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W. P. A. History of Pontotoc County, Mississippi


Homes On The Indian Trail

The first residences built where Pontotoc now stand were erected on the ridge that encircles the town from the southeast to northwest. This embryo settlement was on the Chickasaw "long trail" which began at Longtown of the Chickasaws, seven miles to the southeast on the Natchez Trace, and ran to Mobile and Pensacola, southward, and to the Chickasaw Bluffs northwest.

Thus it was that the first settlers of Pontotoc built their homes on this trail, considering the location near the land office a logical future center of population.

The first of these homes on the ridge, and consequently the nearest to Pontotoc, was the COLONEL RICHARD BOLTON HOME. Bolton was then a young man who came here in the 1830s as a representative of the New York and Mississippi Land Company. Colonel Bolton, a native of Georgia, was an intellectual man of sterling character whose long life in Pontotoc proved of inestimable value to the community. When the Fontaine, Winston, and Dandridge families came to Mississippi from Virginia, he extended the use of his home to Colonel Fontaine until the latter built "Ridgeway".

The JUDGE WILLIAM SPENCER HOME is the next home on the Chickasaw trail deserving mention. Judge Spencer was a native South Carolinian who came to Chickasaw country about the time Rev. T. C. Stuart opened his mission at Monroe. He first resided in that neighborhood and was a ruling elder in Monroe Presbyterian Church soon after the organization in 1825. He attended a presbytery at Unity, a country church five miles east of Tupelo in 1833. His grandson, Holly, who is an elder in the Pontotoc Presbyterian Church, attended a presbytery in the same church in 19833.

In 1850 Judge Spencer bought this house from John A. McNeal which was built in 1836. It is a one story structure. The lumber that was used in the house was hand hewn and whipsawed from lumber cut on the place. The shutters and doors are made by hand and one of the mantels, built in 1836, is hand-carved. Set on a hill midst old oak trees, the house has a mellow and attractive appearance. It is in an excellent state of preservation.

It was raided by the Yankees during the War between the States, and an interesting incident of the raid is told: The Bissingers, who came to Pontotoc from Philadelphia, lived during this time at the old Richard Bolton place, about an eighth of a mile up the trail to the end of the road. One day Mr. Bissinger went down to the Spencer's in a great state of excitement and told that the Yankees were coming. In his hand he carried a can of gold, which he and Mr. Spencer buried. After the surrender Mr. Bissinger dug up his gold and found it to be a can of sugar.

After the war A. H. Spencer, son of Judge William Spencer came home to look after the family; Tom had been crippled and Robert had been killed at Vicksburg. In the 1870's A. H. bought the place from his father and owned it until his death, December 5, 1913. In his will the home was left to Holly Spencer. Judge Spencer was one of the first probate judges of Pontotoc County.

The last of these homes standing on the trail is the old JOHN I. PEARSON PLACE. It is a story and a half structure with a hall dividing the lower floor. The house is badly in need of a coat of paint, but the inside of it is in a fair state of repair.

The Pearson family likewise came from South Carolina and became a part of the mission settlement around old Monroe. When the Land Office came to Pontotoc, it also brought the Pearsons. Henry M. Lusher, a bachelor brother in law of Mr. Pearson, resided with the family. He was the draughtsman for the Land Office and platted the Chickasaw Lands after they had been surveyed by John Bell, the surveyor-general. "Lusher's Map", a rare publication, is a standard authority on the topography of North Mississippi. The Pearson place passed out of the family several years ago, but a son of Mr. Pearson, William H. Pearson, survives and is living at St. Petersburg, Florida. (1)

RIDGEWAY, one of the historic homes in Pontotoc County, was named by its builder, Colonel Patrick Henry Fontaine, for the locality in Henry County, Virginia, from whence he came.

Colonel Fontaine was the first grandson of the immortal Virginia creator and patriot, Patrick Henry, born of Colonel John and Martha Henry Fontaine on the "Leatherwood" plantation, which Patrick Henry had given his daughter and son-in-law upon their marriage. In 1799 Patrick Henry came from Hanover County and built "Leatherwood" on a tract of ten thousand acres of land he had previously been granted and purchased. In the latter part of his life Patrick Henry moved to Charlotte County, where he built "Red Hill" and where he died in 1799. Thus the Leatherwood Estate was divided among the children of his first marriage, Colonel John Fontaine building "Greenwood", where his son, Patrick Henry Fontaine, spent his young manhood, was married, and lived till he came to Mississippi when the Chickasaw lands in the northern part of the state were open for settlement.

