Look Back In Yalobusha History
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By Jack Gurner
Lightning is thought to have started a fire that caused extensive damage to the historic Blackmur Hotel building early Saturday, June 12, 1982.
The fire was discovered about 9:30 Saturday morning when a passersby noticed smoke coming from the third story of the old hotel building.
The structure, which was built about 1869 and had not been used for a dwelling in some five or six years, but the bottom floor stores were occupied by Mitchell’s Drug Store, Pruitt’s Early Bird Donut Shop, Morgan Electronics and Village Flower Shoppe.
Stock and fixtures from Mitchell’s, Pruitt’s and Village Flower Shoppe suffered considerable water damage. Volunteers were able to remove some of the building’s contents, and all of the stock of Morgan Electronics was saved.
First known as the Herring Hotel, the building was purchased by the late W. E. Blackmur during the 1920s. The late H. B. Howell and the late M. B. (Snooky) Williams purchased the building in the early 1960s.
Firemen arriving on the scene began to cool the structure immediately, but the fire, contained between a wall and the tin-covered mansard roof, continued to blaze until two bucket trucks from the city electric department were brought in to get closer to the source of the fire.
Oxford and Coffeeville Fire Departments were called and responded quickly, aiding in preventing the fire’s spread to adjacent buildings. The Oxford firemen, using sophisticated protective gear and breathing devices, were able to enter the third floor and expose the burning areas, which were quickly extinguished.
Fire Chief Bob Ward said the lightning probably entered the building in the rear through an iron electrical conduit. Chief Ward said that severe lightening was reported in the area early Saturday morning and that the fire probably smoldered for several hours before breaking out, due to lack of oxygen in the confined spaces of the false wall between the second and third stories of the building in the rear. The flames spread upward and outward, finally involving the entire third story.
Chief Ward praised the work of the Water Valley Fire Department and expressed appreciation for the help given by the Oxford and Coffeeville departments. This was echoed by Mayor Hamric Henry who added, “Without their efforts we might have lost a whole block of Main Street. They helped avert a major disaster.”
M. B. (Snooky) Williams, one of the building’s owners, said that the loss, in excess of $100,000, was only partially covered by insurance. He said that engineers had inspected the structure and that rebuilding plans would be determined by their report. He felt that it might be feasible to remove the entire third story (which was not a part of the original structure) and build a shed-type roof over the entire second story.
“At this point, we just don’t know what we’re going to do,” said Williams. “but I believe there is a good chance the old building can be saved.”
All the firms formerly housed in the hotel plan to continue in business. Mitchell’s Drug Store is now located in the John Crow Law Building at the corner of Masonic (Henry Place) and Wagner Streets. Morgan’s Electronics has moved six doors down the street to the building last occupied by Deborah Kay Dance Studio. Village Flower Shoppe is in temporary quarters in the building last used by City Flower Shop on North Main Street across from City Park.
Larry Pruitt, owner of Pruitt’s Early Bird Donut Shop, has indicated that he intends to reopen, but has not yet found a suitable location.
Through The Years From The Herald
• 15 years ago, June 14, 2007 – With a $15 million investment from Windsor Foods, an estimated $1 million from the state and $70,000 from Yalobusha County, 250 jobs were just around the corner. After five months of negotiations, the county and Windsor had come to an agreement.
A feature story on the Herald’s front page detailed Joel and Nancy Rogers’ bee keeping hobby. Wade Doolin was featured in the “Talk of the Valley” column.
• 20 years ago, June 13, 2002 – Four WVHS juniors, Jennifer House, Ashley Wilbourn, Andy Wright and Byron Surrette, attended the Rotary Youth Leadership Conference in Olive Branch.
Bits of string collected by Dolly Shearer and then by Ludie Appleton were fashioned into a beautiful three-dimensional butterfly by Laverne Edwards as a memorial to “Miss Dolly.”
Wade Doolin was about to reopen his barbershop at 303 N. Main Street. His original shop burned earlier in the year.
New officers for the Town and Country Garden Club were Julia Thompson, president; Pat Ray, vice-president; Loy McMinn, corresponding secretary; Patsy Suratt, recording secretary; and Yvonne Jones, treasurer. New leaders for the Garden Club of Water Valley were Nell Cox, president; Errin Dunbar, vice-president; Mary Elizabeth Kolb, parliamentarian; Betty Harris, historian; Kathy Ward, secretary; and Jill Olmstead, treasurer.
Gifted students at Davidson Elementary School created art for the Children’s Diagnostic Areas of Baptist Hospital. The class included Cody White, Lindsey Liles, Steffi River, Tyler Jones, Ben Aven, Lauren Tyler, Marli Craven, Josh Lowery, Shane Hollister, and Ryan Bain.
• 30 years ago, June 11, 1992 – The WVHS cheerleaders were honored at the school’s athletic banquet: Allyson Howe, Andrea Davis, Heather Horan, Natalie Norwood, Kim Vaughn, Cathey Maynor, Kay Woodward and Stacey Avant.
Top tennis honors at the banquet went to Kevin Edwards and Kim Vaughn.
Among the scholarship and award winners recognized at the WVHS commencement exercises were Patsy Lynn Camp, Citizenship Award; Anthony Whitehead, ACT Scholarship to NECC; and Darlene Judson, E. C. Davidson Memorial Scholarship.
• 40 years ago, June 17, 1982 – Cecelia Williamson was charged with the murder of her husband, James B. Williamson, on June 10. Mr. Williamson was found dead in the remains of his fire-gutted home on Hwy. 32 near Oakland March 22.
Angela Gordon won the free throw award at NWJC basketball camp.
The Bank of Water Valley observed their 100th anniversary.
• 40 years ago, June 15, 1972 – Fifteen area youth, Len Crawford, Jim Dickey, Ricky Suratt, Holly Hart, Lorrie Crawford, Dianna Williams, Sheila Hale, Bruce Harding, Steve Hale and Ronnie Hill, were headed to Explo ’72 in Memphis.
Edward B. Shearer, editor of the Herald, announced in his Shearings column that Kitti Craven, a rising senior at WVHS, was working at the newspaper.
• 60 years ago, June 14, 1962 – Voters overwhelmingly approved a bond issue of $140,000 for buying land and making expansions at the Big Yank plant of Reliance Manufacturing Co. The vote was 632 for and 22 against. The expansion will allow the Big Yank division to employ 125 additional workers and increase the payroll by approximately $250,000 per year (an average salary of $2,000 per worker).