Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Saturday, January 31, 2009

A Downtown High School

I attended high school in "downtown" Jackson in the 1960s. As far as I know, in those days, Jackson only had a "downtown." In years past, the area around North State Street where a few old houses from the antebellum era still stand, may have been called "uptown." But during the 1960s, when we said "downtown," we meant East Capitol Street. The downtown area began at the Illinois Central Train Station, where "fast" trains left Jackson going north to Memphis and South to New Orleans, and continued for slightly less than a mile uphill to the Old Capitol Building. City buses used the railroad station as a transfer point for shuttling passengers east to the downtown area or west to other businesses and homes.

Downtown Jackson was home to a variety of large department stores such as Montgomery Ward, J. C. Penney, and the local Kennington's Department Store. Five-and-dime stores, like Woolworth, Kress, and H. L. Green were all situated near the center of the street and well within two blocks of each other. Downtown Jackson was also home to several large old hotels, the kind with richly appointed lobbies, where chandeliers lighted the way to ballrooms that hosted wedding receptions and other large gatherings. These hotels all had impressive-sounding names like The Heidelberg, The King Edward, and The Walthall.

Deposit Guaranty Bank's tall building, on the north side of the street, next to H. L. Green, was a landmark in downtown, as was the Standard Life Building with its clock on top, and the ivy-covered St. Andrews Episcopal Church next door. Several jewelry stores, a furniture store, and a few local restaurants, including Primos, the Mayflower Cafe, and the "Pig Stand," a local lunch place and after school hangout, completed the assortment of businesses that lined both sides of the street. In the 1960s, Capitol Street was a thriving urban shopping area, with the exception of a few surburban strip shopping malls, such as Maywood Mart and Westland Plaza.

Downtown Jackson actually had two high schools in the 1960s, St. Peter's Catholic School and Central High School. Murrah and Provine were the other Jackson high schools, but each was located several miles away from downtown and nearer to residential neighborhoods that were home to growing families. St. Peter's and Central were just across the street from Smith Park, a public park in the middle of downtown Jackson that is still one of the few publicly-owned parks in the nation. Since we had limited space and no athletic complex, it was in Smith Park that high school "gym" classes went to play softball and to run. Girls' athletics were much different in the 1960s, at least in our school, and intramural sports were limited to boys only. We were in a beautiful location, one where we could see the New Capitol Building on one side of the park and the grounds of the Governor's Mansion on the other. Woolfolk State Office Building, one of the tallest buildings in downtown, could be seen in the distance.

Central High School also was the home to high school Army ROTC, the only high school program of its kind in Jackson. It was on the large front lawn at Central that some of these ROTC students got their first taste of the military before going on to serve their country in Vietnam. Unfortunately, a few of those same students also lost their lives.

Just outside the high school's band hall was the entrance to the Greyhound Bus Station, a place that became well-known during the sit-ins, marches, and riots that became part of downtown Jackson's history and culture during the 1960s. For obvious reasons, the bus station was off limits to students. Our campus was a closed campus, with no privileges that allowed seniors to leave campus during the day, unless we were going to after school jobs or home. Jackson was going through some turbulent times during those years, and national news networks had cameras set up on every corner. Even the threat of suspension and possible expulsion, however, did not prevent some of my classmates from attempting to get themselves into pictures that could have made the six o'clock news.

But June of that year finally arrived, and almost 300 of the so-called "Baby Boomer" generation graduated. Little did we know how much our lives and the lives of those around us would change over the course of the next fifty years.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Becoming a City Girl

Left: Downtown Jackson as seen from the rooftop of the 308 Electric Building. (Photo courtesy of Natalie Maynor.)

I didn't realize it when it was happening, but I was very much a "country girl" for the first nine years of my life. City life was non-existent in the Mississippi Delta, at least in the town of only 455 people where we lived. It was not until we moved from the Mississippi Delta to Jackson when I was nine years old that I got my first taste of city life.

