Monthly Archives: May 2013

Tom’s Drug Store

Ira Caldwell & Tom Mauldin

Ira Caldwell & Tom Mauldin

104 West Main Street in Baldwyn, Mississippi, has been known as Tom’s Drug Store for almost a century. The brick structure two doors west of 2nd Street was a pharmacy from its very beginning, but it was when namesake owner Tom Mauldin (1884-1956) erected the huge neon sign that still overhangs the sidewalk on the north side of the street that “Tom’s” became the town’s most iconic business.

It was likely the family of Dr. Elijah C. “Lige” Bills (1881-1944) who contracted the construction of the two-story building with local brick masons John, Erskine and Wiley Steed sometime before 1905. By 1910, however, the young Dr. Bills had already moved with his prominent parents J.D. and Mary Bills to Quinlan, Texas.  Bills left his store in the hands of his equally prominent contemporary, Baldwyn native Argyle Taylor “Guy” Stocks (1884-1933).  Several old medicine bottles still exist in collections around town with raised lettering that reads “City Drug & Jew. Co. – A.T. Stocks, Prop.”  Guy Stocks, whose home was on the west side of 2nd Street just north of Clayton, was at one time recognized as Baldwyn’s only Republican.  In fact, the late Bernard Coggins, a long-time Baldwyn mayor, reported that as a boy he had once gotten a whipping from his father, a staunch Democrat, when he came home from the Stocks house wearing a “Hoover for President” button.  Stocks’ wife Luna Fay Bonds was Baldwyn’s very first female Postmaster, following her husband in the job after his untimely death in 1933.  Stocks had been appointed postmaster by President Herbert Hoover … a Republican, of course.

City Drug & Jewelry Company BottleGuy Stocks was about 30 years old when he first partnered with Tom Mauldin in the drug store business.  But by 1920, Stocks had moved on to the once-lucrative career of cotton buying, and Mauldin took over the building at 104 West Main outright.  According to historian Simon Spight, Mauldin had already been operating as a pharmacist across the street but found Guy’s property on the north side more to his liking.

In the mid-1920’s, Tom Mauldin began a second successful partnership, this time with Ira Sims Caldwell (1889-1951), a brother of notable Baldwyn physician R. B. Caldwell, and the two men established the landmark business name that has stood the test of time.

Tom's Drug Store SignIn the spring of 1951, Clyde Tapp (1926-2010) graduated from the Ole Miss School of Pharmacy and by July of that year Clyde had found a job with Mauldin and Caldwell, only a month before Ira’s death.  Tapp and Mauldin continued in business together until Tom died in 1956.  By that time, Clyde had purchased the building (in 1955), and for the 30+ years that followed, he and brother Jimmy (1929-2003), who joined Tom’s Drug Store as soon as he finished school, thrived and expanded the drug, general merchandise and soda shop operation that they unquestionably made their own.

The Tom’s Drug Store building has been largely unoccupied over the last two decades, changing hands several times.  There is hope on the horizon for this historic property, however.  In fact, there are current plans to reopen the old soda shop portion and even to reconfigure the street level storefront as a city museum.  If all goes well, the historic collections of Claude Gentry, Simon Spight and other contributors may one day be housed in a “Simon ‘Buddy’ Spight City Museum” operating side-by-side with a restored Tom’s Soda Shop.


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

A Picture Worth More Than a Thousand Words

Law Office of Henry S. PhillipsBaldwyn-ites, I need your help!  And by “help,” I mean copies of your old photographs, newspaper clippings and historical family stories.  I have come to the conclusion that I just can’t tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth about our little town without them.  It’s as simple as that.

For almost a year now, I have been feverishly researching our Main Street stores and the people who have occupied them.  I have logged many weeks studying the progress of Baldwyn’s men and women through time – from the very earliest days when hungry Appalachian settlers and wealthy opportunists populated the ground we see out our kitchen windows.  I have interviewed, officially and unofficially, my nearest neighbors as well as those who have migrated to far-off places, and I find both groups in possession of substantial “new” information on all the colorful characters, historic businesses and important events from Baldwyn’s past.

But now, even after poring over thousands of clippings, photographs and genealogical records plus many of the books of Claude Gentry, Johnnie Lee Smith, Simon Spight and Louis Cochran, I am still coming up short of the complete, comprehensive story of Baldwyn that I want to tell.  I just can’t finish!  With each fading photo or dog-eared article someone offers me, a new twist is revealed, and I scramble to incorporate it.  “Settled” history changes with almost every new item that is brought forth.

Mike Gillentine walked into my office the other day with a box full of Baldwyn Indicator newspapers – acquired from some long-dead native’s root cellar – dated 1898 to 1901, and immediately everything I knew about that particular time period in our town shifted, at least a little.  A man named Henry S. Phillips was named as the Indicator editor in editions from 1900 and 1901.  Certainly you remember H.S. Phillips, right?  No, you don’t, and I didn’t either – never even heard of him.  Yet when I was made aware of him by Mike’s find, I started to poke around a little concerning this unknown editor and found that, in fact, he had been mentioned briefly in one of Simon Spight’s books.  I continued searching through Simon’s artifacts until I finally found a picture of The Tin Roof building at 114 West Main.  The photo of the building (occupied by The People’s Bank way back in 1900) showed a side doorway that led upstairs from street level to the Law Office of – you guessed it – H.S. Phillips.

