Matchless Mayonnaise

Welty’s introductory essay to The Jackson Cookbook (Symphony League of Jackson: 1971), “The Flavor of Jackson,” is a savory nougat of Southern culinary exposition. The editor of a local publication once expressed surprise that Jackson had a culinary history “worth writing about”, but like every other editor in Jackson, she was unfamiliar with Welty’s work. Eudora’s essay is a finely-seasoned piece with a wonderful flavor all its own. Most of the city’s culinary history concerns home cooking, of course, since restaurants here were rather much a novelty until the mid-twentieth century, but Jackson’s storied hospitality has always featured a superb board. In this passage, Miss Welty explains to a “t” just how exotic a modern kitchen staple once was.

“As a child, I heard it said that two well-travelled bachelors of the town, Mr. Erskin Helm and Mr. Charles Pierce, who lived on Amite Street, had ‘brought mayonnaise to Jackson’. Well they might have though not in the literal way I pictured the event. Mayonnaise had a mystique. Little girls were initiated into it by being allowed to stand at the kitchen table and help make it, for making mayonnaise takes three hands. While the main two hands keep up the uninterrupted beat in the bowl, the smaller hand is allowed to slowly add the olive oil, drop-by-counted-drop. The solemn fact was that sometimes mayonnaise didn’t make. Only the sudden dash of the red pepper into the brimming, smooth-as-cream bowlful told you it was finished and a triumph. Of course you couldn’t buy mayonnaise and if you could, you wouldn’t. For the generation bringing my generation up, everything made in the kitchen started from scratch.”

Let’s note that while those of a pretentious nature will swear undying allegiance to Duke’s mayonnaise because of its upscale marketing ploys, homemade mayonnaise is–and always has been–the best there is to be had.

The Little Store Gets Fancy: A Memoir of Jitney 14

Many thanks to neighbor Susan McNease for passing along this October 2, 1988 article from The Clarion-Ledger by Leslie Myers about the extensive remodeling of the old Jitney 14. Given the recent changes to the store, it makes for a timely read, and many neighbors past and present are mentioned. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I have.

The Little Store Gets Fancy: But loyal Jitney 14 customers hope the neighborhood personality remains cozy

Jitney-Jungle 14 has recovered from its face lift and the surrounding Belhaven neighborhood is abuzz with the news. For reasons nobody can quite explain, Jitney’s store No. 14 has never been a typical grocery store. Since its 1929 opening at Fortification and Jefferson Streets, it has been a friendly meeting place, a lifeline for its loyal customers. Regulars say they keep in touch with their neighbors there, renew old acquaintances and even get an emotional lift from a Jitney trip. The dress code is: come as you are. For some, that means pajamas. It’s homey. Shoppers plan to keep it that way.

“I’ve always loved the Jitney,” said writer Eudora Welty. Welty, who grew up to become the store’s most famous customer, said its magic began on Day 1—as Jackson’s first self-service grocery store.

“I’ve been shopping there since it opened,” Welty, 79, said. “Then it was like a maze. That was part of the charm—that was the jungle part, turning corners all the time. Then they had bottled milk with cream on top in the refrigerator box—not homogenized. Real milk. You bought the one with the highest cream on top.”

Throngs of such loyal customers, along with past and present employees, will gather Monday morning at 8 to celebrate Jitney 14’s “Grand Reopening” (although it never has closed). Jackson Mayor Dale Danks will cut a ceremonial ribbon. This year-long renovation is the store’s first face lift since 1941. It includes a 10,000-square-foot expansion. Many culinary delights and services have also been added to its former meat-and-potatoes fare. Now there’s a fresh seafood counter with live lobsters instead of a freezer with fish sticks. Anchovy paste and fancy pasta? No problem.

For many customers, the change is a source of both joy and angst. Shoppers have been anxious for the store to stock some non-traditional foods . . . but they wonder if it really was necessary to level out the crooked floors and paint the walls.

“Professionally I’ve been going to the Jitney for 22 or 23 years,” said Cleta Ellington, a school teacher. “However, my grandmother used to shop there, so I would go with her, which puts it up to about 40 years. What I liked about the old Jitney was it was not all slicked up. That’s one of the dangers of the Jitney 14 getting all slicked up—its personality. It’s like when you have a friend that’s gray-headed and kind of fat and she loses weight and dyes her hair. You’re not sure you know her anymore.”

“I’m not sure about this new place,” Ellington, 44, said, the reconsidered. “Well, there is a man there who will decorate a cake for you on the spot if you’re desperate. It’s the new Jitney 14 that has this instant cake decorator. That’s a plus.”

Jackson City Councilman (sic) Margaret Barrett, a Jitney 14 shopper since childhood, said she already misses the sagging floors.

“Now, when you let go of your buggy, it doesn’t roll down three aisles,” Barrett, 43, said. “Before, down by the ice cream case, if you ever let go of your buggy it would never stop rolling—just like in the parking lot.

“When you go to the Jitney, you find out what’s happening with your friends,” Barrett said. It’s the community meeting place. If you’re ever feeling out of touch, you only need to go for one shopping trip.”

She is pleased that the Old English style and décor of the original store has been retained. “I know it was a decision that Jitney-Jungle made, to try to preserve the English village style,” she said. “I know that was costly for them. But I think that’s very much appreciated by people in the neighborhood. The Jitney has been a good neighbor.”

“It’s just real personal,” said florist Susan Milan, a 13-year customer. “Frankly I like all the people who work there, the bag boys and all the people at the checkout. You can go in and, if you need time and the lines are real long, you can tell them, ‘I’ll bring the money tomorrow.’ They trust their clientele, when they finally know you real well.”

But she worries about the ritzy signs on the new shelves. “When CANNED SOUP is written in Old English, it makes me nervous,” she said. “Maybe it’s getting too fancy. But well, now it’s cleaner.”

At least two other sleepers are wiping the sleep from their eyes.

Pat Cothren, a florist, and Patti Carr Black, Mississippi State Historical Museum director, have gone to the Jitney in their pajamas. Both have had Jitney as a “second home” for 20 years.

“One morning,” Cothren, 41 recalled, “I had nothing for breakfast to feed my family. So I ran to the Jitney in a night shirt. The Jitney is the Jitney,” she said, defending her attire. “It didn’t bother me, so I figured it wouldn’t bother them . . . it was a pretty decent night shirt. But I don’t know if I’d do it now, now that the Jitney is so fancy.”