We initially lived in a rental house in Richland, Mississippi, southeast of Jackson, while my parents looked for a house to buy. Richland is located in a heavily wooded area of tall pine trees, and at that time, the town still had a "rural" feel to it. It was a long way away from becoming a "city." Many years later now, my brother and his wife have raised their family in that same town. Needless to say, it is somewhat larger and more sophisticated today than when we were in elementary school. Ironically, my nieces and nephew graduated from the same school their father and I attended, and before school each morning, so my newphew told me, students continue the tradition of ringing the old school bell, just as we did, that still sits in its original location on the school's front lawn. Traditions, like this one, are among the many things I treasure about my home state.

In September of the year we moved, my brother and I found out just how rural the area was, when we rode on a school bus for the very first time in our lives. Although we were not sophisticated ourselves, we certainly didn't act like some of the other children who rode that bus. The first morning, we received the "new kid" experience, when a boy on the bus shot corn kernels at us, using a homemade slingshot that was popular with young boys back then. Welcome to the neighborhood, and welcome to fourth grade!

I really don't remember much about our house, school, or neighborhood during the few months we lived there, except that my dad was sick with pneumonia that first month, and we had a goldfish pond in the front yard. I also remember that my teacher, Mrs. Haddon, gave each of her 20-odd students, including me, a small framed picture of herself for Christmas. I thought this was slightly odd; it certainly was not the type of Christmas gift I had expected. I haven't seen Mrs. Haddon since that fourth grade Christmas party, but I still have her picture.

The Richland experience lasted only until the Christmas Holidays of fourth grade. During the Christmas break, in early January, my family moved into the house in northwest Jackson that I would call home until I graduated from high school. It was there that I began life as a "city girl."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Ever-Lovin' Kate Adams - Part II

Several months ago, I wrote a post on my original blog Attala County Memories about the Kate Adams, a steamer that traveled down the Mississippi River in the early 1920's, and one on which my paternal grandfather, Clark Commander Branch, worked for a time. A photograph of the steamer, from the American Postal Museum, courtesy of the Smithsonian Photography Initiative, appears here. According to other information posted there, the steamer was actually built in 1882 to be used as a U. S. Mail Steamboat on the Mississippi River.

On Tuesday of this week, I received an email from a reader in Ohio who was searching for
information out on the web about the Kate Adams, and she found my post. Here is an excerpt from her email:

"I was surprised and pleased to see your information on the Kate Adams Riverboat. My grandparents were co-owners of a road construction company that built many roads in the area of Marietta, Ohio. They lived not far from the Ohio River and enjoyed seeing and hearing the boats, especially those with a calliope. Among their pictures from their road building days is one my dad took of an Ohio River boat. My grandmother had written the name of the boat on the back. I decided to try to find more about it on the internet. When I typed in its name, Kate Adams, it went right to your website. I was surprised to hear that it had started as a Mississippi Riverboat before coming to the Ohio. When I saw it had burned in 1927, I was even more surprised. Grandma wrote that the picture was taken in 1927. It may be the last picture of the Kate Adams. Do you know where it burned?"

Unfortunately, I did not know the answer to the reader's question. I had failed to find that piece of information myself before writing the post. So yesterday, I again searched for something that would reveal where the steamer burned. What I located is included in this post today.

According to The Arkansas City Journal, published in
Arkansas City, Arkansas, on December 23, 1882 (Vol 4, No. 9), the Kate Adams made her maiden voyage from Memphis down the Mississippi River. An excerpt from the article states:

"AT THE LANDING As soon as she was made fast, people flocked on board in crowds, and all confessed that no prettier or more complete steamboat ever touched at this port. Her magnificent cabin was an especial theme of admiration. The whole boat, from pilot-house to the railway tracks in the hold, were carefully inspected and the verdict was She is a good one, and no mistake! LANGUAGE WOULD FAIL...were we to attempt a full recital of the beauties and excellencies of the bonnie Kate. Suffice it to say she is more than equal of any boat in the river in point of fittings, furnishings and equipment.
Built at a cost of $95,000, she lacks absolutely nothing that goes to make up a literal floating palace. ROSTER OF OFFICERS All of the officers of the Dean Adams, except Steward Matson, were transferred to the new boat. Their long and faithful service in the line entitled them to this recognition, and certainly the patrons of the Dean will be glad to find on board the Kate Adams all their old friends. The roster is as follows: Mark R. Cheek, Master; A. L. Cummins, Chief Clerk; W. Outlaw, Second Clerk; A. L. Cummins, Jr., Bill Clerk; Henry Powers, Chief Mate; Thomas Kelly, Second Mate; Louis Botto, Chief Engineer; John Botto, Second Engineer; William Hopus, Pilot; Elisha Evins, Pilot; Frank Norris, Steward; Joseph Flynn, Barkeeper. Every one of them well known and deservedly popular in the trade."

