Vardaman, Mississippi is in southeast Calhoun County, near the source of the Yalobusha River, the largest tributary of the Yazoo. Like many towns in the upland South, Vardaman grew up around a lumber railhead. Some of the lordliest white oaks that ever left the Continent descended from the hills above Vardaman and were shipped across the Atlantic to construct the great wine barrels for the 1925 Paris Exposition. When the great forests of the southeast were depleted, Vardaman, like so many towns in the rolling hills, needed a sustainable crop. Farmers turned to the sweet potato and their efforts found success. Vardaman, Mississippi IS the Sweet Potato Capital of the World; all others claimants are pretenders.
Vardaman holds an annual Sweet Potato Festival in October—this year the 46th—that includes music, arts and crafts, exhibitions, cook-offs and lots and lots of food. Sweet Potato Kings and Queens are selected in no less than four events with contestants from infancy to high school. Many people consider the recipe contest the main event, and people go all out for the coveted prizes, including the Mayor’s Cup, which this year was won by Lyndsey Wade for her Scrumptious Sweet Potato Coconut Bars. I’m also giving you the winner in the cake category, Melissa Edmondson’s spectacular Sweet Potato Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting. Either or both of these desserts would be a splendid addition to your holiday table.
¾ Cup Butter, melted
1 ½ Cups Graham Cracker Crumbs
1 (14 oz.) can Sweetened Condensed Milk
3 Cups Sweet Potato puree
2 Cups White Chocolate Morsels
11/3 Cups Flaked Coconut
1 Cup Chopped Nuts
Heat oven to 350 degrees and coat 9×13 baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Combine graham cracker crumbs and butter. Press into bottom of prepared pan. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over crumb mixture. Scoop sweet potato from the peeling and mix until smooth. Using a piping bag (or plastic freezer bag with hole cut in one corner), layer the graham cracker crust with sweet potatoes. Layer white chocolate chips, coconut and nuts. Press firmly.Bake 25 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool and cut into bars. Store covered at room temperature.
Sweet Potato Cake with White Chocolate Cream Cheese Frosting
1 ½ Cups butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 large eggs, separated
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups finely grated sweet potato
1 cup chopped walnuts
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 3 (8in) cake pans with nonstick baking spray with flour. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, and vanilla at medium speed with a mixer until fluffy. Add egg yolks, beating until combined. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg. Gradually add to butter mixture alternately with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, beating just until combined after each addition. In a medium bowl, beat egg whites at high speed with a mixture until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into batter. Gently stir in sweet potatoes and walnuts. Spoon batter into prepared pans. Bake for 20 to 23 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans, cool completely on wire racks. Spread White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting evenly between layers and on top and sides of cake.
White Chocolate-Cream Cheese Frosting
1 (4oz) white chocolate baking bar, chopped
1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
1 cup butter, softened
16 oz. cream cheese softened
2lbs. powdered sugar
In a small sauce pan, combine chopped white chocolate and cream. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth. Remove from heat, and cool for 1 hour. In a large bowl, beat butter and cream cheese at medium speed with a mixer until creamy. Add white chocolate mixture, beating until combined. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until smooth. Note: Cake layers can be made up to 1 month ahead; wrap cooled layers tightly in plastic wrap and Freeze. To serve, spread frosting on frozen cake layers (frozen layers are easier to frost), and thaw. Store thawed cake, covered, in refrigerator up to 3 days.
In addition to their numerous charitable endeavors, the Junior League of Jackson has issued two quite remarkable publications. The first, in 1978, was their landmark Southern Sideboards, a truly luminous work that has since gone through fifteen printings, five of those Southern Living Hall of Fame editions. The recipes in Southern Sideboards altogether comprise nothing less than an exhaustive tutorial for home cooks in the Deep South, and if that weren’t enough also includes a heart-felt introduction by Wyatt Cooper.
Their second, more important work, is Jackson Landmarks (1982) dedicated to the Manship House, one of Jackson’s most beloved architectural treasures. Jackson Landmarks is important not only for the wealth of detail and historical data, but also because Jackson’s urban landscape has changed significantly in the 35 years since its publication, and an estimated 25-30% of these structures are gone.
Jackson Landmarks also includes this essay by Charlotte Capers. Miss Capers was director of the Mississippi Department of Archives & History from 1955-1969, and during that time saved the Old Capitol from destruction and saw to its renovation and establishment as the state historical museum. Miss Capers also oversaw the restoration of the Governor’s Mansion. In addition, Capers was a “world-class raconteur”, a writer (The Capers Papers as well as hundreds of magazine articles and book reviews) a wit and a close friend and companion of Eudora Welty. Charlotte Capers is a significant figure in Mississippi history and deserves a work of equal if not greater thoroughness than the one recently afforded Fannye Cook.
My first opportunity to participate in this book was an invitation to write a brief and breezy history of Jackson.” Well, Jackson goes back to the 1820s and I don’t, so I declined. When I was reminded that I do go back to the 1920s, and what’s a hundred years more or less, I agreed to write a few recollections of my old home at 705 North State Street, as I remember it and as for me it was the heart of Jackson when I was very young.
When I first saw the house it was white, and I was five years old. Therefore, it remains in my memory as white, and only recently I learned that it was not white to begin with, but a darker hue much favored by home owners of the 1890s, when it was built. Perhaps it was buff or brown or gray. It doesn’t matter, except to point out that things are not always what they seem. The house was built by Mr. and Mrs. A. D. Gunning on the corner of North State and George streets. The Cunnings had a large family and must have been much given to hospitality, as the house was plainly built for entertaining. A large reception hall opened into a graceful living room on one side, and a dining room with striking midnight blue wallpaper and painted white paneling on the other. A mirror was built into the ornately carved hall mantelpiece; a central staircase which divided and curved upward from the landing was the architectural focus of the hall. Shining oak floors invited dancing, and of more concern to my mother, suggested more rugs than we had and required a good deal of waxing and polishing.