Black emphasized with Cothren’s rush-hour plight. “I have been to Jitney a few times in my nightgown, with a long coat over it, early in the mornings,” Black, 54, said. “that was the way we used to go to breakfast at the ‘W,’” said the Mississippi University for Women alumna.

“The Jitney’s plurality is what makes it nice,” Ellington said. “There’s just all kinds of people in there. It cuts along class (and fashion) lines.”

Barrett said, “The employees also are people you know very well by first name. You’re very interested in their lives, and they’re very interested in yours.”

Two favorite employees mentioned repeatedly by Jitney 14 fans were store manager Sam Holley and veteran cashier Johanna Wade. Wade said she will never forget some of the customers.

“Three or four years ago, I was going to Holland to see my parents,” Wade, 53, recalled. “Margaret Barret, Karen Gilfoy, Cleta Ellington, Penny Hutcherson, Sis Hicks, Pat Cothren, Susan Milam and some others came up in here one afternoon. They gave me an envelope with all this money in it—almost $400—and said, “Go to Holland, spent it and have a good time.’”

“Karen (a judge) had some kind of declaration make up saying I could come back into the country as a joke. I had no idea they would do that,” Wade said. “I was shocked. It was so sweet, what they’d done. It’s just something we’ve got here in this store,” she said. “We’re close. It’s always been that way here.” Holley said the real magic of Jitney 14 mystified him, too.

Ellington said that the Jitney feeling probably is best described by Charlotte Capers, a seasoned shopper who likes to say, “I belong to the Episcopal Church and the Jitney 14.”

 

A History of Belhaven: Part 2, The Early Years (1900-1925)

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.

 

Engel on Welty

Jackson native Lehman Engel (1910-82) was a composer and conductor of Broadway musicals, television and film. Engel worked as musical director for the St. Louis Municipal Opera for a number of years before moving to New York to conduct on Broadway. He won 6 Tony Awards, and was nominated for 4 more. Among other works, Engel wrote The American Musical Theatre: A Consideration, the first book to discuss in detail the writing of a Broadway musical, the elements that went into it, and the art of adapting plays into musicals. In his autobiography, This Bright Day, Engel provides an endearing profile of his friendship with Eudora Welty.

It’s strange how people in a small town know each other, speak in passing and not really know one another at all. Although I had met Eudora Welty in Jackson before either of us went away to school, it was not until several years later in New York, when a group of Jacksonians were there each simultaneously pursuing various schoolings, that we had first real contacts. Eudora was at Columbia along with Dolly Wells and Frank Lyell, who had first introduced me to Eudora in the Livingstone Park Lake. I was at Julliard. We changed to meet here and there. I think it was at Norma and Herschell Brickell’s (also from Jackson) where all of us, including Nash Burger, whose father used to play cards with my father, often went.

Each summer all of us went home to swelter, and there the threads grew stronger. There were about five such summers before I began staying on in New York, with work to occupy and to pay me. But at home, Frank, Eudora, Hubert Creekmore, and I used to meet at Eudora’s, and we formed the Night-Blooming Cereus Club, the total membership of which sat up to see the glorious white flower with the yellow feathery center bloom. The morning after, it looked like a swan with a broken neck. Those summers are jumbled together in my memory. During on of them Eudora did some letter-writing for me. Perhaps it was at another time that she took many snapshots. Several of them are among the best any photographer ever took of me. I have one of Eudora, we really invented “camp”, sitting in a tree, a Spanish shawl around her shoulders and on her face an uncharacteristic expression of world-be disdain.

With the passing of time, many things happened to us separately, and we seized every opportunity to communicate and to be together. On my visits to see my family perhaps twice a year—and more often in my parents’ failing days—Eudora was, as she is today, always available whenever it is possible for me to get away from family and family friends. To insure our being together to talk without interruption, she usually picks me up in her car—never a fancy one—and takes me for a ride just anywhere away from everybody else. At her house or mine while my mother was still alive, or at any of my cousins’, Eudora always enjoyed her bourbon and I my scotch.

She has endured a great deal. Her father died many years ago, but her mother lingered in poor health for some years. When finally it became necessary for Eudora to put her in a nursing home in Yazoo City, more than an hour’s drive from Jackson, Eudora drove to see her nearly every day. During those days she developed the habit of starting her work at 5 a.m. so tht she could spend several hours of writing without interruption. She still retains that habit. Very shortly before her mother died, Eudora’s two brothers—both married and each living in his own house—died within days of each other. I have seldom heard her refer to any of this, and what suffering she experienced she kept as her very own.

She is selfless, simple, timid, unworldly, and dedicated to her work. She has had every possible honor and success heaped on her, but nothing has ever changed her lifestyle or her nature. She lives in Jackson—the only place where she feels comfortable—travels when it is necessary only on trains (if possible), and speaks so quietly as to be often in audible. She lives in her parents’ house, which is very nice and devoid of any fanciness. It has two stories made of dark-red-to-purple bricks, and Eudora lives as she prefers—alone. The front yard has large pine trees and the house is surrounded by japonicas (camellias) of all kinds and colors. Behind the house there is a lovely garden containing more camellias and gardenias. The garden is no longer as well manicured as it once was, but I imagine Eudora prefers it that way. Now devoid of family responsibilities, she works consistently and hard. As she prefers never to discuss her work-in-progress, I seldom ask her what she is doing.

If I have given any notion that, like Emily Dickinson, Eudora is a recluse, let me assure you that she is not. She has many old friends, all of whom respect her privacy, and everyone in Jackson is deeply proud of her distinguished achievements.

LEFT: I snapped this picture of Eudora Welty with her camera. Frank Lyell was the Señor; Eudora, the unwitting inventor of camp, was herself above it all. RIGHT: Taken on a summer vacation in Jackson by Eudora Welty. I was about twenty.

The Cereus Society

Eloquence and concision are scarce in academic writers, but Suzanne Marrs achieves it with aplomb in this passage about Eudora’s gay circle of the ‘30s.

“Though she would join the Junior League in deference to her friends who were already members, Eudora’s interests were rather different and her circle of friends more wide-ranging. Four young men were particularly important to her, and all were iconoclastic sorts. Nash Burger had returned to Jackson from the University of the South and had become a teacher at Central High School, Lehman Engel summered in Jackson while he was studying at Juilliard, Hubert Creekmore was back in residence after attending the Yale School of Drama, and Frank Lyell visited during his summer vacations from Princeton.

