How we got where we are today
Note: This history of Brookhaven and Lincoln County was researched and written for The Daily Leader in 1992 by Henry Ware Hobbs, who took a special interest in our rich heritage. A lifelong resident of the area and a noted civic leader, Hobbs died the following year.
Brookhaven is a survivor with charisma. Historically beset with vicissitudes similar to those which resulted in the diminishment or disappearance of formerly flourishing Lincoln County villages and towns such as Beauregard, Bogue Chitto, Cold Springs, Hartman, Nola, Norfield, Sogaard and Wellman, for more than a century Brookhaven has achieved a fairly steady, gentle prosperity for reasons other than its designation as the seat of Lincoln County government.
It occupies a spot in North America between the 31st and 32nd parallels and the 90th and 91st meridians. A part of West Florida governed by England from 1763 to 1779 and then by Spain until ceded to the United States by the Pinckney Treaty of 1795, it was included in the Territory or Mississippi when created in 1798 by the U. S. Congress, which accorded statehood to the area presently named “Mississippi” in 1817.
Situated amid the steep hills and dales covered with dense forests of towering virgin longleaf yellow pines, interspersed occasionally with boggy swamps and stretches of rich bottom land and grassy prairie, political dominion meant next to nothing to the relatively thin population of Choctaw Indians or their use of the land as hunting grounds and for food crop patches until 1805 when, under the Treaty of Mount Dexter, the Choctaw Nation forever yielded their Indians’ federally recognized possessory right to the soil and its usufruct to the federal government.
There then began a gradual settlement for agrarian purposes of the area embraced since 1870 by Lincoln County, but then comprising parts of Lawrence and others of the original 14 Mississippi counties.
Lacking a commercially navigable river nearer than the Pearl, transportation was afforded on the narrow natural waterways by raft and light, shallow draught vessels and on land by pioneer feet and what a pack animal could carry or pull. Trails blazed along naturally drained ridges and through hollows impassable in bad weather became dirt roads. At some of the junctions and intersections a trading post or water mill or meeting house appeared and served as the focal point of a pioneer settlement.
One such was the Old Brook trading post at the intersection of an old Indian blazed trace evolved into a wagon trail and the east prong of the Bogue Chitto River about a mile and a half southeast of present day Brookhaven, the name accorded the site around 1818, as legend has it, to honor the former home of Long Island, New York, of its pioneer owner, the town’s reputed founder. Nearby other enterprising pioneers established a water mill and a small tannery.
In metropolitan aspect there was nothing to distinguish the Ole Brook settlement from the average country crossroads community centers which now enhance the countryside.
Until the late 1850’s, along the line from New Orleans to Jackson, which would ultimately be the center of the Illinois Central main line railroad right of way, there was neither village nor town worthy of the name. By and large, the settlers and their retainers came from Georgia, the Carolinas, Kentucky and Tennessee where their families had been established for many years previous. They were Protestants of English, Scotch-Irish, and African heritage.
The plantation system employed on the lands they used and cleared which made each farm unit virtually self-sustaining. There was no ready market for the millions of board feet of resinous pine cleared in rendering the land parable and no viable means of transporting it to market had there been one.
Few opportunities existed for the circulation of what little money a settler could make from the sale of cotton grown in surplus of his immediate needs for cloth for his dependents made from home manufacture. The grueling transport of cotton to market was by river raft or mule drawn wagon.
During the early 1850’s, the plans of the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railroad Company to create a continuous railroad from New Orleans to Jackson, Tennessee became public knowledge. Had the founder of Old Brook settlement not been hostile to the company’s proposal for a right of way through his ownership, the individuals who saw advantage to the coming of the railroad would not have the opportunity to offer the needed space through the well drained plateau at the approximate center of which the depot building now stands.
The company accepted, designated the site a one of the rail line’s “ten mile stations” – Osyka, Magnolia, Summit, Bogue Chitto and Hazlehurst were others – and the name “Brookhaven” was appropriated for it.
“A Mere Hamlet”
At completion of the railroad in 1858 the town was “a mere hamlet with a dozen wooden houses”. Included was the first place of worship built in 1858.
