Local history is the beggar at Clio’s feast. In the hierarchy of history topmost are works on great wars, empires and cultures; next histories of countries, commerce and important cities; then finally—after a considerable gap—comes state and local history, the latter often denigrated as nothing more than amateur obsessions.
State and local histories command little professional attention because they receive the least academic funding, the fewest and least government loans or grants, and the smallest lectern on official and scholastic stages. In those the folklorist with his dancing palette and anthropological basis commands more respect. Professional historians deride local history as poorly-researched, ill-written and hopelessly insular. This criticism can and is levelled at history written on any level; simply read The American Historical Review for confirmation.
Yet who can scorn research as insufficient when conducted with so little material in place? How often does Gibbon himself sound as if he’s labored far too late and drunk far too much port? Who can say that the storming of the Bastille isn’t local history to Parisians, or an account of the Beer Hall Putsch isn’t to Bavarians? The least parts of history come together to form the whole, and in the smallest arenas of mankind we can discern a microcosm 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, teaching us who we are, revealing how our little part of the world shapes our lives and strengthens our hearts.
A History of Greater Belhaven is available at the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation office for a donation of $20 (or more). Copies may be obtained by contacting Casey Creasey at (601) 352-8850 or email her at email@example.com.
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.
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.
Growing up we called them the “pink apartments”, something unique to the architecture of the neighborhood and an attraction to passersby throughout Belhaven.
The two apartment complexes at 1204 and 1214 Kenwood Place were built in 1938 by Jackson architect James T. (Jack) Canizaro. They have been the home of hundreds of tenants over seven decades spanning three generations of Jacksonians. The apartments rest quietly behind a façade of crepe myrtle and magnolia trees, cool and shady and adjacent to the old Kennington property, which gave their street its name. The pink apartments have no prenomen, but have a great story to tell. No one can tell it better than Bob Canizaro, son of the original designer, who grew up there in the building’s early years.
Mr. Canizaro, an architect himself, lives in Evanston, IL. He grew up in Belhaven with a loving family and great friends surrounded by post-war Jackson and those wondrous times we refer to as the greatest generation. This is his story as told to Bill Harvey, a neighbor from just up Manship Street.
“The stork arrived at Baptist Hospital on Christmas Eve 1938 and quickly moved me to 1110 N. Jefferson Street, a four-plex that stands today. My architect dad (James T. Canizaro), announced my arrival in a series of blue prints complete with maps, plans and schedules. My first gift from him was a football, which I never played with much myself, but I enjoyed following my favorite teams. These were Notre Dame and Central and St. Joseph High Schools in Jackson. My family moved into the 1204 Kenwood Place building when it was completed in 1939.
The tri-plex apartments were a joint effort with a cousin, Emile Cavallo, a civil engineer. Jack and Emile decided to construct our two buildings so they each could live in one unit and have an income from the other two. Mr. Cavello had been in business for a while and could stake the effort for my dad since he was just getting started in his career. Apartments were not new to the neighborhood although the architectural design was unique. I never heard any negative complaints except from his mom, Rosa Pantoliano Canizaro. She felt it lacked a proper front porch where you could rock and talk to the people on the sidewalk. Traditions vary but hospitality remains the same.
I lived and grew up at 1204, until I was 18, then went to Notre Dame, my dad’s alma mater. Many tenants came and went in our apartment building. There was a Dutch couple, Col. And Mrs. Von Oven who lived there during World War II. He was in the Royal Dutch Air Force in training at Hawkins Field. The Dutch flyboys were notorious for their antics in downtown Jackson, often flying low down Capitol Street and waving at the girls in the high-rise office buildings. A woman who worked for us heard a loud noise one day and looked out the kitchen door on the front of the building and saw the Colonel flying down Kenwood Place. No small wonder we won the war!
Col. Lyon Brandon and his wife lived in our building on the Manship side after the war. He worked for the American Legion, traveled around the world and brought me matchbook covers that made a fine collection. I was fond of a tenant named McGehee. He and I were regulars at the old Jackson Senators baseball games at the fairgrounds. We were close to Dr. Estelle Maguria who lived in our middle apartment. After she left, William Fulton, former director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting moved in.
Tenants in our building were generally professional people. The interior and exterior of our home lent itself to the enjoyment of a boy growing up in the times – plenty of room in the back yard, high ceilings, a banister to slide down, my own room, a hill in front to navigate on cardboard sheets and visits to nearby stores for ice cream and comic books. I could walk or ride my bike to school. My dad raised chickens on the back porch and there were endless nearby places to explore. My dad had his architecture studio in a building in the rear yard until the 1960’s. After that it was used by my mother, a recognized Mississippi artist, for a studio. later I made it into an apartment.
My sister Jean Trigiani lived in the end apartment in 1966 when the rent was $95 a month. She is now Mrs. Jean Enochs. She remembers when she and her good friend Tine, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Wright grew up together. Tine, who is now Tine Wright Purdy of Huntsville, AL, lived with her family in the 1000 block of Manship Street. She and Jean would play together at their homes or at the Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home where Tine’s father was a partner. Sometimes when the girls needed someone to talk to – maybe on a childhood problem, they would call one another and agree to meet halfway between their residences on a Manship Street curb to talk it over. Having the Baptist Hospital close by proved convenient as I visited the emergency room often with my dad for sprains and stitches. My wife, Beth rescued a brick from the old hospital for me as a memento of those days when the hospital and Jackson were a little smaller.
