Jack Myers stood at the forefront of gay rights in Mississippi for over fifty years, running a series of gay bars and clubs in the capital city of Jackson. In this interview Myers talks about the many places he ran and shares his memories of others.
This all started back when I was in high school, we’re talking 1962-63. I finished radiology school, lived in Memphis for a while, lived in Eupora for a while, worked at the state hospital and at the VA. While I was at the VA they sent me to Duke for a year for in-service training, and was hoping for a position in Jackson, but they never got the position open, and I gave them 30 days to decide if they were going to give me more money, but they just kept putting it off, so I left after 30 days.
The first gay bar I can recall going to was called the Sportsman’s Lounge. You go down here and you turn on Mayes Street, Cowboy Malone’s used to be right there by the tracks, and there’s a little bitty building on the other side of the track and it was called the Sportsman’s Lounge. As a matter of fact, I had my 21st birthday there. I worked there when I was… it was in ’60-something. I was in X-ray school at UMC at the time. There have always been clubs in Jackson that weren’t openly gay but where gay people were welcome. I remember T.C. Schilling, one of the first people I met when I came out here, he used to own Jackson Commercial College, and he talks of some places that he used to go and one was down there on West Capitol Street, and there was a place off Robinson Road, you know where East Ford used to be? Where Robinson Road crosses Hwy. 80? If you leave here and go out Robinson Road you’ll cross Ellis Avenue, and right before you get to Hwy. 80 on the left facing Hwy. 80 used to be East Ford. You get behind the Ford place and you turn right, there’s a long road that goes through there, and he said he used to go to a place, there was a woman that had a bar out there. He said she’d take up for the gays in a minute, wouldn’t let anybody bother anybody. And there’s a lot of (gay) people I know used to go to the Walthall Hotel downtown. That was in the ‘60s.
I worked at the Sportsman’s Lounge, then he closed that bar and opened a place on McDowell Road where the police shooting range is now. That was all wooded then, it had a drive that went up to this big old house; it was called the Mansion. The guy lived upstairs, and one side of the downstairs was the bar. And if the sheriff’s department or the police came by and two guys and two girls were dancing, they’d just switch partners.
I know when I first came out, on Woodrow Wilson, where you take a left and get on Bailey Avenue, they took several old houses and made them into businesses and there was a place called Chez Pierre’s that was gay-friendly. The Glass Kitchen on Five Points was a popular restaurant. When I was in school at UMC from ’64-66 all of us who were in school would go to Delta Drive because they’d taken a lot of old houses up there and turned them into bars and they had bands, you took your own bottle, they only sold beer. There was the Pepper Mint Twist Lounge, the Hilltop A-Go-Go, the Sirloin Room; the Sirloin Room always had this great band called the Poppas.
I can’t remember the exact year I opened my first bar, but it was in the early ‘70s. It was on Delta Drive, now Martin Luther King Drive. And I moved from there downtown to the old Wagon Wheel which was on Capitol and Farish Streets upstairs. The entrance was on Farish. Then we bought the old Amite Theatre. It was behind Jack’s Saloon, it was on the corner of Amite and Roach; they were back-to-back. There was a Dr. Wade Windham who opened a bar there, a straight bar called the City Dump, I think it was. They took old cars and made benches and booths out of them. We sold them all for scraps. We completely remodeled it.
Bill’s Disco (black bar) was on the corner of Amite and Mill Streets there by the train station. It was called the Interchange when we had it. I’m thinking that when the old theatre burned we moved there and called it the Interchange and Bill Rimes ran it for us… well, the old theatre was called Bill’s Disco and it burned in 80-something. And then we moved on the corner across the street to that small building, opened it was the Interchange on Amite. They tore the old Amite Street Theatre down and built that monstrosity in the back; I can’t remember what it’s called (This is the catty-corner building on the corner of Roach and Amite.)
The dance bar on Capitol was Jack and Jill’s. It wasn’t the first bar; it was the first big dance bar. I don’t know if it was this article (in a local paper), but there was also one in the Washington Post that quoted me as saying that I had the first (gay) bar in Jackson, and no, I didn’t. There were bars years before I had one here. There was a girl bar where Amite Street gets to Capitol and crosses Capitol and turns into Robinson Road. I’m thinking that’s where it was. The road that goes by the train station, Amite, comes in (at an angle) there and crosses Capitol. There’s a little bar that sits there, there’s a parking lot out front. There’s been a bar there for years, but there was a girl that had it for a while. Her name was Polly Wilmer. In fact, I hadn’t seen her in years and Harry and I went by the Waffle House to get something to eat and this girl came by and said, “Are you Jack Myers?” I said, “Yeah.” “Well, this is Polly Wilmer,” she said. Oh, my God, I hadn’t seen her in years, and she’d gotten big, huge and she used to be a little tiny thing. We talked for a while; she used to have that bar, it was on Robinson Road, I think, used to be a Waffle House or something that sat right in here. It wasn’t Mississippi Street.
When I first opened Mae’s Cabaret on Delta Drive, now Martin Luther King, we got some hassle from the police. I was working at the Raincheck on Northside Drive; going west on Northside drive, you cross over the train tracks and as soon as you crossed over the tracks you took a left and there used to be a brickyard there. The only thing left there was an office; it was very small. It had a nice-sized room in the front, and a nice-sized room in the back, but to get to the back, you had to go through a hallway where the bathrooms were. And then you had the back room, where people could dance. When the police came in, the lady who ran the door would push a button under the desk and a light would flash and everybody would know to sit down. Because in order to have a dance license, you had to have an emergency exit off the dance floor, and there wasn’t a door back there. But one of the policemen said something to Doris about, “We know you have that light,” and she said, “I’m not worried about having a door back there, you know, trying to hem in a queen… (laughter).”
Doris wanted me and her to go into business, I worked with her for a long time, she wanted to open up a bigger place. I think I got a mortgage on my house; I had it paid for. So we opened up the place (Capitol and Farish?), and the police chief said, “The only thing I ask, you know, it’s fine having the show, but I want someone from vice and narcotics to come see the show.” And he did. It was Officer Fitzgerald. After that was over, he said, “Man, I don’t see anything wrong with these shows.” And I said, “Well, I did the right thing, paid the first people off when you told me not to have a show, and sent them back to Atlanta, but it’s not a strip show.” He said, “Well, I see that now, but somebody told us you were going to have a strip show.” That’s when we saw the chief and he said if the church could have their womanless wedding, then we could have a drag show.