Between railroad completion and Mississippi’s 1861 secession from the Union, not a universally popular action in the “Piney Woods” section of the state which included Brookhaven, the potential provided by rail access to major market points drew the attention of far sighted individuals with both commercial and cultural vision and there were laid the foundations for timber products manufacture and education at the college level which invigorated the community for many years.
Cotton production increased. Whitworth College opened. Sawmills began operation. Sun dried brick manufacture commenced. Mercantile establishments, saloons, variety stores, harness shops, livery stables, boarding houses opened. Commerce in a real sense began.
The variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds represented by the new settlers of the infant town was far greater than that of the earlier settlers in the county. There began to accumulate as citizens persons of Irish, German, French, Dutch, Jewish, Italian, Scandinavian, Greek, Roman Catholic and Calvinist, Wesleyian and Anglican Protestant backgrounds to form a population which made for a more flavorful, tolerant and resilient community than might have resulted otherwise.
The same variety produced a healthy competitive and stimulating business and social climate through the many years when locally owned enterprise of resident entrepreneurs dominated the commercial scene, and a public spirit which yielded library and hospital facilities long before the state and federal funding now considered concomitant to virtually every public oriented project was dreamed of.
The Civil War and the following Reconstruction period suspended growth and slugged the community into temporary torpor.
Three companies of Brookhaven’s men were organized and went to war. Those remaining attended the nearby collection point and training camp for conscripts for military service and the field hospital for soldiers opened in the newly constructed Whitworth College building, long since replaced with another structure.
On their march from Tennessee to Baton Rouge for the purpose of crippling Confederate supply and communication lines, Grierson’s Raiders visited Brookhaven. Twisted rails and burned bridges, crossties and depots ended effective use of the railroad until minimum repairs were completed in 1867.
By 1874 there had been sufficient recovery from the effect of what was sometimes referred to as “the late unpleasantness” to inspire a visiting newspaper publisher to write:
“I was much impressed with Brookhaven during the sitting of the Press Convention in that city June, 1874. Especially I was attracted to its intelligent, social and hospitable people; by its church and school advantages; its progressive and business-like men, its beautiful and charming women – its social life appealed to me strongly. The citizens extended every hospitality to the representatives of the press, throwing open their doors and entertaining them in their homes, feasting them on the fat of the land, giving them meals a day, which was more than the average editor got at home.”
A spasm of civic energy had been released by the termination of hostilities.
Whitworth College initiated its dedication to leadership in preparatory education and higher learning for females, maintained for the next half century. The town’s first brick building arose in 1865 at the site of the Inez Hotel. The first Roman Catholic Church was burned in 1866, but it was later replaced. The second brick structure, the Storm Building – still in use at the southwest corner of Cherokee Street and Railroad Avenue – was built in 1867.
The catalyst for trade in Brookhaven remained farm products, principally cotton, raised on the surrounding farms for shipment via rail.
The more substantial mercantile enterprises were the “furnishing businesses” or “plantation supply houses”. They extended credit on security or mortgages on farm land, equipment, crops and livestock and supplies virtually all of the farmers’ needs for farm operation and household maintenance except for cotton ginning – and some provided that, usually as a supplementary enterprise. They also served, in effect, as their customers’ banker, broker and sales representative.
Some early commercial bank operations evolved from just such businesses.
Notwithstanding a very slow proliferation of specialty and variety stores and ultimate changes in marketing methods, soon to be demonstrated by the then new McGrath store, the basic “furnishing business” remained a major factor in small town commercial life until the Great Depression.
Then nothing indicated that eventually King Cotton would have to share its throne of economic significance with timber and ultimately abdicate to timber management or reforestation ever would be and other monetary generators.
By the end of the 1870’s, demand in northern markets for southern yellow pine was beginning. Activity in the town included organization of a volunteer fire department and construction of an opera house.
Out in the county, despite the 1883-85 depression, some 27 sawmills had begun operating under southerners with little or no experience in the business and an estimated 10,500 carloads of lumber were being shipped annually.
The dangers inherent in the sawmill business created openings for the medical profession and, since for everyone maimed there is someone to be blamed, there was room for more in the legal profession. The town’ citizenry thus added more professionals than the average.