After the Cunnings, the house was owned by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur C. Crowder. Mr. Crowder was at one time mayor of Jackson; Mrs. Crowder was the former Mattie Robinson Saunders, whose family home was a block away on the corner of North State and Boyd streets. When the Crowders moved to Birmingham, the house was purchased by St. Andrew’s Church as a rectory for my father and his family. Subsequent owners were the Lamon Goings, who had a Studio of the Dance therein, and Mr. and Mrs. Harry Jacobs, who adapted the house for use as a retail outlet for their business, Greenbrook Flowers. The original architecture is essentially unchanged.
As I see the house now, it is big. As I looked at it with five-year-old eyes, it was tremendous. Adorned with every detail and conceit available to admirers of the Victorian style, it had towers, minarets, gables, a scary basement, a cobwebbed attic, cushioned window seats, and wonder of wonders, swinging doors for the dogs. Scaled to fit the family canines, these doors opened at the touch of a muzzle. When I tried to describe them to a contractor for my own house, he was confounded. My dogs have to bark to get in. So everything isn’t more convenient now than it used to be. Ask the dogs. Anyway, when I was a child I saw the house as a fairy-tale castle, and untroubled by the economic realities of maintaining such an establishment, I thought it was a perfect home.
This depends upon your point of view, of course, and I remember Our struggle to keep the house warm in the winter. Beautified by countless windows and French doors, 705 North State was a veritable cave of the winds. The windows called for draperies which we could not afford, so my mother settled for glass curtains. My childhood memories seem to return filtered through yards and yards of filmy material, which let in the light as well as the breezes. Another problem was the coal furnace. Coal was expensive, plus the fact that my father had to stoke the furnace and bring coal to the fireplaces throughout the house. My father solved this problem by rising above aesthetics and installing a pot-bellied stove squarely in the middle of the elegant reception hall. This at least indicates that he put first things first, like not freezing to death. The feature of the house which I remember with most affection, next to the dog doors, was my bathtub. It was splendid, something like a gondola, mounted on iron paws with a stalwart wooden rim. Into its watery vastness could submerge the vicissitudes of childhood, and dream great dreams as they soaked away. When I left that bathtub, and moved to a shorter and stubbier one, my dreams grew shorter and stubbier.
It seems to me that 705 North State Street was a fine place for growing up in Jackson and learning the lay of the land. Around the corner and less than five minutes by skate, foot, or bicycle, was Davis School. The New Capitol was only a few blocks away, and young skaters did not hesitate to skate through the tiled basement floor and admire the Egyptian mummy who was the star of the building. A streetcar track ran in front of the house. When we were very young, we would put two straight pins on the track, spit on them, and wait for the streetcar. As it rumbled past it fused the pins into a charming design of crossed swords. If you wished to travel, the streetcar could deliver you north, south, or west. East was the Pearl River, and the suburbs in that area were not yet developed. As St. Andrew’s was the only Episcopal church in Jackson for a long time, my father’s congregation was scattered all over town and from Clinton on the west to Madison on the north. Sometimes Father would let me ride with him in the family Essex when he went calling, and we covered a lot of territory. The Fairgrounds were within walking distance, as were the downtown picture shows. Beulah, my nurse, took me to the Fair every year on the five dollars my grandmother sent us. This included lunch. When we got home, Beulah became our cook. I should note that Beulah was not my nurse because I was sick, but because I was a child, and nurses were what children had in the 1920s. Nurses were for taking care of children, cooks were for cooking, and so far as I knew, maids had bit parts, like “Your carriage awaits, madam,” in the occasional stage plays which came to the Century Theater.
An interesting thing, at least to me, is the fact that I can remember the telephone numbers of the neighborhood children, I have always had a block in my head about numbers, and now I have trouble remembering my own telephone number. At any rate, to suggest the size Of Jackson in the 1920s, I could get Mary Woodliff at 2628; Winifred Green at 1210; Ann Sullens at 560; and Maude McLean at 247. As Maude’s father was a doctor, we thought we would help his practice, which did not need any help, by making up a jingle for him. It went like this: “If you think you’re going to heaven, call two-four-seven.” I believe you call the Fire Department nowadays, whatever your destination.
The Depression was an exciting time at 705 North State. There were a good many home weddings, as it was more economical to get married in the Rectory than in the home of the bride. Sometimes a drop-in bride and groom, having proven that they were of age and met other canonical requirements long since forgotten, got married in the living room, and if any of my friends were there Father might ask us to be witnesses. This custom ended when Winifred Green and I stood up with a lisping groom, and got the giggles every time he repeated his vows. Mother was good about entertaining, and we had a lot of company. I always had a Hallowe’en party and a birthday party, and during the Depression some of our company often included tramps. Tramps are now known as vagrants or street people, but they amount to the same thing. Our tramps knew the best places for a handout, and occasionally one would make a great impression on my father, who would invite him to spend a few days with us One of our favorites called himself Jiggs, and more than repaid us for our hospitality by his tales of travel and adventure. Jiggs left us wearing my father’s clerical vest, and some months later appeared in a news magazine, photographed in ecclesiastical garb while attending a Tramps’ Convention in Washington. It is interesting to observe that in spite of the real economic hardship of the Depression, I don’t remember it as a bad time. It was in the 1920s that we learned to dance, and perfected our skills later during the Depression at dances in our homes, including the Rectory, to the Dixieland jazz of Joe White and his combo, fifteen to twenty-five dollars for four hours, depending on the number of instruments.
