Birney Imes: Tupelo honey at the Silver Spur

April 11, 2009

Birney Imes - birney@cdispatch.com

 

Last summer at the farmers'' market I asked George Dyson if tupelo trees grow this far north. George, one of the market regulars, is the grizzled fellow usually on the north end of the market with a beard and the tattered "I (heart) Bikinis" baseball cap. He sells bowls and cooking utensils he crafts from native woods such as bois d''arc, oak and sassafras. 

 

George and I had both seen "Eulie''s Gold," the movie in which Peter Fonda plays a beekeeper harvesting tupelo honey in the Florida Panhandle. Like wine, the taste of honey varies widely depending on the source of its ingredients and the flowers of the tupelo produce a delicious nectar. He knew why I was asking. 

 

Turns out George has family land on Old Macon Road with tupelo trees. He said it would be fine to move a beehive there.  

 

Late Sunday afternoon a week ago George and I set out to scout a location. As is common in that part of the county, George''s land is graced with cypress swamps. Before the Waterway was built and old Highway 82 interrupted, Old Macon began just west of the river where Port Access Road is now and continued past the Weyerhaeuser paper mill on to Noxubee County. Now the road begins on the west side of the Waterway, running south roughly parallel to the river. As it was then, the winding road is mostly gravel with occasional and unexplained paved stretches now full of potholes. 

 

During the middle decades of the 20th century Old Macon Road was where teenagers would go to race their parents cars (There one night I saw Henry Barnhill defy the laws of physics in his father''s Rambler Classic.), buy illegal whiskey and patronize a restaurant-nightclub known as the Silver Spur. 

 

As it turned out, we were taking the bees to the same land on which George''s grandfather, John Bowlin, built "The Spur."  

 

Regrettably, Icame of age as The Spur was waning. I do have one fond memory of the place. The one time I visited The Spur, I happened to be on the dance floor at the same time as the legendary Jimmy Garton, who in those days was known locally as the white James Brown. That night, Jimmy, in a royal blue silk shirt, was moving in ways the Godfather of Soul would have envied. 

 

"As best I can remember my grandfather started (construction on) The Spur in the fall of ''43," said George. "He opened it in the spring of ''46, the year I was born." 

 

As Iremember, the place was dark and possessed a rustic charm.  

 

The building was constructed like a pole barn, says Dyson. A four-foot wide fireplace was the primary source of illumination and heat.  

 

The Spur was both a nightclub with a bandstand and dance floor and a restaurant. 

 

"You either ate a T-bone, New York strip or a half fried chicken, or you didn''t eat," said Dyson. The beef was brought in from Kansas City and Bowlin made coleslaw with a recipe his grandson has been unable to duplicate. The food was prepared by a mulatto woman named Peaches. 

 

After Bowlin died, Dyson''s parents ran The Spur for a couple of years before leasing it to Cy Thompson and John McClanahan. During that time, Dyson says, Bobby Harris served breakfast to hunters. 

 

Jimmy Garton has vivid memories of The Spur. 

 

"That''s where I got engaged!" Garton exclaimed when I called him about the Silver Spur Saturday morning. "I gave Paulette a diamond there 40 years ago." 

 

Paulette was Paulette Bernheim, a W girl from Gulfport. She and Garton celebrated their 40th anniversary in January. 

 

Paulette wasn''t the only girl Garton took to the Spur. 

 

"One night I had a date with Robin Whitaker. I took her to the Spur and she left with another guy," Garton recalls. 

 

Garton headed to Bob''s Place with intentions of retrieving his date. On the way he was stopped and ticketed by Constable Don Nevins. 

 

As luck would have it, Whitaker''s father was the judge Garton had to appear before. 

 

"When I told him I got the ticket while I was looking for his daughter, he tore it up," laughed Garton. 

 

Garton says some of The Spur''s popularity was due to its shadowy lighting and its long hours. It stayed open long after the in-town places closed and the dim lighting offered a degree of anonymity.  

 

Garton remembers the fireplace and how the building was constructed with posts that were "old cedar trees with the limbs trimmed."  

 

"He (Bowlin) couldn''t borrow money to build a nightclub, but he could get money to build a barn so he built a barn and made it into a nightclub." 

 

Garton also remembers an establishment down the road from the Spur where one could procure whiskey regardless the time of day or one''s age. 

 

The place, made with cement blocks painted white, was simply known as The Block House. 

 

"It was run by a black man, who would take your money, then go down to a lake behind the place." 

 

Garton says the merchandise was stored in a cage submerged in the lake. 

 

"The bottles were still wet when you got them." 

 

I had to ask about the silk outfits. Garton really was a dance-floor legend in his day (I suspect he still has a few of those moves.) 

 

"I got that from my dad," Garton said. "He (Lefty Garton) pitched baseball for the New York Giants. He had a trunk full of silk shirts." 

 

As for the bees, we got them situated Friday evening. Their home now overlooks a small swamp full of tupelo. 

 

Across the swamp, up a grassy hill and through a strip of underbrush is a cement slab that was the floor in John Bowlin''s pole barn night club. Other than the memories, that patch of concrete is all that remains of the Silver Spur. 

 

Write or phone Birney Imes at The Commercial Dispatch, 516 Main St., Columbus, MS 39701, 328-2424, or e-mail him at birney@cdispatch.com.

Birney Imes III is the Editor and Publisher of The Dispatch.