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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The Great Sandestin Palm Tree Race

The youngest boys in our vacationing clan froze in their tracks and eyed two plastic palm trees with immediate interest. The winding line to climb to the top of these tropical fakes (two poles with attached footholds designed like the climbing rock walls you often find at ball parks and carnivals) was eight kids deep and stretched into the middle of the boardwalk. Passers-by were forced to at least pause for a look.

Our group of twenty vacationers, immediate and extended family with a few friends in tow, included three boys and a girl twelve years old or younger. There were eight adults in our party, four married couples, each pair with close or reasonably close cousins represented.

My wife Rothann and I had three of our four boys with us – Gabe, Reggie and Maddux. Our oldest, Gardner, was spending the summer playing baseball in Missouri and missed this particular trip. My first cousin Grant Gardner and his wife Laura Jo had their three kids with them – Grady, “Buzz” and Melly Grace, the youngest girl on the trip – and Craig and cousin Mitzi Gaines, my next-door neighbors, brought their two grown boys Rustin and Tanner and a friend along. Rounding out the group was another cousin Molly Goodson, her husband Cole, their two daughters Claire and Halley, and a neighbor, Sara Jenkins. Now Molly’s grandfather was Grant’s and my grandfather’s nephew, and the two of them – uncle and nephew – married sisters. So, in fine Southern tradition, Grant and I are actually double-kin to Molly; we’re both 3rd and 4th cousins. This substantial group of fun-loving, Northeast Mississippians was enjoying Day 3 of a week-long, single-house adventure in Seagrove Beach, Florida, in late July when we launched into one of our typical evening excursions, this night to Baytown Wharf, a boardwalk development in Sandestin filled with restaurants, shops and carnival games.

What must be known about our families, especially the Richeys, Gardners and Gaineses, is that we are sports nuts, ultra-competitive and occasionally downright vicious when a game is afoot. Never has any Indy 500 been as competitive, or ruthless, as the routine, every day turn our family takes on the go-carts of the Wild Woody at The Tracks in Destin or Gulf Shores. If you think dainty, soft-spoken Melly Grace won’t put you into the wall when the opportunity arises, prepare to taste wall. When we spot a Louisiana church group playing volleyball on the beach from our sea-view balcony, our group will typically race to challenge them to a “friendly” game, a game that inevitably morphs into a battle of state-to-state supremacy, often ending with me setting Grant up for a spike into some hapless teenage Cajun’s face. Bless her heart. The women in our travelling party, while outwardly appalled by the worst of our trumped-up contests, require only minor surface scratches to reveal that they too have been indoctrinated into our cult of competition. Many a teary-eyed child has checked out of one of our particularly brutal beach football games, seeking solace under his mother’s umbrella, to find himself greeted with “Oh, my little sweetheart, let me wipe that sand off … Listen, you are going to have to catch the dang football. Sweetie, nobody likes a cry-baby. Now get back in there, and don’t let them push you around!”

Grady, Buzz and Maddux jumped into the lines to ascend the Baytown palms, hands extended for the $5 required for the experience. The object of the palm tree climb was simply to reach the top. There you would hit a button that caused a red light to go off, proving that you had in fact achieved the summit, and then you could descend with the satisfaction that you had scaled the Everest of tropical vegetation. We watched as many a kid returned to earth to the hugs and congratulations of family members. I suspect they all held hands and sung gaily together as they went for ice cream and mochas to celebrate. All our family saw was two – not one, but two – palm trees, side by side. Two buttons at the top. Two red lights. Two vertical paths to glory on the Baytown Wharf.

To Grant’s horror, Melly declined to enter the queue, citing “no chance for victory” in the potential match-up with her older, male siblings and cousin, leaving us with an odd number of contestants for the race to the top of the Palms. Twelve-year old Grady altruistically aligned himself with an unknown kid in line 2, foregoing the sure win he would have enjoyed against his younger brother or cousin. I’ll always respect him for that. Of course, the unknown kid was summarily toasted and then taunted as Grady shimmied up the pole like a Rhesus monkey, breaking decades-old Baytown speed records. The kid never realized he was in a race until Grady let go, as his feet hit the ground, with “In your face!” I felt sorry for the little guy with his stunned expression. I high-fived Grady.