So now thanks to a box from someone’s root cellar, Henry S. Phillips – with his office above the People’s Bank, a fledging law practice and a hankering to try his hand in the newspaper business – emerges as the newest character in this week’s episode of Talk of the Town.   An old photograph, a yellowed newspaper or sometimes even a hand-me-down family story can bring the long-gone people who walked Main Street or Cemetery Street or 2nd Street during Baldwyn’s 152 years back to life in a meaningful way.  That’s what I’m after.

They say a picture’s worth a thousand words.  I say, maybe more.

If you have a picture of any historic Main Street building or of any person who has impacted Baldwyn over the last century and a half, share it with me in care of The Baldwyn News.   We’ll copy and return it.   For the full and true story of Baldwyn to be told, I need your help.



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A Walk Along Baldwyn’s Historic Main Street – Part 1

A walk along Baldwyn’s historic Main Street …

Jessie Archer Millinery. Jessie standing on the left.Miss JESSIE ARCHER’s MILLINERY at 120 West Main Street:  As early as 1865, 120 West Main was the site of a cobbler shop owned by Irishman James Richey, who immigrated to America in 1849 and whose descendants – including Forest Grisham, C. V. Grisham and Sam B. Richey – created businesses in Baldwyn and the surrounding area for generations.  Soon after the turn of the 20th century, this historic corner passed to Miss Jessie Archer, a teacher, author and businesswoman.  When she was only 19, the near-deaf Archer penned a widely-acclaimed poem which told of the tragic loss of a legendary purple shell, said to endow the Chickasaw Indians with magical powers.  The loss of this shell into Marietta Springs led to the loss of the Chickasaw’s ancestral homeland in Mississippi, or so the legend goes.  At her millinery shop, the industrious Archer and her sisters plied one of the few trades available to women in the early 1900’s and produced the finest in hats, true works of art, sought after by gentile ladies far and wide.  Miss Archer, the recognized poet laureate of Baldwyn in her time, was also a teacher at Baldwyn High where the title of her most famous work – “The Nemo-Akin” – doubled as the title of the school yearbook for decades.

The Archer BuildingThe ARCHER BUILDING at 118 West Main:  The historic paths of several of Baldwyn’s founding families – McElroy’s, Grisham’s, Archer’s and others – wound their way into this storefront on the north side of Main Street during the 20th century.  Professor Knowles Shaw Archer, a long-time Baldwyn educator, built the building and its twin on the corner before 1915.  In the 1920’s, B.L. Crawford, a farmer and minister, and his son Velma, had a grocery store here.  The Crawford’s sold their business to Will E. McElroy in 1931, and McElroy’s Grocery operated in this building for decades, periodically using it as grocery storage or sub-letting it to relatives for business endeavors of their own.  George Richey Grisham operated an ice cream parlor here before World War II, and after the war, McElroy’s son Bruce and Grisham’s brothers Forest and Chester Van partnered in the furniture business in this building.  Eventually, Raymond Miller Furniture & Appliance occupied both this location and the corner building (120 West Main) and conducted business into the 1980’s.  Today, Mary Jane Rackley & Company, a regional accounting firm, plans to double the size of their existing Baldwyn office when they expand into 118 West Main later in 2013.

Opera House ExteriorThe OPERA HOUSE at 110 West Main:  In the early 1900’s, a spacious “Opera House” stretched across the 2nd story of 110 West Main and the building immediately to the west (112 West Main).  As many as 300 guests enjoyed live theater here, performed by professional travelling companies, on one of the most elaborate stages in the region.  The very earliest silent movies were also shown here.  The front curtain, remembered by historian Claude Gentry, was meticulously hand-painted with a winding stairway leading down to a beautiful lake.  Local dry goods merchants, like Herndon Thomas and John Youngblood, would solicit the patronage of attendees between acts with ads displayed on the curtain.  The street-level doorway just to the east of this building opens to a stairway that once led to the Opera House entrance.  In 1942, the upper floors of both buildings were destroyed by a deadly tornado, and the Opera House was no more.  Nevertheless, local entertainment has continued to find a home near this spot.  Gentry’s own Lyric Movie Theater provided Baldwyn with film noir and B movie classics next door at 112 West Main in the 1950’s, and now Baldwyn’s community theater group entertains in “The Claude Gentry Theater,” created by an elaborate and beautiful interior renovation of this historic building.

Art 108 - 108 West MainPig McDonald’s BARBER SHOP at 108 West Main:  108 West Main was originally home to Edgar “Pig” McDonald’s Barber Shop where four barbers worked the chairs – McDonald, Jack Lampkin, Dewey Basden and Claude Rogers.  Edgar’s wife Ethel helped her husband establish a dry cleaning business at the rear of this bustling Main Street location in the 1920’s, and it was dry cleaning that eventually won out as the predominant activity here.  Baldwyn Dry Cleaners existed well into the 1960’s through many owners, including McDonald’s son Edgar Lee and notable Baldwyn entrepreneur Wayne Stone.  The building underwent an historic restoration in 2012 and now is home to “Art 108,” an after-school children’s art program.


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