private four-year liberal arts institution and occupies a Jackson campus composed of 42 acres. The site is bounded by Peachtree Street, Pinehurst and Greymont Avenues and Belvoir Place. It is composed of classrooms, residence halls and administrative buildings, a lake, a bowl stadium, a pavilion, a commons and lighted fountain. Every four years the City of Jackson hosts the International Ballet Competition and Belhaven University provides lodging for a majority of its participants from throughout the world.
As of 2017, there are a total of 4,500 Belhaven students, 1,200 traditional with approximately 600 living on the Jackson campus and 1,000 adult students on the LeFleur Campus in Ridgeland. Twenty-three hundred adult studies and graduate students are enrolled on campuses in Memphis/Desoto County, Houston, Orlando, Chattanooga/Dalton County and Atlanta, plus participating in an ongoing online program.
The school is a member of NCAA Division III, belonging to the Mid-South and Southern States Athletic Conference. In 1929, the college library of 2,000 books was short of sufficiency for accreditation. The Hood Library now has 115,000 volumes and 500 periodicals.
The Jackson campus has 88 faculty members including 68 with doctorates or terminal degrees. There are 54 undergraduate and eight graduate studies programs available with a wide variety of concentrations ranging from health administration to human resources. Associate degree programs are available as well. The Adult and Graduate Program, located in a facility on I-55 north in Jackson, provides an encouraging educational environment where adult graduate students can complete their degree while maintaining their careers and personal lives.
In just a brief time period, Belhaven University has experienced growth in all three areas of academic excellence – traditional, adult and online. The adult and graduate components have added four locations (the newest this year in Madison). The traditional campus on Peachtree has expanded Fitzhugh Hall to accommodate its nursing and science studies. In addition the school has built an international center, upgraded the athletic bowl to a state of the art multipurpose stadium, built an apartment style residence hall, added a 43,000 square foot visual and dance center, a walking trail and by 2018 will have a brand new track. A University Center for the Arts at 835 Riverside has been adapted to host musical and fine arts events. The entire metro area looks forward each December to the University’s Singing Christmas Tree.
Belhaven University is more than keeping pace with the times and demands of today’s education. It, along with First Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Medical Center and Power APAC School form the cornerstones of the special place in which we live.
This has been a brief history of our Belhaven Neighborhood from 1894 to August 2017. But like all accounts it cannot cover all facets of its legacy. Older citizens will remember the old blind institute at the northwest corner of State and Fortification streets where neighbor children would slide down it corkscrew fire escape although their mothers had told them not to. Further down on the west side of State Street was the old charity hospital and its park where kids from Davis and Power Schools would meet to play baseball in the spring, and to the north, Beth-Israel Cemetery (1860) and the site of several prominent family homes now gone. On the east side were Jess Willoughby’s Barber Shop and Patterson Drugs, about where McDonalds is today. Further down was Morris Pharmacy, now the Manship Restaurant, Jitney Jungle # 9 and the Snack Shop near Poplar. The wonderful Parkin Pharmacy, originally part of English Village and later a standalone where Lou’s serves lunch and dinner may remind some of John Archie and the “pill wagon” that delivered prescriptions to our homes. All have given way to progress but remain part of our heritage.
We know that what is the present today is history by the morning sunrise. With this in mind, there will be an additional segment on how our neighborhood’s future is being shaped and assured by far-reaching creativity and planning on the part of capable leadership and our residents’ faith in its vision. Look for it soon. You might find yourself in its picture.
Belhaven University has been around for a little over 120 years – longer than the neighborhood in which it resides and only five years removed from the beginning of neighboring Millsaps College. The college began as a girl’s school, progressed to co-educational sixty years later, burned three times, and merged with an institution that no longer exists. It provided pasture for cows in its early days and boasts campuses throughout the southeast today. But I may be getting ahead of myself. Let’s start at the beginning.
Who Was Dr. Fitzhugh?