This isn’t much of a “brief and breezy history of Jackson,” but it may recall a certain time in a certain place, both gone forever. North State Street has just about given up the ghost, the town has grown into a city, the city has spread into the suburbs, and sometimes I can’t remember my street address. •sour crowd” had a good time, there was room in our house for friends and my grandparents and my brother and his wife, and even for transients who could tell a tall tale. Much of what was once “old Jackson” was swept away by commercial development after World War Il, but as this is written, 705 North State Street still stands!
Local history is the beggar at Clio’s feast. In the hierarchy of history topmost are works on great wars, empires and cultures; next histories of countries, commerce and important cities; then finally—after a considerable gap—comes state and local history, the latter often denigrated as nothing more than amateur obsessions.
State and local histories command little professional attention because they receive the least academic funding, the fewest and least government loans or grants, and the smallest lectern on official and scholastic stages. In those the folklorist with his dancing palette and anthropological basis commands more respect. Professional historians deride local history as poorly-researched, ill-written and hopelessly insular. This criticism can and is levelled at history written on any level; simply read The American Historical Review for confirmation.
Yet who can scorn research as insufficient when conducted with so little material in place? How often does Gibbon himself sound as if he’s labored far too late and drunk far too much port? Who can say that the storming of the Bastille isn’t local history to Parisians, or an account of the Beer Hall Putsch isn’t to Bavarians? The least parts of history come together to form the whole, and in the smallest arenas of mankind we can discern a microcosm of the whole.
Let us treasure those who, compelled by their love of place, put before us a likeness of how it was before our time, teaching us who we are, revealing how our little part of the world shapes our lives and strengthens our hearts.
A History of Greater Belhaven is available at the Greater Belhaven Neighborhood Foundation office for a donation of $20 (or more). Copies may be obtained by contacting Casey Creasey at (601) 352-8850 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the Memorial Hall Foundation Museum in New Orleans sits a chunky Chickering “square” parlor piano manufactured in Boston in the 1840s. The piano, the former proud possession of the Cooper family of Jackson, Mississippi, once helped to shore up a Civil War redoubt facing south along the Jackson Railroad line. The fortification was manned by the Fifth Company Washington Artillery, part of General Joseph Johnston’s Confederate “Army of Relief” defending Jackson against the forces of Union General William Tecumseh Sherman.
On the sweltering morning of July 12, the Confederates began playing the piano, oblivious to the Federal line advancing on their position. The men sang songs of home as their skirmish line was pushed back behind the redoubts, and while the men were called to their guns, the pianist, Private Andrew Swain, began playing “You Shan’t Have Any of My Peanuts.” The attack began, but the Confederate line held, and Swain resumed his place on the piano to play “Oh, Let Us Rejoice.”
The saga of the Cooper family’s piano is just one of the many wonderful stories that enrich Jim Woodrick’s The Civil War Siege of Jackson, Mississippi, an account of Sherman’s little-known and less-documented attack on Mississippi’s capital after the fall of Vicksburg in July, 1863. The Siege of Jackson, as Terrence Winschel observes in his introduction, was “the final, yet seldom mentioned scene of ‘the great drama’—i.e. the campaign for control of the Mississippi River.” The capital of Mississippi became, for that week, a battlefield. Its capitulation capped Grant’s victory at Vicksburg, put a black band around the Confederate war effort, and reduced the nascent city of Jackson to smoking ruins.
In the spring of 1863, the war in the west focused on Vicksburg. Lincoln told his civilian and military leaders, “Vicksburg is the key!” Confederate President Davis was of the same mind: “Vicksburg is the nail head that holds the South’s two halves together.” In Confederate hands, Vicksburg blocked Union navigation down the Mississippi and allowed communications and reinforcements from Confederates to the west. The natural defenses of the city led to its nickname, the Gibraltar of the South.
Earlier in the Vicksburg Campaign, Union General Ulysses S. Grant became convinced that Confederate forces assembling in or near Jackson might be stronger than he had initially supposed. The eradication of Jackson was essential for two reasons: first, Jackson was a focal point for the relief of Vicksburg, with a railhead and the entire Confederacy behind it; secondly the destruction of the capital city of President Davis’s home state presented a significant opportunity to demoralize Confederate leadership and the Confederacy itself.
In a torrential downpour on May 14, 1863, Grant’s men drove through Johnston’s weak defenses and captured Jackson. To conserve his forces, Johnston abandoned the city and withdrew to Canton. Weeks later, after Grant besieged Vicksburg, Confederate Secretary of War James Seddon urged Johnston to relieve the river city. Seddon, however, refused to send Johnston reinforcements, and Johnston declared that “saving Vicksburg is hopeless.”
Nevertheless, in mid-May, when General William Loring and some five thousand Confederate troops entered Jackson, Johnston set about organizing a relief column. On June 28, he began moving west, and advanced as far as the Big Black River only to discover that Vicksburg had fallen on July 4. Johnston retreated to Jackson, fortified the city, and by July 10 was invested by greatly superior Union forces under William T. Sherman. The siege of Jackson had begun.
For Jackson readers, The Civil War Siege of Jackson, Mississippi—hereafter, The Siege of Jackson—brings the violence of a hundred and fifty-six years ago to street level. Novelist and historian Howard Bahr observes that few current residents of Mississippi’s capital city are aware of the dramatic events of July, 1863: “The reader may well be surprised, as I was, by the scope of this operation and the great violence and loss of life that occurred on the ground we walk over every day. Jim Woodrick’s account, well-written and meticulously researched, offers for the first time a detailed, comprehensive narrative of the weeklong siege supported by maps, period drawings, an Order of Battle, and photographs. The account is enlivened by humorous anecdotes and, more important perhaps, a focus on individual participants and the personal tragedies of soldiers who died far from home.”
