Old Town

The story of Ellisville’s early days

IMG_4300

Ellisville:  The water of the Tallahala ran deep and clear and animals enjoyed the freedom and fragrance of the verdant forests which guarded the winding banks of the creek when the firs white settlers came to the area now known as Ellisville.  The year was 1795.  The name of that settler is lost to history, but when he arrived with his family and constructed a log dwelling on the banks of the creek he established the beginning of a small community of hard-working people who came this way to seek a home and better life. This pioneer citizen subsequently built a ferry on the road leading to Paulding and Mobile.

Located in the long leaf pine region of the state, Jones County in finely timbered.  On the rivers and creeks are found oaks, hickory, elm, beech, ash, bay, gum and magnolia.  The soil in generally thin and sandy on the uplands, fertile in the creek and river bottoms.  It produces cotton, corn, oats, potatoes, sugar-cane, sorghum, field peas, peanuts, and most of the vegetables and fruits.  The scuppernong grape thrives in the region and pecan nuts are grown in abundance.  Pasturage for stock is good and sheep husbandry and the raising of livestock are rapidly growing industries.

Jones County, Mississippi was established January 24, 1826 and carved from the existing counties of Covington and Wayne.  The boundaries were declared to be “all that part of Covington County lying west of the center of range fourteen, and all that part of Wayne County lying west of range nine.”  The northern boundary is formed by the Old Choctaw line established by the treaty of Mt. Dexter, Nov. 16, 1805, which divides it from Jasper County, and its southern boundary is formed by the line between townships five and six which divides it from Perry County.  It has a land surface of 674 square miles and was named in honor of Commodore John Paul Jones, the founder of the American Navy.  The county is well watered by the Leaf River, which flows through the western part and by the Tallahala, Tallahoma and Bogue Homa Creeks, together with their numerous tributaries.

Ellisville was declared the county seat and when it was first established {Today referred to as Old Town or Old Ellisville} it was on the high banks of Tallahala Creek about a mile north of the present site of the town.  Ellisville was founded in the early 1800s.  Some historians give 1817 as the date while others give 1826 or 1827 as the correct date.  However the official charter date is accepted as 1826.  This was fifty years after the birth of the United States in 1776 and nine years after Mississippi statehood in 1817.  Old Ellisville in 1841 was described as a court house and a mere cluster of houses–some four or five.  One of these houses was said to have been an Inn.  However it eventually grew into a little town that initially boasted a courthouse, jail, hotel, cotton gin, a half-dozen stores and about fifteen homes.  Today little but lore marks the tenure where Old Ellisville had its beginnings.

The town was named for Powahatan Ellis, a member of the Supreme Court and United States Senator, said to be a descendent of Pocahontas, Ellis, a native of Virginia, moved to Mississippi and began his political career in 1818.  Now after all those accolades, the rest of the story.   He was said to have rendered a strange decision in a case of Bradley vs. the State.  He held to the old feudal doctrine that “a husband might chastise an obstreperous wife, provided he used a rod no larger than the thumb.”  Obstreperous translated means noisy, boisterous or unruly especially resisting or opposing.  In essence, he advocated spouse spanking to keep the lady of the house in line.  Powhatan Ellis never married.  Another event that Ellis can lay claim to fame is being remembered as “The Man Who Lost His Underdrawers.”  The story goes that one day while Ellis, a chubby little man, was traveling he came upon Tallahala Creek that was swollen from recent rain.  In attempting to ford the creek, he stepped into a deep part and went under water.  As he was struggling to prevent sure drowning, he turned loose of his travel bag and it drifted away.  A few days later he posted an advertisement in the newspaper for return of his bag and included all its contents, even his under drawers.  Oh well we all can’t be perfect – We still like the name Ellisville.

The population of Ellisville and Jones County grew rapidly for several years until the Choctaw lands of North Mississippi were opened for settlement.  An emigration at that time began which almost depopulated the county.