Dr. Louis T. Fitzhugh (1841-1904) was the founder of the modern Belhaven College and served as its initial owner and first president. He came to Jackson in 1894, following a successful career as president of Whitworth College in Brookhaven. He had previously been a member of the faculty at the University of Mississippi. He launched Belhaven as a private school for girls and was influenced in his academic endeavors by Millsaps College and his association with the W.B. Murrah family. Fitzhugh’s new school was named for the old Belhaven mansion purchased from Colonel Jones Hamilton. The house, called Belhaven in honor of the Colonial’s ancestral home in Scotland, was located on raised ground near the present day intersection of N. Jefferson and Boyd (Bellevue Place) Streets. At the entrance of the original home, carved in the stone step, was the name Belhaven, which was also inscribed on the cut glass chandelier shades in the interior of the home. The Hamiltons were descended from Lord Belhaven of Scotland. Fitzhugh served as president of Belhaven until his death in 1904, at which time he was succeeded both as president and proprietor by James Rhea Preston. (2) (3)
Fire and Fate – Historical Twins
Three separate fires played a major role in the College’s early history. Belhaven was chartered as a private, one owner (Dr. Fitzhugh) institution in 1894. It was designed to be a four-year girl’s school. It was located in Dr. Hamilton’s deeded mansion on Boyd Street (now the 900 block of Bellevue), and was called Belhaven College for Young Ladies. This structure was totally destroyed in a massive fire on February 7, 1895 and replaced the following year with a single dwelling frame structure on the same site.
Mrs. J.R. Preston, wife of Belhaven’s second president, remembered in a mid-20th century address details of the first early campus. “As I recall the scenes of Belhaven as I first knew it, the white buildings with green blinds came before me, the two story dormitory and school building as one, with a porch adorned with attractive grill work, running along the front; the cupola rising above all, by its presence. I see beautiful, far-reaching views to be seen from all buildings for there was no northeast Jackson then. It comes vividly before me, the grounds of ten acres, most of which was in the campus, the rest in pasture for the Jersey cows, where in the spring they stood literally knee-deep in clover. I can still see the campus naturally adored with the native trees, oak, elm, hackberry and a few magnolias, with a row of pink crepe myrtle for the southern boundary. Still to be seen from the south as one drives down Belleview (now Bellevue), were the rockeries (rock gardens) adding a formal touch and there was a basketball field nearby. I recall the graveled driveway entering the campus at Mr. C.H. Alexander’s home, just south of Boyd Street on Jefferson. A quaint landmark was the stile by which pedestrians gained access to the board walk leading directly to the dormitory. This climb by day was breath-taking, and by night more than spooky”.
Dr. Preston (1853-1922) came to Belhaven from his presidency at Stanton College in Natchez. He was a former State superintendent of education and largely responsible for the public education system in place in Mississippi today. The State’s official motto Virtute et Armis (Valor and Arms) was coined by Preston and has appeared on the Mississippi coat of arms since 1894. A second devastating blaze began on October 19, 1910, from a furnace spark which landed in the dining room of the main building. According to Mrs. Kenneth Kraft and Mrs. Henry Mills, Dr. Preston’s daughters who witnessed the fire as children, the October day was dry and windy. The fire wagons came immediately, but the hydrant was at the foot of the hill. With no water pressure, nothing could be done. Preston decided for business and personal reasons not to rebuild Belhaven. He discussed his decision with his pastor J.B. Hutton of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson. As a result, the Presbytery received as a donation by Preston title and charter to the school which was renamed the Belhaven Collegiate and industrial Institute on July 25, 1911. The Boyd Street site was abandoned and construction began on a new academic building on the corner of Harper and Park Streets– later to be renamed Pinehurst and Peachtree. Belhaven Street, to reach from the center of the campus to North State, was a dotted line on the maps of the day, a dirt road and as they say “only a gleam in the eye.” Fate would intervene again in a number of ways 16 years later. (3), (4), (5)
How Did Fitzhugh and Preston Halls Get Their Names?