Further searching led me to an article about the Kate Adams that appeared in the New York Times just a few years after her maiden voyage. The article detailed a serious fire with a number of fatalities that occurred at Commerce, a Mississippi River port just south of Memphis. Apparently, when the steamer suffered the fire in 1927 that sealed her eventual fate, she had already burned at least once before. Unfortunately, for a second time, I was unable to find the location of that fire.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Too much icy precipitation and too many low-lying clouds prevented me from getting a really good picture for posting here today, but the scene is almost the same as this one taken in early March of last year, just a week after we moved in. The big differences in today's picture would be landscaping and much more sleet and ice. From our windows, the trees in the distance look like a crystal forest. Last night's "winter mix" is the result of our fourth (and hopefully last) ice storm of the season.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Italians in the Delta

Yesterday, I wrote a post here in which I mentioned that a few small towns in the Mississippi Delta have Italian-sounding names. Although I recall that my parents and grandparents knew a few Italian families in the Delta, and I knew others with Italian ancestry when I was growing up in Jackson, I knew very little about how or why these families or their ancestors had settled in Mississippi. I recall reading that many Italian immigrants had settled along the Mississippi River after their arrival into the Port of New Orleans, and some had traveled further north, making their way to the river towns of Natchez and Vicksburg. Since I wanted to know more about Italians in the Delta, today I decided to do a little research to answer my own question about how, and maybe why, these people had settled in the Delta. As a result of that research, with the help of my loyal friend, Google, I found "Mississippi History Now," the online publication of the Mississippi Historical Association, and in it a feature story written by Charles Reagan Wilson, Ph.D.

Wilson's story, "Italians in Mississippi," is well researched and written, and I encourage you to read the story in its entirety by using the link provided. Although Mr. Wilson's feature story more than adequately answered my original question about Italian settlers in the Mississippi Delta, I was surprised by some of what I read. I was not surprised to hear that many of the Italians who traveled up the river in the 1880's ended up working as laborers on the levees and as farm laborers. In order to have work, other immigrants worked in these types of jobs, as well. More often than not, it was the only way many could make a living after arriving in a new and different country, where their own ethnicity and language were huge barriers.

According to Wilson, however, others who settled in the Mississippi Delta went there as a result of American "labor agents" who imported them from central Italy into Ellis Island in New York. The Italians who came into the United States in this manner traveled directly from New York to the Mississippi Delta to work on plantations there, through pre-arrangements with the owners of those Delta plantations. Workers who came in by these means were already indebted to the plantation owners when they arrived, since the owners had paid for their transportation. Once the Italians began work on the plantation, their wages were withheld by the owner as repayment for what monies he had already paid to the "labor agent."

One very well-documented example of this type of arrangement occurred when Italians arrived in 1895 at Sunnyside, a plantation near Greenville, Mississippi, established by planter, lawyer, and politician, LeRoy Percy. Percy's son, poet William Alexander Percy, who was a planter himself, wrote about the work ethic and the evolving Mississippi culture of Italian workers in his book "Lanterns on the Levee: The Recollections of a Planters Son." According to Wilson's story, Tennessee Williams based one of his plays, "27 Wagons Full of Cotton," on the involvement of Italian workers in plantation life. Some may recall this Broadway play later was made into a movie named "Baby Doll."

Later, Sicilian sugar cane workers who had first settled in Louisiana after arriving at the Port of New Orleans, gradually migrated up river to the Greenville, Mississippi area. Although there were social and cultural differences between the two groups of Italians, those who had ties to the central farming region of Italy and those who were from Sicily, they were all united by their Italian ancestry and their Catholic religion. According to Wilson, Greenville, Mississippi became the home of "the largest population of Sicilian immigrants of anywhere in the Delta."