Thus the village and post office of "Ridgeway" originated in Virginia, chiefly as a family community, and a duplication of the same idea resulted in the naming of Ridgeway in Pontotoc County. When Colonel P. H. Fontaine, having received an appointment with the United States Land Office, came to Pontotoc in the fall of 1835, there came with him a long train of family connections, household goods, slaves, cattle, farm implements, etc.

The personnel of the caravan included N. W. Dandridge, a brother-in-law, married sons and daughters, and his own household. The head of the family soon acquired two sections of land east of Pontotoc, and on the ridge one mile east, the erection of the manor house was begun, which was completed in the fall of 1835 and named "Ridgeway".

This description of the building of "Ridgeway" is given by Major Lamar Fontaine, in his "Life and Lectures":

"When a child only six years old I was carried to see my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and kinfolks in and around Pontotoc. I well remember the looks of the great logs the negroes were hewing in long, straight lines to build the houses to live in. They were a novelty to me, as my home had ever been a tent, and I asked my grandfather how he was going to take all those great logs with him when he went to move his tent. This, of course, provoked a laugh at my expense and exposed my ignorance to the crowd. My mother had to tell them that I had never lived in a house, but always in a tent that could be moved about to suit our nomadic life on the prairies of our Texas home."(1)

These oaken logs, taken from the surrounding primeval forest, were indeed massive in their proportions. With the portico in front, the house was cross-shaped. The double oaken doors at the front led into a roomy hall. The rooms on each side were 20 x 20 feet, square with large brick chimneys at each end. The entrance hall led into a smaller hall, with latticed alcoves on each side terminating in the large dining room. At the rear of that was another log structure known as the kitchen or "cook room". Originally there were the tobacco, cotton, and grain barns, slave quarters, etc., which made quite a settlement of the place.

On the same ridge in antebellum days, was located Colonel Fontaine's brother-in-law, N. W. Dandridge, whose house was burned by Federal raiders during the War between the States; the home of his daughter, Mrs. Nancy Brooks, was destroyed by the tornado of March, 1855; the home of his son, Colonel Charles D. Fontaine, is still standing but it is in a bad state of repair.

In its palmy days, "Ridgeway" was the ideal plantation home of the better sort. The home was not designed as an architectural triumph or for the display of lavish wealth, but for solid comfort and substantial living. The master of the house not only directed his own affairs firmly, calmly, and deliberately, but was the sage advisor, counselor, and friend of a host of dependents. He was also an expert in agriculture, horticulture, gardening, in the selection and breeding of cattle, and in a thousand and one other duties which he discharged so ably and well that it is difficult to understand how those unacquainted with him should regard him as the type of indolent and slothful southern planter.

His wife was no less diligent and efficient in discharging her duties as mistress of the household. Together, men and women of this type held the destiny of our nation through its formative period and planted our civilization on a firm foundation. The ruin and decay of their ancient homes and the scattering of their posterity do not indicate that they lived and wrought in vain. Many homes in many places have sprung from "Ridgeway" and kindred habitations while men and women of rare culture and worth have sprung from the parent stem of pioneer ancestry of their sort.

Among the old land grant deeds issued in the early days of Pontotoc County, there is found in the Pontotoc County Museum a deed issued to Patrick Henry Fontaine, who was the ancestor of the Fontaine family, the family that has figured so prominently in the political, civic, and social life of the county since its early days.

This deed is for 159.17 acres. It is signed by President John Tyler and Acting Recorder James I. Wilson of the General Land Office and dated April 9, 1842, Messrs. Ferguson and Harris are now the owners of "Ridgeway" , which was the original Fontaine grant. (2)

The I. P. CARR HOME on South Main Street is one of the most interesting in Pontotoc. It is of substantial Colonial style, full two stories, with square, small-paned windows extending across the front of both the upper and lower stories. The first floor has a wide entrance into a spacious hall which is flanked with a room on each side. There is a rear hall and one-story dining room and kitchen extension. A small portico originally covered the front entrance but a veranda now extends almost entirely across the front. The residence was built on the severe, straight angle plan, obviously for comfort and not ornamentation.