When we had the old Amite Theatre downtown, we had a bunch in a pickup came by, they did not get out, just came by yelling stuff out to us. That’s the only incident we ever had like that. We always had off-duty city policemen working for us. Just a uniform; they could wear their uniforms. 95% of our protection was just them being at the bar. If you had an off-duty policeman working for you, you had to carry liability insurance and name the Jackson police department on that policy. That’s how you got to hire them. If you’re going to use a policeman, they want their ass covered. It wasn’t that expensive. It either paid a half a million or a million.
(In Jack’s bars) Momma and Daddy ran the door. And if Momma didn’t recognize you, the first thing she’d say was, “This is a gay bar, you’re welcome, and if you don’t like it or whatever, you can leave. If you cause trouble, we have a policeman here.” If it was someone (like a public figure) who might be looking around to see what was going on, she’d tell them not to be nervous, to come on in. Well-known people who were on the make’d go to New Orleans or somewhere like that where nobody could see them. People would come to me all the time and say, “I saw So-and-so (in this gay bar) in New Orleans.” They couldn’t come out up here but they could down there.
Growing up we called them the “pink apartments”, something unique to the architecture of the neighborhood and an attraction to passersby throughout Belhaven.
The two apartment complexes at 1204 and 1214 Kenwood Place were built in 1938 by Jackson architect James T. (Jack) Canizaro. They have been the home of hundreds of tenants over seven decades spanning three generations of Jacksonians. The apartments rest quietly behind a façade of crepe myrtle and magnolia trees, cool and shady and adjacent to the old Kennington property, which gave their street its name. The pink apartments have no prenomen, but have a great story to tell. No one can tell it better than Bob Canizaro, son of the original designer, who grew up there in the building’s early years.
Mr. Canizaro, an architect himself, lives in Evanston, IL. He grew up in Belhaven with a loving family and great friends surrounded by post-war Jackson and those wondrous times we refer to as the greatest generation. This is his story as told to Bill Harvey, a neighbor from just up Manship Street.
“The stork arrived at Baptist Hospital on Christmas Eve 1938 and quickly moved me to 1110 N. Jefferson Street, a four-plex that stands today. My architect dad (James T. Canizaro), announced my arrival in a series of blue prints complete with maps, plans and schedules. My first gift from him was a football, which I never played with much myself, but I enjoyed following my favorite teams. These were Notre Dame and Central and St. Joseph High Schools in Jackson. My family moved into the 1204 Kenwood Place building when it was completed in 1939.
The tri-plex apartments were a joint effort with a cousin, Emile Cavallo, a civil engineer. Jack and Emile decided to construct our two buildings so they each could live in one unit and have an income from the other two. Mr. Cavello had been in business for a while and could stake the effort for my dad since he was just getting started in his career. Apartments were not new to the neighborhood although the architectural design was unique. I never heard any negative complaints except from his mom, Rosa Pantoliano Canizaro. She felt it lacked a proper front porch where you could rock and talk to the people on the sidewalk. Traditions vary but hospitality remains the same.
I lived and grew up at 1204, until I was 18, then went to Notre Dame, my dad’s alma mater. Many tenants came and went in our apartment building. There was a Dutch couple, Col. And Mrs. Von Oven who lived there during World War II. He was in the Royal Dutch Air Force in training at Hawkins Field. The Dutch flyboys were notorious for their antics in downtown Jackson, often flying low down Capitol Street and waving at the girls in the high-rise office buildings. A woman who worked for us heard a loud noise one day and looked out the kitchen door on the front of the building and saw the Colonel flying down Kenwood Place. No small wonder we won the war!
Col. Lyon Brandon and his wife lived in our building on the Manship side after the war. He worked for the American Legion, traveled around the world and brought me matchbook covers that made a fine collection. I was fond of a tenant named McGehee. He and I were regulars at the old Jackson Senators baseball games at the fairgrounds. We were close to Dr. Estelle Maguria who lived in our middle apartment. After she left, William Fulton, former director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting moved in.
Tenants in our building were generally professional people. The interior and exterior of our home lent itself to the enjoyment of a boy growing up in the times – plenty of room in the back yard, high ceilings, a banister to slide down, my own room, a hill in front to navigate on cardboard sheets and visits to nearby stores for ice cream and comic books. I could walk or ride my bike to school. My dad raised chickens on the back porch and there were endless nearby places to explore. My dad had his architecture studio in a building in the rear yard until the 1960’s. After that it was used by my mother, a recognized Mississippi artist, for a studio. later I made it into an apartment.
My sister Jean Trigiani lived in the end apartment in 1966 when the rent was $95 a month. She is now Mrs. Jean Enochs. She remembers when she and her good friend Tine, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Wright grew up together. Tine, who is now Tine Wright Purdy of Huntsville, AL, lived with her family in the 1000 block of Manship Street. She and Jean would play together at their homes or at the Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home where Tine’s father was a partner. Sometimes when the girls needed someone to talk to – maybe on a childhood problem, they would call one another and agree to meet halfway between their residences on a Manship Street curb to talk it over. Having the Baptist Hospital close by proved convenient as I visited the emergency room often with my dad for sprains and stitches. My wife, Beth rescued a brick from the old hospital for me as a memento of those days when the hospital and Jackson were a little smaller.
My good friends in the Kenwood/Manship neighborhood were Fred and John Reimers, John Harley Walsh, Robert Stockett, Kirby Walker, Jr. Guy Lowe, John Potter, Gilmer Spivey, Bernard Meltzer, Tupper and Doug Drane and Howard Shannon. Our family was friends with the Bufords, the Millers, the Wrights, the Harrises, Granthams and Garrisons. This area produced a golf foursome (Reimers, Walsh, Spivey, Canizaro) during our high school and college years. Along streets a little farther a-field, the friends I can remember were Thad McLauren, Rip Pritchard, Jim Herring, Donald McGehee, Bill Bates, George Wilkinson, Bob Thompson, Jim Evans, Robert Taylor, John Deweese and Ricky Rothenberg.” Older Jacksonians will remember many of these prominent names.
