A History of Belhaven: Part 1, Birth of a Neighborhood

This, the first of four in a history of the Belhaven neighborhood in Jackson, Mississippi, was written by resident, journalist and historian Bill Harvey.

When people ask if I live in Jackson, I tell them, “No, I live in Belhaven”. While the locations overlap, Belhaven sounds better. Where in Jackson is Belhaven? Conventional wisdom outlines it as Fortification to the south, State St. to the west, Riverside Dr. to the north and the Pearl River to the east. While never a political subdivision by that name, Belhaven’s name  grew up around the college and is more than just a name.

The area south of Fortification is officially known as Belhaven Heights, a neighborhood older than “Belhaven” and more official, with a history of its own.  It has its own story to tell and may do so in future writings, but for now “our Belhaven” will encompass the above parameters – with perhaps a sneaky tentacle reaching out occasionally to the west or south to briefly touch a historical moment.

Jackson in 1900 had a population of 7,914. Mississippi’s capital city since 1823, Jackson grew slowly for a variety of reasons. Union Generals Grant and Sherman burned most of the city to the ground in 1863, sparing only a few structures for use by their men and the City Hall because of the Masonic Lodge on the top floor. The city was known then and even today as “Chimneyville”. Streets were mainly gravel and mud and Town Creek flooded the downtown area on an annual basis. The business community consisted of small shops and professional offices clustered around the Old Capitol, South State and Commerce Streets. Capitol Street, other than the Governor’s Mansion, was largely residential, tree lined and dusty. It was a great leap forward in 1899 when mule drawn trolleys were replaced with electric cars much to the satisfaction of the mules.

The turn of the 20th century brought  noticeably progressive changes to Mississippi and the nation. The U.S. population stood at 76,212,000 and there were 45 states. William McKinley was president and the world, for a time, was at peace. In the year 1900, Henry Ford introduced his first commercial vehicle, an electric powered delivery wagon, Frank Baum copywrited his book The Land of Oz, which later became the Wizard and Puerto Rico became a new American territory.

Mississippi at the turn of the last century was recovering from the Great Civil War, Reconstruction and the loss of manpower from that conflict. Essentially rural and agricultural, what little it had was concentrated in a few of the larger cities. The Gilded Age had passed but cotton, while no longer king, was the dominant crop along with the lumber industry and sorghum. The Democrat party controlled all politics and for some reason the era was known as the Progressive Age.

Mississippi’s Governor at the turn of the century was Andrew Longino, its Lt. Governor James T. Harrison. The Attorney General was Monroe McClung, Secretary of State, John Logan Power and the Treasurer was J.R. Stowers. The state’s population stood at 1,551,000, growing at about 15% a year. Vicksburg was the largest city. The Vicksburg and Alabama Railroad transversed the state from west to east and the Gulf and Ship Island Railway was newly constructed from Jackson to the Gulf Coast.

The state’s capital city was beginning to wake up from the deprivations of war and reconstruction. Shopping at Christmas in Jackson was mostly done at the Rookery, a downtown variety store which specialized in toys, tinsels and festive clothing designed to gladden the hearts of little folks. Colleges, state institutions, theaters, banks, churches and department stores bloomed along the downtown streets as more merchants moved from the environs to the city. It was an exciting time.

Jackson’s northern boundary was Manship Street (North Park Addition) in 1900. The city ran south to Silas Brown and out to the area of Monument and W. Capitol to the west. Residents lived along north-south streets radiating from Capitol Street, along the river streets of Pearl, Pascagoula, Amite and Tombigbee and around Union station at Gallatin. Outlying areas were along the Clinton Road (W. Capitol), where a new cemetery, Cedarlawn had just opened, Asylum Road (later Woodrow Wilson to the northwest) and into the estates of Livingston, Whitfield and Cohea. Fondren was a separate town.

