Monthly Archives: February 2013

Colonel Clayton Took Charge

Col. Richard B. ClaytonIn the ghost town of Carrollville, Mississippi, there was once a dry goods store run by “Clayton & Walker.”  The proprietors of this 1840’s establishment – Colonel Richard B. Clayton and his son-in-law, future Tishomingo County Sheriff Porter Walker – were original movers and shakers in this part of the world, and for almost two centuries now, their families have made an impact on Baldwyn, north Mississippi, and the southeast region of the country.

Baldwyn resident Annie Laurie Arnold, a direct descendent of Colonel Clayton, peaked my interest in this iconic Baldwyn-ite with her extensive collection of family photographs and stories.  Mrs. Arnold has graciously shared her historic compilations with me for several months now, and the documents she has preserved contain many tales to be told.  One of those documents is a copy of an interview given by former Baldwyn mayor Thomas G. Stocks to the Mississippi Historical Society in 1902.

“In 1836, R. B. Clayton took charge of the village tavern.”  That’s the enigmatic line in the Stocks’ interview that has prompted recent research on Mrs. Arnold’s great, great grandfather – Colonel R. B. Clayton.

Perhaps the most ornate marker in the Baldwyn Masonic Cemetery can be found at the gravesite of Col. Clayton and his second wife Margaret.  Yet genealogical researchers still search for the definitive reason he was even called “Colonel.”  Born in 1790, he would have been in his mid-twenties during the War of 1812, and given his later Post Master appointments, civic service and land acquisitions, a case could be made that he came out of the southern theater of that conflict on the “good side” of Andrew Jackson, John Coffee and other frontier leaders who ultimately landed in high seats of governance.  But so far, just why the Colonel was a “colonel” is not known precisely.

What is certain about R. B. Clayton was that he had no qualms about taking charge.  Before his days in Mississippi, Clayton began life as a son of the Appalachians, born in Person, North Carolina, his father an equally enigmatic mountain man named “Flat River” Clayton.  Richard made his way west as a young man and found a niche in Winchester, Tennessee, where he was a respected merchant by 1819.  There in Winchester, he met and wooed his first wife, Sarah “Sally” Rutledge.  Sally was the daughter of General George Rutledge, the commanding officer of the Tennessee militia, a wealthy landowner, and second only to John Sevier in the Tennessee political hierarchy of the day.

After they married, Richard and Sally moved almost immediately into former Cherokee Indian territory in north Alabama, another indication that he may have served under Jackson in the War of 1812.  Land in Alabama would have likely been granted to those who had fought on the southern frontier in that conflict against the British and the Creek Indians.

R. B. Clayton was a man who gained the respect of his neighbors.  He became County Clerk in Jackson County, Alabama, for several terms, after having been among the five men appointed commissioner to purchase the land for the original county seat in 1827.

Richard and Sally had five children together.  The first was Angerona Moore Clayton who eventually married J.O. Nelson in old Tishomingo County, Mississippi, and became ancestor to Baldwyn’s current Nelsons.  Their second daughter Annis married William B. Hunt, a grandson of John Hunt.  Hunt was the original settler of Huntsville, Alabama, where none other than Richard B. Clayton was an original land owner.  It really was a small world in the south in the early 1800’s.  The Clayton’s last child was their only son, George Rutledge Clayton.  Sally died after giving birth to George on June 11, 1828.

With four daughters and a newborn son, Richard Clayton did not wait long before remarrying.  He wed Margaret Rhea Weir on March 10, 1829.  Like Richard, Margaret was herself a widow and a child of the Appalachians.  She was descended from Hugh Weir who had fought at the Battle of King’s Mountain in the Revolutionary War alongside Sevier and Rutledge.  Interestingly, Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush are also directly descended from Weir.

When Clayton’s term as Jackson County Clerk ended in August 1836, he, Margaret and ten children headed west to secure a large plot of plentiful land soon to be vacated by the Chickasaw Indians and where, as the interview said, Clayton “took charge of the village tavern.”

In Carrollville, Richard Clayton not only ran the tavern, he served as Post Master for a dozen years, ran a dry goods store and was an election commissioner.  His Weir brothers-in-law were pastors at the local Presbyterian Church, and he was able to see his second son, 26 year-old Dick Clayton, elected Tishomingo County Sheriff and Tax Collector in 1860, continuing the family’s political prominence.

In November of 1860 as the Mobile & Ohio Rail Road approached north Mississippi, Colonel Richard B. Clayton disassembled his tavern, the Clayton Inn, and moved it two miles, from Carrollville into the emerging town of Baldwyn.  He and Margaret actually lived in the depot for a time and coordinated local rail road and city construction efforts.  He and the son-in-law with whom he ran the dry goods store – Porter Walker – even laid out the streets of Baldwyn, essentially just as they are today.

The destruction resulting from the Civil War, including the death of the Colonel’s son Dick at the Battle of Antietam, cued the final chapter of Richard B. Clayton’s life.  Even the mountain man who had fought the Creek Indians with Andrew Jackson, the shrewd merchant who built businesses across Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, a man who married the daughters of generals and presidents could not escape the inevitable hands of time.  On December 27, 1868, at age 78, Colonel Richard B. Clayton died.  Richard Clayton was a patriot before he was a rebel. He was always a civilizer, a builder, a true mover and shaker.  The town he literally helped build – Baldwyn – is alive and thriving 150 years after his passing.  Colonel Richard B. Clayton is the kind of man that should be remembered.

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

Clarity In the Wee Hours

It’s 3:32 A.M., and I’ve been awake since 2:08.  I will probably go back to sleep around 5:00 or 5:30 and catch a final hour or so before tomorrow begins.  This frustrating circumstance has been my routine for more than a year, and although I at first lamented my insomnia, if that’s the right diagnosis, I have now resolved to just go with it and see if I can accomplish something while the rest of the world is asleep and dreaming.

