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History Celebrated: Old Brookhaven historic marker unveiled

DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Rita Rich, past president of the Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society and museum curator speaks at Wednesday's unveiling of an "Old Brook" historical marker held near the corner of Dale Trail and South First Street (Old Highway 51 South).

DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Rita Rich, past president of the Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society and museum curator speaks at Wednesday’s unveiling of an “Old Brook” historical marker held near the corner of Dale Trail and South First Street (Old Highway 51 South).

As of Wednesday morning, “Old Brookhaven” or “Old Brook” – the original site of the city before it was moved to be near the railroad when it came through at a different location – now has its own historical designation just off the corner of Dale Trail and First Street South (Old Highway 51 South).

The introduction of a new historical marker, approved by the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, was celebrated Wednesday at 10 a.m. by a crowd of close to 20 city and state officials, Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Society members and other local residents.

Rita Rich, museum curator and former president of the Historical and Genealogical Society, emceed the ceremony and was quick to introduce Velma Taylor, who has owned land at the old settlement site since 1943.

Velma Taylor

Velma Taylor

Mayor Joe Cox presented the audience with a quick history of what was once the settlement of Brookhaven before the advent of the railroad. Citing information gathered from the original land deeds, Cox made note of the specific track of land that James A. Bull bought in 1828. This confirmed the precise location for the marker.

Bull is believed to have first moved to the area now known as Old Brook in 1824, according to information uncovered by members of the historical board. In 1833, Bull sold 160 acres of land to Samuel and William Ray Jayne, who established a grist mill operation near the Bogue Chitto River.

From there, the inscription on the marker goes on to explain what happened next: “In 1857 the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railroad line was completed one and a half miles east of the Jayne property, and settlers began to move closer to the railroad. This area became known as Old Brookhaven, or Old Brook.”

At the time, the original Old Brook settlement was valued at $3,000, said Mayor Cox.

Taylor can recite a good bit of the area’s history herself, and confirms that there was a post office constructed near the marker’s site. This is further backed up by a number of historical records that note the post office to have been the origin of the settlement of Brookhaven pre-railroad. Now though, Taylor says a wooden shed and garage stand where the post office once did.

After Chancery Clerk Tillmon Bishop delivered the dedication, Taylor summarized the significance of the event to the mayor and Alderman at large Karen Sullivan.

“We don’t realize the importance that history has until we are at the end of our road. The sketches of history that I’ve accumulated throughout the years has given me a lot of perspective on my own life,” Taylor noted.

Sometimes investigating history can be a rather complicated matter. In the case of getting official approval for historical markers of this kind, the work follows a now familiar protocol according to Rich. First, the committee members determine precisely what to include on the marker by drafting up pertinent historical information.

This information is the culmination of investigative research and fact-checking with multiple sources. In the case of the Old Brook marker, for example, Rich and the members referred to the original land deeds that they copied from the Lawrence County Courthouse. At the time of settlement, Brookhaven was considered part of Lawrence County. Other bits of information are gathered through discussions with community members, such as Taylor.

“We crosscheck information and try to get as many sources as possible to back up what we find. Many times, particular dates can be a struggle to confirm,” Rich explained.

“It’s sometimes impossible to take one person’s word for something,” Rich said.

After making a concerted determination on what to include on the marker, and putting the words to scale, the local committee then sends their draft to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History based in Jackson. Months, or sometimes years, later, the department will send the completed marker to the Mississippi Department of Transportation, who delivers the marker to its unveiling. The marker posted Wednesday had only a slight revision from the material initially submitted by the local group.

The designation of the Old Brook marker comes less than two weeks since Rich and Hal Samuels, the son of former Brookhaven Mayor Harold Samuels, stood in front of a similar marker, then in front of the Lincoln County Historical and Genealogical Museum at the corner of South Church and West Chickasaw Streets. On a similarly sunny morning, Rich and Samuels delivered speeches that culminated in the dedication of a marker meant to preserve the history of the B’nai Shalom Temple. The temple was converted into the Lincoln County historical museum in recent years.

Also noted at the event Wednesday, Alderman at Large Sullivan said that the board is awaiting final approval for a third marker for the city of Brookhaven that will designate the Rosehill Cemetery on Monticello Street as another historical site. Sullivan anticipates this marker to be positioned sometime in the spring of 2014.

Taylor said she was pleased with the turnout at Wednesday’s unveiling ceremony.

“I’m just happy to be here and to see so many people,” Taylor said.