My good friends in the Kenwood/Manship neighborhood were Fred and John Reimers, John Harley Walsh, Robert Stockett, Kirby Walker, Jr. Guy Lowe, John Potter, Gilmer Spivey, Bernard Meltzer, Tupper and Doug Drane and Howard Shannon. Our family was friends with the Bufords, the Millers, the Wrights, the Harrises, Granthams and Garrisons. This area produced a golf foursome (Reimers, Walsh, Spivey, Canizaro) during our high school and college years. Along streets a little farther a-field, the friends I can remember were Thad McLauren, Rip Pritchard, Jim Herring, Donald McGehee, Bill Bates, George Wilkinson, Bob Thompson, Jim Evans, Robert Taylor, John Deweese and Ricky Rothenberg.” Older Jacksonians will remember many of these prominent names.
I recall meeting kids from the neighborhood at Mrs. Downing’s kindergarten on the corner of Poplar and Jefferson. Most of my schooling was at St Joseph, but I spent three wonderful years at the original Power Elementary School at Pinehurst and North State.
My family had a farm in Madison County where I spent most weekends riding horses and making a bit of trouble for the farm manager. Robert Stockett (Stockett Stables) and I rode a lot and entered horse shows at the State Fairgrounds. Our farm was a Hereford cattle ranch back then but there were many other types of animals and crops. I later helped care for the chickens, pigs and goats and harvest grain and hay.
I did found time to play ball on the Reimers ‘back forty’; engage in a game of kick the can along the intersection of Kenwood and Manship; and hope, in winter, to get enough snow to sled down our gentle hills each season. I do remember the 1100 block of Manship was gravel – not conventional gravel, but crushed limestone like they use along railroad tracks.
My friends and I would have rubber gun wars on the “big ditch” on Poplar, which is now Belhaven Park. We would ‘play out’ in the evenings, catch lightning bugs and watch the mosquito sprayer go up and down the nearby streets. I loved model (electric) trains, as did most kids of my era. Freddie Reimers had a miniature rail yard in one of his family’s out buildings and I spent hours playing there. On summer nights, before air conditioning, I would lie awake and listen to real trains switching on the old GM & O yard. My sister also remembers the train cars banging day and night on the tracks over by St. Ann Street. They would make loud noises to the point it got to be sort of a joke.
We could also hear the starting whistle at the Buckeye Oil Mill on Fortification and trains on the Illinois Central line along Mill Street when the wind was from the west. I remember in the early morning the calls of the vegetable vendors who would peddle their wares on carts throughout the neighborhood. ‘ Fresh shell butterbeans and peas’, they would cry. ‘Okra, corn, tomatoes’. At dawn when the air was still, my sister could hear the lions and elephants at the zoo. I cut grass, worked on the farm, subbed on John Harley’s paper route for money to spend at Cain’s Drugstore (later Parkins Pharmacy) on the corner of Fortification and Jefferson and for a fudgesicle at Shady Nook.
Like so many sons, I owe much of my good times and success to my family. My father, James T. Canizaro, was born in Vicksburg of Italian immigrant parents. He studied architecture at Notre Dame (1928) and worked in Chicago for Graham Anderson, Propst and White. He spent a year in Europe during the Depression studying Art Nouveau, Bauhaus and Art Deco architectural designs. After a short stay in Washington, DC, he moved to Jackson in 1936. He had just married Helene Host of Lake Geneva, WI. She said many times she married an architect because she did not want to marry a Wisconsin farmer. There was probably a bit more to it than that. She became a Tennessee Walking Horse fan and enjoyed the farm almost every weekend.
My father’s first design projects began in 1937. He preferred the Modernism he had seen in Europe, but was not able to sell that concept to many clients in Mississippi. The Kenwood Place apartments were finished in 1939 and were his original inventive concept of what he had observed on trips to Europe and Miami. It has been described as Art Moderne. He also told me he had admired then current architecture in Southern California. He had a chance to try his ideas on work in Oxford, Mississippi for a local apartment developer. He did other projects during those years in Oxford (City Hall) and Natchez (Armstrong Tire and Rubber Co.) making him spend a lot of time on gravel roads observing construction. In Jackson, he worked on designs for residences, the City Court, St. Dominic Hospital, the Pix (now Capri) Theater, Farish Street Baptist Church, Christ the King Church, St. Mary’s School, Sally Reynolds School, the JSU cafeteria, the apartments currently at 1005 Popular Blvd., Trustmark Bank (First National) and many other local and state institutions.
My dad had a real hill to climb to prove himself given his ethnic heritage. Because of his talent, charming personality and generosity with his time he was successful. He provided leadership in many of the local cultural, social, religious and charitable organizations. Among these were the Little Theater, where my dad was in some plays, the Jackson Symphony, the Art Association, Magnolia Speech School, Good Samaritan Center, St. Vincent De Paul Society and the Catholic Diocese. My dad died in the Kenwood Place Apartment building in 1984 and my mother moved to St. Catherine’s in 1989. I sold the property to Holden Clark in the early 90’s and he sold it to Waddell Nejam a few years later.”