During summers of the early thirties, the group gathered frequently at the Welty house to drink and talk and laugh and listen to music—literature and the theater and the New York scene filled their conversations, and they loved hearing both classical music and jazz. They also engaged in activities that Lehman eventually labeled “camp.” When Jackson ladies, for instance, advertised that their night-blooming cereuses would be in flower on a given night and invited one and all to witness the annual bloomings, Eudora and her friends attended.

They went on to name themselves the Night-Blooming Cereus Club and took as their motto a slightly altered line from a Rudy Vallee song: “Don’t take it cereus (sic), Life’s too mysterious.” Years later, in The Golden Apples, Eudora would use the “naked, luminous, complicated flower” as an emblem of life’s beauty and its fragility, and she would have a character repeat what one Jackson lady had said about the cereus bloom, “Tomorrow it’ll look like a wrung chicken’s neck.”

But at the time, none of the Night-Blooming Cereus Club members anticipated such symbolic implications of their activities. For them the cereus was and remained an emblem of good fellowship, of the pleasure imaginative individuals could share if they embraced the world around them.”

Welty on Rednecks

During V.S. Naipaul’s visit to Mississippi in 1988, he grew obsessed with rednecks, coming to see rednecks as the “unlikely descendants” of a mythical construct he called a “frontiersman”. Naipaul himself considered Mississippi—somewhat paradoxically, from a native’s point of view—as both the heartland of the South and a state at the very periphery of culture and civilization itself, which could be considered a rather brash observation from a native of Trinidad. It’s tempting to speculate on what Welty herself might have thought of Naipaul questioning her about rednecks, but upon reflection, who better to ask than the woman who wrote “Where Is the Voice Coming From?” in June, 1963.

And it was of the redneck, the unlikely descendant of the frontiersman, that I talked to Eudora Welty when I went to call on her. I had arrived early, and could clearly be seen through her uncurtained front window. But I was nervous of knocking too soon.

So for a while we waited below the big, dripping trees in the gloom after rain, she behind her window at the end of her wet front garden, I in the car. And when I felt the time was suitable I walked up to the wet path to her front door. On the door, in her strong writing, was a note asking people not to bring any more books for her to sign. She wanted to save as much of her energy as possible now for her work. I knocked; and she opened, like someone waiting to do just that. She was extraordinarily familiar from her photographs

The frontier was so much in her stories: a fact I had only just begun to appreciate. And she was willing to talk of the frontiersman character.

“He’s not a villain. But there’s a whole side of him that’s cunning. Sometimes it goes over the line and he becomes an outright scoundrel. The blacks never lived in that part of the state. They came over to work on the plantations. Most of the rednecks grew up without black people, and yet they hate them. That’s where all the bad things originate—that’s the appeal they make. Rednecks worked in sawmills and things like that. And they had small farms. They are all fiercely proud. They dictate the politics of the state. They take their excitement—in those small towns—when the politicians and evangelists come. Scare everybody, outwit everybody, beat everybody, kill everybody—that’s the frontiersman’s mentality.”

I told her the story that (a previous interviewee) had heard as a child about the rednecks to the south of the town where she had spent her summers: the story of traveling salesmen who had been roughed up and hitched to a plow and made to plow a field. She had said that this story had come down from the past; and I had thought of it as a romantic story of the wickedness of times past, an exaggerated story about people living without law. But Eudora Welty took the story seriously. She said, “I can believe the story about the salesmen. I’ve heard about punishing people by making them plow farms.”

We talked about Mississippi and its reputation.

“At the time of the troubles many people passed through and called on me. They wanted me to confirm what they thought. And all of them thought I lived in a state of terror. ‘Aren’t you scared of them all the time?’ A young man came and said that h4 had been told that a Mr. So-and-So, who was a terrible racist, owned all of Jackson, all the banks and hotels, and that he was doing terrible things to black people. It was a fantasy. It wasn’t true. The violence here is not nearly as frightening as the Northern—urban—brand.”

A frontier state, limited culturally—had that been hard for her as a writer, and as a woman writer? The richness of a writer depends to some extent on the society he or she writes about.

She said: “There is a lot behind it, the life of the state. There is the great variety of the peoples who came and settled the different sections. There is a great awareness of that as you get older—you see what things have stemmed from. The great thing taught me here as a writer is a sense of continuity. In a place that hasn’t changed much you get to know the generations. You can see the whole narrative of a town’s history or a family’s history.”

[V.S. Naipaul A Turn in the South (1989), pp. 213-14; images from The Revolt of the Rednecks: Mississippi Politics: 1875-1925 (1951)]

Greenwood: A Resting Place Downtown

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.

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The Summer House

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.

Bill & Nan Harvey: June 2013; revised January 2015
Copyright © Bill and Nan Harvey

Sources and suggestions for more information:

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:

* www.greenwoodcemeteryjackson.org
* Find-A-Grave website
* The Old Cemeteries of Hinds County (1811-1988) by Mary Collins Landin

Welty Whimsy

Eudora Welty illustrated the cover for this musical piece written by Flo Field Hampton, her English teacher at Jackson Junior-Senior High School: “O Mos-qui-ta, Mos-qui-ta, you bi-ta my feet-a!” (“Mosquito”, by Flo Field Hampton, arranged by Harry L. Alford, c. 1926.)

 

 

Eudora’s Jitney

“Guess who I saw at the Jitney today?” Depending on the compendium of time it could have been Eudora Welty, Willie Morris’ grandmother, Marie Hull, James Canizaro, Mrs. Fred Sullins, Mrs. R.E. Kennington, Betty Edwards or even my own mother who shared the aisles with them all.

Since around 1930, Jitney Jungle 14 has been a fixture in the Belhaven neighborhood providing food, conviviality and a hub of small town news to those who shared its aisles on Fortification. While the Jitney served the culinary needs of a diversity of incomes and interests it was the equal servant of all. The price of eggs was always the same for everyone. This article will be primarily about Jitney 14 but in the course of its journey we will learn a few things about its famous corporation, early Jackson and two of its foremost families. Settle back, pour yourself a cup of Jungle Queen Coffee and enjoy shopping the aisles of our history at the Jitney.

