Local history through the eyes of Nat Lovell, Part 1 of 3

Published 3:24 am Sunday, June 20, 2010

We recently wrote a story on Picayune Main Street’s history committee preparing to put historical plaques on businesses in the downtown historical district. We took pictures of the businesses in the downtown district that will probably be recognized first.

 The committee kicked off the project by attaching the first plaque to McDonald Funeral Home on West Canal. There is some interesting history there and other local businesses.

 We were mesmerized while at the corner of Curran and East Canal, looking west at First National Bank and Harrison Financial. That section is “ground zero” for history of Picayune.

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 It all began right there in 1904, and even across the tracks at West Canal and North Main, too, because right where Stonewall’s is now was located Laban Megehee’s Mercantile Store, what according to Nat Lovell, they used to call the brick store. It was probably the first brick building ever constructed in Picayune.

 I know the central roll of the Hermitage site, too. More on that later, too.

 Where the First National Bank is now located, was Anne Megehee’s home in about the year 1900. It had flower beds in her front yard and a large field in the back of her house where her cows grazed, in what is now First National’s parking lot. Don’t you wish you had a time machine to go back and view it?

 Laben Megehee had a brother named A.P. Megehee. He had a son named Louis D. Megehee, a great football player on the 1925 Picayune state champion football team.  

  I recently wrote a story on Louis and received a lot of response on it. The old A.P. Megehee place was located out on old Hwy. 43 near its intersection with Inside Road. I have been told that A.P. and Laben also owned a store right where the old Bank of Picayune was constructed, now Harrison Financial. I have not verified this.

 Louis D. Megehee went to LSU two years — 1926 and 1927 — with Dobie Holden. Both played on the 1925 state championship team, were named to the All-State No. 1 team and won scholarships to LSU.

 Coach Holden remained at LSU after he graduated and coached the LSU Freshman team. He was then named head coach at Picayune and built a dynasty here in the 1930s.

 Coach Holden went to Pascagoula in 1945, 46 and 47, where he won a Big Eight Conference championship. He also coached Coach Frank “Twig” Branch at Pascagoula, and “Twig” followed Holden to Pearl River Junior College and played for Holden there.

 After that “Twig” went to Mississippi State for two years, coached at Bogalusa, La., for a season and then was head coach at Picayune from 1956 to 1963. I played for “Twig” in 1963. Coach Branch left coaching after the 1963 season here and became a businessman. He now lives in Picayune retired, at age 80. His son is a Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy.

 Just on Saturday a luncheon was held by his friends, associates and family, honoring Coach Branch on his 80th birthday.

 Megehee left LSU after two years and went to play at USM in Hattiesburg for two years, 1928 and 1929. When he played for USM, it was known as the State Teacher’s College, STC. The team played in Kamper Field. Megehee was noted as the football player with an “educated toe.”

 He was tall, lanky and strong like all the Megehees. He once punted the ball 85 yards, a fete verified by Clarion-Ledger old-time sports writer Purser Hewitt who covered the game on Sept. 29, 1929, against Mississippi College at Kamper Field in Hattiesburg in which the punt was made.

 Picayune on Dec. 11, 1925, beat Leland high school, the north division champions, in a state championship game played before 3,000 fans also at Kamper Field in Hattiesburg, a neutral spot.

 The game, according to a press dispatch run in the “Hattiesburg American” after the game, was filmed. Man! Could you imagine what finding and watching that film would be like. I wonder if it still exists and where? Maybe someone out there might know, or have some ideas on how to find that film.

 Anyway, Picayune beat Leland 18-0, and the nail was put in Leland’s coffin when Megehee blocked a field goal attempt by Leland, scooped the ball up and ran 85 yards for the final TD. It was all over.

 Picayune ended the year 1925 with an 8-0 record, and had scored 317 points to the opponents 19, a record in the South. The previous record was 250 points.

 We will cover Lovell’s remembrances, taken from his book. “Remembering Picayune!”, which he wrote shortly before he died. Lovell played on the 1922, 1923 and 1924 football teams, and in his books he recalls those years. The 1922 team was the first one formed and fielded and without his account we would know little about how football was formed here in Picayune.

 He played left end. He tells that he left Picayune in 1924, and just missed being on the 1925 team. He worked for the railroad, even while attending school, and moved on up the line working for the railroad.

 After the Great Depression hit, he moved on up to Chicago where his sister lived, hunting for a job. There he remained until 1968 when he retired and moved back to Picayune.  He later married Edna Russ, former wife of Denny Russ, and lived his last days here a happy man.

 I interviewed him in 1968 when he returned to Picayune from Chicago to spend his last years here in Picayune, his hometown, and I asked him why he came back after living so many years up North.

 “Well,” he said, “the years I spent in Picayune where the happiest of my life. Although I left and worked all my life away from Picayune, it was always home to me because I loved it so much.” Lovell died on Nov. 5, 1987. He is buried in New Palestine Cemetery.

 Next week we will explore Lovell’s remembrances of how Picayune’s first football team was formed and why, how it all got started.