Let’s Visit Monticello!
Published 5:00 am Friday, July 7, 2000
MONTICELLO — History laps over the banks of the Pearl,whispering winds encircle the quite town and remnants of earlierdays still linger on.
When looking for a peaceful trip down the Pearl River, look nofurther than Monticello. It is a town left by busy travelers.
“Monticello was a major port city back in the 1800s,” said PaulMcLain, executive director of the Lawrence County Chamber ofCommerce. “Over the last few years, Monticello has not growneconomically like Brookhaven. We are bypassed because the mainrailroad doesn’t go through here and now that boats have gottenbigger, they cannot navigate down the Pearl River like they can theMississippi.”
Lawrence County was organized in 1814. It was named for CaptainJames Lawrence, a hero of the War of 1812.
Monticello is the oldest town in Lawrence County. One of thetown’s earliest settlers, Harmon Runnels, bought the land in 1811.He had the town laid out on a high bluff overlooking the PearlRiver. The community was named for Thomas Jefferson’s home inVirginia, where many of the original families originated.
Monticello became the county seat in 1815 and was incorporatedas a town in 1818. It is believed that Monticello was the capitalof Mississippi for 24 hours, according to town history.
Farmers and crop growers “flocked” to the region because of itsrich, fertile soils. During the years when cotton was king,Monticello shipped roughly 10,000 to 15,000 bales of the producteach year.
Today, the more common crops in the area are soybeans, corn,peanuts and cotton. There are exactly 600 acres of cotton, 750acres of soybeans, 2,500 acres of corn and 150 acres of peanuts. InLawrence County, there are six dairies and between 6-7,000 beefcattle.
One of the newest developments in Lawrence County is an emu oilprocessing plant. There are 10 to 20 emu ranchers here.
“Many of the emu ranchers got together and came up with the ideathat we need to have a emu processing plant in the southern part ofthe state,” said McLain.
The county received a grant to build the processing plant, whichhas been opened for about one year. The company held the grandopening in August of last year.
Lawrence County started with the Pearl River and St. StephensRoad. St. Stephens Road ran from St. Stephens, Ala., to Natchez.The road opened in 1807 and crossed the Pearl River near presentday Monticello. It was the ideal road for farmers to get theirproduce to the Pearl River and ship it to the markets in NewOrleans. It also gave the settlers a way to get needed supplies. Inthe tornado of 1882, the road was completely destroyed.
Monticello is the home of the first newspaper, MonticelloGazette, formed in 1823. The first bank, Planters Bank, started in1830; and Pearl River Academy, 1818, in the Mississippi Valley.
Rhymes’ Electronic Store is believed to be one of the oldeststores in operation, according to McLain. In 1956, Jack and BettyRhymes started the operation out of their home. Over time, theywent from renting the front part of a building to buying thebuilding they are presently occupying. The Rhymeses sell carstereos, satellites, cellular telephones and VCRs.
“We were one of the first places in town to rent videos,” saidJack Rhymes.
Some older businesses in the area are numerous loggingcompanies, Georgia-Pacific paper manufacturing plant and Jolly Forddealership.
PIONEER SPIRIT EXISTS
In 1882, the town of Monticello suffered a terrible blow. Afierce tornado struck the area, leaving only three houses standing.Ten were killed and 23 were injured. Thirty houses were demolishedand the upper story of the courthouse was blown off.
“Through all the ups and downs Lawrence County has had, peoplestill have the unquenchable pioneer spirit that brought ourancestors here when we were a wilderness,” according to printedhistory of the town.
The pioneer spirit of the long-forgotten Monticello still liveson in the pioneer homes found throughout the county.
Settlers purchased land from the federal government. Thebackground, skills and tools of the builders would determine thequality of the home.
One-room log cabins were the most predominant style. As timepassed, they were usually enlarged and improved as needed and meansallowed.
Sixteen “folk homes” found in Lawrence County have been acceptedon the National Registry of Historic Places. The pioneer homesrepresent many different types of architectural styles, which aresingle pen, double pen, I-type, dog trot and coastal cottage.
There are a total of 21 pioneer homes found in Lawrence County.The homes are privately owned by either descendants of the familyor residents of the area.
The Hilliard-Benham house is one of the many I-type homes in thecounty. It has two large rooms and two large upstairs rooms. Overthe years, the inside of the house has been modified and adjustedto the times.
Captain Robert Carter Thomas Eudenham Hilliard came with GeneralArthur Fox to the area around 1814-1816.
Over 40 years ago, Harvey and Evelyn Benham purchased theproperty. The Benhams added amenities to the house.
Mrs. Benham then sold the house to Tommy Rogers, who restoredthe home to its current condition.
“Tommy restored everything,” said Rogers’ wife.
Monticello’s residents are working to restore and preserve someof its rich history.
One of the historical sites in downtown Monticello is the A.H.Longino house. This was the home of Governor Andrew HoustonLongino. He was in office during the construction of the newcapitol. Longino was in office between the years of 1900-1904.
“The house is authentic right down to the paint color,” saidMartha Tynes, the overseer of the house. “We have his top hat and apersonal collection of his books.”
The community Civic Center is being renovated and turned intothe Regional History Museum.
Cooper’s Ferry Park, located in downtown Monticello, stands as aremembrance of one of Monticello’s early settlers.
In 1810, Joseph Cooper ran a ferry up and down the Pearl River.Today, the community has built a park with a public track and adeck that overlooks the bend in the river. The community can usethe deck for private dinners and picnics.
“The park offers the best view of the bend in the river,” saidMcLain. “I think that the most interesting thing in Monticello isthe river that runs downtown.”