One of my earliest memories, as a child growing up in Greenwood, was a set of concrete steps on an empty lot, southwest corner of Grand Boulevard and Monroe Avenue. I was fascinated by those steps, the incongruity and loneliness of one small part of a house left behind, a tangible memory of something that once was and now wasn’t. Sara and I drove by there almost daily, as it was such a busy intersection, and I would beg her to pull the Plymouth over and let me out to sit on the steps. Being the agreeable mother that she was, we did that a lot. Passersby hurrying down the Boulevard must have wondered about us, the lovely young mother in a stylish dress and the dark-haired, rumpled little girl, usually in scuffed-up cowboy boots and jeans. We’d just sit and talk about the house that had once stood there and the people who lived there and the memories they must have carried off somewhere else. I suppose this was the beginning of my long fascination with lost mansions and hidden treasures and the slow march of time which eventually erases all traces of so many beloved structures.

I never dreamed I would be the instigator of a house’s destruction, even for such a good cause as a family cabin in the Holmes County woods. I have watched 1212 Strong Avenue, the Evans bungalow, quietly vanish for almost a year now, and last week wrote the final chapter of that emotionally challenging tale. We salvaged every brick possible, reclaimed acres of lumber and carried away the capstones and lintels and windows and doors from another time. Work has begun on that Holmes County hillside, an outline of the new cabin born from the old bungalow. That’s exciting, but I can’t shake the sadness of seeing an empty lot where there was once so much life and laughter and hope.


The steps were the last to go, which seems ironic in light of those talks Sara and I had on the Grand Boulevard steps so many years ago. I made several trips back to Strong Avenue while waiting for the bulldozers to come, and I tried to hear the voices of the children who played there on November days in the 1920s.


What is it about a collection of bricks and mortar and porches and attics and windows that makes a house memorable? Piled up in our shed at West, they don’t look like much, just random bits of building material permeated by a faint whiff of age and decay. But when our builders refinish the lumber and slot the bricks into place, all that “stuff” will magically become our home, our children and grandchildren’s home, a place that, I pray, will be filled for generations with joy and love and devotion to family. Just as it was on Strong Avenue, when Howard and Jessie built a home for their three little girls.




Just above, there are those steps again. They were too heavy to carry to West, and I deeply regret that. The concrete downspout was saved, and it will be worked into the new porch. Maybe I’ll pull a hose out and make the porch a swimming pool one day, just as Jessie did for her kids.

So what happens to discarded steps? This is bordering on silly, but I hope they went straight to Step Heaven, where Jessie reclaimed them and gathered her girls around her once again. After almost a century, they’ll be littered with dolls and marked up with chalk and the place of jacks games and hopscotch and dreams. That would make all of this worthwhile.





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Going, going……almost gone.


As the 6th anniversary of Sara’s death approaches, the poignancy of watching the place of her first memories disappear is often overwhelming. It’s taken more than 8 months, starting with the careful disconnection of light fixtures back on a bitter January morning, continuing through a spring that brought almost unbearable sadness for our family and on into the never-ending weeks of summer, with its relentless sunshine and only a vague recollection of rain showers. We’re down to just days now, as floorboards come up and foundation dirt blows about in the hot wind for the first time in almost a century. I would love to find a bit of Sara or her sisters in that dirt, maybe a long-lost doll or a tiny playhouse dresser or even an old leather shoe. Chances are slim, I realize, but that would be such a final gift from a house that’s given so much.

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This week, our friend, Miles, who has treated this old house like he would his own, will start pulling down the front porch bricks. At some point, he’ll carry away the very ones underneath Mamie, Tiny and Sara in this Christmas, 1923 photo. Three little girls, under the watchful eyes of their great-grandmother, mother and grandmother, happy years ahead for all of them, with another five or so to be spent in this very bungalow. They’re all gone now, all missed, none more so than Sara, who lived an eventful, memorable life that no one could have ever imagined on that December day.