This is no doubt the only property in Pontotoc continuously in one family for a century. The place was settled by I. P. Carr in 1837, and the residence is now owned and occupied by his youngest daughter, Miss Ellen Carr.

Since Pontotoc was laid out in 1836 by Thomas McMackin, there has been but one change in ownership in this property. McMackin sold the lot to Aaron Root, and the latter, in turn, on November 6, 1837, deeded lot 109 to Isaac P. Carr, "the said piece of land being the same on which the said Isaac D. Carr's shop is built."

Mr. Carr was a cabinet maker and woodworkman of extraordinary skill. In a few Pontotoc homes there are yet rare specimens of his handicraft in woodwork. The shop alluded to in the deed stood until recent years. After Mr. Carr's death it was transformed into a residence and in later years made a home for Mrs. Mildred Gorman, the aged widow of a pioneer citizen, when she alone survived her family. We have no information as to Mr. Carr's first residence on the lot, but the present house was completed about 1850.

PHOTOGRAPH: The Carr Home built by I. P. Carr about 1850.

An atmosphere of simplicity and solid comfort, that characterized the better class family homes in the Old South, still lingers about this place. It is particularly impressive because of its surroundings of homes and structures in which the modern motif is stressed. The flower garden of the old varieties , bordering on the street front and north, is "Miss Ellen's" particular diversion and care, and it is a rare privilege for the passing wayfarer, who may be harassed with the perplexing problems of this modern age, to rest his eyes upon this garden spot of a forgotten era and pause to "pass the time o' day " with Miss Ellen, meditatively working with her flowers or knitting in her rocking chair on the veranda.

The venerable "heaven trees" fronting the house in the strip of green between sidewalk and roadway are features of the old place deserving special mention. They were set out by O. C. Carr, eldest son of the family, about 1850, and are no doubt among the oldest "planted" trees in our corporation limits.

One of the most interesting and attractive of Pontotoc residences is the CAPTAIN J. D. FONTAINE'S HOME on the west side of South Main Street. The house is a two story frame dwelling of classical outline, well back from the street. The small portico and balcony make an inviting entrance to the home. The lawn is shaded with primeval forest trees and cedars.

The lot was first owned by General John Bell, surveyor general of Chickasaw lands. The property passed from him to Paul B. Barringer, thence to Charles W. Martin. It was the latter who built the residence in the early part of the 1850s. For a decade, during the golden era in the social life in Pontotoc preceding the War between the States, the home was a center of hospitality and entertainment.

Mr. Martin, who married into the Duke family, became guardian for the minor Duke children. Upon the death of their parents in 1850 he purchased from Henry Bissinger, for Miss Sina E. Duke, the property in East Pontotoc now known as the Clarke place.

Later he sold the Fontaine place to A. J. Brown, and moved his family and the Duke heirs to the Bissinger place. A. J. Brown made his home at the Fontaine place until the marriage of Captain Jack Fontaine to Miss Dallie Duncan in 1870, when the place was sold to Captain Fontaine and was his family home until his death in 1924.

During this period of more than a half century the place was an ideal family home. For many years Captain Fontaine was a leading member of the local bar and, at the time of his death, was among the older practicing attorneys in North Mississippi. He was the son of Colonel Charles D. Fontaine and is succeeded by Hon. John B. Fontaine, which makes an unbroken line of barristers in this family of three generations, covering the entire history of the town.

The old home is today the property of Captain Fontaine's widow, Mrs. Dallie Fontaine, though she resides with her son, , John B. Fontaine, at "Lochinvar". A marked feature of this home during the Fontaine occupancy was the flowers. A large greenhouse on the property kept the rooms supplied with the choicest flowers throughout the year.

When the COLONEL CHARLES B. MITCHELL HOME was built in 1880, in the plantation style, a place of southern hospitality and unusual culture was established. At that time Colonel Mitchell was a promising young lawyer. When his death occurred he was recognized as one of the best criminal lawyers in the South. Two sons have inherited the intellect and ability of their noted father. One of these, Dr. C. D. Mitchell, a noted neurologist, is head of the state hospital at Whitfield; another, General George T. Mitchell, of Tupelo, at one time attorney general of the state, is following in his father's profession with the same brilliancy.