Wilson, a professor of history and the director of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi, concludes this extensive feature story with his unbiased discussion of some of the social and cultural prejudices felt and experienced by Italians in Mississippi, including those that dealt specifically with ethnicity, skin-color, and religion.

Whether you are a Mississippian with Italian ancestry or someone who is not, this well-told story by Dr. Wilson is both enjoyable and enlightening. I hope you will read it and enjoy it as much as I did.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Where Do I Begin?

Mississippi is such a beautiful state, from its wooded hills and rich Delta land along the mighty river of the same name, to its sandy beaches that parallel the Gulf of Mexico. And it has such a rich cultural history. When I sat down to write the first real post on this new blog, I asked myself a very direct question: Where do I begin? The answer to my own question was obvious. I would start at the beginning.

For me, the beginning was a small Mississippi Delta town where I was born, a place so small that only a few people in my entire life have ever recognized its name. Those people, of course, were all from Mississippi. I had always believed the name of that town was of Indian origin, like so many other Mississippi towns and counties. Little did I know that many years later, I would find accidentally find out the name was actually an Italian word that means "beautiful island." To me, this information seemed very, very strange, at least for a town in the Mississippi Delta. Interestingly, two other small towns nearby also have Italian names. After searching many places for the answer, I have yet to find out how these towns were named.

Although we moved to the big city from the Mississippi Delta when I was only nine years old, I still have a fairly good recollection of those early years. I recall that our family was a farming family, with the exception of my father, who worked "in town." He drove away to work each day in a new, shiny car, while my grandfather drove a tractor and worked to keep his cotton crop growing. Later, I would learn that my father was one of only a handful of his family who had resisted the occupation of "farmer." I recall my mother and my grandmother working on sunny days in their vegetable garden, and my mother caring for the colorful flowers she grew in our yard. And I remember early summer fields of tall green cotton, with large blooms of yellow and pink, and fall fields of brown stalks that had been stripped of their fluffy white fruits. I also learned from watching my grandfather and those who worked for him that farming was very hard work, with hours that began at dawn and often ended in darkness.

I will never forget my early childhood years in the Mississippi Delta. Those years gave me the foundation for who I am today. And in order to know where we are going, we need to remember where we have been.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Welcome to Mississippi Memories

Thank you for visiting my new blog where I plan to write about memories of my home state. Effective today, 110 posts previously published on Attala County Memories can be read here. As you may note from the new blog title, I am expanding the area about which I write.

First, I will continue posting pictures and writing stories about Attala County family history. I also plan to begin writing about families who pioneered and lived in Holmes County, Madison County, as well as a few other counties, primarily some of those formed when The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed with the Choctaw Nation in 1832.

Second, the new blog site will allow me to post pictures and write stories about other things of interest, some possibly not genealogy-related, about my home State of Mississippi.

My third goal is to have this new blog become an interactive blog, one where I can post your pictures and the family stories they tell. Please contact me if you have anything you would like to submit for publication. I look forward to hearing from you.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Pineapple - A Sign of Welcome and Hospitality

If this is your first visit to Attala County Memories, welcome! I hope you return often. If this is a return visit for you, welcome back! Beginning today, and on each Saturday, I plan to write a slightly different type of post here, one that is still somewhat genealogy related, but not quite as focused on people and dates. Today's post is about a simple object, the pineapple, and its historical significance and symbolic meaning. Use of the pineapple as a symbol actually dates back to colonial Virginia. During that period, the pineapple was often used to represent hospitality and friendship. Often, a pineapple was placed near a door to show visitors and other travelers the house was a safe haven in what was sometimes an unsafe or hostile environment. When the colonial capital of Williamsburg, Virginia was restored, the pineapple was featured in many of the elements there to serve as a symbol of hospitality to visitors. Years later, replicas of colonial furniture often feature a pineapple among the carvings on the pieces.