We see without seeing so many lifetimes in Belhaven. We admire its eclectic structures whose casement windows reflect the sunlight of a peaceful afternoon. We walk along sidewalks built a half-century ago, half covered now with grass but still a pathway for new parents of children in strollers and pets hopefully on leashes on their way to a walk in Belhaven Park. We take the rugged oaks, like the innocence of our youth, for granted and admire the newer trees and plants in well-kept yards. We share the tranquility, which has always been there, the tenants and lives forgotten or just beginning. The pink apartments stand guard over our past and future. Their legacy is who we are. Thank you Jack and Bob Canizaro for just one more reason why Belhaven is special and a historical treasure to all who know and love it.
Robert (Bob) H. Canizaro FAIA is married to Dr. Beth Chihan Canizaro, the founder and Principal of Davis Magnet School, has two sons (Mark and Paul) and lives in Evanston, Illinois. He is a former principal in the architectural firm, Canizaro, Cawthorn and Davis in Jackson. His resume includes courthouses, hospitals, laboratories, churches, offices, retail shops, residences, schools and a major airport. He has been honored with design awards by members of his profession for many of these works and has a long list of professional memberships and achievements including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mississippi AIA. He enjoys living in Evanston, far enough from the traffic of the big city but near enough to enjoy the cultural and gastronomic amenities of the urban environment. He maintains a number of contacts in Mississippi and visits Jackson often.
This is a third in a series of articles on the Belhaven neighborhood by Bill and Nan Harvey. In it we look at some of our early institutions and neighbors who frequented them. Some are gone, some still remain; here’s their history.
Miss Eudora Welty (1909-2001) is generally acknowledged as Belhaven’s greatest literary treasure. A writer of true greatness and internationally recognized in that regard as well as for her Depression era photography, she was our neighbor on Pinehurst who shopped at Jitney 14, studied in our libraries, and visited along the sidewalks of our neighborhood.
Miss Welty won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1973 for The Optimists Daughter and was recognized internationally in 1996 when French Consul General Gerard Blanchot came to Jackson and pinned the red-ribboned star of the French Legion of Honor on her silk gown. Legions of articles and books have been written about Eudora Welty including a biography by Belhaven resident Suzanne Marrs. Her life and works are available in bookstores and libraries everywhere. Yet in spite of all her notoriety our famous neighbor was a gracious and humble lady whose kindness was a prime example of gentility.
There are hundreds of stories about Miss Welty, her gentle manner, and sly sense of humor. I have my own. Some of you remember the “hippie days”, when Beatle emulating young people wore their hair long, donned love beads and sported Nehru jackets. There was a restaurant at the end of South Jefferson Street which shall remain nameless, whose proprietors were of the old school. One summer evening Miss Eudora was escorted by two Belhaven College students to the establishment for dinner. The owners took one look at the young men and ordered the trio out. “We don’t serve men with long hair,” they proclaimed. Miss Welty thanked the restaurant owners and departed. Frank Hains, arts and entertainment editor for the Jackson Daily News, heard of the incident and wrote a scathing column in which he demanded an apology. Although the article could not have benefited the restaurant owners, Miss Welty defended the restaurant saying it was their right (then) to refuse service. When asked if she would return under different circumstances she smiled and evoked one of her favorite expressions, “We’d be fools if we didn’t.”
There was no facility to service automobiles in early Belhaven. Residents had to go downtown for gasoline, oil changes and minor repair work. However, that changed in 1928 when a little one pump gas station, designed by Jackson architect Hays Town was built at the northwest corner of Poplar and Hazel Streets. Through the years the little station, which resembled a miniature version of a colonial home, sold petroleum products, nostrums and notions until it closed in 1969. Architects Thomas Goodman and Sam Mockbee adapted the old station to their needs in 1978. According to Goodman, Mrs. Mathew O’Riley a Belhaven third grade teacher, named it “Shady Nook”.
Shady Nook was a way station for the neighborhood kids. Belhaven architect Bob Canizaro who lived on Kenwood, recalls he used his grass mowing money to buy fudge sickles there. Bill Harvey would meet other neighborhood kids on Saturday morning at the Nook to air up his bike tires, grab some Nabs and head for Laurel Street Park. But it was also once a popular hangout for Belhaven coeds as it sold ice cream, candy, soft drinks, peanuts, bobby pins, toiletries and….cigarettes. Today it serves as the office for Henry LaRose Realty. There were many things young ladies had to be shielded from in the 30’s and 40’s and not the least of these were cigarettes. We didn’t know as much about those things then as we do now and after all, Bogie and McCall smoked in their movies; they were stars so it had to be cool. After classes and on weekends, a few of the more daring young ladies from the college slipped down to Shady Nook to light up. No teachers or housemothers were present. Sophistication abounded. It was their refuge.
Throughout the late 1920’s and early 30’s Belhaven continued its eastward growth. Streets which had been named for individuals were now being named generically. Streets west of St. Ann and St. Mary were established but Piedmont, Howard, Divine, Myrtle, Belmont and Ivy were still in the process of being developed. One little street which ran from Riverside to Belmont no longer exists – a victim of the new interstate which eliminated it in the early 1960’s. That street was Enterprise and deserves a place in our history.
Whatever happened to Enterprise Street One short block from head to feet. From Belmont down to Riverside, Eight little Houses side by side.
Like Persimmon and Olive Streets It was one block long and 30 feet deep, Like bigger brothers it was a part Of children’s laughter after dark.
