Baldwyn High School presents “The Deacon” – Part 1

Baldwyn High School 1925

In 1907, school plays in Baldwyn took place in the “Opera House,” which was at that time the open second floor area of the city’s first brick schoolhouse. The school building, located generally where Baldwyn’s U.S. Post Office now stands, is pictured above c. 1925. Photo courtesy of Annie Laurie Arnold.

On Friday, December 20, 1907, fourteen Baldwyn students performed the 1892 comedy-drama “The Deacon” at the Opera House. The named and numbered cast, along with ten extras, presented Horace C. Dale’s 5-act tale of diamond robberies, courtships and mishaps with the title character – Deacon Thornton – portrayed by Clarence Milton.

The play’s cast of characters consisted of the aforementioned Milton along with Errett Moore, Walter Nelson, Hubert Robertson, Paul Thomas, Frank Hamlin, Clarence Albertson, Nick Latimer, Lottie Belle Lewellen, Lula Caldwell, Emma Smythe, Kate Newman, Edith Sloan and Mabel Milton. The play was directed, more than likely, by the school’s instructor of “Elocution and Expression,” Miss Hattie May Crook.

Today, on the western wall of Agnew’s Restaurant in the Pratt community, just to the left of the cash register, a framed hand bill promoting this particular production of “The Deacon” still hangs, its theatrical run completed some 105 years ago. As Agnew’s owner Debbie Moore and I recently discussed this enigmatic, yellowing scrap of paper, Debbie rhetorically asked, “Who ARE these people?” Now that was a puzzle worth pursuing, I thought, to discover something more about these young men and women who walked Baldwyn’s Main Street over a century ago.

We’ll take a look at all fourteen cast members over the next two weeks. Here are a few things I found out about the first seven names. “Who are these people?”

Clarence Milton portrayed Deacon Thornton. Clarence’s grandfather Jackson Milton came to Carrollville from Cowpen, Alabama, in 1849. The Milton’s farmed north of town near the Geeville community. Clarence’s father James was also a farmer. His mother America McGee was an aunt of Son McGee and Gordon McGee who had grocery stores in Baldwyn and Booneville, respectively, for many years. By 1917, Clarence was superintendent of Baldwyn Schools but returned to farming himself by 1920. He eventually became and educational director for a baptist church in Hillsborough, Florida. Clarence’s great-uncle Carroll Elisha Washington Milton kept a diary from 1848 until 1860 that is a key source of historical information on early Carrollville and Baldwyn.

Errett Moore portrayed Matt Wheeler, alias George Darrah. Errett was born in Georgia in 1891. He and his family moved to Baldwyn around 1905. After graduation, Errett worked as a mechanic at the Phillips Oil Mill, alongside his father Daniel. Errett soon found a different career path. At the time of his draft registration for WWI in 1917, he had become an ordained Christian Church minister. He carried out many years of ministry, primarily in Indiana, before retiring near Ocala, Florida, where he died in 1970. He and wife Minnie had one daughter, Evelyn.

Walter Nelson portrayed George Graef. Walter Richard Nelson was born in 1891, a direct descendent of Col. Richard Clayton, one of the founders of Carrollville. He lived on North 2nd street with his parents William and Jeffie, where he was a next door neighbor of Baldwyn’s Irish shoemaker James Richey (my great-great-great grandfather). He studied at Georgia Tech University and became an architect. He was working in Memphis by 1920.

Hubert Robertson portrayed James Read and Parson Brownlow. I believe that the Hubert “Robertson” listed in the cast is actually Hubert “Robinson.” Hubert Robinson became a bookkeeper for the People’s Bank & Trust Co. in Tupelo by 1918 and was a banker for the balance of his career. He died at the V.A. hospital in Memphis in 1951.

Paul Thomas portrayed Pete. Paul Stocks Thomas was the grandson of original Carrollville settlers Guilford Stocks and Susan Taylor. In the early 1900’s, Paul’s relatives were key merchants from one end of Main Street to the other. His brother Herndon had a grocery store where my own office is now, and his first cousin Ed Cochran had a dry goods store in the building that currently houses The Barber Chair. Paul married Ruth Kirk, who was the sister of Hunter Kirk, the originator of Kirk Hardware. Paul died younger than any other cast member, at only 22 years old in 1916.

Frank Hamlin portrayed Billy. Although Frank Hamlin is listed in the catalogue of students for Baldwyn High School in 1907-1908, along with three of his siblings, his family actually lived in West Point. Perhaps he boarded in Baldwyn during the school year, a common practice at the turn of the 20th century.

Clarence Albertson portrayed Pedro. Clarence Elmo Albertson was the son of Baldwyn High School principal, Mr. A. J. Albertson, who was also an instructor in mathematics, science, literature and “commercial branches.” The family moved to Guntown from Morgan, Tennessee, between 1900 and 1907. After graduation, Clarence became a stenographer for the Morgan & Fentress Railroad Co. and was working for them in Harriman, Tennessee, in 1917. In the 1920’s, he became an accountant in the coal mining industry and worked and lived in Cincinnati for several decades. He died in DuPage, Illinois, in 1986. His body was returned to Cincinnati, the place he considered home, and he was buried there.

This discovery effort has been striking for me in that it has given flesh and spirit to names on a wall that heretofore were just ink on paper. We’ll take a look at the last seven cast members – from Nick Latimer to Mabel Milton – next week.

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Filed under Genealogical research, Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi, Mississippi History

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