Sunday, September 14, 2014

Family History: R J Timmons

 Back in the summer when Sis and I went up to the Elbert cemetery, we wandered around the family plots.  Though many of the names I know, and knew all the aunts and uncles who were Mama's family, I did not recall who R J Timmons, wife of J S Timmons was.  Since she died in 1925, that is not unusual I guess.
 R J was Rhoda Jane Smith, and she was the second wife of James Samuel Timmons.  James Samuel was Mama's grandfather.  His son with his first wife, Mary Susan Brogdon, was Mama's father--Pinkney Perry Timmons.  Daddy Pink died in 1934 so I never knew him, although I have heard many stories about him, and did know Mama's mother, Grandmother Timmons.  Rhoda Jane and James Samuel had two daughters, whose names I never recall hearing anyone talk about.  What amazes me is that Rhoda Jane was only 68 when she died, and yet she appears to be much older than that in the picture.

Mary Susan was from Young County, so James Samuel would have met her after he moved from Georgia to the Young County and Throckmorton County area.  Rhoda Jane was from Ballground, Cherokee County, Georgia, so at some point James Samuel returned to his family's home in Georgia to find his second wife.  No doubt, he needed a mother for his nine children.  Perhaps that, and having borne two more of her own, had something to do with Rhoda Jane dying at an early age and looking like she was 20 years older than she was.  The "baby" would have been 4 when James Samuel married Rhoda Jane, and the oldest two were 19 and 18.  Most likely, she only had to mother the ones who were 4, 7, 8, 10, and 13.  Daddy Pink would have been 15, and 4 years later, he married Clara McBrayer.  Mama was their first child.
 As a child wandering the Elbert cemetery when Mama would go to tend the graves, I was always fascinated by the ones with the shells embedded in the concrete.  There were quite a few of them, although most of them now resemble Rhoda Jane's in that the shells are broken.  If you think about it, those shells have been on this grave for 89 years, so in that regard, I suppose they have held up fairly well.
James Samuel died 11 years after Rhoda Jane, at the age of 88, when my mother was 9 years old, and two years after Daddy Pink's death.  Mother often talked about Daddy Pink, but I don't ever recall hearing her speak of her great grandfather James Samuel.  I had always heard the story of the father going to Georgia to find a mother for his children, and bringing her back to South Bend, Texas, but there was no connection in my head as to who that father was.  Now, I know they were speaking of James Samuel, and that it was his farm in South Bend.  My mother has the lock he kept on his corn crib to keep the local Native Americans from stealing his corn--you know, after we stole their land.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

New Albany New Deal Post Office and Milking Time Mural

 The 1936 Colonial Revival post office in New Albany was constructed through the Treasury department, under Louis A. Simon, Supervising Architect of the Treasury (MDAH Historic Resources Inventory).  The construction company was Blair, Algernon of Montgomery, Alabama, who built 9 post offices in Mississippi.
 Joan Embree, (1996 National Register of Historic Places nomination form) described the "classical cupola"...
" entry doors, but in the original surround with fanlight transom, in-antis Doric columns supporting the hooded architrave."
 The interior of the building, which is currently in use as the Welcome Center and Development Association, retained original features such as the marble wainscoting, wooden vestibule entry,
 and former service window,
original postal boxes and writing counters.
 Robert Cleaver Purdy's mural, "Milking Time," was completed and installed in 1939. 
 The local Armour Creamery was a vital part of the economic scene during that time, and the building is still extant, though not in use.  The role of farming and dairying in New Albany is thought to have influenced Purdy's mural.
New Albany represents another fine example of a town preserving its historic architecture, including the buildings constructed through the New Deal administration programs.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Lexington Historic District: Holmes County Bank and other Lexington History

The Lexington courthouse square is laid out in the "Four-block square" plan as shown in Price, Edward T. "The Central Courthouse Square in the American County Seat." Common Places: Readings in American Vernacular Architecture. (Upton, Dell, and John Michael Vlach, eds. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press), p. 125. This configuration has four streets bounding the square itself with four more streets bisecting the blocks and intersecting with the center portion of the square on all four sides the courthouse itself is placed on axis with the streets that are centered on the square. This creates rectangular, rather than square, city blocks with short sides facing the square and long sides leading away from the square. (Baughn, J. V. O., 2000, Nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places, "Lexington Historic District")
When I began this post, my intentions were solely on the architecture.  I had no intention of going to Lexington that day, it just happened to be between me and Greenwood, my destination.  However, when I drove into town and saw the courthouse looming in the distance, I knew I would be making a stop.
c.1900 former Holmes County Bank
The bank building dates to around 1900, but the Holmes County Bank only dates to 1932 according to the current website.  Morris Lewis immigrated to the US from Poland in 1882 when he was nine.  He moved to Lexington, Mississippi at the age of 17, and in 1896, organized the Lewis Grocery Company (The Delta Democrat-Times, 27 December 1957, p. 1).  He organized the Merchants and Farmers Bank and Trust Co. in Lexington, would became the Holmes County Bank and Trust Co.