The Siege of Jackson is very much a work of scholarship. Terrence Winschel, author of the introduction, has recently retired as the Chief Historian of the Vicksburg Military Park; Woodrick, a native of Meridian, graduated from Millsaps with a degree in political science, was active in the Jackson Civil War Round Table, and is currently the Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History.
Woodrick said he decided to write The Siege of Jackson for two reasons.
First of all, only one book has been previously published that covered the Jackson campaign and the subsequent siege, and that book, published in 1980 by the Jackson Civil War Round Table, combined the siege with the May 14, 1863, battle of Jackson, When I first started exploring the possibility of a book on Jackson, it was actually intended to be an updated version of that book with one of the original co-authors, Warren Grabau. Unfortunately, Warren passed away before we could tackle that project and the idea went to the back burner for a time.
But the idea of writing about the Siege of Jackson stayed with me,” Woodrick said, “and the more I studied the campaign the more I felt it deserved to be studied on its own. Considering that I work next door to the Old Capitol Museum – essentially in the middle of the siege lines – I thought it fitting that I be the one to tell the story of the approximately 70,000 men – blue and gray – who fought for a week in July 1863 for control of Mississippi’s capital city.
Woodrick’s retelling of the siege is a significant upgrade from that of Bearrs and Grabau, who primarily concentrate on military aspects of the action. Woodrick’s version is far more inclusive, incorporating, vivid descriptions of the action, details of the terrain, conditions and armaments and profiles and accounts of individual soldiers and commanders. It is an essential book for Jacksonians interested in the city’s history and is highly recommended for anyone interested in the Civil War.
Woodrick went on to say:
When I started working on the book, I was perhaps most interested in the two army commanders involved in the siege,” Woodrick went on to say. “Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston would meet again, but the Jackson Campaign is actually the first time they faced each other, and the siege of Jackson is, I think, an interesting look into their leadership abilities at this point in the war.
A re-enactor as well as a military historian, Woodrick writes for readers interested in military history and tactics, a demanding audience indeed. Woodrick rises to the occasion by describing in detail the most significant—and bloodiest—action of the week-long siege: Union Brigadier General Jacob Lauman’s calamitous assault on Breckinridge’s Division in the Confederate redoubt southwest of the city where the entrenched Washington Artillery manned two James rifles, four Napoleons, and a Chickering piano.
Woodrick ensures the book’s broader appeal by positioning the siege of Jackson within the framework of the Vicksburg Campaign, which is—to Mississippians, at least—the most familiar military action of the Civil War. Woodrick underscores the importance of both the Battle of Jackson (May 14, 1863) and Siege of Jackson as components of Grant’s successful Siege of Vicksburg and Union domination of the Mississippi, in both instances to eradicate Jackson as platform for Confederate forces. Woodrick says:
In a cursory sense, I suppose the campaign could be viewed as simply a rearguard action, but I think that’s selling it far short. In reality, the Siege of Jackson is the exclamation mark at the end of the Vicksburg Campaign. Having finally achieved the long-sought goal of capturing Vicksburg, Grant simply could not ignore Johnston’s still-intact army looming to the east, and in that sense, I think it was critical to the ultimate success of the Vicksburg Campaign. Unfortunately, because of events in Pennsylvania (i.e., Gettysburg), the Jackson Campaign in many ways gets overlooked by historians (and at the time), especially since the siege didn’t end in a grand charge or the capture of an army (as at Vicksburg). That doesn’t diminish the importance of the campaign, however, in finally securing the Mississippi River for the Union.
The fall of Jackson affected Mississippians viscerally. Jefferson Davis wrote in July, 1863, “In these times of disaster, when my relations and nearest friends are the objects of most cruel animosity, when my beloved Mississippi is being overrun by the invader, I deeply feel my want of that sustaining power which had in times past upheld the just cause, and given to the weak the power to defend the strong.” Even after Vicksburg’s capture, the fall of Jackson sent a shudder throughout the Confederacy.
While Sherman and Johnston are key players in Woodrick’s bloody drama, the central player is the city of Jackson itself. “As the book progressed, I think the most interesting ‘character’ to emerge was the city itself and, of course, the stories of the common soldiers who served here and–for some–who died here,” Woodrick said.
One of the main points that I intended to make when I began the book was to disprove, once and for all, the story of “Chimneyville”. Based on a number of factors, I was convinced that the oft-told stories of Jackson’s destruction were in large part myth. As I looked closely at the evidence, however, I discovered that the opposite was true–that Jackson and her citizens did indeed suffer catastrophic losses as a result of the siege, both from Union soldiers and Confederate troops. As a result, Jackson was in large part reduced to rubble.
Sherman’s signature scorched earth policy was initiated in Jackson. Bruce Catton, in Grant Moves South (1960), writes, “every installation which might conceivably be of use to a struggling Confederacy were destroyed with grim effectiveness. Sherman reported to Grant that ‘Jackson cannot again become a place for the assemblage of men and material with which to threaten the Mississippi River.’ private soldiers looked at the wreckage and gave Jackson the descriptive name of ‘Chimneyville,’ and on July 23, Sherman pulled his army back and prepared to give all hands a rest. He left a desert behind him.”
Contemporary accounts of the devastation are hyperbolic. Although Sherman assured Mayor Manship and a committee of twenty prominent citizens that “all citizens acting in good faith will be respected by me and my command,” George Whitman, a soldier in the 51st new York Infantry and the younger brother of poet Walt Whitman, reported, “Soon after we entered [the city], the western troops began to come in and they ransacked and plundered completely.” Another Union soldiers reported, “I never saw or heard of a city being so thoroughly sacked and burned as this place.” Contemporary newspapers also confirm the devastation. The New York Herald: “As our men would reach private dwelling houses they would enter them and in a short time scenes of the most unmitigated plundering took place.” The Memphis Bulletin: “Lazy, contemptible stragglers could be seen. . . engaged in dividing their ill-gotten plunder, which consisted of fine silks, shoes, ladies’ bonnets . . . my pen can never record what outrage was done that day.