I think these six ladies would like what’s going to soon be rising in the woods of Holmes County. Bigma and Bama, because it will be close to their own homestead at Durant; Jessie, because the “new” house will echo the lines of the Greenwood bungalow; Mamie, because the whole project is just nutty and outrageous and the kind of thing that would make her laugh; Tiny, because she loved nature and the countryside and the way houses could fit into a special space; and Sara, because the stories she told us of life on Strong Avenue will now be passed down to generations to come.

Almost gone……almost ready to be reborn.

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Moving Memories

Mamie, Tiny and Sara on the bungalow front steps, circa 1926

Mamie, Tiny and Sara on the bungalow front steps, circa 1926

Since it’s too hot to breathe outside, perhaps this is a good day to stay in and post an update on the bungalow demolition. I’m grateful for air conditioning and my study’s ceiling fans, luxuries which Jessie didn’t have when she likely sent these three out into a steamy Greenwood summer day, 1926, telling them to play paper dolls on the porch or hopscotch on the sidewalk. I wonder if she was in the kitchen with Bama, baking teacakes and fixing the girls lemonade, or perhaps she had carved out a bit of time just for herself, to read or listen to her favorite radio shows. And who knows why Sara is clutching a pillow; in most of this era’s pictures, she’s wagging around a raggedy doll or a book. Maybe this was a foreshadow of her adult years, when her preferred spot was her big bed, whether she was making bottle dolls or mixing up cake batter or writing a story for the newspaper. I’ve never known anyone who could accomplish as much in a semi-recumbent position.

1212 Strong Avenue in early July, 2015, just a shell now.

1212 Strong Avenue in early July, 2015, just a shell now.

Back to the bungalow: Day by day, it vanishes from Strong Avenue, moving brick by brick and beam by beam out to Holmes County. The roof is about 1/3 gone, revealing attic rafters and joists that were fashioned by carpenters nearly a century ago. Their craftsmanship continues to amaze us as each layer of the house peels away. The chimney is coming down this week, leaving dark mortar and soot in the high grass of the lot. There’s not much left to deconstruct, mainly the porch bricks and the floors, and then we’ll be ready to call in the bulldozers to finish it off. That will be a tough day, and one when I will once again wonder, as I do so many days, whether I have properly honored my grandparents in this crazy venture.

The bungalow's front door, stacked in the shed at "West of West."

The bungalow’s front door, stacked in the shed at “West of West.”

Our farm shed is packed with doors and windows and sash weights and lintels and molding now; along the fence are 6000+ bricks, looking as if they emerged from the oven just last week. Architectural drawings cover our dining room table, plans for that old wood and those perfect bricks and generations of memories to be reshaped into a “home in the woods” for our children and grandchildren and their children and grandchildren.

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I’ve dealt with old houses all over Mississippi, everything from elegant to ruined, for a very long time. Some are saturated with the spirits of those who built them and loved them, a very palpable presence that is in no way frightening or unnatural. The bungalow, happily, is one of those houses. And I’m delighted to say that whatever Evans family influence marked it as a place of joy in Greenwood has survived the piece-by-piece trip out to West. There’s just nothing like turning a doorknob which your mother turned with little sticky fingers in 1925 or looking through the window which your great-grandmother raised to call the girls in for teacakes. The circle is, for sure,  unbroken.

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Spring Promises

Sara on the bungalow porch, circa 1924. Probably being held by her grandmother, Bama.

Sara on the bungalow porch, circa 1923. Probably being held by her grandmother, Bama.

Another April Fool’s Day rolls around, bringing the promise of spring once again with the trees and the flowers just ready to burst. It’s safe to say that the same long-awaited promise of warm weather and laid-back days was just the same in 1921 as it is today. Sara loved her birthday, loved the intense color of it, the Easter bunnies and the dyed eggs, the smells and the tastes of early spring, even the gentle absurdity of being born on a day when pranksters have free reign. This would be her 94th, as hard as that is to believe. In her mind, I believe she was always about 8.