The Holmes County Bank and Trust Co. was one of the targets of the civil rights activism in Mississippi.  Bea Jenkins of Lexington was the housekeeper for the president of the Holmes County Bank at that time (Tanzman, H. 2000. An oral history with Bea Jenkins. Civil Rights Documentation Project).  

I marched around that bank, too.  We did.  We marched around that, and someone there said, 'Bea, arent' you afraid to march around?' Said, "That's the man that you work for.'
And I told them it didn't make any difference because we wanted--I said, 'People, some blacks, have they money there, too.'  And they didn't have any black people working there as employees.  And I said, 'And I don't see any difference.  If he's not hiring any blacks, why not march against him, too?'  So, I did.  And go back into their home the next day and work.

Read the rest of the oral history with Bea Jenkins.
Lexington made history for another reason, too--taking on the tobacco industry

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Holmes County Jail

Mississippi architects N. W. Overstreet and A. H. Town of Jackson designed this 1936 Art Moderne jail in Lexington.  A PWA project, it cost $24,528, and $10,000 of it was funded from the PWA.  Holmes County erected a new jail facility in 1999-2000.  What's in store for this building I wonder?  It is both historic (a designated Mississippi landmark) and stunning in the simple design.  Maybe I could just renovate it and move in, living in half, and operating my research facility in the other half.  I will have to study on that possibility.  I wonder what they would charge me for rent?

Sources: Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory; Mississippi Landmarks; "New correctional facility will replace 63-year-old county jail" (June 3, 1999). Holmes County Herald, 41(22). p. 1.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Knowledge, Citizenship, Industry: It's Back to School

 A few weeks ago, I was over in New Albany to see a friend and she took me around to some of the historic school buildings in the area.  She recalled her mother saying something about a WPA gym built there during the depression, but we could not locate it.  The relief panel that was formerly on the front of the high school building has been moved to the back of this building, where it sits in the shadows.  The reliefs remind me somewhat of those at Senatobia High School--where they still proudly adorn the front of the building.
 Edgar L. Malvaney designed the New Albany High School in 1936.  Use of the concrete bas reliefs were common during the period, as the Great Depression necessitated the use of simpler, less expensive materials in building construction and ornamentation.
 Interesting way to illustrate citizenship?  The stern and austere judge seated above the citizens who essentially have no face or body?  Citizenship as obedience and subservience?  Because reliefs were often stylized, it may have just been a standard format, but I tend to see the symbolism in everything.  Our schools were one of the institutions used to socialize us to the roles of citizen, and it would have reflected the belief that obedience is one of the more important qualities in a citizen.  Of course, obedience to an immoral or unjust law is not a trait that I value, and citizenship should challenge those injustices and set them right again.  It is just that it is a hard thing to do.
 Bas relief can be designed by carving into the stone or wood, creating a raised appearance around the carved section, or precast from molds.  Molds to cast pieces required very simple designs or the concrete or other material could get caught in intricate designs that allowed the material to gather in an undercut and ruin the design (Relief in clay mold making and mold-making and casting, Vicki Lynn Wilson at Marylhurst College).
Still, it seems not fitting for the great pieces of art to be hidden at the back of a building, seen by few people.  In fact, we discovered them only accidentally.  My friend said she wanted to show me the "stones" from the old high school--I was expecting rocks!--but they were not in front of the middle school that occupies the site of the old school.  As we drove around the corner to turn around, she exclaimed "there they are!"  Hidden behind the arcade walkway, at the back of the building, in the shadows.  Maybe that is symbolic of what we have done with knowledge, citizenship, and industry.  Perhaps we only find these things, develop these abilities, and use these skills if we seek them in the unlikely places.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Cleveland County Courthouse, Rison, Arkansas

 The Cleveland County courthouse, located in the county seat Rison, is the county's "most architecturally significant building (Cleveland County Courthouse, Arkansas Historic Preservation Program).  It was constructed in 1911 for $65,000.
 Built in the Classical Revival/Modern Renassance styles by Theodore M. Sanders, architect, and Monk & Ritchie, Contractors, the building  showcases
...brick quoins, denticulated cornices, Tuscan pillars, and limestone keystones on first floor windows...(Arkansas Historic Preservation Program)
 The clock tower rises 20 feet above the roofline from where it sits on an octagonal dome.  It has four clock faces, and is "surrounded by Tuscan pilasters" which are also featured on the front of the central core of the building (Groshong, D., 2012, Cleveland County Courthouse, Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture).

