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COFFEEVILLE – Frank B. Brooks was the guest speaker at the Yalobusha Historical Society’s May 21 meeting, sharing the rich heritage of the Sylva Rena community. Brooks opened with excerpts written by Earl Fly for “Yalobusha County History,” a 1982 publication by the Yalobusha Historical Society.
Fly wrote that Sylva Rena was a close-knit community consisting primarily of farm families. “These were happy days as all of us lived under the same conditions and we did not know that it was hard times,” Fly added.
“Sylva Rena is still a close-knit community, but no longer primarily farm families,” Brooks told the audience as he traced the community’s strong bonds starting with the construction of the Sylva Rena School in 1889 at a cost of $5,000. The building burned in December, 1938, prompting the school to consolidate with the Water Valley schools.
Miss Ruth Brooks taught grades 1-3, Mrs. Baird taught grades 4-6 and Mr. Baird taught grades 7-12. Other schools in the area were Hatten, Leggo, Williamson, Lickbranch, Buck Hill, and Green Goshen.
Brooks’ history then jumped to the summer of 1929 when two churches in the area, Leggo Baptist Church and Big Springs Church, agreed to have a revival under a brush arbor on the school property. After the revival there was talk of consolidating these two churches into the newly formed Sylva Rena Missionary Baptist Church.
Sunday School was organized and met in the schoolhouse until a building was erected. Not all members came from the two churches joined the newly organized Sylva Rena Church.
Original members included: Mr. and Mrs. Edd Barton, Mr. and Mrs. Leroy Barton, Miss Ruth Brooks, Mrs. Annie Cobb, Mr. and Mrs. A.R. Coker, Mrs. Helen Early, Miss Avis Gore, Mrs. W.E. Hudson, Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Holt, Mrs. Irma Miller, Mr. and Mrs. .A.B. Magee, Mr. and Mrs. Bennie Norris, Eugene Norris, Woodrow Norris, Mr. and Mrs. A.F. Patton, Mrs. J.A. Rollins, W.T. McAdams, W.T. Smith, Rufus Smith, Kenneth Mooneyham, Bill Mooneyham, Noel Johnson, Rachael Johnson, Mr. and Mrs. Wiley Ware, William Hudson, George Patton, Clifton Hudson, W.E. Hudson, Miss Sena Goodwin, Mr. and Mrs. G.W. House, Mrs. R.W. Tyler, Stanley Tyler, Miss Gladys Patton, Mr. and Mrs. J.L. Langdon, Mrs. Serepta Langdon, Mr. and Mrs. Homer Hudson, and Miss Homer Frances Hudson.
Brooks then shared another world-wide event that impacted the community – World War II. He reported that 29 young men from the community served. They were Robert Cobb Jr., Charles White, James Early, John McNemee, Hubert McCullar, Olan Marshbanks, Clinton Patton, Monroe Edwards, William H. McCullar, Thomas Marshbanks, William T. White, Carson Patton, James R. Tyler, James L. Hudson, Harvey Tutor, John S. Tyler, B.B. Magee, Cooper Barber, Leroy Barton, Jr., James L. Ware, John Hudson, Raymond Edwards, Chapman Pullen, Barney Pullen, Marvin Bost, Thomas H. Edwards, Allen V. Pullen, and Raymond Pullen.
The women of the community met and prayed every day for the safe return of these men. All 29 men returned to Sylva Rena after the war. Many of the soldiers used the GI Bill to purchase farmland in the community and were successful.
Brooks then noted another major event that impacted the Sylva Rena community – the construction of Enid Dam Reservoir from 1947 to 1952. He shared that most of the post-war productive farm landowners and tenant farmers were displaced. The displaced farmers included Ruel Sissel, Noel Johnson, Price Holliday, Taylor Rotenberry, W.W. (Hickey) Willingham, Bufe Williamson, Doyle Rotenberry, Albert Magee, Jesse Guest, George Benson, Ernest Wortham, Ed Frost, Bobby Gene Rowsey (store), Ellis Caldwell, John Toliver, Stokes McFarlin, Louis Toliver, Jake Sholly, Jim Toliver, Willie Austin, Jesse Crowder, Ed Wright, Herman Buck, Jim Pete Moore, Red Chapman, Charles Buck, George Tyler, Matt Tyler, Wes Jefferson, Cleveland Roberson, Willie Polk, James Polk and Walter Polk.
Next Brooks shared about women in the community who began to leave the farm to help out financially when Rice Stix Manufacturing came to Water Valley. Farmers typically sold crops once a year, but with women working they also had a weekly stable income. This marked the end of flour sack shirts and skirts and brought a new need – additional vehicles to travel for work.
Brooks’ next stop was in 1938 when Tallahatchie Valley Electric Power Association was founded. Bringing power to rural Mississippi meant no more kerosene lanterns and electricity for everyone.
During the long winters, people missed visiting with neighbors. There were no phones and no TV. The community met once a month for food, fellowship, and music in a house belonging to Robert Tarzi. As their needs grew, in 1951 a building was constructed for this purpose and named the Sylva Rena Community Center. It has been used for meetings, birthday parties, voting, and family reunions over the decades since it was built. The community center remains a vital part of the community. The men responsible for the community center were Robert Tarzi, Moody Moore, Herbert Moore, Herman Jones, Russell Edwards, Raymond Edwards, Benton Woods, A.C. Tatum, F.E. Brooks, George Surrette, Cliff Hudson and Walter McAdams.
Next came water in 1968 when Billy’s Creek Rural Water Association was formed. The directors of this association were George Surrette, Raymond Edwards, F. B. Brooks, Daniel Waller, and Asa Pausaer. They worked for two years to obtain a grant for $350,000.00 that would resolve the water problem that included high iron content in many of the wells.
Brooks then shared some of his personal memories started with Campbell Bottom.
“Dr. Albert Campbell lived in Coffeeville, practiced medicine and was the only doctor. After suffering a stroke, Dr. Campbell sold his slaves and moved to Sylva Rena. As he regained his strength, he built a house and began a practice from that house,” Brooks recalled.
Dr. Campbell helped organize the first conference of the Methodist Church in Water Valley. His grandson, Clinton Benson married Irene Clark and sold the farm to Frank Emmett and Eva Brooks, Frank Brooks’ parents.
Brooks also shared that the John Berry place that joined his home place had a stagecoach stop and mail drop.
“My definition of Sylva Rena is a community with suburbs, Oxford, Grenada, and Batesville,” he added.
Attendees at the May meeting were Kay McCulley, Debby Hughes, Bill Criss, Pat Brooks, Gene Mixon, Julie Mixon, Frank Brooks, Raye Brooks, Bob Brooks, Barron Caulfield, Clay Ashford, James Person, Gail Hercules, Grady White, Brad Willingham, Leah Willingham, J.W. Tutor, Julia Fernandez, Jeanette Whitehead, Becky McMahen, Grant Thompson, Robert Barton and Nancy Barton.