Invariably, I awake each night to what I believe are great ideas churning around in my head, rising from the subconscious, I guess.  Later in the light of day, some of these ideas get downgraded from “great” to “functional,” or “passable,” or “terrible,” but many hold their own.

Just last night, I woke up with the thought that the “James Robertson,” who was a founder of Nashville, a Tennessee militia general, and an Indian agent, may have been the same James Robertson who was present in Carrollville, Mississippi, in the early 1800’s.  Or maybe Robertson was misspelled “Robinson,” and the “Robinson Brothers” dry goods store known to be in Carrollville was somehow connected.  Or maybe Robertson WAS the misspelling, and the name was actually Roberson.  Maybe James Robertson was an ancestor of Baldwyn natives Billy and Jeff Roberson.  How can you just lay in bed when a puzzle like that presents itself?  I can’t.  So I investigate those kinds of things on Ancestry.com in the wee hours of the morning.  Still working on this one.  I’ll let you know.

But it’s not just historical conundrums that stir me awake at night.  Many times it’s a “eureka” solution to a lingering problem.  Right now, I am smack dab in the middle of planning renovations to a pretty good-sized section of Main Street, and plenty of problems pop up to ponder in that effort daily.  A couple of companies I manage – Quail Ridge Properties and Samuel C. Richey Properties – own seven buildings on Main Street from Front to 3rd and that number most likely will increase to nine in February, barring some unforeseen event.  It’s a full plate.

The building at 112 West Main Street houses the original part – sales and engineering – of my conveyor design and manufacturing company Quail Ridge Engineering.  It was extensively renovated and upgraded by Bimbo Griffin’s Bidacaga Enterprises in 1998, along with 110 West Main Street.  So, this is one of the few properties where there’s not really anything substantial going on at the moment.  I got this building from Bubba Pratt in the late 1990’s and “expanded” into it from 110 West Main, where QRE was first located on Main Street.  This property was part of White’s Dollar Store way back when and then Bubba’s.  The earliest business I know of in this building was D.H. Thomas Grocery in about 1915.

Next door, 110 West Main Street is being converted into a community theater space, and this one has definitely been the cause of many a middle-of-the-night awakening over the past few months.   But the end is in sight.  This venue will be leased to the Baldwyn Main Street Players when major construction is complete in March, and we are still planning to have a kick-off production in this theater in May.  The numerous details – where lighting controls will be placed, the kinds of lights to be used, how many bathrooms are needed, where the actors will dress, the fabric weight of the curtain, and on and on and on – must all be determined at some point.  Many times that point is 4:21 A.M., which is the time now.  110 West Main was Gentry Insurance when I got it from Billy Roberson in 1996.  Billy let me buy it at a very reasonable, you might even say downright cheap, price.  And even he let me buy it on a lease-to-own plan.  Quail Ridge Engineering is “Quail Ridge” Engineering because, before Billy Roberson helped me get a foothold on Main Street, I was working out of the room where my 10-year-old now sleeps, at home, on Quail Ridge Road.  Billy Roberson played a big role in helping QRE get its start.  I deeply appreciate it, and so do the other thirty-five people who now work for QRE.  That’s the kind of thing that becomes very clear to a person at 4:33 A.M.

108 West Main is my pride and joy, the first, sure-enough, historical renovation that’s been completed in Baldwyn.  My wife opened a business in the storefront – Art 108 – where she teaches children’s art classes, and there’s an almost-complete apartment upstairs.  The building was Baldwyn Dry Cleaners for most of its existence.  Lately, it had been J.R. Nanney’s frame shop and Lisa Harkey’s gift shop among other things.  Stuart Cockrell, a friend and an engineer with QRE, was the project manager for the renovation of this building, and the results have been spectacular, I think.  I plan to use this building as the model for what will happen in the other four or six buildings that will soon be “Cockrell-ed,” a name I just made up because I’m sleep-deprived, and it is 4:41, and I’m sinking fast toward one last hour of sleep that I need to get through tomorrow … today.

Before I fade away, I’ll quickly touch on the other properties whose renovations are perched on the horizon.

1)  The Raymond Hill Building or The Cox Building at 106 North Front Street – The challenges of this building almost outweigh its potential.  The roof leaks, and that’s not a sufficient description of what it does.  Somehow more water falls inside when it rains than is actually falling outside.  Plus, “the city” or “the engineer” or somebody allowed the construction of a split-level sidewalk with a 60-foot wheelchair bobsled chute and double handrails (because we have had so many people fall to their death from the sidewalks over the years) right in front of the building on the Main Street side, making the building pretty much inaccessible from its front.  I said it was challenge.  That’s why it’s not done yet.

2)  M. Gorden’s – I have recently purchased the buildings that were once M. Gorden’s department store, M. Gorden’s furniture store, and M. Gorden’s office.  I think all together these properties have about 14,000 square feet including basements, and all I’ve come up with so far to put in them are a coffee shop and an office for my brother.  In this case, however, potential far outweighs the challenges, and when I awake with these buildings on my mind, positive thinking rules.  I’m excited about what can be done here at the southeast corner of Main and 2nd Streets.

3)  The two buildings that were once Tom’s Drug Store may be added to the mix in the next couple weeks.  Hopefully, there will be much more to say about those historic gems soon.

Well, it’s 5:01 A.M. now, and that’s about it for me today … tonight … whatever.  It’s been a pretty good session.  You don’t have to be asleep to dream.

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Filed under Goings On In Baldwyn, Mississippi, Happening Now, Just For Fun