Buzz was, and is, bigger and older than Maddux. Maddux’s chances of beating Buzz to the top of the palm trees were pretty slim. If the boys’ weren’t aware of this pre-race decision by the odds-makers, Grant and I certainly were. I attempted a pep talk. “Move quick, and don’t look down … and, oh, have fun. Just– Just, uh, have fun.” You are obligated to say that last part. There were other people within earshot; you don’t want to sound crazy. Being crazy is OK, but you don’t want people to know it.

What Grant and I both had missed in prepping our horses for the derby was that we were sending seven- and eight-year-old kids up a 20-foot pole with nothing but a ¼” safety rope strapped to a harness they probably didn’t even realize they were wearing. When the starter pistol fired (there was no starter pistol), the two thoroughbreds burst from the starting gates, if inching forward and gazing upward can be described as “burst”-ing.

“Let’s go, Buzz,” Grant screamed in distraught tones. I, with dignity and grace, gently encouraged Maddux, “Move your butt, boy!”

You have heard of the famous race between the tortoise and the hare. Maddux and Buzz topped that fable with the reality of a much more competitive tale – tortoise versus tortoise. Eighteen minutes into our pre-pubescent Olympiad, the boys had risen about 6 feet off the ground. A contest that had begun amid great anticipation by the full contingent of our twenty-member tribe now held the attention of maybe four or five of us.

Melly summed it up, “Good grief! I want to get some Dippin’ Dots! Let’s go.”

Even 7- and 8-year-old men cannot suffer such emasculation, and the pace quickened up both poles. However, at the twelve foot mark, my pre-game speech paid dividends for the underdog, or rather it could be said that Grant’s failure to provide Buzz with similar guidance proved insurmountably costly. In either case, Maddux had been trailing by a rung or two when Buzz’s ascent took the fatal turn. He looked down. All motion on pole number one came to a halt. And now as Maddux moved methodically past his frozen cousin to 14 minutes later trigger the button that would flash the red light of glory for the Richey clan, Buzz’s grip tightened on his plastic palm.

When Maddux descended to earth and we rehydrated him with the last sip of a 20-ounce Diet Mountain Dew, we awaited Buzz’s splash-down. When the place-horse’s feet touched the boardwalk – maybe 30 seconds after Maddux’s – Grant offered encouragement to his middle child with “Good effort!” Of course, “good effort” in our family is code for “you just got your butt kicked.” The fact that Grant followed it up with “At least we had some good fellowship!” was the ultimate insult.

Every good, church-going family in the South knows a preacher will start, without fail, every church volleyball game or softball game or basketball game with the “Lord, help us all have good fellowship”-speech, to suppress the competitive overflow that often occurs anyway. Now our family, in a borderline sacrilegious move, has adopted the “good fellowship” phrase to apply to … well, to guys who had just lost or were about to.

Grant may just as well have hit Buzz in the head with a club. His lower lip and shoulders were at approximately the same elevation, slightly above the knee. Grant’s post-game commentary and Buzz’s reaction to it elicited a quick and certain reaction from Laura Jo, the mother of the endangered cub. Her dark, burning stare somehow physically blew Grant’s hair back. To her credit and to Buzz’s benefit, Laura’s maternal instinct remains stronger than her urge to compete for victory at all costs, at least slightly stronger. After all, she’s not blood-kin to Grant and me, so she has a genetic advantage.

Rothann, for her part, began to apply cold rags to the back of Maddux’s neck. We had to get his heart rate down so that he could properly enjoy his unlikely victory. Just as a smile began to crease his face and he looked over in Buzz’s direction, Grady reappeared.

“Hey, they’ve got bumper boats with water cannons,” he announced.

Maddux’s attention shifted instantly from Buzz to the new matter at hand, and Buzz seemed to brighten up too at the news, his lip returning at least to chest-height.

Melly added her follow-up to Grady’s discovery and tugged at Grant. “I’m riding with Daddy!”

Maddux followed suit in my direction. “Come on, Daddy! I’ll drive and you shoot!”

Grant and I did a slow-turn towards each other. Our eyes met. Round 2. “All right,” we said together. Grady and Buzz nodded at each other, establishing their team, but then Grady added a piece of information that had been heretofore withheld. “And the big boys are getting on, too.”