No curb or gutters or walk-alongs, Just a row of Craftsman homes, The pavement was of crushed grey slate, Where boys and girls would roller-skate.
Over thirty years it had its place Near the park it once did face, And when it lost out in sixty-one Its memory lies where the traffic runs.
Short and sweet was Enterprise Street, No longer here for us to greet, But like other pieces of our past Its presence here will always last.
There are still mysteries on our streets. Some neighbors remember the little private library on the south side of the 2000 block of Laurel where concrete steps led to a side building no longer there. Where was Vinegar Bend? Was Poplar Boulevard designed to be a true boulevard with a median and sidewalks? Intersecting sidewalks leading into Poplar stop short of the street itself. Was that public land to be part of Poplar? Why was Persimmon never developed east of Greymont? Early maps show it going through to St. Ann. Were there walkways bridging the dead ends of Monroe? Where did Euclid get its name? Did Milsaps students name it for the father of geometry? Does anyone know?
In 1925, Belhaven Heights Part 2, an irregularly shaped subdivision, was platted. The subdivision bordered the Belhaven campus on the west, from Poplar north four blocks to Laurel, along St. Mary and St. Ann Streets opening up a much larger area going north to Riverside Drive and east from the college to Myrtle. Within this subdivision Jackson land developer L.L. Mayes saw an opportunity for affordable housing for young families. Mayes began the development of the Sylvandell subdivision in the late 1920’s and many of its homes of varied architectural style can be found on the east side of the 1400 block of St. Mary Street and around the southeastern corner of Laurel to what was then called Sylvandell Park.
Other developers were discouraged by the rough and hilly terrain but not Mr. Mayes then living with his family in a neoclassical home on Pinehurst. In addition to building homes he commissioned sculptor Joseph Barras, to design a concrete entrance of wide steps anchored by nymphs and leading down to the bucolic setting which became Laurel Street Park. Along the path into the park were fairy tale figures of Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf and others. Behind the homes on St. Mary and Laurel Streets were woodlands to the west and a meadow to the east. A descending natural stairway led from the white borders down to ravines, undergrowth, and two small creeks. The walkways coursed through rustic walls emulating old English countrysides. Homes were built of buff brick – trimmed in white, and topped with light, apple green tiled roofs. The homes were set among the trees, as if in a forest which was designed to make them more attractive from the street. The entranceway to what was to become Laurel Street Park was at the eastern terminus of Pinehurst Street. This stately entrance was guarded by the mythological Pan and his nymphs the remains of which are visible today.
Pan and his friends have gone back to the flocks and shepherds from whence they came and the little footbridge, children’s statues and walkways have returned to the soil. The creeks run quietly and children still play in the park but if you look carefully along the driveway at 1331 St. Mary, you will see Pan with his flute, a paean to what exists today, a subdivision whose beauty can be found nowhere else in our neighborhood.
Nearby additional developments were taking place. The Belhaven Park subdivision which includes Pinehaven, Parkhurst and River Park, platted 11/3/1939 by the Presbyterian Church USA. The Belvoir subdivision which includes Belvoir Place and Circle was platted 6/26/51 by the Belhaven College Board of Trustees. What was once the northern end of Belhaven Lake is now a sinuous tree lined street of stately homes, some the former residence of families who planted the live oaks along Riverside Drive.
Belhaven’s only church was organized April 8, 1837 by the Rev. Peter Donan and four members: Mrs. Margaret E. Mayson, Mrs. Susan Patton, and Mr. and Mrs. John Robb. For two years there was only the pastor and the founding group but no deacons, elders nor individual house of worship until 1845.
The State of Mississippi owned large tracts of real estate in downtown Jackson and in the early 1800’s made land available to religious denominations in the vicinity of Smith Park. Several local churches located in this area and remain today but the Presbyterians felt preordained to exchange their tract for land at the northwest corner of State and Yazoo Streets. There they worshiped until relocating to 1390 N. State in August, 1951. The land on which the church rests today was owned by a group of developers in 1925. These were early Jacksonians S.S. Taylor, C.E. Klumb, S.K. Whitten, Jr., W.N. Watkins and H.V. Watkins. The group sold the land on December 4, 1925 to W.N. Cheney, R.S. Dobyns, Carl L. Faust, W.E. Guild and Stokes V. Robinson. The Pinehaven Realty Corporation purchased the property from this group for $12,700 on March 1, 1927. For much of the following 23 years the Pinehaven Realty Corporation maintained the land where the church stands today. A single dwelling and out building were shown on the 1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map. The majority of the land between Pinehurst and Belhaven Streets was vacant and remained so until purchased by the church on September 20, 1950. Prominent Belhaven resident Chalmers Alexander was instrumental in this transaction.
According to Jackson native Judge Swan Yerger, much of the north end of the 1300 block of North State was a field which served as a softball diamond for the older Power School boys who spent their recess and many hours after school on this diamond.
Two great accomplishments of First Presbyterian Church are its unwavering support of Belhaven University which ensured its survival and prosperity throughout many years and the establishment of the First Presbyterian Day School in 1965. Regardless of your religious persuasion, First Presbyterian Church is a cornerstone in our neighborhood. It draws young families to its day school, students to its chosen university and Christians to its message. In the words of John Calvin (1509-64), “Let us not cease to do the utmost so that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair of the smallness of our accomplishments.”