In that picture up there, she’s being held up on the sturdy brick column of the Strong Avenue bungalow’s porch. Those hands probably belong to Bama, Sara’s grandmother, who didn’t want to be evident in the picture for some reason. Bama was shy, according to Sara, and never really felt at home in Greenwood after a lifetime in Holmes County. But she shared that charming house on Strong Avenue with Sara, Mamie, Tiny, Howard and Jessie, claiming her own bedroom in the back. Something tells me she still didn’t have much privacy.

Me and Henry Miller, aged 2, Sara's first great-grandson. Same bungalow, same column, 91 years later.

Me and Henry Miller, aged 2, Sara’s first great-grandson. Same bungalow, same column, 92 years later.

The bungalow is vanishing, board by board and brick by brick. Henry has explored it with all the curiosity and enthusiasm of a 2-year-old boy. He doesn’t yet understand the legacy of the 2-year-old girl who stood on that same column, with her own grandmother, all those many years ago. But someday he will. All our grandchildren will know that the cabin in the Holmes County woods where they will play and explore and someday bring their own children is the recreated bungalow, a gift from a long line of folks they never knew.

Happy Birthday to Sara on this April Fool’s Day, 2015. I know she wouldn’t mind that we’re giving her great-grandchildren the gift of time and tradition. In fact, I think she’d be saying “Hurry up! They won’t be little forever!”

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Miss Lizzie’s Library

Jessie West Evans with her first daughter, Jessie ("Tiny), on the steps of the Greenwood Leflore Public Library.

Jessie West Evans with her first daughter, Jessie (“Tiny), on the steps of the Greenwood Leflore Public Library.

Continuing our exploration of Greenwood’s historic architecture through Sara’s photo collection, we’ll look at a building that meant the world to three generations of this family. On a bright Sunday morning, just after church at First Methodist, Jessie proudly props Tiny up on the steps outside of the Greenwood Leflore Public Library. Tiny was born in the spring of 1918 and appears to be about 8 or 9 months old; other photos taken that day show the trees bare and everyone in dark clothing, so it’s likely in November or December of 1918. At that time, the Evanses were living right across West Washington from the library, so this lovely public building was a logical site for Howard to pose the ladies in his life for a few snapshots.

Margaret Sproles Chavis Alexander ("Bigma"), Theodorene Chavis West ("Bama"), Roy Stott, Jr. ("Buddy") and Rena Stott ("Rawa").

Margaret Sproles Chavis Alexander (“Bigma”), Theodorene Chavis West (“Bama”), Roy Stott, Jr. (“Buddy”) and Rena Stott (“Rawa”).

That date means that Jessie, Tiny and their family were posing by a practically new building, finished in 1914. This inspiring dark brick structure was the pride of Greenwood, a testament to the Henderson family and a sign of culture and progress in a place that had been little more than a rough-and-tumble riverboat landing just a few decades prior. Here’s how it came to be:

Lizzie George Henderson with her 1912 Detroit Electric car. The original east facade of the library is seen behind her.

Lizzie George Henderson with her 1912 Detroit Electric car. The original east facade of the library is seen behind her.

Lizzie George Henderson was the youngest child of Carrollton’s Senator J.Z. George; she grew up at Cotesworth surrounded by servants and books. When she married Dr. T. R. Henderson, she moved down to Greenwood and set about remaking her adopted town in her own image. Miss Lizzie was a force to be reckoned with: National president of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (at a time when “Lost Cause” organizations wielded enormous clout), local founder and president of the Greenwood Woman’s Club, pillar of the Baptist Church, etc., etc. When this fierce lady set her mind on a project and lined up her Woman’s Club  and church buddies behind it, it was going to happen. Their husbands learned to smile, nod appreciatively, hand over their wallets and get out of the way.

The Hendersons lived in an enormous two-story white house on the northwest corner of West Washington and Cotton streets. And they owned pretty much all of the real estate within walking distance around them. In 1910, they donated most of a city block for a new First Baptist Church and funded much of the construction personally (more on First Baptist Church and its unfortunate demolition in posts to come). Just across Henderson Street (wonder who that was named for?), Lizzie oversaw the construction of the Confederate Memorial Building in 1912. She had seen a similar tribute in Richmond, Virginia, and was not about to have Greenwood overshadowed in commitment to the men in grey. She wanted a Memorial Building, she had the clout and the money, and Greenwood watched the nation’s second CMB rise across from the church.