The following eyewitness account appeared in the Canton American Citizen while Sherman’s troops were still tearing up the railroad: “One must visit Jackson to learn the extent of the destruction it has sustained. It is a mere wreck of its former self . . . look in whichever direction you may from the front of the Capitol, ruins meet the eye. The numerous chimneys still standing upon burnt districts and the undisturbed debris of charred walls and destroyed wares will remain until the end of the war, silent but terrible monuments to the devastating inroad of the vandal hoards. . .”
Woodrick’s portrait of pre-war Jackson at the outbreak of hostilities in the 1860s reveals it to be a provincial town that became a capital without ever becoming a city. Jackson had barely begun to build before it was destroyed. By 1866, “Chimneyville” was on the mend. Woodrick includes a panoramic photograph of Jackson taken from the cupola of the state capitol in 1869 as documentary evidence of an “expanding but still somewhat rural city” and dismisses doubts the photograph might raise about the actual extent of damage to the city by reference to the “overwhelming number of primary accounts and evidence of rebuilding found in newspapers of the period.” Finally, Woodrick provides us with what few physical reminders of the siege that remain, and concludes, elegantly:
Jackson has not changed to such a degree that the battlefield cannot be understood, and there are areas throughout Jackson where interpretation could be used to explain what took place. Such an effort would in some small way help in remembering the sacrifices made by the men in blue and gray during those hot days in July 1863. We owe them nothing less.
Several weeks ago, I received a query via the Sideboard from former Jacksonian Sombra Laubach:
“Would like the King Edward Hotel recipe for chicken thighs baked with thyme and onions, please. My Jackson Symphony Cookbook disappeared. This was a recipe in the cookbook that the King Edward Motel was famous for back in the 70s. It is a favorite of mine over the years. Thrilled the King Edward Hotel has been refurbished!! Thank you for the recipe in advance. Hope all is wonderful in Jackson, my hometown!!”
I soon received a similar request from Diane Flowers and went looking for the recipe. I have The Jackson Cookbook, a superb collection with an introduction by Eudora published in 1975, but kept missing the recipe until a neighbor who is a native Jacksonian pointed it out to me (Thanks, Margaret!) In my defense, the recipe is credited to the “Edwards House”—as opposed to the King Edward Hotel—and I’m not really sure why. Perhaps the hotel restaurant was called the “Edwards House” though given the suspiciously archaic phrasing the recipe may date back to the early quarter of the century, which makes it really special indeed, an indication of the level of culinary hospitality in the city at that time.
The recipe is a classic fricassee, chicken fried and braised, simple yet rich, with a sublime aroma, all characteristic of haute cuisine of the sort you’d expect to have found in an establishment such as the King Edward in its heyday. Sombra said she doesn’t bread her chicken at all, that the onions were sliced thick enough not to singe and that basting is crucial. Me, I used boneless thighs skewered and lightly floured (no drenching beforehand) with salt and pepper, the beautiful early yellow onions we have coming to market now and a mixture of green and dried thyme. Use a medium heat—the butter will burn if too hot—and give the chicken a good browning. I wilted the onions in the oil/butter before topping the chicken, drizzle with more of the mix and placed it in a medium (350) oven for about half an hour.
The story of Parkin’s Pharmacy is a story of a time. It was a time when pharmacies were still called drug stores, the pharmacist was your neighbor and there were far more independent store owners than chains.
When Jimmy Parkin returned from pharmacy school in 1950, married and started his business next to the Jitney Jungle in Belhaven later that year, drug stores were a little more informal than today. Pharmacists counted prescribed pills, mixed emulsions, unguents and compounds, sported mysterious looking glassware and even made house calls. Drug stores carried more than pharmaceuticals. They had a section for magazines and comic books and featured a soda fountain where milk shakes cost a quarter and Cokes a nickel. They would fix you a cheeseburger and fries for thirty five cents and practiced the lost art of creating banana splits for a few cents more.
There were gifts for a friend in the hospital, candy and chewing gum for the children, bobby pins and nylons for the ladies and a multitude of tobacco products for the gentleman. You could actually talk to the pharmacist without having to go through a phone maze. Prescription drugs were filled while you waited or delivered to your home and if the store was closed on Sunday – and most were back then – and you really needed a prescription filled, the druggist would like as not meet you at his place of business after church and fill it for you.
It was a time some remember and others tell of. It was a time when there was no television, smart phones or computers. Air conditioning was rare and neighbors visited on screen porches or on the sidewalks after work or in their backyard while their kids played ball on the grass. This was the world into which Mr. Jimmy Parkin opened his drugstore and for forty-seven years it served the public. It was a time of conviviality and a great time to live in the small city of Jackson.
There were four other pharmacies in the Belhaven neighborhood, all in the proximity of the Baptist Hospital. Morris Pharmacy was located on the southeast corner of Manship and State Streets. Patterson Rexall Drugs was in the middle of the block between Carlisle and Fortification Streets. North State Pharmacy was next to the fire station across from Millsaps. These stores along with Parkin’s were closed on Sundays. However, Main Drugs down Fortification at Lamar was open on Sunday afternoons and if you wanted malt, a bottle of aspirins or a light switch, the Main was the place to go. But Parkin’s was different. It was more personal. Neighbors referred to it as “That good drug store.”
