Main Street history committee to designate historic landmarks

Published 2:54 pm Friday, March 5, 2010

Did you know that where Galiano’s is now located, 101 North Main Street, was once a business known as Stovall’s Drug Store, complete with an authentic soda counter, featuring cherry cokes, milkshakes and ice cream floats straight out of the 1930s, 40s and 50s? Ben Griffin, the founder of Griffin’s Rexall, also had a drug store there.

Did you also know that right beside it, at 105 North Main, at what is now the law offices of  Williams,  Smith  and Stockstill, were located the offices of what would later be known as Commercial Printing Co. and the Picayune Item, both owned by Jess Furr.

Furr bought the Item in 1916 and established the printing company inside the Item.

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Furr in 1944 sold the Item to Chance Cole and the printing business to Joe Whatley, who named the printing operation Commercial Printing.

Commercial Printing Co. and the Picayune Item are two of the oldest continuously operated businesses in Picayune, Commercial Printing now located at 301 West Canal, and the Item at 17 Richardson-Ozona Road.

The Item in 1969, under the ownership of Charles Nutter, moved out of the Main Street location and over to new quarters on Curran Avenue, and then later to its current location.

The companies were established at the North Main Street address as early as 1916 when Furr paid $250 for the Item. It would cost you millions today to buy the Item.

The Furr family tells the story that Jess Furr went to a loan officer at the old Bank of Picayune, located where Harrison Financial is now, and requested a $250 loan from the bank to purchase the Item.

The bank officer wrote out the check and then asked Furr what he planned to do with the money before handing him the check. “Purchase the Item,” said Furr. Replied the officer, while tearing up the check: “Well if ELF. Tate can’t make it go, neither can you.” Furr then borrowed the money from his brother.

Tate founded both the Picayune Item and the Bank of Picayune in 1904. The Bank of Picayune later merged with Hancock Bank.

Or did you know that where the First National Bank is now located at 121 East Canal Street is where in early Picayune Annie Megehee had her home, complete with flower beds in her front yard and a pasture for her cows to roam in the backyard, now First National’s parking lot.

These are just a few of the many historical facts you will know about the historic downtown Picayune business district as Picayune Main Street’s historical committee gets its program off the ground for identifying and elucidating with historical plaques the history of each property and business.

For instance, did you also know that at one time Picayune had two movie theaters in the downtown district, the Ritz and the Pic.

Don Wicks, who heads the committee, says that when the plaques with each business’ history is posted on the buildings with the permission of the owners, the committee plans to print brochures identifying the spots, and then citizens will be able to take a walking history tour of the downtown district and learn how their city grew and matured, while getting a little exercise along the way.

Who knows, someday, there might be guided tours in a horse-and-buggy, just like it’s done in old New Orleans. These are just some projects the historical committee is discussing and hoping to see some day come to fruition.

“It will take years to get it all together,” says Wicks, “but you have to take that first step, and that is what we are doing.”

Committee member Dr. James Schrock told fellow board members  at their Wednesday meeting in the museum of the train depot on Harvey Avenue that “we need to get the first plaque up as quick as possible, so we will have something definite to show the people who live and work and visit the downtown district what we are trying to accomplish.”

They have targeted McDonald’s Funeral Home as the business on which to “nail” that first plaque. The historic building that the Funeral Home occupies was constructed in 1917 by Lamont Rowlands and L.O. Crosby, Sr., to house their families as they organized and established the Goodyear Yellow Timber Co. that resulted in the rapid growth of Picayune in the late teens and 1920s.

Picayune’s population ballooned to more than 5,000 shortly after the establishment of the big timber mill here.

The historical committee is working off Sanborne maps developed during the 1920s for the insurance industry. The maps show the location of lots, buildings and businesses in the 1920s. The committee also will rely on input from business owners and old-timers who can still remember where some of the businesses and homes were located, and their history.

Several years ago the city established an historical district outlining the original town, and the historical committee is using those maps to spot the businesses and buildings and homes that need to be singled out for recognition. Wicks said there are no restrictions in the business district applying to businesses participating in the program. “The district is just a delineation so we can zero in on what area is most important,” said Wicks.

Wicks said that anyone having information concerning the history of the downtown district can contact the committee at 601-799-3070, or they can attend the committee’s meeting at 10 a.m. each Wednesday at the train depot museum.

The Sanborne maps were given to the committee by Lynn Crosby Gammill of Hattiesburg, the daughter of the late L.O. Crosby, Jr.

Members of the historical committee are Wicks, the chairman; Schrock, co-chair Johnny Lou Ingram, David Stockstill, Beverly Creel, Ruth Walker, Dan and Josephine Megehee, Linda Tufaro, Brig. Gen. John Hawkins Napier III and Osmond Crosby, son of the late L.O. Crosby, Jr.

Interesting information that the committee has gleaned so far, and buildings they plan to highlight, include:

— The old C&R Store. It was built around 1926 by Theodore Schaller. It was a steel and brick building and was owned by Crosby and Rowland and was used as a commissary store for employees at the mill. It was a complete mercantile store. The store was sold in the 1950s to Winn-Dixie, which established probably the first modern supermarket in Picayune. Winn-Dixie later relocated and the building was later used as headquarters for the Ford car dealership, and later Jack Diamond established a wedding-gown cleaning and storage operation there that catered to customers worldwide. The building right now is vacant.

— The McDonald Funeral Home building was acquired by the McDonalds in 1962 for use as a funeral home. The funeral home is one of the oldest continuously operated businesses in Picayune and is probably the oldest continuously operated business by one family in the city. The building was originally constructed in 1917 by Rowlands and Crosby and used as a home for their families as they got settled in Picayune and was constructing the huge Goodyear Yellow Pine mill in order to harvest the virgin timber throughout Pearl River County. The structure was later purchased and used as a teachers home for teachers teaching in the Picayune school system. At one time, it was operated under the business name of the Club House Hotel.

— Where Galiano’s is now located was for decades Stovall’s Drug Store. The building was constructed in 1907 as a Moses Cook Masonic Lodge. The first floor was occupied later by a Jitney Jungle grocery, and after it moved, it became Stovall’s. Upstairs was Dr.. J. Ira Woodard’s medical office. The Bell Telephone exchange was once located on the second floor, too. A 1922 tornado tore off the top floor of the building. Later Ben Griffin purchased the building from Stovall. The building is currently owned by Bill Edwards and David Hemeter. The second floor now is rented out as a penthouse.

— The First National Bank property has some of the most colorful history. It was first the site of the home of Annie Megehee, who kept her cows in her backyard. Later the site was occupied by an appliance store, Helen’s Gift Shop, Hickman’s Drugs, Stewart and Tate Insurance, and other businesses, including law offices. The First National Bank was founded in 1947 by S.G. Thigpen, Sr., and his business friends, and gradually accumulated the property surrounding the original location. The original store fronts are still behind the new facade that the bank erected, making a splendid display of replicating a French quarter look.

While a lot of the history of the downtown district is not known by local residents and newly relocated families, it will be, when the committee completes its project. However, Wicks said it could take several years before the project arrives at a point where the committee could term it successful.

Some committee members also want “Tate row” identified and designated. The Tates were a prominent family that also was involved in the founding and growth of Picayune. A suggestion has been made to try and find an old “mill house” that might be restored and used as an example of how most of the Crosby mill workers lived here in the early part of the 20th century when the virgin pine timber harvest was at its height.