At the northern and southern edges of town native sons owned and operated planing mills and large payrolls. Money circulated as never before and presented opportunity for a banking operation truly commercial in activity as well as in name.
Brookhaven smirked into uneasy adolescence without anticipation to the tests it was to face.
An 1887 local option controversy stirred a cauldron of political disagreement which scalded the community and extinguished six flourishing saloons. A vigilante organization terrorized the area and brazenly threatened local government authority. The cotton market lost its bottom to depress 1893-94 significantly. Brookhaven’s charter was suspended for five years and its government placed under the direct control of the state governor by legislative act.
While the town grappled for maturity, lumber manufacture was accelerating along the railroad mainline and a network of logging railroads, or dummy lines, which fed the mainline was forming in the county. Bogue Chitto and Norfield throve into substantial size from sawmill activity. Money flowed from ravage of virgin forests without thought that timber growth of Brookhaven was about to begin.
Telephones had become available in 1894, and then electric generation and a waterworks system permitting ice manufacture in 1898.
Mosquito bars were discarded in favor of window and door screen wire, which, it was hoped would inhibit repetition of the 1897 and 1904 yellow fever epidemics. Indoor plumbing arrived.
The turn of the century offered the threshold over which Brookhaven stepped into a little more than a decade of prosperity during which its own population doubled and the population of adjoining Pearlhaven, originally a separate and distinct municipal corporation, added over a thousand residents to the trade area potential.
Despite the 1907-08 economic slump, the Pearl River Lumber Company at Pearlhaven and the East Union Mills on the southern edge of town, they maintained hefty payrolls to produce their combined daily production capacity of 400,000 feet of lumber.
The establishment of the Brookhaven Pressed Brick and Manufacturing Company and the Brookhaven Creamery diversified balance between agriculture and industry. A cotton compress and cotton seed oil mill augmented numerous ginning operations in and out of town.
At Brookhaven the Illinois Central mainline connected with the BP&R Railroad (“The Peavine”) providing passenger and freight service to Nola and Monticello. For shipment up and down the mainline and for Illinois Central’s own use as ballast thousands of carloads of gravel from the then largest known gravel deposit in the world a few miles east moved to the town via the M B & N Railroad. The Mississippi Central Railroad intersected the I.C. at Brookhaven and offered passenger and freight service between Hattiesburg and Natchez.
Whitworth College enrolled more than 200 students, 75 percent of them boarders. Three commercial banks and two newspapers served the community. Building in the business and residential areas boomed. Subdivisions were laid out. The stateliest residences in town of the era were built or rendered stately by renovation. The public library and hospital had their beginnings. Civic and social organizations which today endure were formed.
Camellia Show – The annual Camellia Show is held February 3 & 4, 2007.
Charity Ball – The ball will be held February 10, 2007.
Miss Hospitality Pageant – The pageant will be held in March/April at the Chamber of Commerce
Jr. Miss Pageant – The pageant will be held in March/April at Southwest Community College.
Tour of Homes and Gardens – This annual event highlights homes of distinction. Alternates from a spring tour to a Christmas tour.
Annual Veteran Parade – Held the Saturday before Memorial Day. The parade honors veterans and features military vehicles and a memorial service with special guests and speakers. The Military Museum is open Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Lions Club Beauty Pageant – The annual pageant is held in August.
Exchange Club Fair – Held annually late July/early August one week before the start of school. The Exchange Club sponsors this event which is reminiscent of an old time county fair and has been a tradition since 1952. Initially most of the rides were handmade by club members. Today, operation and improvements continue completely through volunteer efforts and proceeds from the fair benefit youth in the community.
Ole Brook Festival – Mississippi’s Premier Family Festival located in historic downtown Brookhaven is held annually in October. The festival features a street market with over 200 vendors, arts and crafts, food court, youth challenge zone and kid’s zone. Other special events include Art Alley (MS Artisans), Gardening/Farmer’s market, a sanctioned youth talent contest, plus entertainment on Saturday Night.
Taste of the Trust – Brookhaven Trust sponsors this culinary event in the fall to benefit the preservation of history , arts and culture.