The Parkin tradition began in 1930 when Sam Parkin moved to Jackson from Little Rock, Ark. and bought Philip’s Drugs on West Capitol Street. The store was renamed West End Pharmacy. Sam Parkin’s son Jim became a pharmacist also and in 1950 bought the old Cain Drugstore on the southeast corner of Jefferson and Fortification. It was part of the original Jitney 14 which was built in 1927. In 1933, Cain’s moved into a separate facility as part of the newly constructed English Village and remained at the 904 Fortification Street address until the Parkin purchase. The grand opening of the Belhaven Parkin’s Pharmacy was February 9, 1951. It was a big event in the neighborhood.
In the 1960’s the store moved around the corner into the former Ben Franklin store location then later to a separate building where Lou’s restaurant is today. Some of the store’s neighbors were Pridgeon’s Florist, Snow White Cleaners and The Staircase. Doug tells the story of a day his father was chosen to be a pallbearer. He called the cleaners early that morning and when a woman answered the phone dad inquired, “Is this the Snow White?” “Hell no,” the woman replied angrily, “and this ain’t the seven dwarfs either!” “Dad had all day to think about that one.”
The Parkin drugstore chain became Medistat Pharmacies in November 1983 but the Parkin family still retained control of their operation. The six family-owned pharmacies including the Belhaven store were sold to the Jitney Jungle chain in March 1995, which in turn was sold in 1997.
According to the grand opening ad in the Jackson Daily News, future patrons registered for prizes such as an electric toaster, flashlight, alarm clock and thermos bottle. The soda fountain, featuring Seale- Lily products, pictured Bill Robinson, Lillie Beckwith and Bob Pilcher. Dick Wiggins and Therrell Fortune ran the drug and cosmetic counters and John Archie was in charge of free deliveries to homes in the area. The pharmacists were Jim Parkin, Sr. and Charles Stringer.
The cosmetic counter was unique to Jackson drugstores. Called the Gilded Cage, it was located so to be clearly visible through the store’s front full-view window. The hanging birdcage at the center gave it its name. It contained fixtures in white and gold in French provincial style, set off by delicate white ironwork. Right across the aisle was the men’s toiletries and cosmetic department called “The Saddle”
The success of Parkin’s was the result of a combination of factors. It was the times, the customers and the staff. “The folks most important in my childhood memories, Doug Parkin said, “are my dad, of course, pharmacist James E. Colmery, John Archie, Bill Nobles and Saundra Edwards. There were many others but these had the most impact on my life.
“Mr. Colmery was a wonderful man to me as a kid. He would entertain me in the pharmacy, always with a smile. There was a glass enclosed compounding room in the center of the pharmacy, a fairly cutting-edge concept for the time, and he called it the ‘monkey room’. Naturally, that became one of my favorite places to go in and make faces at him. He laughingly responded in kind.”
“My dad always welcomed us kids, to his store. These were my brothers Jim, Jr. and Cole along with my sister Beth and me. We spent a lot of time there and were given pretty much free rein. We saw firsthand the attraction of other kids, the comic books, the toy racks and the soda fountain. There were sometimes extra cherries added to the cherry phosphates. It was a children’s paradise.
“As we got older we were taught to make sales and record charges at the cash register, run the soda fountain, dust shelves, rotate stock, sweep and mop the floors. We even drove the delivery car on occasions and most dreaded of all, empty the fountain sump tank under the building. When we were older my brothers and I interned there as pharmacy students.
“Christmas was a special time at the drugstore. We sold countless boxes of candy and other gifts that had to be wrapped. We used the heavy weight glossy red and white wrapping paper and every bow was cranked out on a Sasheen bow-maker. You didn’t want to get your finger caught between the bow pin and the bows impact socket or Christmas might be more painful than you would have preferred.”
Bill Nobles, Saundra Edwards and John Archie were constants at Parkin’s for as many as 40 years, speaking to a generation and beyond of satisfied customers and a neighborhood landmark “down by the Jitney.”
Doug described Bill as his father’s “right hand man”. “There was nothing about the store that Bill didn’t know and there was no one who traded there Bill wasn’t friends with. Bill was always asking about our customer’s families.”
Bill came to Parkin’s as a part-time employee in 1956 and went full-time in 1957. He remained with the establishment until 1997 when he left to work at a retirement home in Clinton. Mr. Parkin had come to him and told him he needed someone to manage the business so Bill gave up his regular job at Evans Lumber Company to do so. He was 19-years-old. In an interview Bill told of his duties through the years. “Mr. Parkin hired me to run the drugstore while he ran the pharmacy. I was the bookkeeper, but I also did the ordering, the pricing, put up displays, and helped with deliveries, worked in the soda fountain and around the pharmacy itself. I saw the business from the inside out and realized what another employee (Doug Drain) later put into words, ‘When I worked at Parkin’s as a teenager, I learned all that was needed in life to be successful’”.
Doug Drain became a success and he called Doug Parkin a couple of years ago. “He relayed to me that one of the leading economic professors in the nation recently asked him where he got his education before attending a university. Doug told him the name of the university and the economist replied, “No, you got your real education working at that drugstore as a kid.”
The famous and the everyday neighbor shopped at Parkin’s. Eudora Welty was a regular customer and dropped by the store each day to purchase a New York Times and a Wall street Journal. Sometimes Tom Spengler would stop by, buy the papers and take them to her. “She was a quiet lady,” Bill remembers, “even after she became famous and was always kind and friendly. She wouldn’t let anybody wait on her but me.” Well-known artist Marie Hull was also a regular as were the Reimers, Holmans, Stocketts, Giddens, Heidelbergs, Gammills, Kenningtons, Irbys, Wells, Macks, Lewises, Manships, the banker Tom Scott and Drs. Ward, Cavett, Womack, O’Ferral and Garrison. The Wrinkled Roosters, an informal men’s coffee club, met in the store in the mornings and a ladies group in the afternoons.
