Clay County 'landscapes of memory' unfold in new book


From left, Beth Calvert, Jack Elliott and Becky Riley of West Point worked as a team on the book “Images of America: West Point and Clay County,” to be released Aug. 3 by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press.

From left, Beth Calvert, Jack Elliott and Becky Riley of West Point worked as a team on the book “Images of America: West Point and Clay County,” to be released Aug. 3 by Arcadia Publishing and The History Press. Photo by: Courtesy photo




Jan Swoope



Clay County's "landscapes of memory" are revealed to new generations in a book to be released Aug. 3. "Images of America: West Point and Clay County" is a recent addition to Arcadia Publishing's Images series, which chronicles the history of small towns across the country.  


For the series, local authors and historians transform archives and artifacts into meaningful walks down memory lane. In West Point, the job fell to Jack Elliott, Elizabeth "Beth" Calvert and Rebecca "Becky" Riley. The Clay County natives compiled about 200 vintage images that capture bygone times and events that defined the Northeast Mississippi county. Sepia-toned and black and white photographs, all courtesy of Bryan Public Library, present a mosaic of the area ceded to the United States in the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek with the Choctaws, and in the 1832 Treaty of Pontotoc with the Chickasaws.  


Elliott long ago became fascinated with the past. He lives in the extinct town of Palo Alto, which was founded in 1846 by his ancestor. He soon became aware of the history in his own backyard, figuratively speaking. 


"A kid would rake up a garden behind the house and there would be square nails and pieces of broken pottery. I used to wonder where in the world this came from; it just transformed the world for me to see all this history behind things," explained the retired historical archaeologist for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. He is also an adjunct professor at the Meridian campus of Mississippi State University. 




Telling the story 


Elliott, Calvert and Riley chose photographs for the book and organized them into chapters. The focus is the landscapes, in terms of buildings and their settings, rather than specific people, explained Elliott. People, however, are part of many of those landscapes -- picnickers at Waverley Mansion around 1900, Barton Ferry passengers in the 1920s, DAR members at monument dedications, cotton pickers, firefighters, merchants and church-goers. They help reveal a segment of life in Mississippi's fertile Black Prairie. 


Calvert took on the bulk of scanning photographs for the book. The civil engineer with an interest in genealogy and local history has produced the Clay County Historical and Genealogical Society's annual historic photographic calendar since 2004.  


"In the heat of (the project), we'd meet at the library usually about once a week," Calvert said. Completing the book was more time-consuming than she initially expected, "but I'm glad we did it," she emphasized. 


Riley was also an invaluable resource, Elliott said. The devoted volunteer in the Local History Room of West Point's Bryan Public Library was formerly the longtime bookkeper for Clay County Schools. She now helps others with historical and genealogical research.  


All three authors hope the book will both preserve historic photograpy and generate interest in local history. 


"It doesn't require a lot of reading," said Elliott. "There are so many pictures people can immediately relate to and, with the captions, open what's gone on behind (what we see now), revealing a hidden dimension that surrounds us every day." 




Book talk 


Elliott, Calvert and Riley will talk about "West Point and Clay County" at Bryan Library's Friends of the Library Luncheon with Books Thursday, Aug. 6 at noon, at 338 Commerce St. Reservations are not required; lunch is available for a $6 donation. The public is invited. Books ($21.99) will be available. For more information about Luncheon with Books, call 662-494-4872. 


Copies of the book will also be available at retail locations including the Clay County Co-Op and Rose Drug Co. in West Point. Book sale proceeds benefit Bryan Library.


Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.


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