As the opening of a newly-renovated Tom’s Drug Store & Soda Shop on Baldwyn’s Main Street rapidly approaches, an extensive effort is being made to identify, sort and evaluate the voluminous historic collection of the late Simon “Buddy” Spight.
Simon passed away over six years ago – June 2, 2012 – but the ultimate legacy of the man, who loved Baldwyn, Mississippi, with true passion, may just now be reaching its infancy. In the back rooms of a few buildings on Main Street there exist ten thousand pieces of paper, pictures, paintings, models, and artifacts of all kinds, collected over a lifetime by Simon Spight.
I have myself already laid hands on framed commissions of famous Confederate officers, a 1903 Blue Mountain College class picture, mugshots from the Lee County Sheriff’s office from the early 1970’s, scaled drawings of Baldwyn streets with the homes marked with resident names at different times in the past century, a 1925 official map of Baldwyn from the Library of Congress, original poems in both hard copy and on cassette tape with Simon’s bass voice reading his works, pencil sketches of our town’s historic buildings as they once existed, and pictures of literally thousands of Baldwyn residents, taken throughout the entire duration of the town’s existence, 1861 to now. The finds are incredible already … and we have barely skimmed through a quarter, maybe, of the materials the man graciously left this town.
Frankly, I can write from today until the day I die and never do sufficient justice to the tales that are contained in the archives of Simon “Buddy” Spight. Nonetheless, I’ll try to periodically deliver some of the most notable re-discoveries to you in this column every few weeks.
Along with providing inspiration for stories of Baldwyn’s historic past, many of the documents and photographs will also make their way to public display in Tom’s Drug Store, which will serve a dual purpose as the Baldwyn History Museum. One such document that has been re-discovered in Simon’s collection is – I believe –the original layout of the town of Baldwyn. The map would have been drawn in the late 1850’s or perhaps as late as early 1860. It’s hand-inked on sepia paper and shows the city blocks of “Baldwyn.” Simon or someone prior to him mounted the map on a backing board with glue – I do wish that hadn’t been done – but the faded and crinkled lines clearly show the dividing boundary between old Tishomingo and Itawamba Counties slashing at a slight diagonal through the Main Street of Baldwyn, just as the county line does today.
A reference to “Carrollville,” the original community that shifted a mile and a half over to Baldwyn when the Mobile & Ohio Railroad reached this spot in December of 1860, is shown about where the depot once stood. The other words in the overall phrase written on the map aren’t clear. I’m working on deciphering that. I’ll report back if the rest of the notation becomes clear and means something interesting.
(Just so you know, Marshall J.D. Baldwyn was the Mobile, Alabama, native who proposed the M & O Railroad. He envisioned a connection between his south Alabama hometown and the Ohio River, suggesting that that connection would make Mobile a commercial competitor with New Orleans. Baldwyn believed that providing an alternate route for finished goods to reach the gulf coast, other than the Mississippi River, would divert enough shipping to help his Mobile thrive. Baldwyn himself ceremoniously drove a railroad spike into the track in our Baldwyn in 1860, and this town, sitting at approximately the halfway point of the full length of the railway, took the visionary prospector’s name as its own.)
I would propose that the map was drawn by Charles Wesley Williams, the first surveyor of old Tishomingo County and a founder of Booneville. In a way, he was a founder of Baldwyn, too. The records show that it was Williams, along with his close associates and relatives, who bought and sold the original plots of land outlined on the map. Those friends and relatives included Col. Richard Clayton, Carrollville’s postmaster from 1840 to 1853, and Porter Walker, the sheriff of old Tishomingo County (which is modern day Alcorn, Tishomingo and Prentiss Counties combined). Charles Wesley Williams is one of my direct-line ancestors, and though he may have been something of an opportunist, as an engineer, I’m significantly proud of the fact that I’m standing on a block in Baldwyn that he created on paper in 1860. And today, I’m making drawings of things that I hope to create in 2020 and beyond. That’s the kind of cyclical, generational, uber-coincidence that helps me know that there’s meaning under the surface of all this life-stuff.
I think Simon Spight saw that, too.
So … all this is derived from just one piece of paper, re-discovered in Simon’s collection … and we still have 9,999 to go.