Jitney Jungle did not begin in Belhaven but it found a home here. W.B. McCarty and Jud and Henry Holman were cousins who came to Jackson from Greenwood and opened a small grocery in 1912 at the intersection of Adelle and Grayson (Lamar) Streets. They invested a borrowed $1,000 in their business and called it Jackson Mercantile Company. Through the teens and twenties of the 20th century the young men expanded their grocery businesses, even adopting a popular slogan “Save a nickel on a quarter”. According to Mr. Will McCarty, Bill McCarty, III’s grandfather, the owners were looking for a name a bit catchier than a mercantile company. Even the later McCarty-Holman Stores nomenclature was a bit prosaic. It was a habit of Judge V.J. Stricker who lived nearby to invite the three young merchants residing at Mrs. Josephine Bailey’s boarding house on Adelle Street to his home for Sunday dinner. The merchants asked Judge Stricker to suggest a new name for their stores.
The end of the First World War saw returning soldiers anxious to buy an old car for riding about town. They called it a “jitney”, slang for a London taxicab and street jargon for a nickel. Since a cab ride to town in Jackson as well as London cost a nickel the term “jitney” was popular and it was customary for patrons to shop with “nickels jingling in their pockets”. With the store’s slogan in mind and stock in the new stores looking like “a jungle of values”, the judge suggested the merchants rename their enterprises Jitney Jungle Stores. The first store under the new name was at 423 E. Capitol Street which opened April 19, 1919. Now you know.
The 1930 Jackson City Directory shows the birth of our neighborhood Jitney Jungle on Fortification in that year. It was the 14th store in the chain and its first manager was Charles Alford. The new store was small but was developed into a “super store” through a remodeling and a formal grand opening on November 10, 1933.
Mrs. Betty Edwards, daughter of co-founder William B. McCarty said that the Belhaven Jitney made a special point of catering to women. ”When you entered the store there was a platform area to the left for ladies to sit and visit before they shopped. A woman taught knitting and ladies could sit or read. It had the first female rest room in a Jackson grocery store. There were chairs for children and inexpensive house dresses for sale in racks near the front entrance.” Ladies from some of Jackson’s most distinguished families shopped regularly at Jitney 14. They included Mrs. Emmitt (Marie) Hull, Mrs. Fred Sullins, Mrs. James Canazaro, Mrs. R.E. Kennington, Miss Eudora Welty and Mrs. Percy Weeks, Willie Morris’ grandmother, who lived across Jefferson Street. Willie spoke of the store in his 1989 book Homecomings – A Return to Christmas Gone
The new Jitney was a Tudor revival style designed by Belhaven resident and architect Emmett Hull. It later became known as English Village containing the grocery and a new drugstore owned by Price Cain. The main entrance to the store faced Fortification Street. It was the second grocery in the United States and the first in Mississippi to have air conditioning. It contained a bakery, a refrigerated meat counter and a glass front delicatessen where the beloved “Mrs. Pitts” performed her pastry creations for a number of years.
Throughout the years Belhaven’s neighborhood Jitney Jungle continued to expand, modernize and enjoy commercial success until it was purchased by a northern conglomerate in March 1996. It was later bought out by Winn-Dixie and in 2005 by Greg and Kathy McDade. In 1996, the Jitney Jungle chain’s sales volume was $1.2 billion¬, quite a return on the $1,000 investment by three young entrepreneurs 84 years before.
Growing up we called them the “pink apartments”. The flamingo-colored complex spanning the eastern side of the 1200 block of Kenwood was constructed in 1938 by Jackson architect James T. (Jack) Canizaro. What makes these units unique today is the period they represent once providing homes for some of America’s greatest generation. In conversations with Mr. Jack’s son Bob, who lives in Evanston, IL, we learn that the architecture is Art Moderne, a style copied from homes in southern California. Bob Canizaro spoke not just of the residence built by his father, that he grew up in, but of the times themselves.
“Many tenants came and went in our apartment building. There was a Dutch couple, Colonel and Mrs. Von Oven, who lived there during World War II. He was in the Royal Dutch Air Force in training at Hawkins Field. The Dutch flyboys were notorious for their antics in downtown Jackson, often flying low down Capitol Street and waving at the girls in the high rise office buildings. A woman who worked for us heard a loud noise one day, looked out the kitchen door and saw the colonel flying down Kenwood Place.” No small wonder we won the war.
Mr. Canazaro spoke of other military personnel who lived in his family apartments. “I was fond of a tenant named McGehee. He and I were regulars at the old Jackson Senators baseball games. We were close to Dr. Estelle Maguira who lived in our middle apartment. After she left, William Fulton, former director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting moved in.”
Bob and I discussed the neighborhood around the apartments as it was back in the 1940’s. He remembers Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Wright, Fred and John Reimers, John Hanley Walsh, Robert Stockett, Kirby Walker, Guy Lowe, John Potter, Gilmer Spivey, Bernard Meltzer, Tupper and Doug Drane, Howard Shannon and many others. He spoke of Mrs. Downing’s kindergarten at Poplar and Jefferson, Power School, Stockett Stables, playing ball on the Reimers “back forty” where the Kennington Home was built. He told of rubber gun wars playing in the “big ditch” which is now Belhaven Park, catching lightning bugs in a bottle and going for ice cream and sodas at Shady Nook.