Ten years later in 1836 the county had a population of only 1017 whites and 108 slaves and until the advent of railroads around 1882-1884 it remained one of the most sparsely settled and unproductive counties in the state.  The advent of the railroad was a milestone in the history of both Ellisville and Jones County.

The Ellisville News   Newspaper Industrial Edition, Apr 18, 1902.

http://www.deasonhome.org

 

Haunted House?

From heavy footsteps to opening doors to children peeking out the windows of an empty house, the Deason Home seems to be host to some ghostly inhabitants!

 

house2Constructed around 1845, it is only natural that this old historic home be connected to the distant past with recorded truths, legends and tales of its occupants and their lives.  A mystery of murder, blood stains, buried gold, secret passages, deaths, funerals, squeaking hinges and yes, ghosts! remain a part of the Deason Home legacy.

The most notorious occurrence in the home is, of course, the shooting of Major Amos McLemore by Newt Knight.  McLemore was a guest of the Deasons when he was shot.  His blood soaked the heart pine floor in the bedroom where he fell.  No amount of scrubbing could completely remove this stain since it soaked through and ran down the joists below the flooring.  After that infamous night, family members reported that the door would fly open on the anniversary of the shooting and so the reputation of the home being haunted began.

Young Jennie Anderson passed away in the home around 1884-1885.  She was the bride of George Anderson, Eleanor Deason’s grandson.  The young couple had moved into the home to stay with Eleanor, who was widowed.  Sadly, Jennie died either while giving birth or shortly after the birth  of the couples’ only child, a daughter named A. Viola Anderson.  Jennie’s body was lovingly laid out adorned by gardenias clipped from the bushes on the grounds.  Her funeral was held on the front porch of the Deason Home.  Family and friends stood in the front yard while the funeral eulogy was delivered.  Jennie’s spirit is said to roam the Deason grounds in May when the gardenias peak in full bloom.  On occasion at dusk, a hazy specter can be seen drifting among the fragrant flowers followed by a sudden rustling of their leaves.

Before the elementary school moved to its new location across town, students at the old school often asked their teachers who the children in the old house were and why they weren’t in school.  Many former students will swear that they saw several little children looking out of the Deason Home windows and watching them play …. but the home was uninhabited at the time, at least by the living…..

After the home was given to the DAR, the ladies worked inside the home sanding and scraping paint, often into the wee hours of the night.  They experienced mysterious sounds and shadowy figures.  Contractors hired to rewire and re-plumb the home had some strange experiences as well.  Lights would turn on after the workers had turned them off and work completed one day would be undone when they arrived back the next morning. It seems the spirits were not happy about their home being changed in any way.

The spirits seem to dislike modern technology.  Batteries drain of their charges quickly in the home.  One camera placed in the attic to record ghostly motion was unusable when retrieved at the end of a ghost hunt and another camera placed in the attic was never found.  At least one cell phone was also unusable after a night at the Deason Home, its charging port melted.

There are enough stories to fill a book and in fact the ladies are currently working on a book about all the strange experiences they have had in the home.  The spirits are usually just playful, opening doors, drawers and curtains to let us know they are there.  Ghost hunts are usually eventful, too.  They are scheduled quite often.  If you would like to attend one, please visit our website or watch for events on our Facebook page.  Maybe you will get a chance to meet one of the residents of the Deason Home in person!

http://www.deasonhome.org

 

Anderson Family

The second owners of the Deason Home were grandson Isaac Anderson, Jr. and his wife Sallie Pool. They were responsible for the only additions to the home.

filename-1
The Anderson Family purchased the home after Eleanor Deason passed away.

