Residents plan celebration of Franklin County’s 200 years

Published 6:00 am Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Franklin County has come a long way in two centuries, but itnever really left home to get there.

The citizens of the small, wooded county will come together onMonday to celebrate all the things that have changed and all thosethings that remain the same since their territory was officiallyrecognized on Dec. 21, 1809.

The morning-long Franklin County Bicentennial celebration willbe held at 10 a.m. on the front steps of the Franklin CountyCourthouse. It will serves as a warm-up for a weekend ofcounty-spanning celebrations planned for spring.

“We can only know where we’re going by appreciating where wecame from,” said Debbra Halford, Franklin County chancery judge andplanner on the bicentennial committee. “We’ve got a lot of ourhistory that had died and been buried and can never be broughtback. If we don’t teach our younger generation to focus on thelessons we can learn from the past, we can’t possibly achieve whatwe need to achieve going forward.”

Halford said the courthouse gathering, which will be preceded bya procession of local and state law enforcement and emergencyofficials, will see the presentation of a gubernatorialproclamation, signed by Gov. Haley Barbour, recognizing thecounty’s 200-year trek through Mississippi history. Theproclamation will be delivered to the ceremony by Natchez’s Sen.Bob Dearing, and will later be framed and displayed in thecourthouse with a flag flown at the U.S. Capitol that same day.

Several elected officials, including Dearing and a handful ofMississippi Supreme Court justices, will attend the ceremony,Halford said. Local officials will address the crowd, the colorswill be flown and the National Anthem sung. A military-styletrumpet quintet will play, and Earl and Ralph Case will providespecial music.

“It’s something we’re trying to bring our whole community andour churches together,” said Halford, who estimated about 400people would attend the ceremony.

Monday’s event will also afford Franklin County residents achance to purchase some of their county’s long history onpaper.

“Franklin County Remembers: 1809-2009,” a compilation of localhistory taken from information provided by individuals, businesses,churches and other groups, is expected to arrive from thepublishing company in time for the bicentennial. “Recipes andRemembrances,” a cookbook compiled from submissions from localgroups dating back 50 years, will also be available.

The main artwork for the bicentennial’s promotional poster,painted by local artist Prudence McGehee, will also be forsale.

Joan McLemore, first librarian of the Franklin County PublicLibrary and local historian, said the small county of about 8,000residents is unique because its geography prevented a developmentand population boom and many of its founding families still existtoday. An abundance of small creeks and rivers made bridgingdifficult, transportation slow to develop and kept a rural countyrural for 200 years, she said.

“There is so much double kinship,” McLemore said. “Because theylived in the country, a brother and sister from this family wouldmarry a brother and sister from another family. The people whosettled in Franklin County are still there today – it’s theirdescendants.”

McLemore said the county’s first settlement, Franklin, was thecounty seat until 1820, when that title was bestowed upon Meadvillebecause of its location as the geographic center of the county.

Franklin County began as an agricultural county, she said, withalmost too much land. Teddy Roosevelt’s federal government beganbuying up land in the county in 1932 to create the HomochittoNational Forest, which now covers approximately 190,000 acres ofthe county.

“Folks were glad to get rid of it because they couldn’t makeanything out if it,” McLemore said. “After they discovered oil andtimber prices rose, they weren’t too happy.”

With Franklin County left out of the industrial developmentenjoyed by other Southwest Mississippi counties, residents left tofind work in Brookhaven or Natchez, or Chicago or Detroit, Mich.,McLemore said. There once were large mercantile establishments inBude, she said, but fires and deaths brought those businessesdown.

Several small communities were reduced or frozen in time in 1952when local schools were consolidated, McLemore said. Aside from thethree main municipalities of Bude, Meadville and Roxie, only smallfamily-founded, unincorporated communities remain today, makingFranklin County a family-oriented, Christian community.

“Franklin County is a fine place to live and bring up yourchildren,” McLemore said.