At the death of Colonel Mitchell, his son George, who had married Miss Virginia Summers, of Virginia, sister of Mrs. Mallie Clark, moved into the house. The other children had either married and established homes of their own or gone into professional work out of town.

Wit and charm of entertainment marked the hospitality of the young Mitchell establishment. Soon

PHOTOGRAPH: Colonel C. B. Mitchell's Home. Built about 1880. This home stands in Pontotoc.

after when George Mitchell moved to Tupelo with his wife and two children, Charles and Virginia, the place was sold to Mr. J. E. Walker, who lived there with his mother and sister until his death.

Upon the death of Miss Mollie Walker, who married James W. Inzer, the place passed into the Inzer family. Today, James Inzer and his son, William, who is county attorney, live in this landmark of the town.

The house and spacious grounds are in an excellent state of preservation. The house contains ten rooms, a front hall, a front gallery, and a latticed gallery which ex tends across sixty feet in the back. The inside woodwork is of most excellent material with fittings of unusual exactness and accuracy. The rooms are large with tall ceilings and large windows protected with the old time slatted blinds. Wrought iron mantels in the house form an artistic design. The distinctiveness of the whole is enhanced by the summer fire screens in the same patterns. The flooring used in this home is of the four inch tongue and groove type, and is of the choicest heart lumber. The substantial foundation has an underpinning of brick laid lattice fashion, which is artistic in effect. In recent years the addition of a front porch has changed the front line of the house, which is the same model as that used in the building of the Clarke place. The terra cotta tiling, which caps the chimney tops, adds an old world distinctiveness to the lines of the roof.

The once beautiful vineyards on the estate are now, 1938, the location of a modern residence which Clyde Rutherford, local druggist, is having constructed. The stables at the rear of the house are empty. The lily pond, down the hill from the premises, is now a marsh. Here at one time ice was secured and stored in the house for months at a time. Here, later, converts were baptized. Some of the glamour has departed with the grace of another day, but it is fortunate that the house has fallen into kindly hands.

When Judge Joel Pinson came to Pontotoc in 1833 and made his home at STONY LONESOME, he was the father of nine living children, six daughters and three sons.

After he secured vast acres of land from the Indians and his wealth had accumulated from year to year, Judge Pinson settled large tracts of farming land on his sons. Sam Pinson, his oldest son, was deeded a plantation situated about three miles south of Pontotoc on what is now called the Okolona and Pontotoc Road, where he built what was considered in those days a comfortable residence. It was situated in the heart of the wilderness and the fact of its isolation probably accounted for the designation of "Stony Lonesome" as the name. The house was built in 1849, just three years before Judge Pinson died.

In contrast with the houses of today, all timbers in it were heavy and massive, and there was no makeshift in any of its structure. The foundation is of hewn timber sixteen inches thick. The joists are twelve inches wide and four inches thick. The walls, ceiling, and floors are made out of such timbers. The walls have been ceiled in late years, but upon close investigation some of the original plaster is shown to be sticking. Laths were about two inches wide and were close together. The flooring is of six inch heart pine cut from the surrounding forest and planed by hand. All door and window facings are plain but attractive and give evidence of having been made by competent hand. The doors and mantels are of skillful workmanship and are in an excellent state of preservation. Windows are wide and tall. They contain twelve panes to the window, each pane 18 x 12 inches, and thus afford comfortable light. The architecture used was the plain substantial type commonly called a plantation home. The house is two stories with four rooms, 20 x 20 feet. The kitchen and dining room join the parlor on the south side, There are four bed rooms, some of which were no doubt occupied by guests for weeks at a time during the early eighties. The wide, two story gallery extends across the entire front of the house. Large pillars or columns originally supported the roof, but these have been replaced by small posts on a gallery of only one story in height.

It was here that Sam Pinson brought the bride, Mary Jane Franklin, of Bolivar, Tennessee. She came to him with money and slaves. A peculiar and interesting facts about the slaves of this family is that when the bride came from Tennessee she brought with her old "Uncle Henty and Aunt Ruthie", who remained at "Stony Lonesome" until the surrender; even then they refused to leave the plantation.