On August 9, 1927, lightning struck the main building and destroyed the major part of the plant and most of its contents. This was the building facing Peachtree Street which housed dormitories on the first and second floors, a kitchen and dining area on the north end and a chapel and gymnasium on the south. One can only imagine what went through the mind of President Guy T. Gillespie as he received a Western Union wire while on board a train to Princeton University to deliver a speech. It appeared at first that the building was a total loss. Yet from the ashes of that summer day rose the phoenix of the modern day Belhaven University. It reset the course of the school’s history. The board of trustees met the following day and began plans to rebuild. Meanwhile, Gillespie had plans of his own. While taking an architecture course at Columbia University, he was required to do a design project. He applied this experience to the task at hand. He never really liked the campus being all one building and so he developed a plan for taking out the burned center section creating two distinct buildings which are Fitzhugh and Preston Halls today. Between the buildings was built a concrete lagoon with columns on either side. The beautiful lighted fountain which can be seen from far down Belhaven Street stands in this location now. (3) (6) (7)
The Years of Famine
Dr. Guy Gillespie began his presidency in 1921 and remained as head of the college for 33 years. He faced nearly insurmountable challenges in areas of endowment, enrollment and accreditation during his tenure. It would be no stretch to say that while Fitzhugh and Preston fathered the institution, Gillespie saved it during its formative years. The battle for accreditation, the lifeblood of every serious educational institution, began in earnest at a May 21, 1929 meeting when Gillespie announced to his board that the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools had denied accreditation to the school. Their reasons were that endowment was $100,000 short of the required amount, the library needed 2,000 additional books, faculty salaries were far below the Association’s minimum and the faculty included only one Ph.D. The following 25 years were a testament to tenacity, endurance, courage and prayer. While church, local municipalities, out-of-state funding sources, local businesses and private individuals did their best to help the college meet its endowment needs and other accreditation criteria, there was a depression to contend with followed by a world war.
Through perseverance and God’s help on the morning of June 1, 1946, Gillespie was able to read the following statement to his board: “The outstanding event of the year was the admission of Belhaven College to membership in the Southern Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools at the annual meeting of the Association in Memphis on March 28, 1946, and with the full accreditation of the institution as a standard liberal arts college.” Academically, Belhaven was legitimate. Its future was secured. Other historical landmarks were the designation of Belhaven as a co-educational institution in 1954, transfer of the college by the Synod of Mississippi Presbyterian Church in the United States to the Belhaven College Board of Trustees in 1972, and renaming the college Belhaven University in 2009. (3)
A Historical Anomaly
While many consider the birth of Belhaven as 1894, when Fitzhugh purchased the Hamilton property and received a charter for the establishment of the school, others point to 1883 as the beginning. Technically, others are correct. We have discussed the college’s difficulties with achieving accreditation which hindered its growth and academic credibility. One means of addressing this deficiency was a merger with the Mississippi Synodical College in Holly Springs on April 14, 1939. Consolidation of the two colleges took place under the following terms:
(1) Mississippi Synodical College would not close (but eventually did), but continue as a part of Belhaven College.
(2) Consolidation would take place as of June 1, 1939, and the Belhaven College Board would assume functions of the Mississippi Synodical College Board of Trustees.
(3) Assets and liabilities of the Mississippi Synodical College would be taken over by Belhaven.
(4) The Christian aims of both colleges would be preserved.
(5) The endowment, assets, and other permanent funds of Mississippi Synodical College would be kept intact and used as nearly in accordance with the intention of the original donation as possible.
(6) After liquidation of the outstanding indebtedness of Mississippi Synodical College, the residue would be used in the construction of a building or in some way to perpetuate the name of the college on the campus of Belhaven.
(7) Records of the Mississippi Synodical College were to be preserved at Belhaven.
(8) Dr. Robert Franklin Cooper, president of Mississippi Synodical College, was named vice-president of Belhaven.
Mississippi Synodical College opened in 1883. This date was adopted by the Board of Trustees as the founding date of Belhaven as it represented the oldest founding date of all of the institutions (Belhaven had merged with the McComb Female Institute when it was reopened by the Central Mississippi Presbytery in 1911), which were eventually absorbed into the college. (3) (8)
Belhaven University has come a long way from Fitzhugh’s dream of a Christian girl’s school in 1894 and that hot, windy afternoon in 1910 when Preston’s daughters watched fire consume that dream a second time only leading to a third. The college has survived three fires, a depression economy, elusive accreditation, myriad ownership and four name changes.