The courthouse retains much of its historic interior, including ceramic tile and pressed tin ceilings.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wortham Gymnasium in Oak Grove, Arkansas

Oak Grove is a small African American community about 2 miles from Rosston, in Nevada County, Arkansas.  It has quite the history of significance in education for African Americans in Arkansas.
Few, if any, agencies of the New Deal directly affected as many African Americans during the Great Depression as did the WPA. (Gatewood, 2000, p. 126)
Arkansas benefitted, as did African American communities across the United States, with the appointment of Alfred Edgar Smith from Hot Springs, Arkansas as a member of President Roosevelt's so-called "black cabinet" (Gatewood).  Mr. Smith served as assistant and advisor to Harry Hopkins, with a particular focus to advise about the needs and concerns of African Americans in the deep South.  Being from Hot Springs gave Mr. Smith in depth knowledge of the needs of his home state, and a number of educational facilities were constructed across Arkansas--many which still stand and are in use today.
In addition to the large gymnasium, the cafeteria/home economics building remains.  Both were constructed with funds and labor from the Works Progress Administration.  I would not have known the purpose of the home ec building had not a couple who lived across the street come out to visit with me.  While she was not from the community, he had lived there his entire--though young--life and gone to school in the buildings.  One building from the three-building complex constructed with WPA funds has been demolished.
Architectural classification of the concrete foundation, wood/weatherboard walls and asphalt roof was "Late 19th/Early 20th Century American Movements/Craftsman (Story, 1990). 
...tall, single story, wood frame gymnasium...designed in the broad, massive style common to the Works Progress Administration (WPA) commissions of this type and size...locally significant example of a simple but handsomely balanced design which reveals the skill of the Works Progress Administration workers.  (Story, 1990)
Two side sheds flanked the court area, and a stage was at the opposite end from the ticket booth in the entrance.  In 1990, the building and its interior were almost completely intact, and contained the original bleachers, columns, interior strip sheathing, stairwells, and ticket window, all "preserved and in good condition" (Story).

Sadly, that is no longer the case.  The roof collapsed at some point since 1990, and the interior is now significantly damaged.  Additionally, people have stolen items and artifacts from the building according to the couple across the street.  He stated the building had a historic plaque, and one day some folks from Texas stopped and removed it from the wall as a "souvenir."
 A high school building was erected in 1925 with help from the Julius Rosenwald fund.  The principal from 1932-1935, Mr. Vines, received a grant to use WPA labor to construct the home economics building.  When the Rosenwald school burned shortly after, Mr. Vines "persuaded the WPA to build a new administration/classroom building instead, and by 1935, to also building the home economics building (Story).
In 1935, L. W. Johnson became principal, and expanded the curriculum to include 12 grades.
It was at this time also that Johnson himself became aware that there was no gymnasium building locally which was available to blacks...Once again, with the aid of WPA labor, Johnson worked with county superintendent Basil Munn to obtain a new gymnasium for the students of the Oak Grove School District.
The building which resulted was not only a large and impressive structure; at the time, it was only the second gymnasium for blacks in the state of Arkansas and it was the largest gymnasium in the state...the Wortham Gymnasium...stood then as it does now for the endurance, hard work, and vision of the blacks in this area who dreamed on an independent opportunity to educate their own. (Story)
A professional basketball team--archrivals of the Harlem Globetrotters--played the A. M. & N. team from Pine Bluff.  The New York Renaissance Big Five, or the RENS as they were known, played the team in the Oak Grove gymnasium rather than in the college gym in Pine Bluff (Gatewood).
Construction of the gym began in 1938 and was completed by 1939.  It was named in honor of Roger Q. Wortham, Nevada County Judge from 1929-1935, and a supporter of Oak Grove's educational program (Smith & Joshua, 2003). While it was second in the state, it was the first high school gymnasium for black students in Arkansas.

The WPA granted $8,954 for the gym construction and the school district provided $3,680.  Local resident C. C. Bazzelle provided a portion of the lumber for the gym from his stand of "school trees" (Gatewood, p. 128).

The Oak Grove Civic League received a $10,000 preservation grant in 1998 to restore the gym.  It is unknown as to why the project was discontinued, and the League has been discontinued since at least the early part of the 2000s.
Sources:  Gatewood, W. B. (2000). Wortham Gymnasium.  In M. K. Christ and C. H. Slater (eds) Sentinels of History: Reflections on Arkansas Properties on the National Register of Historic Places.  Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press.

Smith, C. C., & Joshua, L. W. (2003). Educating the masses: The unfolding history of black school administrators in Arkansas 1900-2000. Fayetteville, AR: University of Arkansas Press.

Story, K. (1990). Nomination form for Wortham Gymnasium for the National Register of Historic Places.  Retrieved from Arkansas Historic Preservation Project.