Christmas Parade – The annual Christmas Parade will be held the Thursday after Thanksgiving each year from 7:00 p.m. through 9:00 p.m. in downtown Brookhaven. The parade will include Santa Claus, marching bands, performers, special guests and floats.
Brookhaven Little Theatre – Three productions presented each year with an annual membership party.
Ole Brook Wind Symphony – Two concerts presented annually. Anyone who plays an instrument is invited to participate. For more information, contact Susan Jones at 601-835-0471.
Christmas Open House – Retail event held on a Saturday in November.
Chamber of Commerce Annual Banquet – The annual awards banquet is held the third Thursday in November.
PARKS & RECREATION
Bicentennial Park – Main Street – State of the Art new playground equipment. 601-833-3791
Bogue Chitto Water Park – Picnic area, cook-outs, open air pavilion, camp sites, RV’s, 1 & 2 bedroom cabins. For tubing outside park and canoe rental, call these vendor numbers: Ryals 601-684-4948, Dogwood 601-684-9574, Bogue Chitto Choo Choo 601-249-3788, Best 601-551-8823, Uncle Buck’s 601-684-2016, Riverview 601-248-2599. Take South McComb exit, go east 14 miles on Hwy. 98.
Brookhaven Little Theatre – 126 W. Cherokee St. Three productions presented each year with an annual membership party. 601-833-0068.
Brookhaven Recreation Department – 689 Hwy. 51 N. Offers a variety of classes, activities and sports for all ages. Bridge games held weekly. 601-833-3791
Brookhaven Skating Rink – 1246 Calcote Loop. Roller Skating Rink, Arcade and Snack Bar. Serving the community for 37 years. 601-833-2829.
Brookhill on Natchez – 605 Natchez Dr. NE. Private tennis & swim club, playground equipment and walking track. 601-835-4347.
City Park – Hartman Street. Tennis courts, lighted, basketball courts, playground equipment, pavilion. Open daily. 601-833-3791.
Dixie Dancers – Crowley Dance Center – 108b S. Whitworth Ave. Square dancing – 1st & 3rd Thursday. 601-835-2447.
Exchange Club Park – West Congress Street – Baseball fields; Legion Field & W. D. Lofton Field. Picnic and cook-out areas, as well as playground equipment for children. Open Daily. 601-833-5008.
Hansel King Sportsplex – 1134 Belt Line Rd NE (Industrial park Road). Four softball fields, three soccer fields. 601-833-1009 or 601-833-3791.
Kids Kingdom – Honey Creek Lane NE – Unique playground built by the citizens of Brookhaven. Play, picnic, learn and enjoy nature. Open Daily 601-833-3791.
Lake Lincoln State Park – 2573 Sunset Rd. NE – Nature trails, water sports (boating, fishing, skiing and swimming), picnic, cook-outs, camping, RV sites, primitive camping and one cabin.
Magnolia Disc Golf Course – Lake Lincoln State Park – 2573 Sunset Rd. NE – 18 hole disc golf courts, played with a flip of the wrist and not with a golf club. Great fun for everyone. Small entrance fee. Disc available for rent or sale. 6 a.m. until dusk. 601-643-9044.
Ole Brook Wind Symphony – Presents 2 public concerts annually. Anyone who plays an instrument is invited to participate. Susan Jones 601-835-0471.
Public Library – 100 S. Jackson St. – Youth activities planned during the summer. 601-833-3369
Skate Zone & Arcade – 312 N. First St. – Skating rink, arcade & snack bar. 601-833-4205.
3 Flag Trax-Go-Karts – Hwy. 84 By-Pass & East Lincoln Rd. An arcade on site featuring pool tables, air hockey, table tennis, arcade games, children’s play area and mini golf course. 601-833-6969 or 601-833-3402.
West Brook Twin Cinema – Brookway Boulevard. MOVIES! Four selections daily (afternoon movies in the summer months only). 601-833-8888.
AREA GOLF COURSES
Brookhaven Country Club – N. Jackson St. Semi-private club, 18 holes-par 70. Open 7 days a week – must call for tee time. 601-833-6841.