There were sights and sounds then which have faded into history: the lonely whine of the GM&O diesel locomotive, the starting whistle at the Buckeye Oil Mill, lawn mowers cutting grass for money to buy comic books at Cain’s drugstore, animal sounds from the far away Jackson Zoo and the early morning cries of street vendors as they plied their wares down Manship.
The Pink Apartments are filled now with new families and young moderns seeking their own place and dreams. I would hope as they stroll the sidewalks down to Poplar or up to McDade’s they will reflect on the art of Mr. Jack Canazaro, his legacy to our neighborhood, and the times in which he lived.
Jackson, like much of America, entered its golden years in the 1950’s. Far sighted mayors Leland Speed and Allen Thompson were rapidly building a city approaching a population of 100,000. The great war for democracy had been won and with bubble gum, cars, and affordable housing once again available there was no end to what a free people could do to ensure a prosperous future.
On the northern edge of the Belhaven neighborhood, Bailey Junior High School opened in1938; winning national awards for its architectural style developed by Hays Town. The State Medical Center held its first classes on the old Highway Patrol property in 1955. Ike was president, Governor Hugh White was balancing agriculture with industry in Mississippi and the lights did not go out on Jackson’s Capitol Street until long after midnight. Meanwhile, a skinny kid from Tupelo walked into a recording studio in Memphis and sang a song for his mother that changed the course of American popular music forever.
A one-story frame commercial building with a flat roof, home of the Overby Company, sits on 1808 North State. But like so many structures that have endured 90 years it wasn’t always so. It opened as North End Grocery in 1928, named for the northern terminus of the street car line, and served a number of small commercial enterprises before becoming North State Pharmacy in 1947. It was a typical drug store, owned by a Belhaven couple whose surviving widow wishes to remain anonymous. It was the place to go before and after classes at nearby Bailey for its soda fountain and pinball machine. I have to confess, I was there myself, quite often as a teenager, in the early 1950’s. Many years later I sat down with the lady who was the co-owner and she told me a story I will share with you.
In the middle 1950’s there was no interstate system around Jackson. Highway 51 ran down North State into downtown. A traveler going let’s say from Memphis to New Orleans had to pass by North State Pharmacy and Mr. Dixon’s Texaco Station next door. One spring day in 1956 someone did.
Elvis Presley once visited the Belhaven neighborhood. Not for long but forever. My friend smiles today in remembrance of all the things we were and while the drugstore never had a jukebox, it did serve a milkshake to the king of rock and roll. According to my friend a pink Cadillac pulled into the Texaco on a fine spring morning. The occupants were a singer and his band on their way to a performance south of the city. While the car was being serviced Elvis Presley and a couple of his band members walked into North State Pharmacy and Elvis ordered a milkshake. My friend recognized the singer but said nothing. She was too dignified to make a fool of herself and besides she was pregnant. But customers in the store knew what was going on and there was a mad dash for the pay phone. Elvis and his entourage did not linger. When the car was ready they moved on, but for the remainder of the day people flooded into the store wanting to know which booth Elvis sat in and how did he look.
Our next section will show how our neighborhood matured with expanded residential and commercial growth, a dynamic education system, increased medical facilities, a theater for the performing arts and a strong network of foundations and associations that would ensure its future.
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.
“That realm is best and most stable which is ruled in accordance with God’s will alone,
and the worst and weakest is that which is ruled arbitrarily.” Ulrich Zwingli
Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church (FPC) is a prime example of stability. It is located at 1390 North State between Pinehurst and Belhaven Streets. The current church, which opened in 1951, began its history 114 years before at the corner of N. President and E. Capitol Streets in Mississippi’s first state house building. Greater Belhaven’s only church was organized on a Saturday afternoon, April 8, 1837 by the Rev. Peter Donan and four persons: Mrs. Margaret E. Mayson, Mrs. Susan Patton and Mr. and Mrs. John Robb. There was a pastor (Rev. Donan), but no elders for two years, no deacons for six years nor an individual house of worship until 1845. In its first two years of existence, the church had but three new members. (1)
The State of Mississippi owned considerable land in the downtown area of Jackson in the early 1800’s. It made land available to religious denominations in the vicinity of Smith Park and First Presbyterian purchased a tract a bit north and east of the original designations at the corner of Yazoo and North State Streets. Its first home edifice was erected on this site in 1845-46. Somehow, it escaped the fiery ravages of General W.T. Sherman 18 years later and was razed in 1891. It was replaced by a small red brick building in 1893 (left) which served the congregation until the opening of the present structure in 1951. The final service in the old church was preached by Belhaven College President Dr. Guy T. Gillespie on August 26, 1951. (2) (3) (4) (15)
The land on which the church rests today (Hinds County MS parcel number 13-38), was owned by a group of developers in 1925. These were early Jacksonians S.S. Taylor, C.E. Klumb, S.K. Whitten Jr., W.N. Watkins and H.V. Watkins. This group sold the land on December 4, 1925 to W. N. Cheney, R.S. Dobyns, Carl L. Faust, W.E. Guild and Stokes V. Robinson. The Pinehaven Realty Corporation purchased the property from this group on March 1, 1927 for $12,700. (5) (6) (7) For the much of the following 23 years, Pinehaven Realty Corporation maintained the land where the church sits today. A single dwelling and out building were shown on the 1925 Sanford Fire Insurance map. The majority of the land between Pinehurst and Belhaven Streets was vacant and remained so until purchased by First Presbyterian Church on September 20, 1950. Prominent Jacksonian and church member Chalmers Alexander was instrumental in this transaction. (8) (17)
According to Jacksonian Judge Swan Yerger, much of this north end of the 1300 block of north state was a field which served as a softball diamond for the older Power School boys who were enrolled in the old Power School on Pinehurst. The spent their recess and many hours after school on this diamond. Since the inception of the church in 1837, First Presbyterian has had only 12 permanent senior ministers. The tenures shown below do not include interim or guest preachers.
