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150 Years And Counting: Wesson anniversary planners uncover history along the way

THE DAILY LEADER / KIMM HENDERSON / The Wesson Chamber of Commerce sign proclaims the town's birthday celebration with events coming up April 25 and 26.

THE DAILY LEADER / KIMM HENDERSON / The Wesson Chamber of Commerce sign proclaims the town’s birthday celebration with events coming up April 25 and 26.

Marilyn Britt is used to wearing a lot of hats. She’s a assistant vice president of a bank,, head of the Wesson Chamber of Commerce and leader of her hometown’s Friends of the Library. Amateur sleuth, however, is only a recently acquired title.

It was her role as chamber president that had her viewing a stack of VHS tapes during a lunch break last December. The videos were actually compiled from reel-to-reel recordings of Wesson’s 1964 centennial taken by then-school principal N. B. White.

“I was trying to watch them before for our first planning meeting,” Britt recalls, referring to preparations for Wesson’s biggest Founder’s Day ever, the one that later this month will celebrate 150 years.

That’s when she saw it. Five minutes, 12 seconds into the black and white footage – something no one else ever had caught.

Just a few frames, mixed in innocently enough among the others of a parade and a turtle race and beauty pageant, and they showed two men on a platform taking part in some type of ceremony. One of the men – in a top hat and tails and most probably the mayor – is handling what appears to be the cornerstone of a building.

“I just kept rewinding it and watching it, over and over, until I was sure it was what I thought it was, and where I thought it was,” she says. Excited, Britt called the mayor and asked him to come and take a look at the footage himself.

Mayor Alton Shaw was quick to agree with her assessment of the video: Yes, it looked like the men had planted a time capsule, and yes, it appeared to have been placed in a brick corner of the Old Wesson School.

The discovery was due in part to a project begun by the Wesson Friends of the Library in 2005, which ensured the reel-to-reel relics Britt examined were preserved. The town had the films transferred to DVD earlier this year so residents and visitors can enjoy them during the upcoming anniversary celebration.

Among the other recordings to be shown that day is a film made by library volunteers of Rilla Smith, a recently -deceased direct descendant of Wesson Mills owner, Captain Oliver. “I’m so happy we took the time to tape Mrs. Smith sharing her personal knowledge of Wesson’s history,” Britt says, referring to the project.

Locals have also been asked to contribute items for museum displays planned especially for Founder’s Day. Among the antiquities recently donated by Edward Smith Jr. are scales and a meat slicer from a general store, metal roller skates, a milk bucket, an ox yoke, a wooden structure used to survey land and a cotton-weighing device. Dixie Thornton will serve as curator for the displays.

As part of an evening barbecue and birthday cake event open to the public, town officials plan to bury a new time capsule that will later be covered by a permanent marker and brick work.

It is the uncovering of the 50-year-old time capsule, however, that has added an element of intrigue to a sesquicentennial that already promised to interest history buffs and fun-lovers alike. With a parade, open houses, demonstrations, contests, and the opening of the mysterious capsule on tap, Wessonians have a lot to look forward to during the April 25 and 26 bash.

According to Mayor Shaw, it’s only appropriate that a celebration be held, because Wesson is a town that appreciates its history. “The renovation of the old school is a good example of how residents feel about the past,” he points out. “The street lights we’re putting up are modeled after original ones from the mill town years, and we work hard to maintain our downtown area.”

Not only is the town celebrating a big birthday, but its chamber of commerce is marking 25 years as well. “To have these milestones coincide, then to have the Smithsonian exhibit at Co-Lin to complement them – it’s really remarkable,” Britt adds.

The Smithsonian exhibit, titled “From Mill Town to College Town,” is being displayed in the Mutton Building on the Copiah-Lincoln Community College Wesson campus. The exhibit, on display through May 9, includes a historical look at the evolution of Wesson and has photos and items from the National Archives as well as local artifacts from Copiah and nearby counties as part of the display. Co-Lin is only one of two community colleges approved by the Mississippi Humanities Council for the exhibit.

For more information about Wesson’s 150th Anniversary Celebration, call the Wesson Chamber of Commerce at 601-643-5000.