An interesting adjunct to south central Jackson was Duttoville. Built in the late 19th century by Catholic priest Father Louis Dutto, it was a self-contained village with small homes, a fire station, grocery stores, a Catholic Church and a park. It was added to the city in later years but has been nearly absorbed in modern times by urban growth.

Jackson’s strong suite in those days was its leadership. The mayor was John W. Todd who had just taken over from Mayor H.M. Taylor. Families composed of Virdens, Yergers, McWillies, Enochs, Westbrooks, Strausses Hedermans, Watkins, Greens, Spenglers, Barksdales, Galloways and Kenningtons headed up businesses and the chamber of commerce. Businesses of the day included the Clarion-Ledger, Jackson Marble Works, J.W. Everett & Sons, Jackson Steam Laundry, Mississippi Cotton Oil Company, the Lawrence and Edwards Houses (hotels), Tucker Printing Company, Jackson Lumber Company, Westbrook Manufacturing Company and Adkisson & Bauer Hardware. The newly renovated Century Theater, converted from an opera house, graced the northern side off the first block of East Capitol Street.

In the midst of this growth and urban development an institution was born in 1894 when Dr. Louis Fitzhugh acquired the Jones Hamilton mansion near the northeast corner of Bellevue and Jefferson Streets. He established a school for girls the following year. It had seven students and Dr. Fitzhugh. The home was destroyed by fire shortly thereafter but was rebuilt and named for Colonel Hamilton’s Scottish forbearer, first Lord of Belhaven.

A neighborhood was born.

Bill Harvey; June, 2017 

 Sources for History of Belhaven: Part 1

Text:

Carroll Brinson, Jackson/A Special Kind of Place (Published by the City of Jackson, 1977)

Julie L. Kimbrough, Images of America, JACKSON (Arcadia Publishing, 1998)

Grady Howell, Jr., Chimneyville: Likenesses of Early Days in Jackson, Mississippi (Chickasaw Bayor Press, 2007)

James F. Gordon, Jr., A History of Belhaven College 1894-1981 (Jackson, MS, Belhaven College (1983)

“Jackson City Directory” (1904/05) – Multiple pages under street section

Demographics, various internet sources in public domain

Photos:

Capitol St. 1908 – Chimneyville: Likenesses of Early Days  in Jackson, Mississippi (Howell) p. 95

The Rookery – Chimneyville: Likenesses of Early Days in Jackson, Mississippi (Howell) p. 124

North State St. – 1900 – Images of America – Jackson (Kimbrough) p. 105

Jackson Street Cars – Images of America – Jackson (Kimbrough) p. 106

Jones-Hamilton Home (original Belhaven College- artist rendition) – Belhaven University Archives

Sleepy Corner

Sam, the Garbager, had carpet,
And some scraps of office jot,
Optomacy stooped to throw him,
As he passed from lot to lot,

And with these he decked his cabin
In a rather modern style;
But himself remained old-fashioned
Like–simple and true the while.

And the milk of human kindness
Seemed to bubble from his heart,
As he rolled about the city
In his two-wheeled garbage cart.

S.A. Beadle,
Lyrics of the Under-World (1912),
photo by R. H. Beadle

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.  Engel wrote among other works 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 this endearing profile of his friendship with Eudora.

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.

A Pipe Dream

The corner of Peachtree and Poplar gets sun six to eight hours a day nine months of the year and lies south below a rise that shields it from winter winds. The garden there between the street and an old parking lot is filled with flowers and fruits, butterflies and bees. My hope is for it to become a pocket park, a small public space usually created on a single vacant building lot or on a small irregular piece of land. Too small for physical activities (well, maybe tai chi), pocket parks provide a greenway for wildlife (particularly birds and insects, though you can’t rule out the occasional reptile or mammal ), greenery, a place to sit outdoors and often a venue for the visual and performing arts, if only in the form of a wall and a stage. In upscale neighborhoods, pocket parks are the only option for creating new public spaces of the type that increase neighboring property values. I realize this idea of creating a little park on that busy corner is a pipe dream. All I can do is cast bread upon the waters.