I recall meeting kids from the neighborhood at Mrs. Downing’s kindergarten on the corner of Poplar and Jefferson. Most of my schooling was at St Joseph, but I spent three wonderful years at the original Power Elementary School at Pinehurst and North State.
My family had a farm in Madison County where I spent most weekends riding horses and making a bit of trouble for the farm manager. Robert Stockett (Stockett Stables) and I rode a lot and entered horse shows at the State Fairgrounds. Our farm was a Hereford cattle ranch back then but there were many other types of animals and crops. I later helped care for the chickens, pigs and goats and harvest grain and hay.
I did found time to play ball on the Reimers ‘back forty’; engage in a game of kick the can along the intersection of Kenwood and Manship; and hope, in winter, to get enough snow to sled down our gentle hills each season. I do remember the 1100 block of Manship was gravel – not conventional gravel, but crushed limestone like they use along railroad tracks.
My friends and I would have rubber gun wars on the “big ditch” on Poplar, which is now Belhaven Park. We would ‘play out’ in the evenings, catch lightning bugs and watch the mosquito sprayer go up and down the nearby streets. I loved model (electric) trains, as did most kids of my era. Freddie Reimers had a miniature rail yard in one of his family’s out buildings and I spent hours playing there. On summer nights, before air conditioning, I would lie awake and listen to real trains switching on the old GM & O yard. My sister also remembers the train cars banging day and night on the tracks over by St. Ann Street. They would make loud noises to the point it got to be sort of a joke.
We could also hear the starting whistle at the Buckeye Oil Mill on Fortification and trains on the Illinois Central line along Mill Street when the wind was from the west. I remember in the early morning the calls of the vegetable vendors who would peddle their wares on carts throughout the neighborhood. ‘ Fresh shell butterbeans and peas’, they would cry. ‘Okra, corn, tomatoes’. At dawn when the air was still, my sister could hear the lions and elephants at the zoo. I cut grass, worked on the farm, subbed on John Harley’s paper route for money to spend at Cain’s Drugstore (later Parkins Pharmacy) on the corner of Fortification and Jefferson and for a fudgesicle at Shady Nook.
Like so many sons, I owe much of my good times and success to my family. My father, James T. Canizaro, was born in Vicksburg of Italian immigrant parents. He studied architecture at Notre Dame (1928) and worked in Chicago for Graham Anderson, Propst and White. He spent a year in Europe during the Depression studying Art Nouveau, Bauhaus and Art Deco architectural designs. After a short stay in Washington, DC, he moved to Jackson in 1936. He had just married Helene Host of Lake Geneva, WI. She said many times she married an architect because she did not want to marry a Wisconsin farmer. There was probably a bit more to it than that. She became a Tennessee Walking Horse fan and enjoyed the farm almost every weekend.
My father’s first design projects began in 1937. He preferred the Modernism he had seen in Europe, but was not able to sell that concept to many clients in Mississippi. The Kenwood Place apartments were finished in 1939 and were his original inventive concept of what he had observed on trips to Europe and Miami. It has been described as Art Moderne. He also told me he had admired then current architecture in Southern California. He had a chance to try his ideas on work in Oxford, Mississippi for a local apartment developer. He did other projects during those years in Oxford (City Hall) and Natchez (Armstrong Tire and Rubber Co.) making him spend a lot of time on gravel roads observing construction. In Jackson, he worked on designs for residences, the City Court, St. Dominic Hospital, the Pix (now Capri) Theater, Farish Street Baptist Church, Christ the King Church, St. Mary’s School, Sally Reynolds School, the JSU cafeteria, the apartments currently at 1005 Popular Blvd., Trustmark Bank (First National) and many other local and state institutions.
My dad had a real hill to climb to prove himself given his ethnic heritage. Because of his talent, charming personality and generosity with his time he was successful. He provided leadership in many of the local cultural, social, religious and charitable organizations. Among these were the Little Theater, where my dad was in some plays, the Jackson Symphony, the Art Association, Magnolia Speech School, Good Samaritan Center, St. Vincent De Paul Society and the Catholic Diocese. My dad died in the Kenwood Place Apartment building in 1984 and my mother moved to St. Catherine’s in 1989. I sold the property to Holden Clark in the early 90’s and he sold it to Waddell Nejam a few years later.”
We see without seeing so many lifetimes in Belhaven. We admire its eclectic structures whose casement windows reflect the sunlight of a peaceful afternoon. We walk along sidewalks built a half-century ago, half covered now with grass but still a pathway for new parents of children in strollers and pets hopefully on leashes on their way to a walk in Belhaven Park. We take the rugged oaks, like the innocence of our youth, for granted and admire the newer trees and plants in well-kept yards. We share the tranquility, which has always been there, the tenants and lives forgotten or just beginning. The pink apartments stand guard over our past and future. Their legacy is who we are. Thank you Jack and Bob Canizaro for just one more reason why Belhaven is special and a historical treasure to all who know and love it.
Robert (Bob) H. Canizaro FAIA is married to Dr. Beth Chihan Canizaro, the founder and Principal of Davis Magnet School, has two sons (Mark and Paul) and lives in Evanston, Illinois. He is a former principal in the architectural firm, Canizaro, Cawthorn and Davis in Jackson. His resume includes courthouses, hospitals, laboratories, churches, offices, retail shops, residences, schools and a major airport. He has been honored with design awards by members of his profession for many of these works and has a long list of professional memberships and achievements including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mississippi AIA. He enjoys living in Evanston, far enough from the traffic of the big city but near enough to enjoy the cultural and gastronomic amenities of the urban environment. He maintains a number of contacts in Mississippi and visits Jackson often.
This is a third in a series of articles on the Belhaven neighborhood by Bill and Nan Harvey. In it we look at some of our early institutions and neighbors who frequented them. Some are gone, some still remain; here’s their history.
Miss Eudora Welty (1909-2001) is generally acknowledged as Belhaven’s greatest literary treasure. A writer of true greatness and internationally recognized in that regard as well as for her Depression era photography, she was our neighbor on Pinehurst who shopped at Jitney 14, studied in our libraries, and visited along the sidewalks of our neighborhood.