The store had a soda foundation as most did back then. It was a popular lunch spot that sold drinks, burgers and sandwiches. An article by Phil Wallace in the Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News tells of the soda fountain “that takes you back to a sweeter, slower pace of life. You sit on tall stools or at double tables and inhale the delicious atmosphere of another era, the smells and sounds of, say, the summer of ’52. People are happy and friendly enjoying the simple things of life – like a chocolate malt or double cheeseburger with a friend, scenes that once inspired the artist Norman Rockwell.”
Bill tells about a day the grill caught fire from grease that had accumulated underneath. “We had to act fast. I had heard that water would not extinguish a grease fire so I grabbed a couple of handfuls of washing powder and doused the flames. Meanwhile, a customer wanted a hamburger. I tried to tell him the grill needed cleaning before cooking but he kept insisting on it. So, I cooked him his hamburger and he ate it. He must have had the cleanest stomach in town.”
Bill remembers many stories in association with his tenure at the drugstore. “When Patterson’s Rexall Pharmacy closed on North State, Mr. Parkin bought their large upright safe. He sent Bill and two young employees to move that weighty and unwieldy object from Patterson’s to the store some three blocks away. “We were able to shove it up a steep inclined driveway to the street but finally gave up being heroes and hired a delivery company to take it the rest of the way.”
Stories abound over the years. Bill told of two ladies who came in one day to return a purchase. The older woman told her daughter, “Go out to the car and bring in that package on the front seat.” The daughter dutifully did so and when it was opened it contained a half pint of liquor. “No, not that one, dear,” she calmly exclaimed, “the other one, the Milk of Magnesia.” There was another customer who “rooted me out of bed at 3 a.m. one morning to get some sleeping pills. I needed some myself after that episode.
“There was a Mr. Hardwick, who delivered mail to the store and had a dog named Richard. He and Richard had conversations in the store during mail deliveries and the two seemed to have real rapport. Customers were never certain who initiated the conversation or where it would lead. However, the two seemed to understand each other.”
Perhaps Bill’s most interesting story involved a horse drawn sleigh. Mr. Parkin was close friends with Robert Stockett, Sr., who had a stable of horses down by the Pearl River. He would borrow the horses for a while in winter weather and deliver items to customers in the snow. “We even had a store display of that sleigh and its drivers but thankfully, those horses were not real.”
Saundra Edwards came to work at Parkin’s as a teenager in October, 1965. “She would do anything you asked her to do,” Doug said. “She was like a big sister to me and I often referred to her as ‘Sunshine’.” Like Bill, her duties included everything from greeting customers to sweeping the floor. “Bill and I worked the stock, tended both the back and front of the store, helped out in the pharmacy and in the contract post office which was added in the early ‘70’s. When the power went off we had to crank the cash register. You should have seen that thing. It would have been an antique today.”
Saundra’s impression of Mr. Parkin is that he was strict and professional in his approach to serving the public. He was friendly as long as you did your job. “If a customer asked for an item,” Saundra remembered, “we didn’t just say, ‘look over yonder’. If we had we would have been fired. We went over and helped him find it.”
Saundra, like Bill, has a lot of stories to tell regarding her years at the pharmacy. “I can’t use names, but I can tell you there were some characters. There was an elderly lady, the widow of a well known attorney, who would come to the Jitney next door for her lunch at the delicatessen. Rather than stand in line patrons would take a number and wait for it to be called. She would come early, take the number “1” and after being served put it in her purse. The next day she would bring it out and present it again to be the first served. She would do this on a regular basis. The staff knew what she was doing but the customers seemed not to mind so she stayed number 1 for the remainder of her patronage.
“Another prominent resident had plenty of money and property. She did not feel she should accept government assistance. She refused Medicare and other forms of government assistance. ‘The government needs the money more than I do,’” she explained. She would have been a rarity today.
When asked if there was anyone who did some unusual things, Saundra told of a woman who came in the pharmacy with a watermelon she had bought at the Jitney next door. “She sat in the aisle and ate it, spitting the seeds out on the floor. Mr. Parkin told her to stop and clean it up. She got real ugly and demanded he give her a dollar.”
John Archie was the deliveryman but he was far more than that. A veteran of Cain’s (Ca. 1933) before he came to Parkin’s he was a fixture in those establishments for over half a century. The City of Jackson even proclaimed a John Archie Day to celebrate his 50th anniversary. “John was very conscientious and would tell my dad when he felt something needed to be done,” Doug remembers. “When the delivery vehicle’s tires would show excessive wear he would go to my father and tell him, ‘doctor, the car needs new shoes’.”
John’s duties included a wide variety of items for distribution. Perhaps the most interesting involved a hunting item. It seems an employee of Parkin’s West End Pharmacy made turkey calls out of condoms. That pharmacy had run out and called the Belhaven store for reinforcements. The only candidates they had came in a box of a hundred which John Archie dutifully accepted for delivery. He studied the merchandise for a moment, looked up and said, “That guy must really be something, huh Doc?”
“We knew of some crazy things that went on at the Jitney, next door,” Mrs. Edwards .recalls. “We knew a lady who would go to the canned food aisle, open several cans of peas and select the one she liked the best. She just left the others open on the shelf. There was man who would dress like a woman, shoplift meat from the butcher counter and carry it to ‘her’ new Cadillac. One of our drugstore patrons recognized this tactic, yelled at the ‘woman’ to stop and jumped in front of ‘her’ car to prevent ‘her’ from leaving until the police arrived. There was another lady who got in the wrong car in the parking lot. It seemed that the key fit the same ignition as her identical model nearby. She was an Elvis fan and listened to him on her car’s sound system. When she turned the key she heard some different songs and realized something was wrong. Fortunately she discovered her error before the owner arrived.