Today’s Belhaven University is a private four-year liberal arts institution and sits on a main Jackson campus of 42 acres bounded by Peachtree Street, Pinehurst and Greymont Avenues and Belvoir Place. It is composed of 13 classroom, dormitory and administrative buildings, a lake, a bowl, a pavilion, a commons and a lighted fountain. An Alumni Center is located on the west side of Peachtree Street near Riverside Drive. Every four years the City of Jackson hosts the International Ballet Competition and Belhaven University provides lodging for a majority of its participants from throughout the world. According to the Department of Communications, there are a total of 3,500 students, 1,100 traditional, with 500 living on the main Jackson campus, with 300 adult students on the Lefleur Campus. Seventeen hundred adult studies and graduate students are enrolled on campuses in Memphis, Houston, Orlando, Chattanooga and Atlanta, plus participating in a growing online program.
There are 27 undergraduate studies programs on the Jackson campus and five graduate studies programs including degrees in business and public administration. The ASPIRE Program, located in a facility on I-55 north in Jackson, provides an encouraging educational environment where adult graduate students can complete their degree programs while maintaining their careers and personal lives. The school competes well in the NAIA’s Mid-South and Southern States Athletic Conferences and the Baseball Blazers are looking forward to a stellar season this spring. A total of 17 bachelor and 13 graduate programs are housed on ancillary campuses in cities mentioned above. Associate degree programs are available on these sites as well. There are also extensive online studies available to the modern student. Remember back in 1929, when the library was 2,000 books short, insufficient for accreditation? The Hood Library now has 115,000 volumes and 500 periodicals. The Jackson campus has a faculty in excess of 90 professors and instructors, 20 of whom are Ph.Ds. The school has an endowment just under $5 million. (10) (11)
What Can We Do?
What can we do as a neighborhood to support this institution we see in many ways as our own? We can reflect a moment and ask ourselves some questions.
Have you spent some time on the campus walking trails lately to see all the new construction? Have you spoken with students or faculty members or walked along the lake by the practice fields and noticed the ducks and an occasional fisherman on a Sunday morning?
Did a friend or relative attend Belhaven back in the day; are they students now or plan to be? Did you sit with your mother as I did as a child in the 1940’s by the lagoon filled with goldfish between Fitzhugh and Preston Halls and listened to her tell you of her own college days at Belhaven in the 1920’s? (She and the goldfish are gone but the memories and a magnificent fountain remain.)
Have you or those you know of a later generation visited Bitsy Irby Visual Arts and Dance Center at Peachtree and Euclid Streets, the Entergy Pavilion down the hill from the Bailey Commons or the Belhaven College of the Arts with its magnificent ballet performances on the western rise of Riverside Drive for an evening of cultural enrichment? Did you know Eudora Welty who lived across the street? Do friends have coffee in her Shoebird Café in the McCravey Triplett Student Center? Did they visit the bookstore?
Have you done reading or research at the Warren Hood Library or voted in its Barber Auditorium? Have you sat on the white benches along the faculty walk in Gillespie Commons?
Do you know anyone who built a home in Belhaven in the 1950’s or 60’s on Belvoir and knew it was once the northern shore of Belhaven Lake? Did you swim or canoe in the lake as a kid or today watch its fountains display theior beauty near the practice fields?
Did your gang play football or baseball as children the bowl on Peachtree or watch your own children play soccer there only last week? Have you seen or listened to the school’s free gift of the beautiful Belhaven Christmas Tree singing each season by the lake?
Have you or one of your friends bought a home in the neighborhood and in some cases spent more on renovation than the purchase price just so you can live here? Do we as residents and friends fully understand who gave our neighborhood its name? Do you feel a sense of pride when people ask you where you live and you can tell them “Belhaven”?
There is always something which can be done to preserve a heritage of faith, courage, achievement and vision. There are commitments to be made, memories to be acknowledged, friends and associates to influence and work to be done. Dr. Fitzhugh will take the time in his eternal classroom to open to us his own book of life and acknowledge our support so that perhaps his hall and college will remain with us another hundred years attesting to the excellence of Christian good will. We have in Belhaven University a treasure and cornerstone to one of America’s great neighborhoods. You do not even have to go to school to realize how fortunate we are.
