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 Rothann McGee Richey’s “Art 108,” an after-school children’s art program.

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2 Comments

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

2 responses to “A Walk Along Baldwyn’s Historic Main Street – Part 1

  1. Judy Prather Newton

    Enjoyed reading about Miss JESSIE ARCHER. Your writings are bringing Baldwyn alive. Keep it up!

  2. Jo Escher

    LOVE this blog!!! Thank you for the history 🙂

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