Miss Welty won the coveted Pulitzer Prize for Literature in 1973 for The Optimists Daughter and was recognized internationally in 1996 when French Consul General Gerard Blanchot came to Jackson and pinned the red-ribboned star of the French Legion of Honor on her silk gown. Legions of articles and books have been written about Eudora Welty including a biography by Belhaven resident Suzanne Marrs. Her life and works are available in bookstores and libraries everywhere. Yet in spite of all her notoriety our famous neighbor was a gracious and humble lady whose kindness was a prime example of gentility.
There are hundreds of stories about Miss Welty, her gentle manner, and sly sense of humor. I have my own. Some of you remember the “hippie days”, when Beatle emulating young people wore their hair long, donned love beads and sported Nehru jackets. There was a restaurant at the end of South Jefferson Street which shall remain nameless, whose proprietors were of the old school. One summer evening Miss Eudora was escorted by two Belhaven College students to the establishment for dinner. The owners took one look at the young men and ordered the trio out. “We don’t serve men with long hair,” they proclaimed. Miss Welty thanked the restaurant owners and departed. Frank Hains, arts and entertainment editor for the Jackson Daily News, heard of the incident and wrote a scathing column in which he demanded an apology. Although the article could not have benefited the restaurant owners, Miss Welty defended the restaurant saying it was their right (then) to refuse service. When asked if she would return under different circumstances she smiled and evoked one of her favorite expressions, “We’d be fools if we didn’t.”
There was no facility to service automobiles in early Belhaven. Residents had to go downtown for gasoline, oil changes and minor repair work. However, that changed in 1928 when a little one pump gas station, designed by Jackson architect Hays Town was built at the northwest corner of Poplar and Hazel Streets. Through the years the little station, which resembled a miniature version of a colonial home, sold petroleum products, nostrums and notions until it closed in 1969. Architects Thomas Goodman and Sam Mockbee adapted the old station to their needs in 1978. According to Goodman, Mrs. Mathew O’Riley a Belhaven third grade teacher, named it “Shady Nook”.
Shady Nook was a way station for the neighborhood kids. Belhaven architect Bob Canizaro who lived on Kenwood, recalls he used his grass mowing money to buy fudge sickles there. Bill Harvey would meet other neighborhood kids on Saturday morning at the Nook to air up his bike tires, grab some Nabs and head for Laurel Street Park. But it was also once a popular hangout for Belhaven coeds as it sold ice cream, candy, soft drinks, peanuts, bobby pins, toiletries and….cigarettes. Today it serves as the office for Henry LaRose Realty. There were many things young ladies had to be shielded from in the 30’s and 40’s and not the least of these were cigarettes. We didn’t know as much about those things then as we do now and after all, Bogie and McCall smoked in their movies; they were stars so it had to be cool. After classes and on weekends, a few of the more daring young ladies from the college slipped down to Shady Nook to light up. No teachers or housemothers were present. Sophistication abounded. It was their refuge.
Throughout the late 1920’s and early 30’s Belhaven continued its eastward growth. Streets which had been named for individuals were now being named generically. Streets west of St. Ann and St. Mary were established but Piedmont, Howard, Divine, Myrtle, Belmont and Ivy were still in the process of being developed. One little street which ran from Riverside to Belmont no longer exists – a victim of the new interstate which eliminated it in the early 1960’s. That street was Enterprise and deserves a place in our history.
Whatever happened to Enterprise Street One short block from head to feet. From Belmont down to Riverside, Eight little Houses side by side.
Like Persimmon and Olive Streets It was one block long and 30 feet deep, Like bigger brothers it was a part Of children’s laughter after dark.
No curb or gutters or walk-alongs, Just a row of Craftsman homes, The pavement was of crushed grey slate, Where boys and girls would roller-skate.
Over thirty years it had its place Near the park it once did face, And when it lost out in sixty-one Its memory lies where the traffic runs.
Short and sweet was Enterprise Street, No longer here for us to greet, But like other pieces of our past Its presence here will always last.
There are still mysteries on our streets. Some neighbors remember the little private library on the south side of the 2000 block of Laurel where concrete steps led to a side building no longer there. Where was Vinegar Bend? Was Poplar Boulevard designed to be a true boulevard with a median and sidewalks? Intersecting sidewalks leading into Poplar stop short of the street itself. Was that public land to be part of Poplar? Why was Persimmon never developed east of Greymont? Early maps show it going through to St. Ann. Were there walkways bridging the dead ends of Monroe? Where did Euclid get its name? Did Milsaps students name it for the father of geometry? Does anyone know?
In 1925, Belhaven Heights Part 2, an irregularly shaped subdivision, was platted. The subdivision bordered the Belhaven campus on the west, from Poplar north four blocks to Laurel, along St. Mary and St. Ann Streets opening up a much larger area going north to Riverside Drive and east from the college to Myrtle. Within this subdivision Jackson land developer L.L. Mayes saw an opportunity for affordable housing for young families. Mayes began the development of the Sylvandell subdivision in the late 1920’s and many of its homes of varied architectural style can be found on the east side of the 1400 block of St. Mary Street and around the southeastern corner of Laurel to what was then called Sylvandell Park.
Other developers were discouraged by the rough and hilly terrain but not Mr. Mayes then living with his family in a neoclassical home on Pinehurst. In addition to building homes he commissioned sculptor Joseph Barras, to design a concrete entrance of wide steps anchored by nymphs and leading down to the bucolic setting which became Laurel Street Park. Along the path into the park were fairy tale figures of Little Red Riding Hood, the Big Bad Wolf and others. Behind the homes on St. Mary and Laurel Streets were woodlands to the west and a meadow to the east. A descending natural stairway led from the white borders down to ravines, undergrowth, and two small creeks. The walkways coursed through rustic walls emulating old English countrysides. Homes were built of buff brick – trimmed in white, and topped with light, apple green tiled roofs. The homes were set among the trees, as if in a forest which was designed to make them more attractive from the street. The entranceway to what was to become Laurel Street Park was at the eastern terminus of Pinehurst Street. This stately entrance was guarded by the mythological Pan and his nymphs the remains of which are visible today.
