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Hard Scrabble, An Aristocratic Suburb of Starkville

June 25, 2011

 
A very old post card in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History is labeled “Hard Scrabble, an aristocratic suburb of Starkville." R. K. and F. S. Weir, the owners of the second oldest drugstore in Miss., located on Main St. in Starkville, were the publishers of the card. After much searching for this suburb called “Hard Scrabble,” the answer was revealed to me by Dr. Fenton Peters when he visited the museum. Dr. Peters said it was the area around old Hwy. 82 in the vicinity of Henderson school. Dr. Peters, Dero Jones, and Lewis Larry all remember vividly that everyone called the area “Hard Scrabble.” 
 
As I searched for information on “Hard Scrabble” and old Hwy. 82, I came across an article in storySouth with the title, "Old 82," which included a section on Starkville. Kevin Pritchard published an article on what he saw as he traveled the highway. The mission of storySouth is to showcase the best fiction, creative nonfiction and poetry that writers from the new south have to offer and it has won many awards the past six years. The paragraph describing Hwy. 82 in Starkville reads:
 
“I owe an apology to Starkville, Mississippi. Sometimes the old southern two-lanes were indifferent to monuments of wealth or culture; they buzzed through town on a beeline, snubbing the boulevard with the mansions and museums. U.S. 82 passed through some of the poorer sections of Starkville, and for years I was convinced the town took its name not from a brilliantly heroic officer of the Revolutionary War, but from a brutally honest adjective modifying -ville. Flashbacks: shotgun houses, sagging porches; an LTD with a shredded Landeau top idling blue-gray smoke; blanched curtains wafting from wide-open windows; a blank expression in the back of a school bus. Maybe some memories turn cruel over time, because it was not nearly as bad as I had remembered. Still, as I crept with traffic by The Derby and University Motel signs—two rusting neon relics from another commercial era—I decided to take a detour through the heart of town. I turned right on Montgomery Street, toured the business district, cruised through campus and a few neighborhoods, and—for the first time in forty years—gave the town the good looking over that it sorely deserved. Please accept my sincerest apologies, Starkville. You have a nice place, here. I’ve passed you on the street a few times, said hello, but we’ve never really been properly introduced.”
 
This writer was unaware of the movie stars who had stayed at the University Inn and ate in The Derby when they came to town to perform at the university. And he failed to see the homes such as the Hartness, Pope, Kleban, Johnston, Monts, etc. The old postcard labeled it an aristocratic suburb. Maybe a different time but the same place. Oscar Wilde’s quote,” One does not see anything until one sees its beauty" has been interpreted to mean  'to look at something is different than seeing something.' He means that you cannot fully understand something until you take the time to appreciate it for what it is.
 
Having lived in Starkville all my life, I remember Highway 82 and the swirl top ice cream cones at Dairy Land, the Pic-Pac Grocery, Stonecrest, Highway Grill and others as well as the beautiful homes of James Hartness, Ann Pope, etc. The part I knew best went over the old Tombigbee and Luxapala River bridges through the swamp, hills, dead-man’s curves, etc to Reform, Alabama where my grandmother lived and we visited most every weekend. We traveled past the Do-Drop-In, the Crossroads, the flooded plains of the outskirts of Columbus, Bob’s Barbecue and my favorite store, Ruth’s. On past the short boulevard, we crossed the railroad tracks and a few miles later Ann Lee’s Motel, which had the words “prayer room available” printed on the motel sign and then a sign on further down the highway read “Last Chance.” I asked my dad what that meant, and he explained and then we ran over a bump in the highway which meant we had crossed the State line into Alabama. I knew every sign and landmark and how many minutes it took to get from each one.
 
Back to the story of “Hard Scrabble.” The definition of  “Hard Scrabble” is earning a bare subsistence, as on the land; marginal. That pretty well describes the hardship of making a living farming on the hills and gullies and soil located along this area.
 
“Hard scrabble” in the early 1900s had a school, stores, church, entertainment, garbage dump, cafe, residential areas and a cemetery.
 
The school was often referred to as the school “On the Hill,” (Henderson School). This school was built about 1910 on the high hill where Henderson Junior High is located. It was called Starkville Graded School Number Two, and Mr. Decatur Rogers was its first principal. Mr. Rogers was the father of Mrs. Rosa Stewart, retired Starkville teacher. Professor Matthew Drungole became the next principal. In 1924, Mr. W. C. Henderson became principal and served until 1964. In 1924, a large frame building was built and was known as Oktibbeha County Training School (OTCS). The present building was constructed in 1959 and named for Mr. Henderson. The frame building burned.
 
