This short story appeared today on artist/columnist Marshall Ramsey’s website. Wiggins and the Dizzy Dean rest area are mentioned. I took a little personal liberty as webmaster to share this because I believe in many ways, he describes many South Mississippians I have known my entire life.Enjoy River of Stone.
Driving south on U.S. Highway 49, some ten miles south of Wiggins, you come to a small green road sign letting you know you have arrived at McHenry, Mississippi. If you blink, you miss it, but, if you turn right at that sign, a ride into history begins. Driving down North McHenry Avenue, you wonder what might be in this place, but as you bear to the left and round the big corner, you step back some 114 years.
First sighting is “the old store”, actually a relatively new structure used literally as a store, the post office, a filling station, the local library, and storage. But towering above, you see a grand home not unlike those found in New England or in the Mississippi communities known for their history.
In Ohio in 1858, George Austin McHenry was born to descendants of Northern Irish immigrants. He studied Pharmacy at the University of Michigan and then at Tulane University, the later experience exposing him to the opportunities of the virgin pine forests of South Mississippi. McHenry returned to Michigan where he met Eunice Estella Whitaker (Una), whom he married in Indiana in 1881. Their only child, born in 1891, was Floyd Whitaker, a musician, pharmacist, and an employee of the State Auditor’s office during his lifetime, who also became Chancery Clerk of Stone County, probably much to the elder McHenry’s dismay.
Floyd was my grandfather, a man who died on my Dad’s 15th birthday. My Dad, Gordon Spencer McHenry, was the youngest of Floyd’s six children. His only sister, Dolores McHenry Mauldin, the family historian and the mother to the current owner of the G. A. McHenry House, Hannah Mauldin Cliburn, early instilled in every McHenry grandchild and great-grandchild, the importance to understand our heritage and how that centered, in large part, around this great house and this man, known to his grandchildren as “Ponnie”.
Never one to remain still long, McHenry received his Doctor of Medicine from Louisville Medical College in 1893, following in the footsteps of his father Silas and grandfather Cornelius before him and continuing an interest in medicine that followed him through his grandson Gordon and his youngest great granddaughter Judy McHenry Russell.
In 1889, McHenry migrated to south Mississippi bringing with him fifty-four families from the upper Midwest and establishing what became known locally as the “Michigan Settlement” in what was then northern Harrison County. The settlement stood in the midst of the vast virgin yellow pine forests supporting a lumber boom that caused the area and the small town to prosper. At the height of its prosperity, the town supported a number of plants related to the timber industry and became the social center for the area with a bank, two drugstores, several fraternal lodges, a hotel, a school, saloons and livery stables, and six churches as well as being an important stop on the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad. McHenry practiced medicine there, owned a drug store, co-owned the Majestic Hotel, was a director of the McHenry State Bank and involved in economic development and political activities of the area.
As with many successful businessmen, especially one in those days who, in his own words, “made 24 ocean voyages and once and a half around the world”, a number of his accomplishments can be attributed to his wife. Una oversaw the building and expansion of the house during McHenry’s travels and military career. Initially built as a single story unit in 1895, it was expanded to add the second story and Victorian façade and then improved over time to add an attached kitchen and the important conveniences of indoor plumbing. Una also ran the local newspaper and kept up McHenry’s many obligations as he served honorably in the U.S. Army Volunteer Corps as a surgeon during the Spanish-American War. McHenry was present at the end of the Battle of Santiago on July 3, 1898. Considered an expert on yellow fever, McHenry directed the Yellow Fever Hospital in Santiago, Cuba, as well as serving at other posts in Cuba and Philippines and was honorably discharged at the rank of Captain in 1902. He continued to travel the world into 1903 before returning home to McHenry to settle down with his family. His zest for travel and adventure continues in his grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great grandchildren to this day.
McHenry’s contacts, including his friendship with fellow surgeon and Medal of Honor recipient General Leonard A. Wood from the Spanish American War and his second cousin Lois Irene Kimsey Marshall, the wife of then Vice President Thomas Riley Marshall, were also important in the establishment of Camp Shelby prior to World War I. Camp Shelby, continues to this day, to serve as an important staging and training area for the U.S. Army in Mississippi.
Upon returning home in 1903, McHenry “practiced in the town I founded”. Again, in his words, he “followed ordinary country practice all these years.” Even as the lumber boom depleted the forests surrounding McHenry and the Great Depression took hold, certainly not sparing the town he founded, “Doc” as he was called by his patients and neighbors, continued to live there and to promote the importance of the area to the railroad and for the development of other industries. In 1916, the Mississippi Legislature authorized that Stone County be formed, subject to voter approval, a move McHenry vigorously opposed. In May of that year, the voters approved Stone County’s formation and established Wiggins as the County Seat, much to McHenry’s dismay as he had lobbied hard for McHenry to be established as such if a new county was established. Family oral history records he was so angry at the outcome of the election that he tossed the ballot box off the bridge into Red Creek.
McHenry, his wife Una, his son Floyd and daughter-in-law Hazel, two of his grandchildren and their spouses, a great granddaughter and a great-great granddaughter, are buried in the Oaklawn Cemetery in McHenry.
Other than a short period during the Great Depression, since its construction, the G.A. McHenry House has been continually occupied by a member of the family. Placed on the National Register of Historic Places November 3, 1988, the G. A. McHenry house remains the only Stone County property on the Register and one of the few remaining intact structures of this period in South Mississippi. Though damaged in Hurricane Camille in 1969 and again in Katrina in 2005, the G. A. McHenry House has been completely restored and today still stands tall in the woods of South Mississippi “Doc” loved so much.