Pan and his friends have gone back to the flocks and shepherds from whence they came and the little footbridge, children’s statues and walkways have returned to the soil. The creeks run quietly and children still play in the park but if you look carefully along the driveway at 1331 St. Mary, you will see Pan with his flute, a paean to what exists today, a subdivision whose beauty can be found nowhere else in our neighborhood.
Nearby additional developments were taking place. The Belhaven Park subdivision which includes Pinehaven, Parkhurst and River Park, platted 11/3/1939 by the Presbyterian Church USA. The Belvoir subdivision which includes Belvoir Place and Circle was platted 6/26/51 by the Belhaven College Board of Trustees. What was once the northern end of Belhaven Lake is now a sinuous tree lined street of stately homes, some the former residence of families who planted the live oaks along Riverside Drive.
Belhaven’s only church was organized April 8, 1837 by the Rev. Peter Donan and four members: Mrs. Margaret E. Mayson, Mrs. Susan Patton, and Mr. and Mrs. John Robb. For two years there was only the pastor and the founding group but no deacons, elders nor individual house of worship until 1845.
The State of Mississippi owned large tracts of real estate in downtown Jackson and in the early 1800’s made land available to religious denominations in the vicinity of Smith Park. Several local churches located in this area and remain today but the Presbyterians felt preordained to exchange their tract for land at the northwest corner of State and Yazoo Streets. There they worshiped until relocating to 1390 N. State in August, 1951. The land on which the church rests today was owned by a group of developers in 1925. These were early Jacksonians S.S. Taylor, C.E. Klumb, S.K. Whitten, Jr., W.N. Watkins and H.V. Watkins. The group sold the land on December 4, 1925 to W.N. Cheney, R.S. Dobyns, Carl L. Faust, W.E. Guild and Stokes V. Robinson. The Pinehaven Realty Corporation purchased the property from this group for $12,700 on March 1, 1927. For much of the following 23 years the Pinehaven Realty Corporation maintained the land where the church stands today. A single dwelling and out building were shown on the 1925 Sanborn Fire Insurance Company map. The majority of the land between Pinehurst and Belhaven Streets was vacant and remained so until purchased by the church on September 20, 1950. Prominent Belhaven resident Chalmers Alexander was instrumental in this transaction.
According to Jackson native Judge Swan Yerger, much of the north end of the 1300 block of North State was a field which served as a softball diamond for the older Power School boys who spent their recess and many hours after school on this diamond.
Two great accomplishments of First Presbyterian Church are its unwavering support of Belhaven University which ensured its survival and prosperity throughout many years and the establishment of the First Presbyterian Day School in 1965. Regardless of your religious persuasion, First Presbyterian Church is a cornerstone in our neighborhood. It draws young families to its day school, students to its chosen university and Christians to its message. In the words of John Calvin (1509-64), “Let us not cease to do the utmost so that we may incessantly go forward in the way of the Lord; and let us not despair of the smallness of our accomplishments.”
Jitney Jungle did not begin in Belhaven but it found a home here. W.B. McCarty and Jud and Henry Holman were cousins who came to Jackson from Greenwood and opened a small grocery in 1912 at the intersection of Adelle and Grayson (Lamar) Streets. They invested a borrowed $1,000 in their business and called it Jackson Mercantile Company. Through the teens and twenties of the 20th century the young men expanded their grocery businesses, even adopting a popular slogan “Save a nickel on a quarter”. According to Mr. Will McCarty, Bill McCarty, III’s grandfather, the owners were looking for a name a bit catchier than a mercantile company. Even the later McCarty-Holman Stores nomenclature was a bit prosaic. It was a habit of Judge V.J. Stricker who lived nearby to invite the three young merchants residing at Mrs. Josephine Bailey’s boarding house on Adelle Street to his home for Sunday dinner. The merchants asked Judge Stricker to suggest a new name for their stores.
The end of the First World War saw returning soldiers anxious to buy an old car for riding about town. They called it a “jitney”, slang for a London taxicab and street jargon for a nickel. Since a cab ride to town in Jackson as well as London cost a nickel the term “jitney” was popular and it was customary for patrons to shop with “nickels jingling in their pockets”. With the store’s slogan in mind and stock in the new stores looking like “a jungle of values”, the judge suggested the merchants rename their enterprises Jitney Jungle Stores. The first store under the new name was at 423 E. Capitol Street which opened April 19, 1919. Now you know.
The 1930 Jackson City Directory shows the birth of our neighborhood Jitney Jungle on Fortification in that year. It was the 14th store in the chain and its first manager was Charles Alford. The new store was small but was developed into a “super store” through a remodeling and a formal grand opening on November 10, 1933.
Mrs. Betty Edwards, daughter of co-founder William B. McCarty said that the Belhaven Jitney made a special point of catering to women. ”When you entered the store there was a platform area to the left for ladies to sit and visit before they shopped. A woman taught knitting and ladies could sit or read. It had the first female rest room in a Jackson grocery store. There were chairs for children and inexpensive house dresses for sale in racks near the front entrance.” Ladies from some of Jackson’s most distinguished families shopped regularly at Jitney 14. They included Mrs. Emmitt (Marie) Hull, Mrs. Fred Sullins, Mrs. James Canazaro, Mrs. R.E. Kennington, Miss Eudora Welty and Mrs. Percy Weeks, Willie Morris’ grandmother, who lived across Jefferson Street. Willie spoke of the store in his 1989 book Homecomings – A Return to Christmas Gone
The new Jitney was a Tudor revival style designed by Belhaven resident and architect Emmett Hull. It later became known as English Village containing the grocery and a new drugstore owned by Price Cain. The main entrance to the store faced Fortification Street. It was the second grocery in the United States and the first in Mississippi to have air conditioning. It contained a bakery, a refrigerated meat counter and a glass front delicatessen where the beloved “Mrs. Pitts” performed her pastry creations for a number of years.
Throughout the years Belhaven’s neighborhood Jitney Jungle continued to expand, modernize and enjoy commercial success until it was purchased by a northern conglomerate in March 1996. It was later bought out by Winn-Dixie and in 2005 by Greg and Kathy McDade. In 1996, the Jitney Jungle chain’s sales volume was $1.2 billion¬, quite a return on the $1,000 investment by three young entrepreneurs 84 years before.