There could have been no “14” if there had not been a “1”. That “1” was born April 19, 1919, the dream of three young men whose fortunes lay ahead of them in the risk and rewards of yesterday’s America where a man could fail and rise again to prominence and success with God’s help and a good plan. Such was the destiny of Judson McCarty Holman, William Henry Holman and William Bonner McCarty, the fathers of the little store where you could “Save a nickel on a quarter.”

A Bit of Family History

W.B. McCarty and Jud and Henry Holman were cousins who first operated a store together in September 1912, on the southwest corner of Adelle and Grayson (N. Lamar) Streets in north Jackson. Each of the cousins put up a third of the start-up cost. This business had relocated from a block north at the corner of Grayson and McTyere Streets which was torn down to build houses for the McCarty sub-division. That store was operated by W.B. McCarty, Sr. and Jud Holman and A.N. Brannon worked for him. It was a cash and carry store and had initially been operated by W.B. McCarty’s father W.H. McCarty and located in the 1200 block of N. West Street near Millsaps. It was called Jackson Mercantile Company, the name given to it by Mr. W.H. McCarty, its founder.

W.H. McCarty had moved his family to Jackson in 1905 after operating the McCarty Store in Hemingway, Mississippi in Carroll County. Jud Holman came to Jackson in 1907 after working in the grocery business for Greenwood Grocery in Greenwood and began work with W.H. McCarty in his Jackson Mercantile Store along with Anthony N. Brannan. W.H. McCarty died in 1909. W.H. Holman came to Jackson in 1910 and worked for Mississippi Motors in Jackson, run by Joe Coffee McCarty, bother of Will McCarty, until Holman and McCarty joined together in Jackson Mercantile. When Will McCarty and Jud Holman opened the first Jitney Jungle #6 on East Capitol Street in April 1919, W.H. Holman was in France during the end of WWI. He returned to Jackson in June 1919 and helped his two cousins proceed to convert their other stores from credit to cash and carry and self service with the Jitney Jungle name since that first self service store was doing more business than all the other five McCarty/Holman stores combined.

Mr. W.B. McCarty attended law school at Ole Miss in the early Jitney days and returned to continue with the operation and growth of the stores with his Holman cousins. His legal acumen came in handy with an early patent infringement suit which the Jitney stores won. Mr. W.B. McCarty continued to franchise grocery stores in those days in addition to being heavily involved in the chain’s wholesale and retail operations. In his later years, Mr. McCarty would continue to go to his office checking on sales volume as well as the back storeroom doors to be sure they were always locked or attended. Never would a Jitney store manager or worker leave the back door open lest a theft might occur. The Junior Food Mart convenience store company, JFM, Inc. is still in business today and operated by H. Russell McCarty. It had its beginnings in the supermarket franchising that W.B. McCarty started and W.B. McCarty, Jr. continued until his death in 2001. (1) A railroad strike in 1916, left credit customers in such a bind the founders decided to quit the credit business. Business improved and a second store was opened on South Gallatin Street and the McCarty Holman Store chain rapidly grew to seven including stores in Greenwood and Canton. (2)

The First Jitney

The first Jitney Jungle store was opened April 19, 1919 at 423 E. Capitol Street. A photo provided by Bill McCarty, III, grandson of co-founder William Bonner McCarty, shows the store’s interior as an open front surrounded by shelves alongside walls containing canned goods and other non-perishables. In the foreground was a glass case of tobacco products and sundries and in the rear a meat counter with glass bins displaying produce on beds of crushed ice. The prices were interesting. Bacon was 34¢/lb., salt jowls 15¢, veal steak 17¢, meat loaf 19¢ and baby beef roast 22¢. The manager was A.N. Brannon. (3)

How did Jitney get its name? According to Mr. Will McCarty, at the end of the First World War, returning soldiers would buy an old car for riding about town. They called it a “jitney”. The term “jitney” was slang for a London taxi cab and became jargon in the states for a nickel, the cost for a downtown cab ride.

Back when the establishments were McCarty-Holman Stores, it was the habit of Chancellor V.J. Stricker, who lived just up Adelle Street, to invite the three young merchants, who were living in a nearby boarding house, to his home for Sunday dinner. Mrs. Josephine Bailey’s boarding house at 343 Adelle, could be a dark and foreboding place. Mr. Will relates there was only one light bulb in the entire house and tenants would “borrow” it and pass it around from room to room. One Sunday the boys told the judge they were considering a strictly cash and carry business which would save the customer 20¢ on the dollar over their deliveries. Cash and carry could thus save “a nickel on a quarter.” The merchants asked Judge Stricker to suggest a new name for their stores. Since a cab ride to town cost a nickel, the term “jitney” became popular and it was customary for patrons to shop with “nickels jingling in their pockets.” Judge Stricker suggested the name “Jitney Jingle” but McCarty made a variation when he observed that a wide variation of stock in the new stores would make the store itself “look like a jungle of values.” The name stuck. (1)(2)

1920’s-30’s

Throughout the 1920’s, the owners added a number of stores, each with its own numerical designation which changed over the years. According to the 1930 Jackson City Directory, Jitneys were listed as:

No. 1 – 400 E. Capitol
No. 2 – 1077 S. Gallatin
No. 3 – 121 W. Pearl
No. 4 – 2908 W. Capitol
No. 5 – 209 S. State
No. 6 – 423 E. Capitol (formerly No. 1)
No. 7 – N. State and Fondren Ave.
No. 8 – 412 W. Capitol
No. 9 – 719 N. Gallatin (later 1209 N. State)
No. 10 – 146 N. Farish
No. 11 – 167 E. Capitol
No. 12 – 850 W. Capitol
No. 13 – 1241 N. West

This brings us to the birth of Jitney 14, which, according to the 1930 Directory, existed at that time. The listing contained the 904 E. Fortification Street address, a telephone number (9119) and a manager, Charles Alford. It is conjectured that the original store was small and became a “super store” some four years later. (4) Mrs. Betty McCarty Edwards, daughter of co-founder William B. McCarty, can remember when the new Jitney was just a hole in the ground. “My father had bought some cheap land around the Jefferson-Fortification Street corridor for investment. When the 1930 store was in its planning stage he offered to buy some fill dirt from a local vender. Mr. McCarty thought the price was too high and demurred. After a time the vendor went to him and said, ‘Just let me dump some of my dirt in that hole. No charge.’” Mrs. Edwards’s memories reflect back to when her brother (W.B. McCarty, Jr.) ran a Christmas fireworks stand as a youngster in front of one of the stores fronting Fortification. “He did well,” she said, “but would come home so cold on those December days he would question the wisdom of early entrepreneurship.”