Bill Harvey February 2012
(1) Parrott, Roger, “Letter to Alumni and Friends of Belhaven” (December 2011)
(2) Gillespie, G.T., Dr. Louis T. Fitzhugh, Commencement Address (1954)
(3) Gordon, James F., Jr., “A History of Belhaven College 1894-1981”, Jackson, MS, Belhaven College (1983)
(4) Preston, Mrs. J.R., “Memories of Early Belhaven”, speech (undated)
(5) Belhaven College, Sanford Map Company, sheet 19 (1918)
(6) Waibel, Paul R., “Belhaven College,” Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing Co. (2000)
(7) Parrott, Roger, “Thinking About Higher Education” Belhaven Tartan: (Winter 2011)
(8) “Belhaven University”, Wikipedia Encyclopedia (January 2012)
(9) Parrott, Roger, quote from e-mail (1/13/12)
(10) Belhaven University Department of Communications
(11) Belhaven University website
Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation Executive Director Virgi Lindsay for the idea
Henry Mills, M.D., grandson of Dr. and Mrs. James Rhea Preston for his kind hospitality and for sharing personal documents as to the early history of Belhaven
Bryant Butler, Director of Communications, Belhaven College, for invaluable information on Dr. Louis Fitzhugh, photograph reproduction of the Hamilton Mansion and current Belhaven data.
Charles Guidine, Archivist, Belhaven College Reference and Periodical Library for photos and access to current archival files
Nancy E. Harvey, my wife, who provided technical assistance in writing; proofing and encouragement
The Belhaven neighborhood itself by making this project worthwhile and for the privilege of allowing me to enjoy my old age as one who grew up with its landmarks, its institutions and its people.
There’s a green place in the heart of Jackson where roses bloom and a Summer House rests beneath the city skyline, a place to have a quiet lunch, a leisurely walk and a chance to recharge batteries during another day at the office. You won’t be disturbed; those many around you there lived their lives to fruition years ago. You will be in a place to contemplate your own life and expectations in Greenwood.
Greenwood Cemetery is Jackson’s largest green space; much larger than downtown’s Smith Park or old Battlefield Park in south Jackson. It is bounded on the east by West Street, on the north by Davis, the west by Lamar and the south by George. Each of these streets has its own story and each was part of the early city. They have changed in nature but not their boundaries or how it all came about when the city was founded. Those interred within these grassy perimeters of Greenwood were influential in the early city and responsible for building it to maturity. They are not ghosts, they are history, and you will have a chance to know them better. Let’s begin.
The cemetery itself, part of a federal land grant which also established the City of Jackson as the official site of the Capitol of Mississippi on November 21, 1821, was formally designated by an act of the State Legislature effective January 1, 1823. The original six acres were known simply as the “graveyard” and later as the “City Cemetery”. Some referred to it as the “burying ground”. An early map (1822) showed the area west of what is now West Street as vacant land indicating that originally the cemetery, while in Jackson’s original plan, was not yet officially within the city limits. The cemetery is shown on an 1845 Jackson map as the Grave Yard, encompassing 11.8 acres. The future extension to its present size is shown in squares 6N, 9.64 acres and 7N, 9.77 acres on this map. Its formal designation as Greenwood Cemetery was adopted in 1899, and it was listed on the National Register of Historical Places as a Mississippi landmark in 1984.
Greenwood Cemetery contains the graves of seven Mississippi governors, 14 Jackson mayors, six Confederate generals, six state Supreme Court justices and 27 clergymen. It is the final resting place for over 100 unknown Confederate soldiers whose lined markers may be seen easily from the West Street side. According to Greenwood Cemetery Association board member Peter Miazza, “Jackson pioneer Logan Power said there are altogether about 600 Confederate soldiers buried in the Confederate graveyard. We have names of about 500 of them, but do not know exactly where each is buried.”
“There were no sections for any group,” Cecile Wardlaw, executive director of the cemetery Association says. “Many old cemeteries were divided into sections by race or religion. Greenwood never was. Catholic, Protestant, or atheist, black or white; everybody just got buried. ‘Born in Ireland’ appears on many of the oldest stones.”