“Then there was the drunk who fell off a stool at the soda fountain and the lady who left her false teeth in the car of a neighbor who had driven her home the day before from the nearby washateria. There was the couple who would pass out quarters, sometimes dollar bills to people in the parking lot. We know there are people in public places that ask for money but how many do we know who voluntarily distribute it?”
Bill worked at Parkin’s for 40 years, Saundra for 32 and John Archie for 36. Why did they do it? You have to ask? Saundra went to work for a psychiatrist after leaving the drugstore after the Jitney’s sale to Winn-Dixie. “Considering the experience I had over the years,” she said, “I felt I was well qualified.”
John Archie was the delivery man. He began when Mr. Parkin opened his store and through the years delivered throughout the neighborhood in a panel truck decorated with pills of all hues and sizes. John did not have regular hours. Perhaps on paper he did but his familiar vehicle and salutation rang through Belhaven far into the night and weekends in all types of weather. He almost never missed a day of work.
Parkin’s sold many items other than prescription drugs. It carried cosmetics, newspapers, confectionaries and gifts. These were delivered daily by one of the most familiar and friendliest faces ever to grace the Belhaven neighborhood. “Hi John Archie,” the children would call out as the delivery truck sped down the streets to carry drugstore products to those who for one reason or another could not come by and pick them up. “Hi Doc,” he would reply with a smile and a wave. Need a valentine box of candy or a Christmas gift? Call Parkin’s and it would be on its way. Order a few groceries from the Jitney next door? They might somehow find their way into the old truck along with the drugstore items. Want a message carried to a nearby house? John Archie could deliver it as well. There was always, “here you are Doc. Thanks for shopping Parkin’s.”
Then one day in the spring of 1987, John Archie did not come to work and an irreplaceable part of our neighborhood stopped forever. While Jim Parkin was the head of the business and Bill and Saundra, along with a host of others were its appendages, John Archie was its heart. There are those who remember him to this day and loved the man for his kindness and who he was. Home deliveries are a thing of the past but the memory of the man who called everyone “Doc” remains with us. Rest in peace John Archie.
When asked of his impression of Mr. Parkin when he worked in his drugstore, Bill Nobles thought for several moments. “We worked so long together it was like we were brothers but like all families we did not always get along. Let me put it this way. I had several opportunities to leave for better wages and benefits but I loved that old drugstore and its customers. I stayed and so did Saundra for whatever reasons and looking back I’m glad I did.”
Several Belhaven residents have lasting memories of Parkin’s Pharmacy. Cindy Wood: “I used to go there for shakes and burgers in the ‘80’s. I remember when Bill went to Brent’s. He actually remembered me.” Julie Propst: “Eudora Welty sat at the same table on every visit and ate the egg salad sandwich. I’d skip school at Murrah and go and just sit and listen to her.” Lynn Haspel: “Parkin’s was a mainstay in our neighborhood with not only a pharmacy but a fountain for soda, sandwiches and a post office. Bill and Saundra knew us and our children. The kids would be allowed to charge lunch and we would get the bill and pay it at the end of the week. Good old days!”
Cleta Ellington: “Edward (Judge Ellington) always said we belonged to Parkin’s rather than River Hills. Those great burgers!” Linda Showah: “Such fond memories. When we came from the Delta to visit my grandmother on North Street, it was an adventure to walk to Parkin’s for a milkshake.” Gate Hogan: “I used to get the slawburger when I was a kid. I loved that place. Natalie Maynor: My memories are from when it was Cain’s.”
Mr. Parkin was well known and respected in his profession. He served on the University of Mississippi Association Board and was president of the Mississippi Pharmacist Association. He was president of the State Board of Pharmacy for four years and was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Jackson where he was a Life Deacon. He was a member of the Jackson Rotary Club and served on the Mississippi Walking Horse Association’s board of directors as vice-president.
The final site of Belhaven’s Parkin’s is now Lou’s restaurant and those who founded the establishment and patronized if for nearly half a century have passed on, relocated or remain with us as seasoned veterans of another era. In an interview for this article Doug reminisced about his childhood experiences in his father’s store. “I truly wish my own children and grandchildren could have had the opportunity to experience the family of Parkin’s Pharmacy and the pure joy of spinning on a soda stool, reading comic books and special ordering whatever they wanted at the fountain. On behalf of the Parkin family, our grateful Thank You is extended to all who allowed my dad to enjoy his profession, who seemed to regard him as the Mayor of Belhaven and who, either as co-workers or customers, loyally stood with him through the years. Were he with us today, he would be gratefully relieved that he is not forgotten.”
Good memories last forever and ensure that Mr. Jimmy Parkin will not be forgotten. That good old drug store he started back in his youth which rang with our laughter and the old stories of its time is with us still and has become a fixed star in the familiar firmament we know as Belhaven.
Bill & Nan Harvey October 2018
Sources: Interviews with Doug Parkin (August 28; October 17-20;30, 2018; Bill Nobles and Saundra Edwards (September 18 & 26, 2018); “You’re Invited to the Grand Opening of the New Parkin’s” (ad), Jackson Daily News, February 9, 1951, Section Two; “Stars Cosmetics”, Drug Topics Magazine, October 14, 1968, p. 1; “Medistat: The Parkin Family tradition Continues” (Communiqué Section, Clarion-Ledger, October 1, 1984, P. 3); “Soda fountain reflects days of yesterday”, Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News Focus Section, May 7, 1987, P. 1; “Jitney buys 6 family pharmacies”, Clarion-Ledger Business Section, March 25, 1995, p. 5B; obituary, Wright and Ferguson Funeral Home, May 24, 2013; Various neighbor comments as shown.