House dresses, c. 1933, image via Gertie’s New Blog for Better Sewing.

The new Super Jitney made a special point of catering to women. According to Mrs. Edwards, when you entered the store there was a platform area to the left for the ladies to sit and visit before they shopped. “There was a woman who taught knitting and the ladies would knit or read as they visited. It even had the first restroom for ladies in a Jackson grocery store. There were also chairs for children to sit in but keeping them still in those seats could be a problem.” There were “Jitney dresses” for sale at all store outlets. “They were not made by Jitney,” Mrs. Edwards says. “They were ‘house dresses’ as slacks were not in vogue at the time. They were good sellers but of course, no two were alike!” As the business grew, however, more space was needed to display groceries and in time the ladies area was discontinued. (5)(6) Mrs. Edwards grew up in the Belhaven area living first on State Street at Manship, where the new Baptist Hospital building is being constructed, then moving with her family to St. Ann. Later the family moved to the Council Circle area. In the early years of her marriage while still living in Belhaven, Mrs. Edwards and her husband would walk to the store and shop. Few had cars during the war. She would bring home the perishables and her husband would bring the other groceries when he came home from work. (6)

The formal grand opening of “The New Super Jitney-Jungle Store” took place on Friday, November 10, 1933, when according to articles in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger of that year, “Jacksonians gave a hearty welcome to the newest addition to stores of the city Friday and Saturday when thousands of persons visited the new Super Jitney-Jungle at the corner of East Fortification and North Jefferson streets.” (7) (8) Back then 14 was known to the neighborhood as the “Big Jitney” and No. 9 on North State, the “Little Jitney”. 14’s manager was Charles Alford who got his start at the first store in 1919. Mr. Alford brooked no sloppy doings. Clerks were dressed down for failure to dress up. Ties were compulsory. Alford, however, did have a sense of humor as related in Henry Holman, Jr.’s publication “Save a Nickel on a Quarter”. According to Alford, the store butcher waited on a customer late one Saturday evening who had come in to buy a chicken. The butcher reached into his case and brought out his last chicken. He showed it to the lady but she wanted to see a larger one. He put the chicken back in the case, bent over, moved his arms about, rattled the ice a little – as if looking for the right sized one – and ceremoniously came up with the same chicken. The customer replied with a satisfied smile: ‘Yes, that one is just fine. I’ll take them both.’” Oops! (5)

The first Jitney 14, facing Fortification (photo courtesy Bill McCarty)artyThe new Super Jitney was a honey. Bill McCarty, III’s photo shows it facing two-lane Fortification with red and green awnings, tile roof and a glass front through which the shopper could see fresh fruit and vegetables displayed. The interior consisted of wooden floors, school room lighting and aisles of shelving. It contained a bakery, a refrigerated meat counter and a glass delicatessen. It became only the second grocery store in the United States and the first in Mississippi, to have air conditioning. Its Tudor Revival style was designed by neighborhood architect Emmett Hull and contained only the grocery and the new Price Cain Drugstore at the Jefferson & Fortification corner. There was a small area for angular parking in front of the building and a loading dock and parking area around the corner on Jefferson. Belhaven was a rapidly growing neighborhood and shoppers came from throughout the area to see the new store which featured specialty items and select cuts of meat. (4)(9)

The Jitney chain had expanded rapidly throughout the “roaring twenties”, but by 1930, the Great Depression was beginning to take hold. On a typical Saturday you might drive your new $495, Ford coupe to the Jitney to shop. As you walked the aisles with your grocery basket you would notice green beans, three cans for 25¢; Wesson oil, 49¢ a quart; lemons, 12 for 20¢; cigarettes, 15¢ pack; roast beef, 19¢ lb.; bacon, 26¢ lb.; eggs, 25¢ dozen; lettuce, two heads for 15¢; sugar, 10 lbs. for 50¢; light bulbs, 20¢; fresh salmon, 29¢ lb.; mayonnaise, 29¢ pint; flour, 12 lbs. for 12¢; fryers, 35¢ lb.; Irish potatoes, 4 lb. bag, 55¢; and house coffee, 19¢ lb. Most of these items you would carry home and place in your brand new $33.95 Ward’s refrigerator. (10) Refrigeration was just coming into play in the early 1930’s. Most people still had iceboxes. Meat was displayed in coolers on crushed ice and fresh fruits and vegetables, usually purchased from street vendors, went quickly early in the day. “Are the greens really fresh,” a housewife would keenly inquire of the store vendor in his white apron. “Yes ma’m,” he would respond. “Always.”

A trip to Jitney 14 was always a special event for the family shopper. An ad in the August 2, 1930 Clarion-Ledger announced “Your Jitney Jungle is arranged so that you can shop from front to back and from side to side without taking unnecessary steps. Your Jitney Jungle fixture arrangement not only provides a one-third more merchandise space than any other fixture plans in the world but is the most convenient. By shopping at Jitney Jungle you ‘save a nickel on a quarter’ on your grocery budget and many steps.” It was obvious these grocery stores were far ahead of their time. (11)

The 1940’s

Jitney 14 in the '40s,photo courtesy of Bill McCarty
Jitney 14 in the ’40s,photo courtesy of Bill McCarty

In 1941, Jitney Jungle 14 underwent its first expansion, enlarging eastward to include space for several small businesses. By 1942, the original grocery and adjacent drugstore had added the Beauty Lounge, Marjorie’s Shop (notions) and Snow White Cleaners. It took on the name English Village after its Tutor design. America was at war and throughout the early 1940’s, food items were scarce and rationed and neighbors pulled together and shared what they had. No one minded the sacrifice for their country and its sons overseas. On occasion there were vacancies in the store fronts and Mr. McCarty would let the Junior Red Cross use an empty space rent free to pack boxes to send to the Europeans after World War II. (4) (1)