Growing up we called them the “pink apartments”. The flamingo-colored complex spanning the eastern side of the 1200 block of Kenwood was constructed in 1938 by Jackson architect James T. (Jack) Canizaro. What makes these units unique today is the period they represent once providing homes for some of America’s greatest generation. In conversations with Mr. Jack’s son Bob, who lives in Evanston, IL, we learn that the architecture is Art Moderne, a style copied from homes in southern California. Bob Canizaro spoke not just of the residence built by his father, that he grew up in, but of the times themselves.
“Many tenants came and went in our apartment building. There was a Dutch couple, Colonel and Mrs. Von Oven, who lived there during World War II. He was in the Royal Dutch Air Force in training at Hawkins Field. The Dutch flyboys were notorious for their antics in downtown Jackson, often flying low down Capitol Street and waving at the girls in the high rise office buildings. A woman who worked for us heard a loud noise one day, looked out the kitchen door and saw the colonel flying down Kenwood Place.” No small wonder we won the war.
Mr. Canazaro spoke of other military personnel who lived in his family apartments. “I was fond of a tenant named McGehee. He and I were regulars at the old Jackson Senators baseball games. We were close to Dr. Estelle Maguira who lived in our middle apartment. After she left, William Fulton, former director of Mississippi Public Broadcasting moved in.”
Bob and I discussed the neighborhood around the apartments as it was back in the 1940’s. He remembers Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Wright, Fred and John Reimers, John Hanley Walsh, Robert Stockett, Kirby Walker, Guy Lowe, John Potter, Gilmer Spivey, Bernard Meltzer, Tupper and Doug Drane, Howard Shannon and many others. He spoke of Mrs. Downing’s kindergarten at Poplar and Jefferson, Power School, Stockett Stables, playing ball on the Reimers “back forty” where the Kennington Home was built. He told of rubber gun wars playing in the “big ditch” which is now Belhaven Park, catching lightning bugs in a bottle and going for ice cream and sodas at Shady Nook.
There were sights and sounds then which have faded into history: the lonely whine of the GM&O diesel locomotive, the starting whistle at the Buckeye Oil Mill, lawn mowers cutting grass for money to buy comic books at Cain’s drugstore, animal sounds from the far away Jackson Zoo and the early morning cries of street vendors as they plied their wares down Manship.
The Pink Apartments are filled now with new families and young moderns seeking their own place and dreams. I would hope as they stroll the sidewalks down to Poplar or up to McDade’s they will reflect on the art of Mr. Jack Canazaro, his legacy to our neighborhood, and the times in which he lived.
Jackson, like much of America, entered its golden years in the 1950’s. Far sighted mayors Leland Speed and Allen Thompson were rapidly building a city approaching a population of 100,000. The great war for democracy had been won and with bubble gum, cars, and affordable housing once again available there was no end to what a free people could do to ensure a prosperous future.
On the northern edge of the Belhaven neighborhood, Bailey Junior High School opened in1938; winning national awards for its architectural style developed by Hays Town. The State Medical Center held its first classes on the old Highway Patrol property in 1955. Ike was president, Governor Hugh White was balancing agriculture with industry in Mississippi and the lights did not go out on Jackson’s Capitol Street until long after midnight. Meanwhile, a skinny kid from Tupelo walked into a recording studio in Memphis and sang a song for his mother that changed the course of American popular music forever.
A one-story frame commercial building with a flat roof, home of the Overby Company, sits on 1808 North State. But like so many structures that have endured 90 years it wasn’t always so. It opened as North End Grocery in 1928, named for the northern terminus of the street car line, and served a number of small commercial enterprises before becoming North State Pharmacy in 1947. It was a typical drug store, owned by a Belhaven couple whose surviving widow wishes to remain anonymous. It was the place to go before and after classes at nearby Bailey for its soda fountain and pinball machine. I have to confess, I was there myself, quite often as a teenager, in the early 1950’s. Many years later I sat down with the lady who was the co-owner and she told me a story I will share with you.
In the middle 1950’s there was no interstate system around Jackson. Highway 51 ran down North State into downtown. A traveler going let’s say from Memphis to New Orleans had to pass by North State Pharmacy and Mr. Dixon’s Texaco Station next door. One spring day in 1956 someone did.
Elvis Presley once visited the Belhaven neighborhood. Not for long but forever. My friend smiles today in remembrance of all the things we were and while the drugstore never had a jukebox, it did serve a milkshake to the king of rock and roll. According to my friend a pink Cadillac pulled into the Texaco on a fine spring morning. The occupants were a singer and his band on their way to a performance south of the city. While the car was being serviced Elvis Presley and a couple of his band members walked into North State Pharmacy and Elvis ordered a milkshake. My friend recognized the singer but said nothing. She was too dignified to make a fool of herself and besides she was pregnant. But customers in the store knew what was going on and there was a mad dash for the pay phone. Elvis and his entourage did not linger. When the car was ready they moved on, but for the remainder of the day people flooded into the store wanting to know which booth Elvis sat in and how did he look.
Our next section will show how our neighborhood matured with expanded residential and commercial growth, a dynamic education system, increased medical facilities, a theater for the performing arts and a strong network of foundations and associations that would ensure its future.
This is the second in a series of articles on the Belhaven neighborhood by Bill and Nan Harvey supplemented by links to more detailed stories published earlier in Jesse Yancy’s Mississippi Sideboard. In this part we discuss the first developments in the neighborhood which include early homes, residents, streets and institutions.
The area that became the Belhaven neighborhood began around 1900 with small residential developments along North State Street. Gradually the growth pattern spread north and east as open land was subdivided and homes constructed. More than 20 subdivisions were platted north of Fortification to the future Riverside Drive and east of State Street to the modern day I-55.
The first subdivision in the district, the North Park Addition platted on April 17, 1900 by owners George W. Carlisle, et. al., included the southwest corner of what was to become the Belhaven neighborhood east from North State to Kenwood and north from Fortification to Poplar. Today only a small portion east of Jefferson Street remains in the Belhaven Historic District. The next subdivision, North Belleview, which platted in January 1905 by Hollingsworth and Magruder, is a rectangular subdivision north of present day Belhaven Street to Euclid and east to Edgewood to Peachtree.