Today, nestled between two modern schools, the Deason Home of “French Raised Cottage” design at the corner of Deason and Anderson Streets in Ellisville, seems oddly misput in its current surroundings.  Additions and modifications were made around 1890 when Amos Deason’s grandson, Isaac Anderson, Jr. and his wife Sarah Rebecca “Sallie” Pool, acquired the house after Eleanor Deason’s death in 1888.  Here they reared ten children, three of whom were born in the house.  Today the basic structure of the house stands much as it did in the 1890s.

Upon acquiring the property in 1890, Isaac Anderson Jr. took on a building and renovation project to accommodate his large growing family.  He enclosed porches, extended one of the small bedrooms, added rooms to the back and side of the house with connecting halls and brought the kitchen inside.

Of particular interest to the additions is the back left corner bedroom with four windows looking out on the back and side of the house.  This is referred to as Ma’s room (Sarah Rebecca Pool Anderson) and is known to have been the bedroom of Mr. and Mrs. Anderson.  This room is also referred to as the “summer borning room” because of the cool breeze that swept the room from the four windows  When it came time for birth during the hot summers, this was the coolest room in the house and allowed for complete privacy.  Mr. Isaac Anderson Jr. died in this room when Annie, his youngest child was two years old.

After the death of Isaac Anderson Jr. on April 14, 1903 [Age 47], Mrs. Anderson remained a widow 36 years and lived in the house until her death on August 6, 1939 [Age 79].  After her death the property remained in the Anderson Estate and was lived in  by various family members until 1965.  Needless to say that by this time the house was in disrepair.

Welton Smith and his wife Frances Anderson acquired the property in 1965 and started limited renovations to preserve the house and suit their life style.  In doing the remodeling they were careful to preserve this stately old homes’ original four room layout and basic exterior.

Today the house consists of the original layout: front porch, back porch with utility room, ten rooms, two closets, enclosed stairwell to attic and connecting hallways.  The present ten rooms are:  vestibule, parlor, sunroom, 3 bedrooms, formal dining room, breakfast room, kitchen, and bathroom.

For more information, please visit our website at http://www.deasonhome.org.  The home is open on the first and third Saturday of each month from 1 – 4 PM.  $5 admission.  Private tours and ghost hunts are also scheduled.  Be sure to like us on Facebook!  (Deason Home)

Deason Home – A Landmark

Without nails, how does it stay together?

filename-1-3

 

Ellisville has grown into a prosperous little city.  No resemblance of what it was like when Amos and Eleanor (Baskin) Deason moved here from Lauderdale County, Mississippi shortly after 1840 and settled in their new home.  The couple and their three daughters originally came from Lancaster County, South Carolina from an area known as either Hanging Bucket or Hanging Rock.

The Deasons’ elaborate home of the times, characteristic of wealth, provided  stark contrast to the home of most farmers such as Jasper Collins or Newt Knight.  During this period the majority of Jones County’s population lived in one room split or pole log houses.  If you were of some wealth the house might be a double-pen log house or have an attic or loft.  Floors were optional, wood or dirt.  A few larger homes had separate kitchens, but most had the traditional fireplace inside which was used for both cooking and warmth during the winters.  Later the Deason Home would be used a a central gathering place for local merchants, soldiers and politicians.

Actual construction of the house is believed to have started in the 1830s by Ed Chapman who died prior to completion.  Boyle McManus is said to have complete the house later.  However the official date has been established as ca. 1845.  It is an accepted fact that Amos and Eleanor Deason were the first family to occupy the house and original 700 acre homestead.

 

The original house has two architectural features that are unique to this area and time period.  First the exterior of the house appears to be made of stone.  The planners employed a technique that George Washington had used at Mount Vernon to transform wood to the look of stone.  Second is the front entrance to the house which has a uniquely hexagon shaped vestibule with French doors opening onto the porch.  The doorway is flanked on each side by an angled side panel.  It is believed the original panel contained partial glass.