Henry Holman, Jr. relates this story of an event at Jitney 14 during the days of food rationing. “On a certain April Fool Day, my father had one of the office force impersonate an O.P.A. investigator (rationing enforcer), who telephoned, of all people, the personable switch board operator at the store to find out why she had been getting extra sugar stamps. Since it was strawberry season, she impulsively implied it was to can strawberries – a fruit she and her family never ate! A few moments later father had the ‘investigator’ call back and say he was coming by her house that afternoon to check on her canning. Immediately she scrambled to the warehouse and bought a whole crate of strawberries, then came by to ask my straight-faced father for permission to rush home and can the fruit.” (5)

rationing posterMy own memories of rationing were going to the store with my mother. She would hand me a ration book with pages filled with stamps and instruct me “Billy, tear out half a sheet of tanks and a third sheet of planes.” Regardless of how much money a person had to spend, they had to produce these stamps for sugar and coffee when they were available and a host of other scarce items. Soft drinks such as Coke, Grapette soda, Orange Crush and Royal Crown Cola (twice as much drink for a “jitney”)- like bubble gum and comic books – were mostly unavailable until after war’s end in 1945. There were red meat points for steak or bacon and blue points for canned goods. Tokens, worth a fraction of a penny, were used to “make change” for sales tax. Sometimes the most respectable ladies would don an old cloth coat and slip across the Woodrow Wilson bridge off South Jefferson and into the Gold Coast where black market items such as bobby pins and local beef were available without a ration book. Few questions were asked. A lot of commerce over the years has been done “across the river”.

Jitney Jungle in the ’40s, photo courtesy of Bill McCarty

I learned to shop at Jitney 14. I used to swing on its wooden turnstiles when I didn’t weigh quite as much as I do now. I was sent down one aisle for a five cent box of salt and another for ten cents worth of baking soda. I learned the brand names of foods and how beef and poultry were weighed. I looked for cookies and ice cream cones at Cain’s and helped carry grocery bags to our neighbor’s car since we did not have one. Later on, when I was a bit older, us neighborhood kids hung out near the freight dock on Jefferson. Mr. Elliott and his staff would unload oranges and apples and lettuce and onions and throw the boxes, crates and sacks out the back door for trash pickup. The orange crates were the prize catch. Made of sturdy wood, they had a divider in the middle. We would grab a couple, take them home, stand them on end and connect them with a board. The consummate lemonade stand was born with a shelf on either side for the cash register and the lemons. Profits were spent on Hershey bars and milkshakes at the drugstore. Our mothers loved the apple crates which were used as storage boxes and ideal for new bedding plants in the spring. Of course the lemons, sugar, paper cups and straws all came from inside the store where the high lights and lesser lights came and went. All were on a mission of their own, delighting in the plethora of food and furnishings made available at war’s end. Grand times!

Us kids, however, were only familiar with the outside of the dock area. Mrs. Betty Edwards’ son Steve, who began as a bagboy at “14” knew it as an assistant store manager from the inside out. “The only unusual feature of Jitney 14,” he said, “was the tiny back room area. When the trucks came in, many of the cases of fast moving large items, such as toilet tissue or seasonal extra goods were sent by a conveyer belt to the dark cavern beneath. It was the most challenging storage room of any store in the company except the Jitney in Philadelphia, MS., regarding truck unloading, dock area and storage.” (12) Since all our readers know by now there is or was a ghost in most of Belhaven’s early digs, this one might have lived in the stock room. Belhaven, from time to time, has been the haunts of several ghosts – most of them good. Rumor has it one lives in the water fountain at Laurel Street Park. One of these days we are going to have to look further into the adventures of these elusive creatures. Throughout the 1940’s and 50’s and into the 60’s, “the Jitney” was the neighborhood’s hub of commerce. And oh, the stories; some not always verified but all, of course, true.

One of the primary ways a young boy could make a little pocket money was to be a bag boy at a local grocery store. It didn’t pay much and was hard work, but rewarding back in the times of self-reliance and personal responsibility. Such a bagboy was Coleman Lowery who, as told by his daughter Maggie, “From the summer of 1946, when I was in the 8th grade at Bailey Junior High School, until the spring of 1951, when I graduated from Central High School, I was a package boy at Jitney 14 where Miss Eudora Welty was a regular customer. She tipped the package boys a dime. We were making thirty cents an hour – so we fought over the ladies who tipped. Mrs. Fred Sullins and Mrs. Robert Kennington tipped a quarter! Sometimes Miss Welty did as well. “In the fall of 1951, I entered Vanderbilt University, where I graduated in 1955, and that fall in my freshman English class we read ‘Why I Live at the P.O.’ During the discussion that followed I raised my hand and said ‘I know Eudora Welty. I carried her packages at the grocery store at home.” And just to think, Miss Welty could have written “Why I shopped at Jitney 14”. (13) Perhaps someday a manuscript will be found!

Being a package boy was many a youngster’s first introduction into the business world. Both Henry Holman, Jr. and Bill McCarty, Jr. served in this capacity as they learned from the ground up the intricacies of their family business. Store manager Alford once said “All young men in Jackson should start out carrying packages for Jitney.” The Jitney Jungles back in the 1960’s published a little handbook which was given to all the newly hired boys. It began with a mission statement “The purpose of this manual is to show you in step by step fashion, what you should do to be successful in your Jitney Jungle job, and what the store needs and expects of you as one of its important employees.” (14)(5) The manual goes on to outline instructions on neatness, promptness, making sensible decisions, care and packaging of the grocery product, courtesy and thoughtfulness and always leaving the customer with the comment “come back again and bring a friend.” It concludes “We welcome you into the organization. We hope you will like playing on the Jitney-Jungle team. The game is just beginning. We’d like to see you become a seasoned star – a veteran…you can – and will – if you do your best.” (14) What wonderful lessons for a 14-year-old boy to learn and practice. What good advice on which to enter the professional world.