“What?!” Grant blurted.

“Don’t you and Melly want to ride together?” I offered Maddux.

“Heck no.”

I knew Maddux’s response before I even asked the question. Committing too hastily to team configuration without full knowledge of all pertinent competition information was a rookie mistake. The unknown kid from palm tree #2 had to be laughing somewhere, probably over a dish of ice cream. Grant and I knew we were dead men walking. We had saddled ourselves with seven-year-old ship captains for the Battle of Pearl Harbor that was coming. There we would combat as merciless a group of 15 to 21 year olds as had ever been gathered in Sandestin, Florida.

Grant said he hoped we didn’t drown. I tried to come up with something insightful and poignant to say, to give perspective to the circumstance we found ourselves in, but all that came out was “Crap.” The kids raced ahead, laughing. The wives smiled, but strangely, it did not seem to be only from the joy of seeing their children happy.

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People I Saw at Bushwhackers Saturday Night

Soon after I started writing the column TALK OF THE TOWN for The Baldwyn News, I came to a conclusion.  I admit I’ve never been one to linger over any issue very long WITHOUT reaching a conclusion.  My lovely wife Rothann might even add that I sometimes reach a conclusion BEFORE an issue has even arisen.  For now, we’ll set aside the question of whether or not I need a self-improvement course in open-mindedness and move on to the discussion of the conclusion that I reached.  That is:  my literary talent should not be confined only to a local weekly newspaper.

I owed it to humanity, I reasoned, to disseminate the wisdom that I was full of (“You are full of more than one thing,” my lovely wife Rothann might add), and I took steps to provide the huddled masses with the weekly glimmers of enlightenment to whom, heretofore, only those who subscribed to The Baldwyn News were privy.  I started a blog.

When TALK OF THE TOWN went online at baldwyntalk.wordpress.com in November of last year, I braced myself for the flood of calls that I would soon be receiving from New York City publishing houses and probably even from the television and movie studios out west.  Didn’t William Faulkner end up writing screenplays in Hollywood?  I’d seen “Julie & Julia.”  I knew where this was headed.  I contemplated hiring a secretary (“As long as she’s over 70 and weighs no less than 180,” my lovely wife Rothann might add) to help me manage the imminent mountains of paperwork that would overwhelm our little engineering office.

I set up my account with WordPress.com, picked a motif, included a few nice historic photographs, and posted the four or five TALK OF THE TOWN columns that had been published up to that point in The Baldwyn News.  At the suggestion of Baldwyn native Robin Phillips (Robin writes a very entertaining blog of her own – cantheytellthatimlosingit.wordpress.com – that you should check out), I “shared” my posts on Facebook.   In this way, I would announce to my waiting audience that indeed the time had come when the unabridged works of S. Clark Richey would be available at the touch of a button, the click of a mouse.  Ah, modern technology!  I could almost feel them – my waiting audience – trembling with anticipation.

In the first set of posts to the blog, I included my introductory column, “What It’s All About,” which told of my many connections to and love for my hometown of Baldwyn; “The Life and Death of Colonel William H. H. Tison,” the GREATEST story EVER written, outside of the Bible, of course; and “Now Showing:  The Deacon,” the in-depth, historical investigation of a turn-of-the-century playbill that hangs on the wall of a local restaurant.  I immediately received several congratulatory notes from friends and family members.  I wondered if I would have to start churning out book after book like John Grisham and what a continuous grind like that would do to the artistic quality of my work.

In December, my blog had 268 online visitors who viewed the various stories posted – the first batch and one each week thereafter – a total of 632 times.  Well, it was not 10,000 hits, but it was not “nothing.”  I realized that.  I’m very glad to have those 268 folks interested in the column.  But I didn’t get the first call from New York!

Well, surely business would pick up in January.

January came and went.  Literary gems including “Tommy Moffitt Was a Great American,” “Murders, Etc., Etc.” and “Dick Clayton’s Letter from Jacinto” passed in front of a vast, admiring public.  136 visitors.  236 views.  Hmmm.