Rev. Peter Donan – 1837-41
Rev. S.H. Hazard – 1841-42
Rev. Leroy Jones Halsey – 1842-48
Rev. Halsey built the first church sanctuary
Rev. Isaac James Henderson – 1849-53
Rev. L.A. Lowery – 1853-55
Dr. John Hunter – 1858-95
Dr. James Buchanan Hutton – 1895-1939
Dr. R. Girard Lowe – 1940-52: When this man knelt to welcome little children to Sunday School, he was a giant.
Dr. John Reed Miller – 1952-68: Dr. Miller was active in missions and in 1962, led the church in founding a Winter Theological Institute which was continued as Reformed Theological Seminary. For 16 years his sermons were broadcast on radio and beginning in the early 1960’s, the morning worship services were televised.
Dr. Donald B. Patterson – 1969-83: During Dr. Patterson’s ministry Twin Lakes Conference center was established near Florence and he served as chairman of the steering Committee that formed the Presbyterian Church of America. The PCA was Founded in 1973 and is focused on the infallibility and historicity of the Scripture and the Westminster Standards. According to Dr. William K. Wymond, minister of music and media, “We distinguish ourselves by these tenants.”
Dr. James M. Baird – 1983-95: Dr. Baird gave leadership to three new building programs, popularized the Church’s TV ministry and was instrumental in involving the church’s Mission Mississippi movement.
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan, III – 1996 – 2013: The son of an eighth generation ruling elder, Dr. Duncan recently resigned his pastorate to take over the position of Chancellor of the Reformed Theological Seminary. (1)
The Rev. David Strain took over the responsibilities of pastor in early 2015. Since that time several other worthy churchmen have helped fill the pews on Sunday morning. Today’s original sanctuary was opened Sunday, September 2, 1951 with the first service preached at 7:30 p.m. by interim pastor Dr. Albert Sydney Johnson. Additions to the original building have been the Lowe Fellowship Hall in 1956 which included additional Sunday School space, Westminster Hall in 1986 and Miller Fellowship Hall which contains the music suite, choir suite and kindergarten. A study center is located on the northeast side of the church which includes a gymnasium and three stories of Sunday School space. The present sanctuary was expanded in 2005-07 and currently seats 1,380. (2) (15) Since its inception 176 years ago, Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church has been housed in but three permanent buildings in three locations. It has been served by 12 elected ministers, for an average of just under 15 years each. This consistency is proof of the stability to which Zwingli alluded and is testimony of the continuity and permanence of this institution.
“And I say also unto thee, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
On July 10, 1950, while the present sanctuary was under construction, the church cornerstone, which dates from 1891, was transported from the old building on Yazoo Street to the left side of the new church’s front door. Dr. Girard Lowe oversaw the insertion of documents pertinent to the time. These included a bible, a church history, the church roll, various bulletins, a list of major actions leading to erection of the new building, names of the building committee, a roster of the major contributors up to that time, the departmental leaders and daily newspapers chronicling the event. (9)
The mission of First Presbyterian Church is that which is the answer to the question posed by the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “What is man’s chief end?” Man’s chief end and the mission of the church is “to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Today’s church is composed of over 3,100 members, 2,550 of whom are resident members that represent 1,375 families. Many currently live in the Belhaven neighborhood. There are 105 staff members including those at Twin Lakes Conference Center. The church is governed by a 70 member Session which is made up of elders. The minister’s role is to provide spiritual leadership. Property and care of the church is done by deacons. Ministers belong to the Presbytery. Major decisions are normally made by the Session with senior ministers selected by the congregation. Early growth of the church was overseen by its senior pastors and pioneer Jacksonians such as the Power, Williford and Wells families, Judge Julian P. Alexander, Bob Cannada, George Lemon Sugg and R.E. Kennington. Many leading elders and youth leaders have also contributed to church growth. (2)
“Those who have arrived at very eminent degrees of excellence in the practice of an art or profession have commonly been actuated by a species of enthusiasm in the pursuit of it.” John Knox
The Presbyterian ministry throughout its history, which dates back to the Reformation, has been shaped by the knowledge of Christian faith and the principles of the history which surrounds it. Since the Reformation church leaders have placed a high premium on the education of its ministers and laity. A primary source of this knowledge is the Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS). The RTS was started in Jackson, Mississippi in 1966 by five men, four of whom were elders in First Presbyterian Church. Its purpose is to train for the ministry based on a high view of scripture and historic Westminster standards. With ancillary campuses in Orlando, Charlotte, Dallas and Washington, DC, it offers advanced degrees in bible studies, missions and family counseling. (10) Belhaven University has received significant support from FPC for a number of years.