Additional information on Belhaven development can be obtained from Hinds County plat maps and the narrative application by the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation to the U.S. Department of Interior National Park Service for the designation of the Belhaven area as a historic district.
The first houses in our neighborhood, the J.N. Flowers-Max McLauren home at 1505 N. State and the Swearington-Smith home at 1501 were built in 1904. The Mims-Dreyfus Home at 1530 North State was added in 1905. Early construction centered around the new Millsaps College which opened on its present site in 1890. The 1700 block of North State, Park Ave. and portions of Oakwood Street were part of this early development which was outside the city limits whose northern boundary was Manship Street. Two prominent homes in the early development of our neighborhood are the Fairview at 734 Fairview Street and the Kennington Mansion at 1020 Carlisle.
The Fairview, a colonial revival mansion, built in 1908 by Cyrus Warren, a local lumberman, now serves as a bread and breakfast inn owned and operated by Peter and Tamar Sharp. It was for many years the home of the D.C. Simmons family and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places
The Kennington Mansion was originally built in 1912 by Jackson businessman R.E. Kennington. It was named for an estate in England of similar neo classical revival style. The original mansion fronted Kenwood Place but falling prey to Yazoo clay was demolished and rebuilt facing Carlisle in 1934. The Kennington family grounds were composed of 23 acres, a nine-hole golf course, greenhouses, barns and stables. There was a lake east of the main structure whose bottom was in the approximate location of the intersection of Fortification and Whitworth Streets.
Early in the 20th century Rev. Bryan Simmons, a Baptist minister, told of a fight that occurred in Jackson near the Illinois Central Railroad depot on Capitol Street. One of the combatants was shot and critically wounded. Among those who came to the scene was a young doctor with a small local practice established in 1905. His name was Harley Roseborough Shands. Dr. Shands realized emergency surgery was necessary. Since there was no local hospital in which to take him Dr. Shands successfully treated the gunshot victim at his small office on Capitol Street. Dr. Shands brought the first microscope to Jackson used in a medical practice.
In September 1905, another doctor reported a case in south Jackson that he thought might be yellow fever. Crowds gathered on Capitol Street to await the verdict of Dr. Shands’ microscope. When the words came “No yellow fever”, the crowds cheered and “there was much handshaking, backslapping, laughter and rejoicing.” Dr. Shands knew of another Tulane medical graduate whose father had served for many years as pastor of Jackson’s First Presbyterian Church. This older physician was Dr. John Farrar Hunter who in addition to practicing medicine operated the J.F. Hunter & Company drug store at the corner of Capitol and State Streets. Recognizing the need for more professional medical care in the city, the two doctors established the Hunter and Shands clinic in 1907.
In 1908, the two physicians bought a house and lot at the southeast corner of North State and Manship Streets, known as the Echols property and transformed the eight room residence into a small but well equipped medical facility. Prior to this, the only services which could be even loosely called hospitals were a handful of local sanitariums and a few private residences of licensed physicians where emergency appendectomies were sometimes performed on kitchen tables. Doctors made house calls in those days and relied a great deal on nurses.
It was obvious that Jackson needed a larger facility for treating the critically ill. The realization of this need was shared by the Rev. W.F. Yarbrough, pastor of the first Baptist Church who had come to visit a patient in the Hunter and Shands Clinic. Through Rev. Yarborough, doctors Shands and Hunter offered their small facility to the Mississippi Baptists after several other denominations had turned it down. At a meeting of the Mississippi Baptist Convention in the fall of 1909, Rev, Yarbrough offered a resolution that the Convention “look with favor on the offer of property valued at $5,000 in the City of Jackson for hospital purposes and that a committee be appointed to study the proposal.” Drs. Hunter and Shands offered their property as a gift with only their $5,000 in equipment investment to be compensated. On December 16, 1910 the hospital committee met with the two physicians and accepted its offer which was finalized in a letter dated October 12, 1910. The committee took charge on January 1, 1911 and the Mississippi Baptist Hospital came into being.
As Christian evangelist Robert H. Schuller (1926-2015), once said, “Today’s accomplishments were yesterday’s impossibilities.” One of yesterday’s impossibilities became today’s Mississippi Baptist Medical Center. Through the vision, generosity and determination of three early Jackson citizens the city’s first real hospital was established in our neighborhood a little over 100 years ago. It was Belhaven’s first great institution and a significant modern supporter of our fine neighborhood foundation.
Jackson’s expansion north and eastward continued sporadically through the teens and early twenties of the 20th century. Many of the newer streets were outside the city and bore different names than those we know today. Early streets were named by developers, prominent citizens or for families who owned land along their borders. Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps of the period give us a window to view where we might have lived when the neighborhood was young.
There were streets and avenues and places and circles some at different times on a single thoroughfare. Original street names often changed when brought into the city or when someone realized there were duplications that could be confusing. For example, at one time in 1925 there were three Park Avenues. State Street, named for that “great street” in Chicago, has always borne that name but some of its intersecting street names would not be recognizable today. Poplar Boulevard from State to Kenwood was Wells Street, Pinehurst Place was Harper, Fairview, named for Mr. Warren’s home, went only to Edgewood and the eastern two blocks were Morehead Ave. Oakwood was Mims Place. As you move eastward Kenwood was one of those Parks, as was Edgewood and a portion of Peachtree. Greymont was Sullivan Street, Linden Place from Poplar to Pinehurst was Opper (Upper?) Drive, Pine was Jefferson extended, the first block of Marshall was Taylor, portions of Manship were Persimmon, Laurel was Willow and Riverside was the Pumphouse Road.
Belhaven Street was not one of the earliest streets entering State but was constructed shortly after the college relocated to Peachtree in 1911. Rose Hill was originally designed to be a circle. It was to be bisected by Springbrook and once entered St. Ann between the 1100 and 1200 blocks. It was never fully built as the railroad reneged on its agreement to deed the land to the city and Rose Hill’s circle was never completed.
