Repurposing America, One Building at a Time
Photography By Marianne Todd
It's melting hot outside. Just under the tin roof of Stonewall's old mill, though, the fans are on. It's enough mixture of shade and air to make the visitors comfortable. They've braved the rising temperatures on this July day to browse through an unusual assortment of antiques – everything from 19th century refurbished iron cookware to lace, soaps, books, and iron baby beds. On their way into the mill, they stopped for a snowball or a lemonade.
Jan Cade lays lace over vintage suitcases and arranges her wares carefully. They're spoons and old silver, chains, remnants of jewelry fused together as one of her own designs. The uniqueness is punctuated by old photographs, people who might have used or worn the pieces at one time.
“I love making this stuff,” she says, slipping a tiny rose into a tiny silver vase she crafted from a silver utensil. She picks up a few key rings fashioned from old silver spoons. They chime like the clinking of forks and knives.
Inside the old mill, with its towering rooftop, iron work from old farm equipment and fancy artistic pieces to anchors shaped like stars lie strewn about. There are iron beds for adults and babies alike, along with an array of wrought-iron lighting fixtures.
Throughout the South, visionaries breathe life into the desolate industrial buildings that dot the downtowns of so many southern cities.
Olinda “Lin” Carruth is one herself. She began Creekside Mercantile and the Coffee Pot Café out of an old mechanic shop five years ago. It wasn’t much: a roof and a slab and four truck bays across the front.
“My husband said, ‘What in the world are you gonna do with that? No one is gonna want to come to Enterprise, Mississippi,’” Lin said. “I told him, ‘Oh yeah, they will. You just watch.’”
Lin won out. The store began as an antique shop, then morphed into a coffee shop, and today it’s a full service restaurant and bar, complete with a limousine that taxis people to and from the place.
About a year ago, Lin’s husband, Ed Carruth, attended an auction in the area and came away with a collection of what some might have called eye-sores—a bunch of properties associated with the old cotton mill in nearby Stonewall. Ed figured he’d just sell it, but Lin had other ideas.
“I’m a visionary,” she said, “I see things how they ought to be, not how they are.”
The Carruths partnered with a local man, Terry Plummer, to revitalize what they call “Milltown” and get the mill booming with business once again.
Five miles east, nestled in Stonewall's downtown, Milltown is made of a main mill structure, a two-story pump building, the former company store, a few storefronts, and the old company bank. The mill itself hosts a monthly vintage market, where vendors rent booths and sell their crafts to shoppers. When Creekside Mercantile transitioned fully into a restaurant, Lin moved the store to the mill's old company store, and appropriately named it The Company Store.
Stonewall native Jessica Melton runs the store a two-story brick structure reminiscent of how it looked when the mill was hustling and bustling. She has become a near historian on the story of the mill and the area. Workers there wove cotton into thread, then that thread into denim.
“Ground broke on the mill in 1868 as Stonewall Manufacturing Co. Later, it was bought by Erwin Mills, and in 1962, Burlington bought it and closed it down in 2002,” she said. “Everything in this town used to be run by the mill. Without it, there wouldn’t be a Stonewall at all.”
Most anyone who is of age and resides in Clarke County knows someone who worked at the mill.
The buildings are still beautiful. The old bank even retained its tin roof sculpted in the 1800's. Plummer and the Carruths plan for a wedding venue, a holiday store, and a consignment shop for hunters and fishermen. They even plan to bring back the swimming pool at the company hotel.
“People kept asking us to do something—anything—with it,” Plummer said. “They really didn’t want to see these historical buildings go to waste.”
Melton agreed, saying her great grandfather and uncles worked there.
“A lot of people around here have some sort of tie to it,” she said. “That’s the thing that makes small towns so great, the hidden history behind everything. I’m excited to be part of this next chapter of its history.”
The Mystery of History
Yazoo City and Tupelo
Vernette and Jet Griffin own Downtown Marketplace in Yazoo City, a vendor mall hosting more than 80 vendors selling everything from antiques to modern clothing, refurbished furniture to war memorabilia. Of course, Downtown Marketplace also serves locally made cheese straws, toffee, and other goodies.
The Griffins opened Downtown Marketplace in 2011, after selling their chain of rent-to-own stores, which left them with a huge spare building. As a stop on the Blues Trail, Yazoo City brings in a steady traffic from foreign visitors.
“We have repeat customers from Austria, France, and Australia who come every year,” Vernette said. “Last week we had a couple from West Palm Beach, Florida, who were vacationing up here to get away from all the tourists in Florida. They loved Yazoo City.”
Heather and Tony Palmer opened Relics Antique Marketplace in Tupelo back in January. It was a leap of faith for the couple, who have always held an interest in antiques. Heather even left her job to get Relics off the ground.
“We saw a need for a true upscale antique mall, not a flea market,” Tony said. “From the beginning, we said we’d rather have 10 booths that are true to our vision than to have a full building of vendors we weren’t really jazzed about.”
Downtown Marketplace and Relics both occupy a piece of history.
Yazoo City burned in 1904, and was rebuilt all at once over the next year or so. Consequently, the buildings downtown are all still connected and consist of similar architecture. Most are brick, but some are marble. The hit Cohen brothers film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” was shot largely in Yazoo City.
Now, though, Yazoo City has a downtown of a different color.
“Another couple here started the trend of painting the buildings funky, wild colors—green and purple, things like that—and it really brightened up our downtown and made it unique,” Vernette said. “Everybody went along with it. It’s made downtown fun just to walk through, and we’re so glad to be a part of it.”
Relics resides in the former Tupelo Garment Company cotton mill, built in 1904. Elvis’s mother used to work there when she was pregnant with him, working long hours for low wages.
“Those ladies worked all day in this Mississippi heat with windows open and no air conditioning, sometimes 50 and 60 hours a week for little to nothing,” Tony said.
Antiques are popular in the South. Southerners have an appreciation for history, a nostalgia and a respect for tradition. For antiques, that history is personal.
“We remember our grandparents and the things they used to have, and that nostalgia means a lot to us, and it means a lot to our vendors and customers, Tony said. "Everything in Relics has a story behind it.”
It can juice the economy of the town, as well. Dawn Davis works with Yazoo City’s Convention and Visitor Bureau. She said the revitalization like the kind exemplified by Downtown Marketplace can make the difference for a small town.
“It’s hard to find a parking spot downtown during the week,” Davis said. "A whole different story from even just 10 years ago. People who come to Yazoo City leave and spread the word about what a great place it is, and that brings more tourism dollars that goes into everything else.”
Want to go?
The next scheduled Milltown Market,
at 400 Erwin Road, Stonewall, Miss.,
is for August 10th-12th, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
on Friday and Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m on Sunday. For more information, visit facebook.com/milltownmarketstonewallms or call (601) 659-4444.
The Company Store is located in downtown Stonewall across from the mill. Hours are Tuesdays through Fridays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m,. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, visit facebook.com/thecompanystore337 or phone (601) 659-4444.
Downtown Marketplace, at 231 South Main Street, Yazoo City, Miss., is open Mondays through Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Visit facebook.com/downtown.marketplace or phone (662) 746-5031
for more information.
Visit Relics Antique Marketplace in Tupelo at 248 South Green Street or visit them at facebook.com/relicsmarketplace or phone (662) 260-5228 for more information. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.