Wolf Hollow Golf Course – Wesson, MS. Approximately 9 miles north of Brookhaven – 18 holes. 601-643-8379.
Fernwood Country Club – Fernwood, MS. Approximately 25 miles south of Brookhaven – 18 holes. 601-684-6983.
Quail Hollow Golf Course – Percy Quin State Park, 2149 Camp Beaver Dr., McComb, MS 39648. 601-684-2903 or 1-800-GOLF-MIS – 18 holes.
Rolling Hills Country Club – 22145 hwy. 51 S., Crystal Springs. Approximately 29 miles north of Brookhaven – 9 holes. 601-892-1621.
WHERE TO GO AND WHAT TO DO
POINTS OF INTEREST
The Foster-Smith Log Cabin – located across from the Chamber of Commerce in Railroad Park. This charming log cabin was built in 1825 by John Foster on an old post road in Copiah County. Its hand-hewn logs and simple furnishings exemplify the pioneer spirit. In 1997 it was moved to its public location in downtown Brookhaven Railroad Park. Contact the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce, P. O. Box 978, Brookhaven, MS 39602 – 601-833-1411 or 1-800-613-4667.
The Coffee Pot (actual coffee pot designed rooftop) – located on South First Street, was built in the 1920’s by J. J. Carruth and operated by his sons, Lester and “Bubba”. This was the first fast food restaurant in the South. In the 1930’s a famous pianist performed on the roof for 24 hours promoting the restaurant.
“Tapestry of Christ” – located in First Baptist Church’s sanctuary. Asem Zeini, a local painting contractor and talented artist, rendered his interpretation of Christ praying in the garden of Gethsemene in an oil painting which was then hand-woven into a tapestry in a small village near Beijing, China. It is 22 feet high and 24 feet wide and, according to the weaver, is the largest ever made in the area. Contact Kathy Smith, First Baptist Church, Monticello Street, Brookhaven, MS 39601. 601-833-5118.
Military Memorial Museum (old railroad depot) South Whitworth Avenue. Photos, artifacts and personal items of area veterans; plus displays of military equipment dating back to WWI. Open Tuesday and Thursday (10 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.) Special tours can be arranged. 601-757-3913.
Historic Whitworth College – 110 S. Jackson St. The college was established in 1858 and is now restored as the Mississippi School of the Arts. It has been designated as a MS landmark and is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 601-823-9256 or 1-866-672-7871.
Homeseeker’s Paradise Sign – located at the intersection of West Cherokee Street and South Whitworth Avenue in downtown Brookhaven. The famous original electric sign which proclaimed this stretched from the second story of the old Cohn building to the second story of Brookhaven Bank. The original sign was donated to the war effort during WWII and was re-erected in its original site in 1996.
Holland Museum – Private collection of Robert D. Holland. Located in a replica of an old country store with post and beam construction, treated log siding and a red metal roof. Included in the collection are items used in yesteryear. Items included are hand tools, farm hand tools, Civil War guns, swords, WWI items and early shell loading equipment. For an appointment, call 601-835-0612.
Uzebek Museum – “Display of crafts, painting, clothes and cultural artifacts from Uzbekistan in my home. Also on display are items from foreign exchange students. This former republic of the Soviet Union is very special to me after four visits and the loss of my son while teaching at the University of Bukhara in 1995,” stated Rev. W. A. Matthews. Call 601-833-8435 for an appointment.
Old Saron Cemetery – site of the original Bogue Chitto Settlement. First settlers in the area. One of the gravesites is that of Captain William Smith, who fought in the War of 1812. Contact the Brookhaven-Lincoln County Chamber of Commerce, P. O. Box 978, Brookhaven, MS 39602 – 601-833-1411 or 1-800-613-4667.
Hank Williams, Sr. Museum – located in the private home of Benton Case whose collection includes all of Hank, Sr. lp’s and his extensive personal collection of videos, memorabilia and photographs. Also personal recollections from Mr. Case. If you’re lucky, he’ll probably get his guitar and sing you a tune. By appointment only. 410 South Whitworth Avenue, Brookhaven, MS 39601. 601-833-5138.