Time well spent with Mrs. Wardlaw and Mr. Miazza in May 2013, provided a wealth of information on the early days and development of the cemetery. “There are 330 unmarked graves at the original south end of the cemetery,” Mrs. Wardlaw related, “with the estimated number of all graves today being 5,000.” The oldest known surviving marker with a date is Governor Abram Marshall Scott who died June 12, 1833. There are an estimated 2,200 monuments posted on the Find A Grave website and Jacksonian Linda Robertson is in the process of doing a monument survey.
Mrs. Wardlaw told of how the roses came to be along the roads and walkways. “Local horticulturalist Felder Rushing donated the roses you see along the paths which he obtained from the Antique Rose Emporium in Texas. He did some work for that establishment and instead of getting a fee, he came back with a truck and trailer load of roses. He did that for two or three years and master gardeners helped him plant them. He will not tell us the names of the cuttings but only to say ‘they are there for people to enjoy’”.
The city owns the cemetery, but much of the maintenance is done by the Greenwood Cemetery Association which also raises funds to repair and perform landscaping work. Volunteers in this organization have provided more than 600 hours of service since the beginning of 2013. They have been aided by local Boy Scouts, AmeriCorps and the Phi Theta Kappa honorary fraternity at Mississippi College. Boy Scout Troop No. 1 (St. James and St. Andrews Episcopal Churches), performed volunteer work at the cemetery during the spring. The Brookhaven Monument Company is the primary source of stone repairs. The old section (south end) of the cemetery was not plotted since the “burial ground” was not officially a part of the city when first put to use. As the cemetery expanded northward, surveyors had difficulty putting in roads since bodies were buried haphazardly rather than in organized rows.
A number of Jackson’s first families have been interred in Greenwood Cemetery. Marion Dunbar, first pastor of Mt. Helm Baptist Church, is there. It was named Helm because Thomas Helm contributed the lot for the church to be built and also gave the church some money to help with construction. According to its website, Mt. Helm, Jackson’s oldest African American church, began in 1835, with several enslaved African Americans who worshiped in the basement of the First Baptist Church. It became a separate body in 1867, the year the 13th Amendment was ratified. A modern version of the church structure may be seen today at 300 E. Church Street near the west side of the cemetery.
Other Jacksonians of note include Millsaps College founders Col. William Nugent, Bishop Charles Betts Galloway, and Dr. William Belton Murrah, who served as the college’s first president; Dr. Lewis Fitzhugh, first president of Belhaven University and father-in-law of Dr. Murrah; founders of the Baptist Hospital, Harley R. Shands, M.D., and John Farrar Hunter, M.D., and Rev. John Hunter, pastor of First Presbyterian Church (1858). Monuments are plentiful for many early Jackson families including the Yergers, Spenglers, Greens, Poindexters, Lemons, Virdens, Henrys, Miazzas and, of course Miss Eudora Welty.
In addition to Miss Welty (d.2001), other Belhaven residents buried in Greenwood Cemetery include Henry Muller Addkison, local hardware dealer (d.1974), Lawrence Saunders (more on him later), R.H. Henry, owner and publisher of the Daily Clarion and Clarion-Ledger (d.1891), and James H. Boyd (d.1882). Boyd, the owner of what is now The Oaks home on North Jefferson Street, was a former mayor of the city and his home was the site of the conception of Mississippi’s first “Decoration Day”, which became known nationally as Memorial Day.
Monuments range from barely noticeable to imposing. In the circle by the cemetery’s Summer House, is the monument of Rev. Amos Cleaver, an Episcopal priest, who died in October 1853 from yellow fever. Five years after his death, some women took up money for this monument. The exact location of his grave is unknown so his marker was placed where it is today. The widow Cleaver had a girl’s school in a frame building where St. Andrews Episcopal Church stands today at S. West and E. Capitol Streets. In 1854, she sold the school to the state for its first school for the deaf. There is also the “Weeping Lady” (Sarah Ann and George Lemon plot), the Hilzheim lot framing structure, which looks like a church, and the “Angel Tombstone” in the Poindexter lot.
Perhaps the most interesting monuments have stories associated with their namesakes. What’s in a name? We shall soon see.