 

The house was built of hand hewn timbers from the hearts of virgin pine forests that surrounded the property at the time.  The heavy framework of the house was pinned together with wooden pegs.  The weatherboards [siding] were heavy pine panels fastened  by smaller wooden pins.  No nails as we know them today were available.  The full 1 1/2″ thick weatherboards, twelve inches wide were hand beveled on all four sides and then crossed beveled at twelve inch intervals to resemble blocks of masonry.  The weatherboards were then painted [more like a white wash], and an application of sand was applied to the wet paint, and then after drying a second coat of paint was affixed.  This gave the exterior an appearance of unpolished limestone or granite rather than wood.  This is similar to the style of George Washington’s home.  The moldings, doors and trim were made on site by skilled craftsmen and indentured labor.  Glass for windows and doors, hardware and other miscellaneous items had to be transported from Mobile.  Bricks for the chimney were made from native clay and burned on the homestead.

The original roof structure was stripped and lathing and hand split wooden shake shingles were applied in an interlocking method to prevent leaks.  One can still see the underside of the original lath and shingles from the attic.

IMG_5095

The home is open for tours the first and third Saturdays of each month.  Admission is $5.  Private tours and ghost hunts are also scheduled.  The Deason Home will also be open on Saturday, June 25 from 4 – 7:30 for tours.  For more information, please visit our website http://www.deasonhome.org.  Be sure to like us on Facebook (Deason Home).  The home is located at 410 Anderson Street, Ellisville, MS in the heart of the Free State of Jones.

The Secret Passage

The secret passage in the Deason Home housed many secrets over the years.

Oral family history tells the story of a secret passage in the parlor of the Deason Home located adjacent to the fireplace.  To obtain entrance one would have to press a particular panel in a specific spot.  The panel which served as a door then would come open.  The passage itself is an opening or crawl space around the fireplace and chimney which afforded an excellent hiding place.  During the War Between the States, Mrs. Eleanor Deason is said to have stored her gold in this passage for safe keeping.  The gold was reportedly part of a sizable dowry that Eleanor received upon marrying Amos Deason.  Other oral history states she concealed a wounded Confederate soldier in this passage when she heard that the Yankees were coming.  The soldier was staying at the Deason Home while recuperating from injuries received during front line fighting.  After the death of her husband, Grandma Anderson [Sarah Pool Anderson] is known to have kept, for protection, a double barreled shotgun hidden in this passage.

Down through the eon’s of time one can only imagine what other items were housed – What other secrets this passage holds.  Today the passage opening has been reduced in size and the secret passage has become a closet for the bedroom – the famous “Murder Room” – located behind the parlor.

The home is open for tours the first and third Saturdays of each month.  Admission is $5.  Private tours and ghost hunts are also scheduled.  The Deason Home will also be open on Saturday, June 25 from 4 – 7:30 for tours.  For more information, please visit our website http://www.deasonhome.org.  Be sure to like us on Facebook (Deason Home).  The home is located at 410 Anderson Street, Ellisville, MS in the heart of the Free State of Jones.

Passing of Newt Knight

Obituary for Newt Knight, self proclaimed governor of The Free State of Jones

 

220px-Newton-knight

The following obituary is copied from The Ellisville Progress Newspaper, March 16, 1922.  No changes or corrections made.  It was reprinted in our book Secrets of Historic Deason Home.

A unique character of national repute passed away at his home several miles north of Soso,  Miss., about three weeks ago.  For some unaccountable reason the newspapers failed to hear of his death or else the account of his death would have been given wide publicity.  Newt Knight was about ninety years of age when he died.  His claim to notoriety was due to the fact that he walked off from the Confederate army sometimes after enlisting, and organized a band of deserters which held together until the close.  Capt. Knight and his followers held that after the twenty negro law was passed during the war they had no interest in the fortunes of the Confederacy, and it became their own families, and there was a great deal of truth in their connection.

Note: Newton “Newt” Knight –  born Nov 10, 1829, died Feb 16, 1922 – Buried in the Knight Family Cemetery Jasper County, MS. Dates are as recorded on tombstone.