Riverside Drive did not come into the city until 1930, but prior to that was known as the Pumphouse Road. According to Belhaven resident Muller Addkison, the gravel road followed Riverside’s overlay but turned and extended southward from the water plant along the Pearl River and on to Devil’s Elbow beach. A few cars, horses and foot traffic could be seen on a Sunday afternoon along the riverside and young men would take the College girls riding along the banks. Annual floods, a new highway and time itself took out the road and left just the river and a few bankside fishermen as monuments to its existence. It’s gone now, a victim of progress.
A development that stood out was Gillespie Place, particularly its first block off State Street. Gillespie Place marked the southern end of the Gillespie Farm which consisted of land purchased shortly after the Civil War by Capt. William Marion Gillaspie (Gillespie) (1823-1893). Capt. Gillespie came to the Jackson area from Purdy County, Tennessee. He was a school teacher, had knowledge of pharmacy and was associated with Planters Insurance Company.
Captain Gillespie purchased 40 acres of meadows and woods for $840 which became the Gillespie Farm. His home near State Street was secluded in a wooded area where only the gables could be seen from the road. The rough outline of this property today would start at Gillespie Place, run north to Arlington and east to the center of today’s 700 blocks. Mrs. Charlotte Charles said that the eastern terminus of the farm was her house and lot at 762 Gillespie.
After the Captain’s death the old Gillespie Place home burned. It is said that the he left a fortune in silver buried on the grounds of his homestead and thus the land became the target of a number of treasure hunters bearing shovels and harboring high hopes. But that is just a legend and by definition a legend is interesting and historical but not verifiable. Or is it?
The Gillespie Farm was subdivided into lots and sold with the first home at 749 Gillespie Place built in 1910 (Carnahan House). The Captain’s widow, Mrs. William Gillespie, daughters Frances Gillespie Carnahan and Mary Gillespie Pierce joined with several other developers in disposing of the farmland after his death. Architectural styles on the block are craftsman, colonial and Tudor revival. Even today, the block resembles a window into the New Orleans Garden District. Seta Alexander Sancton, a former resident of 720 Gillespie Place, wrote The World from Gillespie Place (1987), an interesting and entertaining book about her block containing stories of her growing up on the Place near North State. Copies may be obtained at local Jackson libraries.
In 1916 Jackson had seven elementary schools. These were Poindexter on Robinson (Jackson’s first elementary school), George on Roach St. (Duttoville school), Poindexter on W. Capitol, Davis on N. Congress, Galloway on Bailey Ave., Jim Hill on Lynch St. and Smith Robertson on Bloom St. There was no school north of Fortification and east of State to serve Jackson’s fastest growing neighborhood.
According to Department of Education board minutes for August 21, 1916, a resolution was passed naming the new school at the corner of N. State and Pinehurst Place for Col. J.L. Power (1834-1901). While not a school man, Col. Power served on several boards and committees that provided administration to Jackson’s early school system. Col. Power distinguished himself in the 1st Artillery Regiment, Company A of the Confederate Army. After the war he worked in the publishing business and helped establish the Mississippi Standard which later merged with the Clarion Ledger. For 27 years he was superintendent of the First Presbyterian Sunday School and was a ruling elder in that church. He was Grand Secretary of all Mississippi Masons from 1869 until his death.
The first Power School building had an entrance facing State Street but a later expansion placed the primary access at 709 Pinehurst directly south of today’s First Presbyterian Church. Land for the school was acquired from J.T. Harper (11/17/15), W. Carnahan (02/11/15) and F.L. Mayes (10/29/15). The two story brick schoolhouse was designed by N.W. Overstreet and Hays Towns and was completed in time for its first classes on September 18, 1916, at a cost of $30,000. The original school building contained five classrooms. Power’s first teachers were first grade, Miss Emma Green; second and third grade, Miss Mable Bridges; fourth grade, Miss Ruth Reed; fifth and sixth grade, Miss Jim Hailey; and seventh grade, Miss Marcia Gibbs who served as the school’s first principal. Memories of some of the early students at old Power may be seen and shared in the link to this section.
Over the next 30 years the first Power School suffered from a problem many of us in our neighborhood endure today – Yazoo clay. The building became unstable in the early 1950’s and was closed in 1954. However, a new Power School was being constructed at 1120 Riverside Drive and today serves as an incubator for some of Jackson’s most gifted students.
Belhaven College endured many struggles in its early years just to survive. We have mentioned its beginnings with the acquisition of Col. Jones Hamilton’s property by Dr. Louis Fitzhugh in 1894 and its destruction by fire the following year. The school was rebuilt on the same grounds and Mrs. J.R. Preston, wife of its second president, remembers in a mid-20th century address details of the first campus in Belhaven Heights.
“It comes vividly before me, the grounds of ten acres, most of which was in the campus, the rest in pasture for Jersey cows where in the spring they stood knee deep in clover. I can still see the campus naturally adorned with the native trees, oak, elm, hackberry and a few magnolias with a row of pink crepe myrtle for the southern boundary. Still to be seen from the south as one drives down Belleview (now Bellevue), were the rockeries (rock gardens) adding a formal touch and there was a basketball field nearby. A quaint landmark was the style by which pedestrians gained access to the board walk leading directly to the dormitory. This climb by day was breath-taking and by night more than spooky.”
A second devastating fire destroyed the school in October 1910 and the Boyd (Belleview) site was abandoned. Construction began immediately on today’s present Peachtree campus on and the school was renamed the Belhaven Collegiate and Industrial Institute on July 25, 1911.
We come now to the end of Belhaven’s early years, years of innovation, growth and a pioneering spirit. There is little doubt that our neighborhood would prosper and continue its progress toward a special place in our city. Our next section, the middle years, will continue this progress. There will be a seasoning of our namesake college, the state’s first air conditioned supermarket, the little filling station that became a refuge, the day a king came to visit, a subdivision within a subdivision, a new park, our most famous resident and much more. Two events occurred in 1925 that would set this stage: the city limits were expanded northward to Euclid and eastward to Peachtree and C.W. Welty would sell his home on N. Congress and move his family to 1119 Pinehurst. Mr. Welty had a 16-year-old daughter named Eudora.
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 and Nan Harvey; June, 2017
Sources for History of Belhaven: Part 1
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
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
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.