Madge and Mr. Madge left Atlanta on Friday for our trip to Scooba Mississippi to find my grandmother’s hat shop. We made it to Birmingham, Alabama by lunch. Then, for several hours we wound through the rest of the state on scenic two-lane roads until we were over the border and in Scooba. It was hot and muggy and we could hear thunderstorms in the distance. We made a beeline to the Tubb-May Memorial Library on the campus of East Mississippi Community College to meet the librarians who have been helping me track down my grandmother’s hat shop. As we passed under the arch, Madge was so excited to finally meet the wonderful folks who have been so generous with their time
Assistant librarian Sarah Dauterive, especially helpful in my search, has enjoyed the “girlfriend letters” as much as I have. We also met and chatted up William Yount and Margie Agnew. Bill was the first person I talked with at the library, which means he was the unlucky fellow to happen to answer the phone! Happily, he was very interested in helping and connected me with Sarah.
Margie is a true find. Since she grew up in the area she was able to give us a rundown on the history of the town compared to the condition it is in today. Margie has some great stories, apparently, Scooba was quite the wild place in its younger days, reinforcing my view of how daring my grandmother was to journey there to find her fortune.
I mentioned the girlfriend letters which is a collection of letters by a local woman named Mae Hare to my grandmother after she left Scooba. Written in 1918 they are a wonderful time capsule of the times and of Scooba back when it was a bustling town. It’s also fun to think of my grandmother as a fancy-free young woman.
Intriguingly one of the letters includes the phrase “at the shop” in quotes at the top of the page. Not knowing if this means she was at my grandmother’s former shop, it’s another piece of this increasingly tantalizing puzzle. Sarah collected a number of items for us to review including a wonderful pictorial history of Kemper County. Many of the names in the book are in Mae’s letters. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a mention or a photo of Mae but there is a group photo that includes a Richard Hare, which I assume is her brother. I would love to find a copy of this book for my collection. Bill also told us about another book, Bloody Kemper which details the colorful history of the area.
After our meeting, Sarah volunteered to show us downtown Scooba. In reading Mae’s letters, Scooba came to life. Mae wrote in a very chatty style filling my grandmother in on the latest from her crowd. There was Shaff’s, the main department store whose scion, Mr. Shaff, must have dated up my grandmother and most of the other ladies in town. Stories of the picture show at the Lion Theater; seeing a play in nearby Electric Mills, MS, a former company town that no longer exists, and other comings and goings were such fun to read.
We were stunned to see the actual condition of the business district. The town that came so alive in Mae’s letters was a wreck. All of the buildings were dilapidated if not already fallen down. One of the stores still had merchandise in it as if people had just up and walked away in 1972. Madge could see a clothes rack of work shirts, one of which had a huge mud dauber nest on it.
Of course, the tale was true Southern Gothic. An elderly woman owned most of the downtown and refused to do anything with it. Waiving off any potential buyers all these years. However, in the spirit of urban renewal, she hung floral baskets and planted flowers in large pots in front of the derelict buildings; all of which she faithfully waters to this day.
We took a flurry of photos, which can be seen in the slide show below, and in doing so broke the heart of Ms. Jane Williams, a Scooba city alderwoman who happened to be passing by. She hoped that we were developers looking to put in a “Dollar Store” or something else to revive downtown. At first, she was sorely disappointed in us but got into the spirit of the search once Madge told the story of the elusive hat shop.
After our photo session, the three of us got to work on trying to locate Madge’s hat shop. Based on my aunt’s map, we narrowed down the probable location to a small storefront next to the former theater now painted up as Town Hall.
By that time the thunderstorms were starting to roll in and we needed to get back on the road to make Memphis by dark, so we bid adieu with a big thank you to Scooba. I plan to go back there in the near future for more research. Meanwhile, somebody needs to get busy on this collection of wonderful buildings before they turn to dust!