Author: Cille McHenry Litchfield; Article was first published in the Fall 2012 edition of Our South magazine.
As a child of the 1960’s living in Wiggins, the seat of Stone County, my life was indeed rich. Those memories today still make me smile. My mind takes me back to riding the Old Fire Engine No. 3 in the Stone County Fair Parade or listening for Santa as he rode around town on the back of that same iconic fire truck. I hear, and, in fact, feel the rattle of the train in the middle of the night as the ICRR freight makes it way north. I hear, too, the Brown Miller Pickle Factory whistle at noon each day and smell the brine during “green season” when the vats were loaded with cucumbers. I smell wood chips and turpentine as I ride, in my mind, past the saw mills, chip mill, and pole plant. I look to see who most recently climbed the old water tower and declared their love for their sweetheart in black paint. I feel the chill of the water as we swam in Red Creek beneath the Old City Bridge and smell the oiled floors of the old Wiggins School where I spent my K-8 years. I hear the creak of the floorboards and the door as I enter the old Sanctuary of First Baptist Church. I feel the excitement of the annual Stone County Fair Parade and march, in my mind, to the beat of the drums from the bands from Wiggins and Locker High Schools and Perkinston Junior College. I smell the piney woods as I walked the Tuxachanie Trail in De Soto National Forest.
While I did not understand it then, those childhood experiences are, in fact, integrally tied to the history of this small South Mississippi County. My family is one of the original families of Stone County and the founding family of the Town of McHenry. From the time we could sit still and listen, relatives filled our ears with tales of our family and their peers and their impact on their community. They instilled in me a love of history and a sense of adventure and showed me how important local history is to the community. Until now, the local history has lived primarily with families and in general tales and a few historical markers and homes and in yellowing post cards, photos, and news articles but never cataloged and presented as complete story.
Enter a group of retired Stone County school teachers who are driven still to educating those around them. Add to that a “circle of influence” that extends to most of the area residents. Stir in the generosity of the City of Wiggins, a few gracious benefactors, and lots of donations and sweat equity and what you have is The Old Firehouse Museum.
Located in the old fire station attached to Wiggins City Hall, you are welcomed by an exhibit of fire house memorabilia including the fire hat of long-time volunteer Fire Chief Robert (Bobby) Watts, the helmet of a line fire fighter, and the old slate board where whoever took the truck out noted for the other volunteers the location of the fire and the time the truck deployed. A corridor paved with original bricks from Pine Hill, for years the iconic main business district of Wiggins, then beckons you to explore. On the walls you see photos from everywhere in Stone County – Wiggins School, Magnolia School, Locker High School, McHenry School and Home School athletic teams and class photos, pickle factory and sawmill workers, old auto dealerships, newspapers, churches, and so much more.
You see pictures of Dizzy Dean, a favorite son of Stone County and a Major League Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher who made his home in Bond, one of the original settlements in the area. In one corner, you will find one of the original pickle barrels. In another, you see the Military Exhibit that shares photos and articles about the men and women who left Stone County to serve our country, some never to return. There are portable exhibits that will change regularly in the museum as well as be used throughout Stone County in the schools and businesses to share the history with as broad an audience as possible. Additionally, the Museum will offer educational tours of parts of the county.
Through the museum, you will learn how the area originally was part of Jackson County when Mississippi became a State in 1817 then split off as a part of Harrison County in 1841. Stone County, in a final and controversial split, was finally established as the State’s 81st county based on the votes of the citizens of the affected area in 1916. You will learn how a Mr. Perkins homesteaded in 1880 beginning what is now Perkinston and George Austin McHenry homesteaded in 1883 establishing McHenry. You will learn, as well, that Wiggins grew from an 1886 Madison Hatten homestead and was known originally as Niles City. You will hear the impact of the Finkbine Lumber Company and the establishment of Perkinston Agricultural High School (now the Perkinston Campus of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College). You will wonder about the resort at Ramsey Springs and the healing waters found there. And, you may even hear what appears to be a tall tale (but is not) that my great-grandfather, unhappy with the move to establish Stone County as a separate county and make Wiggins the county seat, threw the McHenry ballot box off the Red Creek Bridge!
As an adult, I have traveled throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe. I have walked through history in such places as Boston, Washington, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans, London, Belfast, Edinburgh, Quebec, Vancouver, Paris, Brussels, and St. Petersburg. I have explored great battlefields and memorials at: Normandy, Pearl Harbor, “the Wall” in Berlin, Vicksburg, and Flanders. I have experienced many of the wonderful National Parks left to us through individuals who cared that these great lands be preserved: the Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, the Columbia River Gorge, the U.S. and Canadian Rockies, and the Great Smoky Mountains. To experience these, and more, tie back to those childhood years in Stone County and the sense of adventure instilled in me by her people, their ties to the world at large, and the importance shared with me and others to preserve our legacy and history for those who come behind us.
The Old Firehouse Museum will be dedicated Friday, March 22, 2013 at noon during the annual Pine Hill Festival (March 22-23, 2013). The Museum is located at 117 First Street North, Wiggins. Bring your sense of adventure and love of history and explore with us, the history of the communities, heroes, business and industry, education and great people found from this spot the piney woods of South Mississippi.
For more information, see http://www.stonecounty.com/. Special thanks for the information and photographs in this article go to the Museum Board: Mike Cain, Kathy Kirker, Rita Rester, Ruth Ford, and Lynette Havens.
Author: Cille McHenry Litchfield; published originally in the Spring 2013 edition of Our South magazine.