For more information about the Deason Home, please visit our website at http://www.deasonhome.org and be sure to like us on Facebook – (Deason Home).

Deason Home Publications

List of books published by the Tallahala Chapter about the history of the home and Jones County.

Since the Deason Home is owned by a group of ladies, none of whom are independently wealthy, we have to be creative in our fundraising efforts.  One of the ways we raise money is through the sale of books that we have published.  Here is a list of our books and a brief description of each.  All proceeds from the sale of these books goes to the restoration and upkeep of the Deason Home.

Secrets of Historic Deason Home

This book was published in 2002.  It has 32 pages of information about the Deason Home.  Chapters included are Amos Deason Home – A Landmark, Truths-Legends-Hauntings-Tales of the Deason Home, Amos Deason Family – South Carolina to Ellisville, and Ramblings from the Past – Jones County History Tidbits.  There is a 1902 Map of Ellisville, MS and a full name index.  The price is $12.

Major Amos McLemore – Confederate States Army Soldier  – Legendary Man, Legendary Time

This book was first published in 2002 and republished in 2013.  It is 26 pages long and includes the following chapters: Major Amos McLemore – Legendary Man – Legendary Time, C.S.A. Roster Co. B. 27th Mississippi Infantry Regiment, Major Amos McLemore (a.k.a. McLemore) Family Cemetery, Bombardment of Fort Sumpter, South Carolina – Start of Civil War, and a full name index. The price is $12.

Treasured Recipes of Yesteryear

First published in 2013, we are now into our second printing of this cookbook.  The book contains recipes from today and the past.  There are 123 pages of delicious dishes and indexes of contributors and recipes.  The price for this book is $15.


 

Several years ago, several of our members began a labor of love.  The Ellisville newspaper, The Progress-Item, was once the main source of news for residents of southern Jones County.  This newspaper included articles about citizens from the area and how they came to live in Ellisville, obituaries, human interest stories, feature articles about local businesses and the day to day happenings in the busy small town of Ellisville.  Sadly, this newspaper was not microfilmed and the only remaining copies are crumbling.  These tattered remains are the record of our history and Cynthia Lorraine DeVall and Sue Thomas Coker, members of the Tallahala Chapter NSDAR could not let that history die.  They began compiling these old stories into books that will preserve these wonderful stories for future generations and Ellisville, Mississippi – A Testament to our Ancestors was born.  To date they have completed four volumes.  Volume 1 is out of print at the present time, but Volumes 2 – 4 are available for purchase.

Ellisville, Mississippi – A Testament to our Ancestors Volume 2

This book was developed from the 1962 edition of the Progress-Item newspaper.  Articles about the growth of Ellisville as well as the progress of its citizens and genealogy of its families are covered.  Obituaries from the newspaper yield much information about the dedication and hard work and love of family and country present in the citizens of Ellisville and surrounding communities.  The price is $15.

Ellisville, Mississippi – A Testament to our Ancestors Volume 3

This book was published in 2015.  The 99 pages in this book came from the 1960-1961 editions of the Progress-Item newspaper.  Articles about Ellisville State School and Jones County Junior College are included in this book along with 40 pages of obituaries.  The price is $20.

Ellisville, Mississippi – A Testament to our Ancestors Volume 4

Our most current book was published in 2016.  Volume 4 consists of articles from old Ellisville newspapers, discovered in the Ellisville Courthouse, plus obituaries and articles from the 1963 Progress-Item.  The 100 pages are packed with information about early Ellisville and its inhabitants.  The cost is $20.

These books are available locally (Ellisville, MS) at Ward’s Pharmacy and at the Deason Home and can also be purchased by mail.  Please send your request and check to Deason Home Restoration, PO Box 643, Ellisville, MS 39437.  Add $5 for shipping.

For more information about the historic Deason Home, please visit our website at http://www.deasonhome.org.