By David A. Farrell, Item Staff Writer
The Picayune Item
Picayune Mayor Ed Pinero, Jr., said that most citizens don’t realize it, but Picayune has a “magnificent green space” almost geographically in the center of the city that he says, as much of as possible, should be preserved. It is just to the west of Roseland Park Community.
“We have not just one, but two major creeks that flow through the city, and although we have had problems with flooding, those green spaces should be preserved,” said Pinero.
“How many cities do you know of that have two major creeks coming together and joining to form one big creek that flows into another river and then into the Gulf,” said Pinero.
What he referred to was East and West Hobolochitto creeks, which drain the Pearl River County watershed. Both flow into Picayune and merge behind the Hermitage in Northwest Picayune to form the Hobolochitto Creek, which flows into the Pearl River. That river then flows into the Gulf of Mexico.
The history of Picayune is intertwined with the two creeks. Local historians say that originally there was an Indian village on the bluff where today sits the Hermitage, and circa 1800, Scotsman Steven Jarrell purchased the land from Chief A’bolo, after whom the creeks were named (the name means “A’bolo’s stream”), and established a trading post there. The spot historically is ground zero for Picayune.
The creeks also originally gave the hamlet its name, Hobolochitto, which can be found on early maps, but the city was later renamed Picayune by Eliza Jane Pointevant Nicholson, who was reared at the Hermitage and later became owner of a forerunner of the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. Picayune was named after the newspaper; Nicholson after her second husband.
She always called the spot “that place in Mississippi with the big-sounding Indian name.”
Jarrell reportedly asked Chief A’bolo why the Indians had settled at the confluence of the East and West Hobolochitto creeks, and he told Jarrell because of the beauty of the place and because spirits hover over the confluence of beautiful streams.
Glimpses of that beauty can still be caught if one slowly makes his way down the streams.
Moses Cook came through with Gen. Andrew Jackson’s army on the way to the Battle of New Orleans. He was a quartermaster in Jackson’s army and stopped by Jarrell’s trading posts to buy supplies for the army. He, too, like the Indians, fell in love with the spot, and vowed to return and purchase it after the War of 1812, and he did, beginning construction on what would later become the Hermitage. His grave is still visible on Twisted Oaks Drive in Northwest Picayune.
The Picayune area, and the Hermitage area, were also once a portion of a free nation, the Republic of West Florida, which sported a blue flag and large lone star, the first one, way before the one for Texas.
“There is so much history wrapped up in these creeks and Picayune and this area, that we must find some way to begin preserving as much of it as possible,” said Pinero,. He said that Friends of Boley, a local organization formed a couple of years ago specifically to cleanup the creeks, is doing a wonderful job in trying to renew the creeks, and he added that the city had pursued several avenues suggested by Item managing editor Will Sullivan.
Locals shorten the creeks’ name to “Boley.” Friends of Boley have cleared portions of West Boley to make it passable to canoes, but so far have not tackled East Boley, which remains very wild. Deer tracks are plentiful along both streams.
Pinero also said that the Huey Stockstill family had donated a large acreage abutting the creek to the city as perpetually dedicated to green space. He urged other residents to make donations and come forward with ideas.
“The city has been exploring, and will continue to explore, ways to purchase through grants, or otherwise, as much of the land abutting the creeks as possible. One is overwhelmed when you realize what we have and the potential of this resource,” said Pinero.
Some landowners don’t want it developed, but there are some that are pushing to save as much as possible and open up the streams for public use by clearing the fallen timber that blocks the creeks.
“Proper development and preservation will increase property values,” said Pinero.
Under state law, the streams are classified as navigable and are open for public uses, such as boating and fishing. However, property along the creeks is private and one must have permission to go on the land.
Once you couldn’t float the creeks and fish, but because of the late Mansfield Downs and M.O. Pigott, who with the help of a pair of local legislators, the late Lonnie Smith and Martin T. Smith, who is currently Poplarville city board attorney and attorney for Pearl River Community College board, an open streams bill was passed that opened up small streams throughout Mississippi for recreation.