Thursday, June 24, 2021

Further Exploration – Laurel and Vicinity

…continuing with our short trip to Mississippi with Laurie’s sister Bonnie and her husband Bill.  We’d finished what we wanted to see in Laurel so we decided to explore the small towns around the area to see what we could see that was interesting.

But, before we move on, somehow I missed including this mansion in my recap of historic homes in the city of Laurel.  I love that huge tree that partially blocks the sightline of the house’s front entrance.  Located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Seventh Street, this Prairie style home was built in 1903.  This more than 7,000 sq. ft. home was built for Nina and Wallace Rogers.  Wallace was one of the successful area lumber barons and the couple were the parents of Lauren Rogers, whom the Art Museum was named after…  

In 1950 the house passed on to relatives of the Rogers family.  At the new owner’s bequest, in early January of 2003, the home became the property of the Lauren Rogers Museum of Art.  The museum uses the upper portion of the house for offices and rents out the lower level for meetings, receptions and similar events.  The original carriage house which is behind the home, is now used as studio space where art classes are offered.  The home is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

This home in nearby Ellisville is also listed on the National Register.  The Deason House was built in 1845 by Amos Deason, who was one of the wealthiest men in the area.  The home is also a centerpiece to a notable and bloody piece of history. 

When the time came for Mississippi to vote for or against secession from the Union, Jones County residents refused to get involved.  They were mostly poor farmers or laborers and owned few slaves.  Their delegate to the state Capitol in Jackson, was Amos Deason and he was instructed to vote against secession.  There has been considerable debate about why or how it happened but Deason ended up voting for the south’s departure from the Union… His home played a bloody role in the conflict that followed in Jones County.  

During the war, many of the younger men went off to fight, leaving people’s homes and farms defenseless with old men, women and children just struggling to survive.  The situation was aggravated by the Confederate cavalry, when as part of their mission to find food and supplies for the army, they raided Jones County, taking most of the food and livestock. 

At the beginning of the war, some Jones County men had joined the Confederacy but many others refused to fight until the draft was instituted in 1862.  One of those men who joined the army was Newt Knight.  Even though he had enlisted, he refused to fight for the cause and instead served as a hospital orderly.  Everything changed for him when a law was passed that stated that any man who owned 20 or more slaves could avoid military service.  Like many others, Knight was now convinced that it was a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight” so he deserted and went home...

Learn more about this story involving the Deason House and Newt Knight below…fittingly following the monument to the Confederate Soldier.

I couldn’t discover why…but Jones County has 2 almost identical courthouses, one in Laurel and one in Ellisville, just a few miles away.  My best guess is that since Jones County was formed from 2 other counties, and both towns had been county seats since 1826, some kind of compromise was reached as regarded governance of the new county… Laurel is the Second Judicial District in County and I’m assuming that Ellisville serves the First Judicial District.  The cornerstone for this courthouse is dated July 4, 1908 and Laurel’s is dated July 8, 1907.

FYI…Jones County is named for John Paul Jones, a Scottish immigrant who rose from a humble background to military success in the Revolutionary War.  He is considered one of the ‘fathers’ of the United States Navy.  Later in his career, he was an Admiral in the Russian Navy.

This Confederate Monument is located on the lawn near one corner of the Ellisville Courthouse.  In these days of enhanced civil rights and racial awareness, I was surprised to find an intact Confederate monument on county property, but this particular statue has been part of the civic landscape here since 1912. 

FYI… In 1860, the majority of white residents in Jones County did not own slaves.  Slaves represented only 12% of the county’s population, the smallest percentage of any county in the state.  Of course, part of the reason for this fact was that the pine forests, swamp and soil here were not favorable for the cultivation of cotton.

…continuing with the story about the Deason House and Newt Knight. 

Knight formed a renegade army of about 100 other deserters and they hid out at in the Leaf River Swamp.  They would come out of the swamp to visit family, work their farms and conduct raids on trains headed to and from the port at Mobile Alabama.  Confederate troops were determined to capture Knight and his followers but they were unsuccessful. 

Finally, the Confederacy sent a native of Jones County, Major Amos McLemore, to capture Knight.  McLemore knew the swamps and forest almost as well as Knight and they came very close to the deserter’s hideout.  Realizing that something had to be done to avoid capture, Knight determined to kill Major McLemore.

The Major had made his headquarters in the home of Amos Deason.  On a rainy afternoon after McLemore had returned to the home, Newt threw open the door of the house and shot the Major at point blank range, killing him.  Although pursued by McLemore’s men, Newt escaped back into the swamp. 

