Ask Rufus: Preserving History

October 8, 2017 9:13:18 AM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


In 1917 Jullian Street wrote an article about Columbus for Collier's Weekly Magazine. Street and a Collier's artist were visiting cities and towns across the country for a series called "American Adventures." He found the old homes and buildings of Columbus charming but commented about the destruction of two early Columbus buildings saying; "The destruction of these two early buildings represents an irreparable loss to Columbus and it is to be hoped that the town will some day be sufficiently enlightened to know that this is true." 


A century later the battle to preserve historic sites and buildings is still on going. On October 19th the Mississippi Heritage Trust will announce its listing of this year's 10 Most Endangered Historic Places in Mississippi. Historic preservation does not just mean old houses. It also includes objects, landscapes and stories associated with them. Recently there have been two excellent preservation success stories in the Columbus-West Point area. 


Riverview, a National Historic Landmark in Columbus, had been on the market for several years without selling. Though the huge four story brick home had been preserved and maintained it still needed significant repair and restoration. It constituted a major and expensive project for anyone to undertake. Fortunately for Columbus Dick Leike stepped forward, bought the house and has commenced its restoration. One of Mississippi's most monumental antebellum homes has not only been saved but is being restored. 


While we usually associate preservation with buildings, the preservation of landscapes and stories is also important. I experienced an interesting combination of that yesterday. The Mossy Oak Golf Club in West Point hosted its first annual Pitchlynn Cup Match. I realize that it seems strange to merge golf with historic preservation and stories of the past but George Bryan came up with the idea, put it together and it worked. It is an excellent example of using historic preservation as a vehicle for other projects. 


The Mossy Oak course is a delightful combination of golf and the preservation of a landscape. The course was built at the site of a former dairy farm on the southern edge of a finger of the old Black Prairie. It was designed as a links course returning to golf's Scottish heritage of using and preserving the natural landscape. The feel of the original Prairie upon which it sits is preserved by the lay of the land being basically unaltered except for greens and sand traps. 


Much of the course is planted with native prairie grasses and the roughs are filled with prairie grass and wild flowers. At the southern side of the course are found some ancient oak and sweet gum trees. Those ancient trees stand just about where an 1834 land survey described stands of oak and sweet gums on the southern edge of a finger of a large grass covered prairie. 


The Pitchlynn Cup itself was named in honor of John and Peter Pitchlynn who resided a few miles southeast of the present site of the golf course from 1810 until John's death in 1835. John had been appointed U.S. Interpreter for the Choctaw Nation by George Washington in 1786 and his son Peter became chief of the Choctaw Nation in 1864 and was noted for besting Henry Clay in a debate and his story being included by Charles Dickens in his book American Notes. 


The players yesterday were divided into the Choctaws and Chickasaws representing the people who had first lived on the land in the area where the golf course is located. The traditional dividing line of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations was Tibbee Creek only a couple of miles south of Mossy Oak. 


Prior to play the golfers were told some of the history of the Choctaw and Chickasaw people and learned of the role of the Pitchlynn family in American history. It was an excellent way to combine a history lesson with an enjoyable day of golf on a course designed to preserve the natural landscape. 


In 1917 Jullian Street hoped that someday people here would be sufficiently enlightened to realize the value of historic preservation and much progress has been made. People such as Dick Leike are realizing the value of historic buildings and preserving them. George Bryan and Toxie Haas have constructed the Mossy Oak golf course which utilizes rather than alters a historic natural landscape and now there is the Pitchlynn Cup which mixes golf with the area's history. These efforts are helping to preserve and showcase our history but we still have much to do as will be evidenced by the Mississippi Heritage Trust's soon to be released 10 most endangered Historic Places in Mississippi.  


Not being a golfer, a golf question came up while writing this. I called my son Bailey, who works at a golf course on the coast, and his response didn't help. "Dad do you not understand I'm in the middle of a Hurricane right now." I didn't know how to respond other than, "have you met Jim Cantore."

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]