The Saunders Stone
Lawrence Saunders was a professor at the deaf school which was then across the street from his mother’s house near Barksdale and North State Streets. On Christmas night in 1895, he dressed as Mrs. Santa Claus to entertain the students. Saunders was on his way to the school and stopped by his mother’s home to show her his costume but the front door was locked. He let himself in through the back gallery. The only person home was his nephew who awoke to discover a strange presence. He shouted “Stop or I’ll shoot.” Unfortunately, Lawrence, being deaf, did not hear the warning and was killed by his own kinsman. It is never good when you shoot Santa Claus.
The Little Dog Tombstone
An unnamed small girl lived in Jackson during the mid-1800’s. Her family moved from the capitol city to Oxford where the child died. She was buried in the Simms plot which may be seen north of the summer house to the right of the circle. It is said her small grief-stricken dog would not leave her grave and died at its foot a short time later. His likeness remains to guard his mistress through the portals of eternity – faithful to the end.
The Good Samaritan Monument
Dr. Samuel Cartwright was well known for his work and writings to control the great Yellow Fever and cholera epidemics. During the Civil War, he was charged with getting rid of dysentery in the Confederate military camps, but he contracted dysentery himself and died in 1863. The carving of the “Good Samaritan” on his tombstone attests to his sacrifice and may be seen on his marker today.
My Dog Skip
A movie scene, filmed in Greenwood Cemetery, was based on Willie Morris’ 2000 novel My Dog Skip, and represented the witches’ tomb in the Yazoo City Cemetery. It depicted one of the characters going out among the tombstone to sit down and drink booze. Also, a replica of the Helm mausoleum was constructed for the movie in which the bootleggers stored their moonshine. There is no written record, however, of these spirits raising other spirits or sharing their company for the evening.
Lorian Hemingway’s Ghosts
The granddaughter of novelist Ernest Hemingway came to Jackson in 1999 to write an article on the 1966 Candlestick Park tornado. While here she participated in a ghost tour in Greenwood Cemetery, which was conducted and scripted by Jo Barksdale, much to the delight of a number of children.
The Tallest Monument
The stateliest monument in the cemetery looks eastward toward the sunrise. It is said its tenant was fabulously wealthy, controlling more cotton land than anyone outside the country of Egypt. He died in New Orleans in an area made famous by Josh White’s folk ballad “The House of the Rising Sun”. No one knows exactly to what extent the sun rose on that occasion, but it does make for fascinating speculation. Following his death his wife donated $5,000 to the church. Perhaps a wise investment.
Early Jackson family descendent Peter Miazza says “If you want to take a short tour to visually observe evidence of the history of Jackson and the leading citizens of the State of Mississippi, there is no better place to learn than Greenwood Cemetery.”
They are all here, diverse in their lifetime but equal in the eyes of God. Within the 22 acres of monuments and memories lie those who preceded this day, and share its common ground. There are the wealthy and the pauper, the slave and his master, the business owner and his clerk, the patriarch and the child. There are the physicians, the barristers, the judges, the politicians, the writers and artists, the entrepreneurs and the indigents. There are the prominent with their success and their secrets. There are the unnamed and the unknown. There are the wretched and the rascals and the Good Samarian and the faithful dog. There is Everyman. As Albert Einstein once said “Before God we are equally wise and equally foolish.”
As you walk the paths of Greenwood Cemetery, contemplate the rose shaded spirits around you. Feel their presence. You, like them, are part of our city’s heritage and its destiny. While our own lives are but a flash of light in the darkness of creation- a short string, the deeds of those who sleep around us endure forever. It is one final reminder that beauty is at our fingertips and that we are not alone.
Most of the material in this article was obtained from an interview with Greenwood Cemetery Association Executive Director Cecile Wardlaw and board member Peter Miazza on May 9, 2013. Other sources include:
1) Greenwood Cemetery brochure
2) Wikipedia Encyclopedia
3) Walt Grayson’s Look around Mississippi (WLBT-TV, 4/24/12; 12/26/12)
4) Jackson, A Special Place by Carroll Brinson (1977) P. 49 (map)
5) Mt. Helm Baptist Church website
Interested readers might also wish to consult:
* Find-A-Grave website
* The Old Cemeteries of Hinds County (1811-1988) by Mary Collins Landin