Willie Morris, image courtesy of Yazoo City Historical Museum
Willie Morris, image courtesy of Yazoo City Historical Museum

Writer Willie Morris grew up in Yazoo City. He didn’t get down to Jackson often but many times when he did he visited his grandparents Mr. and Mrs. Percy Weaks who lived at 1017 N. Jefferson Street. The house left the tax rolls in 1968 and the home site has been a vacant lot since. A Tote-Sum Store once sat at the corner with Fortification with a loading area in the rear. Bill McCarty, III remembers as a child an artificial limb maker behind the Tote-Sum and several times going by with his dad at night and seeing prosthetic legs or arms reaching skyward from a pile outside. “That certainly terrified us!” Just north along the sidewalk a small, battle – scarred magnolia remains on which, according to Joanne Prichard Morris, Willie once carved his initials – but time has removed them. Willie Morris was familiar with Eudora’s Jitney. (1)(15) Writing in his book “Homecomings” in the 1989 article A Return to Christmas Gone, the author tells of his purchase of a half dozen roses in Oxford and brought with him to the gravesites and former homes of his antecedents, the last of whom lived in Belhaven. “I retrace the Christmas journey – down Woodrow Wilson, right on North State Street past Millsaps, left on Fortification to Jefferson….My grandparents’ house is no longer there, long since a parking lot near the Jitney Jungle across the street. The magnolia is still in front, but where the house was is grim, bare asphalt, cold and wet now from the rain. ….Mamie and Percy, Maggie and Susie would be greeting us now, just beyond the magnolia where the front porch was. I close my eyes and hear their happy welcomes. Old Skip has raced beneath their feet into the house in search of turkey livers, and my great-aunts follow in their flowing black dresses.

“I stand in the parking lot where the parlor was. I feel the ripple of the lost voices. I drift back into the kitchen. Time, as one ages, is a continuum. Past and present consume themselves into the ashes. There is no good place for the last two roses. I put them on the asphalt where the dining room table was. Tomorrow someone will run over them in the parking lot. But who would disturb them today?” (16)

1960’s – 80’s

As the years approached the 1960’s, another expansion of English Village and Jitney 14 was underway. It was a massive undertaking of space increment and modernization. New businesses were Pridgens Florist, Collins Barber Shop, and the Beauty Lounge to accompany the older establishments. Cain’s had given way to Parkin’s. Other enterprises that have occupied English Village over the years included the Automatic Laundry Services (washeteria), Neal’s Barber Shop, Ben Franklin Hardware, Southern Pulmonary Clinic, the ABC Coin Laundry, the Village Inn & Pub and now Basil’s. (4) [Basil’s went out of business in early 2014, and a new restaurant, owned by Louis LaRose, is scheduled to open soon.jly] A new and enlarged parking lot was constructed to accommodate growing patronage. A major feature was a complete and enlarged bakery at the front of the store. The pungent odors of fresh bread, cookies, pies and cakes wafted through the store attracting shoppers like a magnet to the freshness and taste sensations of these delicacies.

A photo provided by Bill McCarty, III depicts modern floors and lighting, wider aisles, shelving throughout the store, frozen food cabinets, an up-to-date refrigerated meat market, two turnstiles, six efficient checkout lanes with new calculators and scales and a lunch counter near the front of the store. As a young man, Bill cut his Jitney teeth here. He tells of when he first went to work to learn the shelf stocking end of the business. “Wooden floors were under newer tile throughout the store. One of my jobs was to do shelving on the sales floor. When I stocked the orange juice, I had to put my foot beside one wheel of the cart as I loaded juice into the retail case or else the cart would roll across the aisle. This was simply the result of the wooden floor’s old age. The eastern most addition to Jitney 14, when the entrance was moved to that side from Fortification Street had concrete sub flooring throughout.

“One clear memory was the kitchen directly behind the former Fortification Street entrance where Mrs. Pitts, the deli manager, and the ladies who had cooked there for so many years used a gas burner as part of the stove to cook icings and other bakery items. I once tried to change her brand of flour but after being told that she only cooked with one brand, I went to buy that flour at the best price I could get since I knew I was not going to change her wonderful ways. Mrs. Pitts, who catered many a reception and social event with her great recipes, also had a hand in starting the development of the delicious pimento cheese still available for purchase in McDade’s deli.

Eudora Welty, photo courtesy of fanart.com

“Extra thin sliced bread was so popular we spent hours preparing it on a noisy cast iron slicing machine that was in action every time I went into the kitchen. My personal favorite was the Old Fashioned bread in the wide loaf, one of six sandwich bread items baked in the Mill Street bakery. It came in a white bag with the logo printed on it and tasted much like real homemade. During the Christmas holidays we had red and green and other colors for each holiday that followed designed to compliment party sandwiches requested by our customers. You could just about tell the holiday by the color of the bread. In addition to governors, mayors, lawyers, legislators, doctors and everyone else in town, I vividly remember Eudora Welty coming by and talking with me as I stocked shelves or ran a checkout stand. Frank Haines (former Jackson Daily News entertainment editor) asked me when we were going to get a supply of George Washington Seasoning, so I ordered some for him. One item Jitney 14 always stocked was the small glass jar of Smithfield Deviled Ham spread. I learned to love it in 1972 and special ordered it for myself until it was recently discontinued by the distributor. I remember Mrs. Noone, an elderly lady from up around Madison Street with an Australian accent who came by every day to buy Ryvita Wafers for herself and a small bag of litter and a bit of liver for her 14-year-old cat. ‘The liver had to be tender,’ she told me, ‘or my cat will not eat it.’ On occasion she returned it the next day for more tenderization.

“I recall the Jefferson Street side entrance to Parkin’s Drugstore and going in to their soda fountain as a child where I either had a banana split or chocolate malt.” (1) How many young fellows in the Belhaven neighborhood running barefoot along the hot sidewalks of summer must have done the same.”

Jitney 14 was an icon, attracting patrons from throughout the Jackson metro area and beyond. The pace was quick, the new computerized checkout stands crowded and the clerks challenged with the need for speed and accuracy. One in particular caught the attention and love of many customers: Johanna Wade. Johanna, a native of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, was a 16-year veteran of Jitney 14 when she appeared in a local newspaper article. She was a popular favorite of Jitney shoppers and as the head checker knew many on a first name basis. “I know them by name,” she told the reporter. “I know their children. I like the people. I’ve got lots of friends here in the neighborhood. They’ve always been real good to me.” This goodness came through in 1986 when her husband died. They invited her over for the holidays to relieve her loneliness and they were happy to share their family day with her. When her parents died in 1988, and she made two trips to Holland in a week, customers expressed their sympathy by helping send her. “I came back and it was all in the office- money, checks, everything.” Then store manager Sam Holley called her not only an asset to the store “but to the entire neighborhood.” Such are the rewards of a friendly smile, accommodation and knowing the rhythms of Belhaven. (17)

The 90’s

Eudora’s Jitney rolled into the 90’s with a full head of steam. The company had expanded to hundreds of stores throughout the southeastern United States. Bill McCarty III reports that “business was brisk and by 1994 the Jitney-Jungle chain had expanded to 105 stores in six states and annual sales exceeded a billion dollars. That large volume continued to produce a profit for the company through hard work and efficiency.