Today, many home decor items, from door mats (I had one myself) to place mats, candles, china, napkins, coasters, and tea towels, often use a pineapple in the motif. Christmas ornaments and yard art are often created in the shape of a pineapple. But the symbolic meaning, many years later, remains the same.....Welcome!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Horse Gins of Attala County in the 1800s

Left: A cotton press operated by horsepower, from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, p. 61,
Published October 7, 1871

While reading through reference materials that document the early development of Attala County, I have often seen the mention of a "horse gin." As a Mississippi native, I certainly know about the "cotton gin," but I found the term "horse gin" intriguing, mainly because I did not know what it really meant. I assumed it was a type of machine that was operated by one horse, or more, but I didn't know how it was used or why it was needed. As I searched for information about the horse gin's operation, and its purpose, I found some interesting facts.

In early Britain, horse gins were used for extracting coal from below the ground's surface, and the devices were referred to as "whims." In Attala County, Mississippi, they were used to "gin" cotton. The horse gin itself was a device that "harnessed" the energy created from the "horsepower" generated by mules or horses that walked in a circle. With the aid of a horse, a man could harvest fifty times more cotton than before.

According to a "Brief History for Towns and Communities of Attala County," prepared by the Attala Historical Society, a number of horse gins were operating in the county before and after the Civil War. Used for cleaning the cotton fibers from the seeds and seedpods, the early gin was a potentially dangerous device, and its accidents involved more than an occasional one with a mule or a horse. Although the gin operation itself greatly impacted the South's cotton production, it was the leading cause of accidents involving the operation of machinery in the 1800s. Ginning in those days was a manual operation, a process that involved hand-feeding of the cotton onto a spiked machine roller. Often, the operation resulted in mangled fingers, a hand, or even an arm.

According to a manuscript entitled "The Manufacture of Cotton Gins, A Southern Industry, 1793-1860," by Dr. M.C. McMillan (deceased) Auburn University Auburn, Alabama, a factory owned by T. G. Atwood in Bluff Springs, Attala County, Mississippi, produced an average of 350 gins a day in 1860. Since the blades on the saws in the gin were made of "heart pine," the South had a monopoly on gin-manufacturing operations simply because of the abundance of pine trees. In addition to the factory in Attala County, Mississippi had another factory, Beckett and Tindell, located near Aberdeen, which produced an average of 250 gins a year. The only other factory in Mississippi made only 52 gins in 1860. In Attala County, the operation of horse gins was eventually discontinued in the two decades after the Civil War, when many of them changed over to steam engines as a source of power.

As family researchers, most of us want to know details about our ancestors, where they lived, how they lived, and how they made their living. This is all part of developing the persona of a now-deceased relative, someone we can never really know. In Attala County, Mississippi in the 1800's, farming was the primary occupation of many residents; the crops that resulted, timber, cotton, and corn, required harvesting that involved machinery. And the occupation of some of these early Attala County residents was "gin operator."
Although the list below is not comprehensive, it does show the names of some of those who owned and operated horse gins in Attala County during the early to mid 1800's. The community or town where the operation was located is also shown.

Biggs, Johnnie - East Union

Brister, Cal and his brother Si - East Union

Cade, Jim - Rocky Point

Daniel, A. F. - Sand Hill

Fancher, Henry - Bear Creek

Hanna, George - Knox

Hughes, Ed - Pleasant Ridge

Jennings, F.H.D. - Conehoma

Ray, B. F. - East Macedonia

Ross, John - Conehoma

Short, John T. - Annis

Weeks, Jabez - White's

Wheeless, Amos - Tabernacle

Monday, January 12, 2009

Male and Female Schools in Attala County During the Mid-1800s

Today, while doing some research on churches, cemeteries, and people who lived in Attala County between 1850 and 1860, I found some information that I found fascinating. During this time in history when our educational system and our economy are both struggling, I thought it might be interesting to share this information with my readers.

Before I proceed, it is important to point out that public education was not available to everyone during this particular time and in this place. By the mid-1800s, Attala County had become a place where many affluent, well-informed, and publicly-involved people lived, and there is no doubt that education of their children was of the utmost importance to Attala Countians. In fact, the Masonic Lodges in Attala County operated separate schools for males and for females as early as 1850. Although the school for females had an elementary department, the only "higher education" courses offered to its students were in music and "fancy needlework."