A laughing Lizzie George Henderson, middle front row, on the steps of her father's home, Cotesworth. Pictures of Miss Lizzie smiling are very rare.

A laughing Lizzie George Henderson, middle front row, on the steps of her father’s home, Cotesworth. Pictures of Miss Lizzie smiling are very rare.

Now there was a large lot left behind the Henderson home and its outbuildings. Miss Lizzie looked around, noticed that the only access to books was a tiny lending library in a riverfront general store, and decreed that Greenwood’s next big project would be a Carnegie Library. Pity the Carnegie Foundation. This philanthropic arm of Andrew Carnegie’s estate had built libraries all over America, but it’s a sure bet they had never encountered anyone quite like Lizzie George Henderson. She charmed them right out of $10,000, promising to have the City of Greenwood match that amount. When the city could only come up with $8900, Dr. Henderson pulled out his checkbook and made up the difference. In the fall of 1914, the arched doors of the library opened to eager readers, who found almost 1000 books already on the shelves. And where had the books come from? Lizzie sent her oldest brother, Cot George, up Valley Hill to Carrollton in a wagon and instructed him to pull as many books as he could off the shelves of the Cotesworth Library.

Cotesworth Library around 1920

Cotesworth Library around 1920

Cotesworth Library today

Cotesworth Library today

Miss Lizzie’s library was an enduring gift to Greenwood and to Sara’s family. Here is the National Register Nomination description of the 1914 building and its 1954 addition: “Two-story on raised basement, four-by-six bay, L-shaped brick structure possessing a picturesque silhouette of multiple steep-sided gables, chimney stacks, and distinctive window treatment, all indicative of the Jacobethan mode. Stone pointed arches with deeply splayed reveals form entry pavilions on the south and west elevation with shaped parapets above. Windows are of the mullion type, usually in triple casement-type units, with small rectangular panes, and some having transoms. Chimney stacks are tall and grouped in paired shafts or appear singly. Brickwork is in the Flemish bond pattern.”

Translation: This is one stunning public building. And what those dry descriptions don’t capture is the warm and welcoming environment which was always a characteristic of this library. Jessie and her children spent hours and hours there, poring through picture books and the latest novels and leafing through magazines, instilling in those children a love of reading which stayed with all five of them through life. It was my favorite destination, better even than the Paramount or the City Pool, because I could lose myself in all those endless shelves of adventure and science and mystery, overseen by the kind Dorothy Hayes. I don’t know for sure if Bigma and Bama availed themselves of its treasures, but I know my Great-uncle Roy Stott walked there almost every single day after his retirement from Greenwood Utilities, carrying a grocery bag full of westerns home to read in his big overstuffed chair at 115 East Washington.

The old library celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, but the cake and accolades were found across the street in the 1979 building, not in the sadly neglected Carnegie building. It’s been rarely used in the past 36 years and stands waiting for a purpose and for life to pour back through those wonderful doors. Lallah Walker Lewis’ murals, which watched over the children’s room from 1937 until just a few years ago, are restored and crated up in the courthouse, just waiting to be put back over those casement windows.

Lallah Walker Lewis murals, south wall.

Lallah Walker Lewis murals, south wall.

Lallah Walker Lewis murals, north wall.

Lallah Walker Lewis murals, north wall.

I think of my grandmother, Jessie, and Bama and Bigma when I ride by the library, trying to picture them posing with those small children on that 1918 Sunday. I suspect that these women, who grew up in rural Holmes County with very limited access to books, much less outstanding architecture, would have one question for us as a community: “How did you let this happen?” And we don’t even want to imagine what Miss Lizzie would have to say. I hope to never, never run into her ghost in that library.

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Crisco Snow

Buckeye Cottonseed Oil Mill in a ~ 1920 snow.