D. C. Rogers served as principal from 1908-1918. Rogers was an educated man and made an excellent principal. He had received his training in the classics at Rust University. It was his idea that an education was not complete without such training—in fact he knew no other kind of education.
 
Decatur Rogers and his twin sister were born in Starkville in 1875, the first of six children born to Andrew and Elizabeth Rogers. He received his early education in the county black school and graduated from high school in Starkville. Rogers taught in the county school and was soon elected principal of the Starkville Grade School No. 2. He was elected principal again in 1922, but was not able to return due to his health. Schooling was offered only to the ninth grade and later to the 10th grade. It was after Rogers’ tenure that the 11th and 12th grades were added.
 
Decatur and his wife, Eliza were the parents of nine children. Three of them went into the teaching profession but moved on to other fields. Their daughter, Rosa Rogers Stewart, graduated from Rust College and began teaching in 1924 at the OCTS. She retired from W. C. Henderson High School in 1968. The Rosa Stewart Building is named in her honor. Two of his students, Ella B. Ward and W. C. Henderson, who followed him in the teaching profession, were honored by having a city school named for them.
 
Rogers was a devoted member of the Methodist Episcopal Church. He became ill while attending an annual conference in Greenville in 1916.  From then until his death in 1922, he was an invalid.
 
Drungole served as principal during the World War and rendered fine service. Chiles Henderson, who was serving at the time this history was written in 1927, followed him. The school under Henderson was well graded and he stimulated greater interest in education throughout the entire black community. Interracial relations in the community were never better. The school has been a part of the city system since 1913 and is thus directed by the superintendent of the city schools.
 
The city garbage dump was once located where the gym of Henderson school was built. Bottle collectors remember this site well for they lost a valuable bottle collection site.
 
Cooter Owens owned a theater located at the site where the former S&V Tire Company stands. He also owned “Cooter Owens Bottom,” a residential area where African Americans lived.  Mr. Owens also owned a grocery store on Main Street just east of Tyler’s Restaurant. Former customers remember buying everything from groceries and cooked food to roaches for fishing. Lewis Larry remembers that Cooter Owens accidentally dropped some sausage in oil while cooking.  Customers found this very tasty and so he begin selling “oil sausage.” Chester McKee remembers that Cooter Owens also had a watch shop where Montgomery Jewelry is today.
 
Some remember a slaughter pen located along the strip on Highway 82 and the Cross brothers having a café.
 
In 1939, The Peter’s Rock Temple Church of God in Christ was built at the present site under the leadership of Elder P. J. Henderson, the pastor. The building was a wood frame and faithful members like mother Nell Miles and Mother Virgie Lomax worked hard to better the church.  In 1959 Bishop B. S. Lyles appointed Elder Timothy Scott as pastor. There was tremendous growth and new additions such as a baptism pool, new lot and a basement, which was the fellowship hall. Earl G. Wright was the next pastor and under his tenure, the pews were purchased and other renovations made. B. J. Williams, a man of great vision, became the next pastor.  Under his leadership, the fellowship hall was moved from the basement to the back of the church. In 1995, Joseph L. Hawkins was appointed pastor.  Since then the church has expanded in many areas of the ministry. A new sanctuary became a reality. The following ministries have been established:  food pantry, jail house, nursing home, sick and shut-in, radio broadcast and Youth Activity Community Center which houses Helping Hands. 
 
The West End Grocery store was located at the top of the hill from the school and in between was Odd Fellows Cemetery, which is on the National Registry. This is a three-acre tract located on a hill overlooking Highway 82 at Henderson Street, northwest of the central business district.  Local tradition maintains that this hill was the site of a Chocchuma Indian settlement, but no evidence of Indian occupation now remains at the site.  A scattering of fairly large trees shades the unfenced grassy lawn. The earliest gravestone is 1913. Since 1976, the cemetery has been the object of a continuing beautification and restoration effort .The National Registry application stated: "The Odd Fellows Cemetery is significant as the most intact historic property associated with the growth and development of the black community of Starkville, seat of Oktibbeha County, MS."
 
“Hard Scrabble” was a real place in the suburbs of Starkville.

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