Newt Knight survived the war, joined the Republican Party and was appointed as a Deputy US Marshall.  He later married a ‘freedwoman’ who had been one of his grandfather’s slaves.  Under Mississippi law, inter racial marriage wasn’t legal.  As late as 1964, 2 of Newt’s great-great-grandchildren were refused admission to a white school as they were 1/16th and 1/32nd black.

Circling back to the Deason House… Major McLemore’s blood seeped into the pine floor and no matter the amount of scrubbing, it couldn’t be removed.  New flooring final covered the stain but the story is that it didn’t stop the front door of the house from bursting open on the anniversary of the murder each year…only to reveal a silent empty porch.  In 1991 the Deason family gave the home to the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.  Several members of the group have admitted to being very uncomfortable about being in the house alone…

Two movies about Newt Knight and this story have been released over the years.  The first in 1942 was entitled “Tap Roots” and it starred Van Heflin and Susan Hayward.  In 2016, “The Free State of Jones” was released.  It featured Matthew McConaughey, Mahershala Ali and Keri Russell.

This is the United States Post Office in Ellisville Mississippi.  The only reason I’ve included this photo is that I’ve never seen a red post office.  One would never guess that it was part of the US government…

Today Ellisville is a town of about 4,600 residents.  It was named for Powhatan Ellis, a former US Senator for Mississippi who identified as a descendant of Pocahontas and her father, Chief Powhatan in Virginia. 

In 1919, the town saw the gruesome hanging of a black man who had a white girlfriend.  Based on a trumped up charge of rape, he was hung in front of a crowd of about 10,000 people.  Commemorative postcards were even printed for the ‘event’.

On a more positive note, several notable people come from Jones County.  They include: Lance Bass, singer with NSYNC; actress Parker Posey; Operatic Soprano Leontyne Price, and: Ray Walston from the TV show “My Favorite Martian”.  That show was one of our favorites!

Following Ellisville, we looped around to Seminary Mississippi in Covington County.  The town is so named because an early seminary had been established there.  Seminary now has less than 300 residents but they have done a nice job of preserving this old railway depot.  The former Gulf and Ship Island Rail Road Depot has been restored and now serves as the Covington County Genealogical Society’s Library and meeting location.

Since we were in another county, it was time for another county courthouse.  The Covington County Courthouse in Collins Mississippi was completed in 1907. 

Collins has been through boom and bust over the years with populations ranging from 7,000 to as little as 700.  There has been a resurgence in recent years thanks to the town’s location at the intersection of 2 major highways.

Notable residents of Collins and Covington County have included: 1940s actor Dana Andrews; actor Gerald McRaney (“Major Dads”, “Simon and Simon”, “Longmire”, “House of Cards” and, “This is Us”)

The old Collins railroad passenger station has been well taken care of.  I’m not sure when it was built but due to an on-line ‘find’, I know that it’s at least 114 years old.  Like the depot in Seminary, this railroad station was originally built by the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad.  Today this depot is a pleasant venue for community, private and civic events. 

Originally Collins wasn’t named Collins.  It was originally incorporated as Williamsburg Depot in 1899.  The railroad had completed construction and it had bypassed the town of Williamsburg, which was the county seat at the time.  The sawmills were then moved to the new “Williamsburg Depot” to be closer to the railroad and the rest of the town followed.  The name of the town was changed to Collins in order to reduce confusion with the original town as well as other ‘Williamsburgs’… 

The reason I know that the depot is more than 114 years old is that I found this postcard on line.  It shows the busy Collins Depot in 1907.  Note the locomotive coming down the track…

The Gulf and Ship Island Railroad was built in Mississippi at the turn of the 20th century in order to open the state’s vast tracts of southern yellow pine forests for commercial harvesting.  The railroad helped expand cities along its route and it also led to the development of a seaport.  By 1902, the 74 mile route between Gulfport and Hattiesburg boasted an average of one sawmill and one turpentine distillery for every 3 miles of track.  In 1907 alone, the railroad transported 800,000,000 board feet of southern yellow pine lumber from south central Mississippi to Gulfport.

That’s all for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by for a visit!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. A beautiful town with some histories...I like that the Deason House. Thanks for the tour, David.

  2. I was so impressed by all the information in this post, Dave, you all sure did get around and do some exploring. Like yourself, I often research more about the places I've visited after returning back home.

  3. For a moment I thought you wrote Laurel and Hardy ... we watch them every evening on Italian TV, they are so funny, even funnier speaking Italian, can you imagine. You always visit such interesting places David. We are now out of lockdown but it is too hot to go anywhere. The scirocco is coming from the Sahara bringing dust, sand, metal particles and stuffiness, who wants to go out?

  4. Great post. I used to be checking constantly this weblog and I'm impressed! Extremely useful information.

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