In 1855, however, Rev. A. W. Chambless and his brother, William E. Chambless, opened the new Kosciusko Female Institute, located on the lot now occupied by the Mid-Mississippi Library. The new school promised to offer a more extensive list of courses for their female students and advertised these monthly rates for tuition:

Primary Department - $2.00
Higher English - $3.00
Ancient Languages - $2.00
Modern Languages - $2.00
Music - piano or guitar - $5.00
Ornamental Needlework - $2.00
Drawing and Painting - $2.00
Painting in Oil - $5.00
Wax Work - $2.00 per lesson

Young men, local and from outside the immediate area, were schooled at the Male Academy, where the trustees were John Fausett, G. W. Harlow, Ozias Lewis, J. W. Scarborough, and E. M. Wells. Elementary courses available to male students were reading, writing, arithmetic, and grammar, at $10 per session. Advanced courses were taught in arithmetic, geography, grammar, philosophy, history, botany, and chemistry, at a price of $15 per session. Advanced studies in algebra, astronomy, trigonometry, Latin and Greek were available at $30 per session. Certainly, this was an impressive offering of courses for male students.
Interestingly, although not surprisingly for this time period, neither school had a dormitory, and students boarded in private homes in town. For me and for other researchers, this is an important point to keep in mind when reviewing census records, since students may have been enumerated in Attala County when their legitimate residences were in other counties.

Reference: "Kosciusko - Attala History" - published by the Attala Historical Society

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Five Men from Helena, Arkansas

This photograph, as well as a call for assistance to determine my Porter family's relationship to the men in the picture, was first published in a post I wrote for the Attala County Memories blog in September 2008. The photograph, actually a "picture postcard" that I found in my grandmother's photo album, is my submission to Smile for the Camera, 9th Edition, "Who Are You - I Really Want to Know." Someone long ago wrote the names of the men in the picture on the back of the postcard, but what I really want to know is how these men fit into my Porter family tree. The five men in the photograph were identified by the note on the postcard as David Porter, Payton Porter, David Blair, Hall Hart, and John Shearfield. The card has no stamp and no postmark, so it is safe to assume it was never mailed. Written in the space intended for a mailing address is "From Ellie to Vertie, Helena, Ark." Vertie Porter was my paternal grandmother's sister, my great-aunt, and she once taught school in Arkansas. But who was Ellie? And why did Ellie send Vertie Porter a picture of these five men? It goes without saying the two Porter men must have been relatives, but were the other three men relatives, too? And finally, why would my grandmother continue to hold on to this picture long after her sister's death?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Maple Terrace Bed & Breakfast - Kosciusko, MS

On two occasions during the past year and a half, we have stayed overnight at the Maple Terrace Bed & Breakfast located at 300 N. Huntington Street in Kosciusko, Mississippi. The owners of the house are Kosciusko residents, Roxanne and Larry Routt. Its location near the square and so close to the wonderful research room at the Mid-Mississippi Library made it a perfect location for our visits. After our visit to Kosciusko and the surrounding area was complete, we were just a short distance from the entrance to the Natchez Trace Parkway that would take us down to Madison County. According to the Maple Terrace website, the house was built in 1912 and is on the Historic Register. The house itself is a blend of Colonial Revival, Arts and Crafts, and Prairie designs. Inside, the beautiful wood floors, period furniture and appointments, along with some lovely and unique stained glass made us feel as if we had been transported to another time and place. The grounds are manicured and well-kept. On our last visit, we were pleased to find information in the house that told its history, how it was built by a postmaster who served the town of Kosciusko around the turn of the twentieth century. There were even old architectural drawings included in the material. What a beautiful structure this house is, and if the walls could talk, I can only imagine the history they could tell.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's Day Article in MCHerald

Yesterday, New Year's Day 2009, an article introducing The Graveyard Rabbit of Madison County to the Greater Jackson area appeared on the front page of the MCHerald, a section of the Clarion-Ledger devoted to news and events in Madison County, Mississippi. My special thanks go out to Lucy Weber, Staff Writer for the MCHerald, who wrote the very nice article that provided an overview of the Madison County blog as well as The Association of Graveyard Rabbits. The parent organization was founded by Terry Thornton, of Fulton, Mississippi, and his co-founder who writes under the name, footnoteMaven. A link to yesterday's article is provided below.