Buckeye Cottonseed Oil Mill in a ~ 1920 snow.

As the slow, steady progress of bungalow demolition and repurposing continues, I thought I might backtrack through daughterofthedelta and provide more photos on some of the Greenwood places that meant so much to Sara. And since we’ve just been treated to a lovely “snow event” that frosted our trees and entertained our children before gracefully melting away, this image from 1919 or 1920 seemed timely. So let’s reach back a full century and explore what we’re fortunate enough to be viewing.

These icy buildings are part of the Buckeye Cottonseed Oil Mill, located just west of today’s Highway 49/82 bypass and the Hinman Bridge over the Yazoo. The dark structures looming on the left are the massive cylindrical tanks which stored the seed; they still stand out there today. A system of conveyor belts connect the tanks to storage sheds; those are gone, as are most of the old brick buildings and various functional structures which were scattered around the large complex. Also gone (but relocated to Strong Avenue) is the large frame Queen Anne home which sat in the shadow of those ominous tanks and housed the Buckeye’s manager and his family. At the time of the snowstorm, that manager was my grandfather, Howard Evans. He lived in this lovely rambling home with my grandmother, Jessie, my great-grandmother (“Bama”) and my aunts, Jessye (“Tiny”) and Mary Olive (“Mamie”).

Mamie and Tiny in the Buckeye snow.

Mamie and Tiny in the Buckeye snow.

These were the pre-Sara days, happy years on the very far western edge of Greenwood, separated from town by cotton fields and dirt roads. The rumble and vibration of the oil mill machinery must have been a constant presence in the lives of the Evans family, but it symbolized a steady job and a certain status in the community. According to Sara, my grandmother was inordinately proud that her handsome young husband was the manager of such a large and vital enterprise.

Buckeye employees enjoying the snow; names unknown.

Buckeye employees enjoying the snow; names unknown.

Howard oversaw the daily operations of one of Greenwood’s largest employers, quite a responsibility for a man still in his 20s. And what exactly was the Buckeye? Well, if you grew up in Greenwood in that day or mine, the Buckeye and Planters Oil Mill were as much a part of the landscape as cotton gins and the courthouse. The Buckeye dated back to the late 1800s, when farmers would contract with the oil mill to take their ginned seed off their hands. It was a necessary industry, but not one that would set the woods on fire. To understand the growth of the cottonseed oil business, we’ve got to go way up to Cincinnati, Ohio. Half-a-century before this snowstorm, soap maker James Gamble and his brother-in-law, candle maker William Proctor, teamed up to compete with others in those businesses in southern Ohio. They did all right for themselves, growing into a little company that they called Proctor and Gamble.

P&G, as it came to be known, was at war with the meatpacking industry by the 1890s, fighting for lard and tallow to use in its household products. Their chemists set to work looking for a substitute, and in 1907, a German immigrant named E.C. Kayser figured out how to throw hydrogen atoms into a cottonseed oil fatty acid chain. OK, enough science, cut to the chase: Herr Kayser had invented Crisco (CRYstalized Cottonseed Oil).

America’s housewives went nuts, with a little help from P&G’s marketing department. What young mother in 1910 would not prefer the ease and consistency of snowy-white Crisco, sealed in a convenient can, to the messiness of hog tallow? Demand went through the roof and cottonseed oil was suddenly solid gold. Proctor & Gamble looked south to the cotton belt states and quickly bought up eight Mississippi operations. Greenwood’s plant was deemed “The Buckeye” in homage to the Buckeye State, Ohio. And the seed rolled in from the fields and tumbled down conveyor belts which stretched out to the Yazoo River and was dumped into vast tanks and magically transformed into cottonseed oil. And Howard Evans made sure it headed off to the factories of his boss, Proctor & Gamble, and went home each night to the white house at the edge of his empire.

The Buckeye house, Sara's first home. Now located at 1216 Strong Avenue.

The Buckeye house, Sara’s first home. Now located at 1304 Strong Avenue.

