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An untouched treasure: Carrolton's residents are preserving the past one building and one memory at a time.


The town the railroad bypassed in 1889 is almost untouched by the twentieth century, thanks to the commitment of the citizens of Carrollton to revive and restore their historic town. Their appreciation of its past has inspired many residents to restore buildings a century and a half old, and a love for historic Carrollton has even brought former residents home to open new businesses.

"Carrollton was on the stagecoach route from Memphis to New Orleans," said Wilton Neal, tax assessor. That's the sort of thing you grow up knowing if you grow up in Carrollton, or in North Carrollton as Wilton did. And it's the sort of thing that rolls off your tongue whether you grew up there, lived there in the summers, or adopted Carrollton as your own town.


In recognition of the community's efforts to preserve Carrollton's history, the whole town was added to the National Register of Historic places in 1976 as an historic district. As an historic district, Carrollton's buildings, landscaping, fences, setting, and the confederate monument on the courthouse grounds, are on the register. But even as the town strives to preserve its past with museums and restored homes, the historic buildings are housing thriving new businesses, as well.

One new business located on Highway 17, off Highway 82 between Winona and Greenwood is the Peppercorn Grill, owned by Shelly and Andy Rone. This bustling restaurant serves just about everything you could want, and the menu says if you don't see something you want, just ask. If you aren't craving a burger, chicken, or Philly cheese steak sandwich, a waitress will quickly tell you that kabobs and frog legs are available.

At the entrance of town is the Merrill Museum. The museum is proud to possess the largest collection of photographs and memorabilia from the family of Senator John McCain, the Republican presidential hopeful. Senator McCain's great-grandfather and namesake, John McCain, Sr., was once sheriff of Carrollton. Recently, CNN filmed the museum and will be airing the show before the election in November.

Sheriff McCain was also the grandfather of Elizabeth Spencer, a critically acclaimed novelist, who wrote her memoirs in Landscapes of the Heart, which offers a look at Carrollton when its population was 608--twice what it is now.

The home where Spencer wrote her memoirs is not far from the recently renovated Sullivan House in Carrollton. The Sullivan House, was restored this past summer by Carrollton resident Wessie Gee, and "when the preservation ladies [Carrollton Historic Preservation Commission] heard about the renovation blessing, they began planning," says Gee. They served cold fruit punch, homemade sandwiches, and cookies to thank the many people who helped Gee with the restoration.

"There was no blueprint," Gee recalls. "We had to figure out how to redo it as we went. The house is as original as possible, other than the addition of the kitchen."

This community-wide passion for restoration has drawn attention from around the state. Todd Sanders, architectural historian with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, claims that "Carrollton is one of my favorite places to be because of the energy and all the restoration. Not too long ago we were worried about Carrollton. Then citizens began to realize what a special place it is."

Carrollton received media attention this year when the first new business on the square, Carroll County Market, was featured on the Mississippi Roads show during Walt Grayson's visit to Carrollton. Co-owned by three relatives who have come home to Carrollton, Carroll County Market is a unique dining and music venue.

"We've had tremendous success on Saturdays," says part-owner Glenda Jones. "People come from all over--Jackson, Greenwood, Grenada--and they all say the same thing: 'We love this place'."

Saturday nights, Glenda's brother, Cecil Abels, and her son, Greg Jones, also part-owners, book live bands. Nash Street, a bluegrass band from Starkville, played at the Carroll County Market before capturing the $100,000 top prize in a national contest in Nashville. The blues, bluegrass, and country music are a good fit both for the customers and the Carroll County Market decor. A sign inside reads, "This is not a museum ... all this junk is for sale."

Nestled next door to the Carroll County Market is another new business that opened in April. Miss Sippy's Coffee Shop and Mercantile, owned by Betty Ray, was named with her grandfather in mind, as he once was in the mercantile business in Carrollton. Although the name says coffee shop, sandwiches, salads, plate lunches, and desserts are served as well. Ray's guest book has visitor's signatures from towns all over Mississippi and out of state documenting the shop's popularity. When Ray moved back to Carrollton, she also purchased her great-great grandfather Captain William Ray's house.

Neighboring Miss Sippy's is Zona Studio and Gallery. Zona Pilgreen opened the studio as an outlet for local artists, channeling her desire to restore the building and give it a function.


Offering art classes for children and adults, the shop also hosts painting workshops conducted by instructors from New York.

The last storefront on the square is the newest business, Merganzers, named after the Merganser duck, is owned by Paige and Scotty Thornton. The gift and novelty shop features the work of local potters and artists, jewelry, body care products, designer tote bags with umbrellas to match, and many other items.

Across the street, Ye Olde Town Water Department has gotten a face-lift. The building, owned by Linda McGregor and leased to the city, was eligible for a renovation grant from the Mississippi Department of Archives and History because at one time it housed the city hall.

Lum Reek, another historical fixture in Carrollton, was recently restored by Libba and Tommy Goodman. Tommy is a retired architect and teaches at Mississippi State University. Their home was named after a Scottish toast, "Lang may ye lum reek," which means "long may your chimney smoke."


"About all we had to start with was smoke," Goodman said. "The floor was dirt and termites had eaten the floor boards. We had to tear everything out, number the wall boards, save the nails, re-insulate, and put the boards back the way they were."

Lum Reek was originally a two-room dog-trot when it was built in 1839-1840. The second floor, added in 1850, gave the home a neoclassical look. The Goodmans added a kitchen, den, bedroom, and bathrooms to the house, but they were careful to retain elements from the home's origins. The home's original faux grain doors are in the upstairs bedroom, and pieces of wood from the back porch walls line the walls of the den.

The Carroll County Antiquities Society recently obtained ownership of the Conservative newspaper office off the square, and they have a 99-year lease on the old jail that is no longer in use since the building of the new jail in Vaiden. "We've talked about making the Conservative office into a welcome center and the old jail into a place for artists; maybe with some rooms fixed for out-of-towners," said Glenda Jones. "But the Merrill Museum is in the worst condition. We have to concentrate on that first."

The work is ongoing to restore, protect, and treasure the buildings in Carrollton. The Masonic Lodge, one of the oldest buildings still being used in the state, is currently being restored. Wessie Gee is also working on another home, Seven Gables. Did new businesses come because of the restoration of old buildings or vice versa? Whatever the answer, the result is preservation of a remarkable, historic Mississippi town.

"It took us a long time to get where we are," said Annie Mae Wilson, mayor of Carrollton. "It is better now than it used to be. I'm proud of it all."
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Title Annotation:mississippi matters: small-town spotlight
Author:Vigour, Theresa
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Sep 1, 2008
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