My lovely wife Rothann suggested that I write something somebody would want to read.  I discarded that suggestion out of hand and moved on to a better idea – I would name the stories something salacious.  Rothann suggested that I write more humor and less history, or at least humorous history.  I responded with “Sweetie, I think I’ll try the naming thing.” (“Whatever,” the lovely Rothann may have added.)

I prepared my next few stories – another drunken murder in Carrollville, this one in 1843; the life and times of Abednego Inman Taylor, whose grandfather fought Indians with Daniel Boone; and a previously undiscovered first-hand account of the removal of the Chickasaw Indians from our area.  My twist, however – one worthy of Edgar Allen Poe himself – is that I plan to entitle these works:  “People I Saw at Bushwhackers Saturday Night,” “Eight Preachers Spotted in Lee County Liquor Stores,” and “Nude Supermodels to Hold Guntown Carwash.”

Personally, I think my plan is foolproof.  I’ll report the results here as soon as they come in.  I forge on, undeterred.  10,000 hits, here I come!  (“You’re an imbecile,” my lovely wife Rothann might add.)

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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 Rothann has 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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Greatest Immediate Threat

The greatest immediate threat to the future prosperity of Baldwyn is the continuing deterioration of homes in the heart of our city. We have dozens and dozens of homes, in a tight circle around our downtown, houses already recognized as being historically significant by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, that are in serious danger of being lost entirely or of becoming so dilapidated that they are uninhabitable. While there are no quick or easy fixes, this is not an unsolvable problem. But don’t expect answers to materialize out of thin air. Baldwyn needs to quickly formulate a plan to address this problem, and then we need action.

Unquestionably, one of the first things we should do is apply the fixes that we know are already available. The MDAH-listed, historic homes – up and down 2nd and 3rd Streets, Main Street, Water Street, Cemetery and others – are eligible right now for tax credits that can be taken by homeowners who restore their properties to original conditions. In fact, the credits are very substantial – a 25% federal tax credit and a 20% state tax credit.

It should be noted here that a tax credit is a straight subtraction from a final tax bill and is not the same thing as a deduction, which is subtracted from taxable income before a final tax is calculated. A credit is a true, dollar-for-dollar savings at the bottom line. What does that mean? That means if you own a home on the MDAH list and you restore that home to a set of standards approved by the Department of the Interior, your home renovation will only cost you $0.55 for every $1.00 spent. There are stipulations – you must own the property, you must maintain ownership of the property for five years, you can only restore one property per year, etc. – but any way you slice it, it’s a good deal.

If local government would help promote, educate and assist in the use of this available program, Baldwyn would take an excellent first step towards brighter prospects. Still, even then, it would be just a first step. A comprehensive plan with clearly defined goals and a timetable of execution is what is truly needed to move our city forward and then to keep it headed on an upward trajectory.

Last month, a new family moved to Baldwyn – husband, wife, four kids – and, as would be expected, they are looking for a place to live. The father of the family will be working in Baldwyn, and his kids will be attending Baldwyn schools. One day last week, he and I had lunch and drove around town to look at residential possibilities. We have problems. I showed him a home, on the market now at approximately $150,000, which should be worth about $250,000 or more. His comment to me was that he really liked it, but considering the state of the properties around it, he was not sure it could hold its value should he decide to sell it in a few years. The house is under-priced by almost $100,000 and yet his response was not a positive one. To receive a comment like that from a prospective homeowner, a professional who has lived in Mississippi then away and now is returning, should be a wake-up call for our community.

Baldwyn has significant and pressing needs that are evident to every unbiased observer or casual visitor to our town. We need to eliminate open ditches in our city neighborhoods. We need a curb and sidewalk plan that can be incrementally implemented. We need to destroy and remove condemned and uninhabitable properties. We need to tightly enforce codes that prevent new manufactured housing units within city limits. And we need to define just what can and can’t be installed outside commercial and residential properties, among other things.

Clearly, Baldwyn is a beautiful, historic city, but beauty fades, in buildings and streets and houses the same as in human beings. Frankly, we have reached a critical point in the history of this town, and we simply can’t wait any longer to take the steps required to preserve it. That is, if we want to insure a thriving future for our children and grandchildren and provide at least the possibility that that future might be found here in Baldwyn.

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