The old house has long since been moved to Strong Avenue, ironically just two doors down from the bungalow that is now being dismantled. The Buckeye is no longer the Buckeye and has been through numerous name changes and owners in the century since these photos were made. But it is still a magical place to me, a reminder of my grandparents in their youth and all the promise and dreams that lay ahead of them. When I was small, Sara would tell me that the star on top of one of the Buckeye’s buildings, lit at Christmas, was placed there by her father. It wasn’t, I’m sure, but it made for a nice story and sealed this jumble of mysterious structures in my mind as special and to be revered. I hope it’s the same for others who grew up in “Buckeye families.”

Three of Howard's men at the Buckeye, circa 1920. Names unknown.

Three of Howard’s men at the Buckeye, circa 1920. Names unknown.

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The Beginning of the End and the End of the Beginning

IMG_0003This looks like a happy day at 1212 Strong Avenue, doesn’t it? Sara, Tiny and Mamie are all dolled up in their best winter coats, hats, leggings and boots, probably on a damp winter’s day much like today, maybe 1926. My guess would be that Sara is 5, Tiny is 8, Mamie is 6. Whoever is behind the camera has no trouble getting a smile from these three, so I suspect it’s their father. Howard Evans, Sr.,built this house, a sturdy, roomy bungalow, with these three girls and their mother in mind. It was a house full of dolls and paper dolls and playhouses and music and books and laughter and probably a few hair-pulling, eye-scratching tussles between these angelic little ladies. It was very much a home and the place where, at least for Sara, the memories started. She tells us in her memoir that this was the happiest place for the Evans family, and though that may be the rose-colored recollections which we all have of our earliest years, there’s some truth there. A year or so later, Howard, Jr., would arrive, and that chapter of the Evans story in Greenwood would continue until 1929. That year, the house was sold, the Jackson adventure began, and a different family came back to Greenwood in 1932, knowing 1212 Strong Avenue only as someone else’s home for all the decades to come.

1212 Strong Avenue, 115 East Washington, 207 Walthall: All of these houses, never home to me, but as much a part of my childhood memories as our own house at 409 East Adams. My mother was a storyteller, a keeper of legends and a weaver of dreams, who filled my days with tales of an earlier time in those houses, so much so that I could walk through them in my mind and hear Mamie’s giggles and Tiny’s lectures to her younger sisters and my grandmother’s calls out the back door, reeling them in at dusk or offering wood stove tea cakes. I loved those old houses as much as my own and I still consider them a part of this family, even though the Strong Avenue bungalow has been another family’s for 86 years and the last Stott left 115 East Washington almost fifty years ago. Time flies, true, but it leaves strands of attachment in its wake, and I have a bad habit of getting tangled in those strands.

photo-25Look again at the picture above. The girls are standing in front of the bungalow’s front screen door, a wooden frame just a few years old with an elaborate scrollwork mesh protecting the screen. In a later life, when the big wraparound porch was enclosed, that door was moved to the new entrance. It’s still there, though curled and loose. The whole house is still there, somewhat worse for wear and surrounded by houses whose owners are not too concerned with history or dignity or the echoes of little girls long gone. The neighborhood, like so many in Greenwood, is struggling to survive, but 1212 will not. Not in its 93-year-old form.

My contractor came today, armed with crowbars and saws and hammers. He will take the bungalow apart, carefully crating up the big windows and the door frames and the old doorknobs and the mantle and the bookshelves. Then he’ll pull the bricks off and load it all up on a trailer, bound for Holmes County. There it will all magically come back together, not as a bungalow, but as a cabin for Jessie’s 4th granddaughter (that’s me!) and her grand-son-in-law and her great-grandchildren and her great-great-grandchildren and, hopefully, for generations to come that none of us will ever know.

We’re losing a big piece of our Greenwood history, beginning today. But we’re taking Jessie home, in a sense, back to Holmes County. And with her will come Sara and Tiny and  Mamie and Howard, Sr., and Howard, Jr., at least in memory and in spirit. That’s the beauty of an old house and of family: If you never forget, it’s never gone.

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