“Beginning in 1987, the Jitney 14 structure was completely rebuilt from the inside out with the entire building being replaced except the exterior brick facades and walls along Fortification and Jefferson Streets and the north walls and east main entrance. This preserved the historic character of brick, tile and copper exterior with big improvements to the 30,000 square foot store. The store remained open during this period and the grand reopening was October 8, 1988. Parkins Drug Store was relocated to the structure occupied by Basil’s Restaurant today.” [See note above, jly](1)

The 21st Century

Times change; new generations take over and old ways are altered by current need and circumstance. The sale of the Jitney Jungle chain was finalized in March 1996 and at that time the annual sales volume was approximately $1.2 billion. After the sale, some difficult times followed with subsequent companies. However, Greg McDade purchased the old Jitney in 2005 just before it was to be closed forever and it flourishes today at the same location. Through the 84 years Jitney-Jungle was a McCarty-Holman enterprise it was state of the art as the store remains today. Its staff was courteous and well-trained, its stock and produce of the highest quality and its reputation a solid testament to what a family business can attain with vision, hard work and careful attention to the needs of its customers. Simply put, it did the right things at the right time in the right place.

Eighty-two years after the “Big Jitney” and Price Cain’s drug store first anchored the northeast corner of Jefferson and Fortification, McDade’s Market sits proudly on the site of Jackson’s very first air-conditioned supermarket. Our neighborhood owes a great debt of gratitude to the McDades for saving our store and making it viable. Road equipment churns down the new Fortification bustling with innovative ideas and the coming aesthetics resulting from countless hours of careful planning. Twenty-first century patrons pause along the aerated bins of fresh produce and the well-trained cashiers, stockers, sackers and department managers who hustle to fill their daily needs. The world is faster now but shoppers still pause to say “good morning” and “How are things?” And the employees say the same. It remains our neighborhood grocery.

McDades Market on Fortification in a rare Jackson snowfall. (photo by Jesse Yancy)
McDades Market on Fortification in a rare Jackson snowfall. (photo by Jesse Yancy)

As we shop McDade’s this Christmas season and gather together the spices and condiments of the year in anticipation of family reunited, we can reflect on Eudora’s tips to package boys and the spirit of Willie’s roses in the rain. Together they, as have we, been a part of the little store which became an exponent of the American dream as it brought its bounty to our dinner tables and conviviality to our lives. But remember also its journey. The early footsteps are stilled. The old hand-cranked adding machines have been replaced by computers. The aisles are brighter and bracketed with a plethora of universal foods, spices and specialty items. The turnstiles have given way to electronic doors. Roast beef costs a bit more than 35¢ a lb, but on sale days you can still save a nickel on a quarter. New writers and artists recreate its glorious past and its future shines like a freshly polished apple. But beneath it all, through the wooden and concrete floors clad in contemporary colors lies the ground that heard those footsteps in 1930 and above the main entrance, under the archway looking eastward into the sunrise, still stands a harbinger, a numeral that takes us from yesterday to tomorrow at Eudora’s Jitney: “14”.

Bill and Nan Harvey, December 2012

Bill and Nan Harvey
Bill and Nan Harvey

Nan Ertle Harvey is a native of Yazoo County, a graduate of Mississippi College and has lived with her husband Bill in the Belhaven neighborhood since 1994. She worked in a research position in the Department of Microbiology at UMMC, retiring in 2003. Nan’s hobbies are photography, nature study and family research. She is a volunteer at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. Bill Harvey is a native Jacksonian, living most of his life in Belhaven. A MSU Bulldog, he has had careers in journalism, education and as development director of the Andrew Jackson Council, Boy Scouts of America. Bill enjoys photography, music, writing articles for neighborhood sources and sharing experiences with friends at a local coffee shop. (Text copyright Bill and Nan Harvey, used by permission of Bill and Nan Harvey; photos of Jitney Jungle copyright Bill McCarty III, used by permission of Bill McCarty III)

Sources:
(1) Conversations with Bill McCarty, III, Nov. 2012 [Details are from memory, family members and an April 3, 1962 interview between W.B. McCarty, Sr. and his son W.B. McCarty, Jr.]
(2) “Lesson Learned from Strike Here in 1916 was Start of Jitney-Jungle organization” [Jackson Daily News, Oct. 1, 1950]
(3) Jitney Jungle is Celebrating Start of 12th Year of Service [Clarion-Ledger, Oct. 12, 1930
(4) Jackson City Directory, 1930, 1916
(5) “Save a Nickel on a Quarter: The Story of the Jitney-Jungle Stores of America” [Address by William Henry Holman, Jr. to Newcomen Society in North America, Jackson, Mississippi, April 18, 1973]
(6) Interview with Betty McCarty Edwards [Madison, Mississippi; Nov. 12, 2012]
(7) Formal Jitney-Jungle 14 Grand Opening Invitation [Clarion-Ledger, November 10, 1933]
(8) “New Super Jitney-Jungle Has auspicious Opening” [Clarion-Ledger, Nov. 12, 1933]
(9) Registration Application/National Register of Historic Places/NPS – P. 74.
(10) “Store with a thousand Items” [Clarion Ledger, June 26, 1930]
(11) Store ad, [Jackson Clarion-Ledger, August 2, 1930]
(12) Conversation with Steve Edwards [Nov. 14, 2012]
(13) “Knowing Miss Welty: I was Miss Eudora’s Package Boy” – Coleman Lowery as told by his daughter Maggie [Lemuria Book Store blog, Aug. 9, 2012]
(14) A Handbook for Package Boys (1960)
(15) Conversation with Joanne Prichard Morris [October 31, 2012]
(16) Homecomings by Willie Morris (University Press of Mississippi, 1989)
(17) “Check Her Out” by Sherry Lucas [Clarion-Ledger, Feb. 7, 1994]

Acknowledgements:
Special thanks to Mrs. Betty McCarty Edwards, Steve Edwards and especially Bill McCarty, III who provided significant family information and assistance in writing and structuring this article, and appreciation is extended to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for newspaper articles as noted above.