A thriving institution today, Belhaven experienced some fallow years in the early and middle 1900’s involving its endowment and accreditation. In spite of the heroic efforts of its third president Dr. Guy T. Gillespie, the school struggled to maintain its viability. The designation of the college as a co-educational institution in 1954 helped the situation but it was its transfer by the Synod of Mississippi Presbyterian Church in the United States to the Belhaven College Board of Trustees in 1972 that ensured its modern independence. FPC elders serve on the College’s board and significant support is provided by the church. (11) FPC has historically supported private academies which base their mission on Christianity and character. Chamberlain–Hunt Academy in Port Gibson has a history that goes back to 1830 at Oakland College in Rodney. Founded as a military school, its fortunes waxed and waned through the years and were quite low in the mid 1990’s due to decreased enrollment. In 1996, members of the First Presbyterian church in Jackson and French Camp Academy in Choctaw County–in which the church also has an interest–purchased from a local bank the historic buildings, over 200 acres of land and the school’s educational equipment. This purchase ensured the viability of the Port Gibson facility at that time. (12)
Twin Lakes Conference Center near Florence was obtained in 1970. It serves as a summer camping facility in warm weather months and an events center the balance of the year. Over the years millions of dollars have been invested in this first class facility which is available for rental by outside groups. (13) FPC is youth oriented beyond Twin Lakes and its regular ministry. It supports the neighborhood Christian Center in the minority community which emphasizes Christian ethics, academic tutoring and breaking the chains of poverty. (2) Other outreach programs include work with Mission Mississippi, world missions, campus student groups and assistance in starting new churches within the PCA movement. The First Presbyterian Day School was established in 1965 and is located in Miller Hall on Pinehurst Street. The day school contains grades k-6 and currently has a student body of about 650. It involves normal school curriculum, which according to Dr. Wymond, “is based on a Christian and world life view.” It is designed so that the school and church complement each other. While this school can present some traffic challenges when taking in and letting out, it greatly strengthens the character of the neighborhood and is an attraction to numerous young families, many of which have remained in Belhaven after their children finish the sixth grade. (14) (2)
Let us not cease to do the utmost so that we may incessantly go forward
in the way of the Lord;and let us not despair of the smallness of our accomplishments.” John Calvin“
When asked of the church’s future plans, Dr. Wymond stated “the First Presbyterian Church is always looking for opportunities to serve and preach the gospel. He further added, “No new projects are scheduled at present except to help the city. We are here for Jackson and as an institution to anchor the neighborhood, to conduct bible studies in the Mid Town neighborhood and be helpful and supportive of the church.” (2) On a rainy Sunday morning on the first day of October 1950, Billy Harvey, age 11, stood before the 400 member congregation in the little brick church on the corner and accepted Christ as his personal savior. He held a bible given to him by his parents and a Shorter Catechism provided by the church. Dr. Lowe asked the congregation to accept him into church membership and, standing, they agreed. Looking back through the prism of 63 years he would joyfully do so again. One hundred and seventy six years ago a pastor and four early Jacksonians met in a statehouse in a tiny city only 15 years in existence. They planted the seeds of a great church and a monument to their faith.
Today the First Presbyterian Church of Jackson rests firmly on its foundation, its steeple soaring toward the heaven we aspire to and towers over the memories of old Power School to the south on State Street and the rambling Green Apartments to the north. It surveys to the west what was at its construction the Hederman home at Marshall Street, the beautiful Vaughan Watkins house at Webster and Beth-Isreal Cemetery in between, ever facing east. Its mission remains the glorification of God. It is not moving to the suburbs. It is not changing its doctrine. It is not going away. Like Peter’s rock, it represents a hallmark of stability and is grounded in the inspiration of its purpose belonging to all as a beacon of faith, a citadel of strength and a cornerstone of our neighborhood.
Bill & Nan Harvey September 2013
(1) Church history from web site
(2) Interview with Dr. William K. Wymond, minister of Music and Media, (09/30/13)
(3) Historic marker, NW corner of Yazoo & State Streets
(4) FPC archives
(5) Hinds County deed records, book 174, page 22, (12/04/1925)
(6) Hinds County deed records, book 190, page 284 (03/01/1927)
(7) Hinds County deed records, book 676, page 87 (09/20/1950)
(8) Jackson city directories 1930-50
(9) Program, Laying of the Cornerstone, FPC, 07/10/1950
(10) Reformed theological Seminary, Internet Wikipedia, (09/04/2013)
(11) Gordon, James F., Jr., A History of Belhaven College 1894-1983, Jackson, MS Belhaven College (1983)
(12) Chamberlain-Hunt and French Camp Academies web sites
(13) Twin Lakes Conference Center web site
(14) Mission Statement, FPC Day School, A Kingdom School, Established 1965
(15) Jackson Daily News, Sunday 8/26/51
(16) Conversation with Judge Swan Yerger (09/29/13)
(17) Sanford Fire Insurance Company map – 1925
(A) Thanks are extended to Dr. William K. Wymond, minister of Music and Media at First Presbyterian Church for his kind contribution of time to explain much of the background of today’s church
(B) Appreciation is extended to Rev. Brister Ware, minister of Pastoral Care for his efforts to coordinate permission and approval of this article
(C) Appreciation is extended to the senior pastor and others associated with the governmental structure of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson for their support and approval of this article.
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