Mrs. Sam Pinson only lived a few years and left a young son, Bernard, and a daughter, Sallie. Mr. Pinson remained in the home after his wife died, and relatives assisted him in the rearing of his motherless children. He enlisted at once when the War between the States broke out but lived through it and for a few years afterward. At his death the two children inherited his property and the daughter, who became Mrs. Ike Bell, fell heir to this part of the estate. Mrs. Bell later sold it to M. B. Pitts, who in turn sold it to W. T. Stegall. It was later transferred to R. B. Calloway, the present owner.

Tradition named the place "Stony Lonesome" because the building was rather drab in appearance and was surrounded by almost impenetrable forests. The historical background of this place has not extended further than that of the original pioneer builder, Joel Pinson, and his son, Sam. Tenants who have lived on the plantation have done so purely to cultivate the fertile soil.

After the death of Joel Pinson, his widow, Elizabeth Dobbins Pinson, and her so Richard Alexander Pinson made their home at Stony Lonesome. Richard A. Pinson later attained great eminence as a business man in Memphis (see chap. 22, Professional and Civic Leaders).

The stately mansion, LOCHINVAR, on one of the highest points of the Pontotoc Ridge, two miles south of Pontotoc, has a peculiar attraction for all who pass that way. As one approaches the long drive which leads to this imposing home almost hidden from view by the massive and cedar and crepe myrtle trees, an atmosphere of southern aristocracy creeps into one's being.

"Lochinvar" was originally the home of Robert Gordon, a Scotchman and a jeweler of noble birth , who arrived her over a century ago to sell his wares. He founded the present town of Aberdeen, naming it for Aberdeen, Scotland, and built a large hotel there to accommodate the numbers of people who were moving into the Chickasaw territory.

When Gordon heard that the Chickasaw lands were to be ceded to the government he made his way to Pontotoc and was present at the home of Topulkah when the treaty was made. He signed his name as a witness. After land offices were established, Gordon began speculating in lands from which he accumulated a vast fortune. At one time he owned a strip of country extending from Pontotoc to Aberdeen, a distance of sixty miles.

He bought the two sections of land surrounding Lochinvar from Molly Gunn, grandmother of Cyrus Harris, first governor of Indian Territory. The land was originally occupied by Puccanala, beloved Queen of the Chickasaws, who called the country Isito-Kobafo, "broken pumpkin". Queen Puccanala's home was near the spring called Queen's Spring. She lived to be a very old woman and upon her death was buried beneath the wild cherry tree standing at the front of the Lochinvar grounds.

Soon after Robert Gordon's arrival in Pontotoc, he married Miss Virginia Walton, of Cotton Gin Port, and determined to build for her the most beautiful home in the country. Therefore in 1836 he sent to Scotland for an architect, builders, and much of the material. Every timber used in the construction of this house was heart pine. The framework is of solid heart pine all hand hewn, as there were no sawmills in the country. The Doric columns supporting the porches came from an old castle in Scotland. They were shipped to Mobile, loaded on log wagons, and drawn by oxen to Lochinvar, a distance of two hundred miles. The panels of the inside walls were pinned together with small wooden pegs; nails were used only in the floors. The flooring, of six inch planks, is all heart pine running the length of the twenty-two foot rooms.

A beautiful, self supporting, winding stairway leads to the third story, thence to an observatory on the top of the building overlooking the old fashioned flower gardens, the deer park, and the hunting lodge. The house contains twenty two rooms, eight of which are twenty-two feet square, two large halls, and two galleries. The two large rooms on the south may be thrown into one reception room. They are heated by immense fireplaces , the backs and sides of which are made of sheet iron. The gallery running around the south and west of the house is one hundred and thirty two feet in length and eighteen feet in width.

Other parts of the architectural beauty include the banisters in a popular English drawnwork pattern, around the little porch upstairs, and the ornate round beading, a rare piece of workmanship over the door entering the hall from this porch. Around this home are found many unusual shrubs and plants, the most notable being English boxwood, which the owner had transplanted from his ancestral home in Scotland.

Mr. Marvin Rowzee, member of a pioneer family and a talented architect of Pontotoc, says that this spiral stair at Lochinvar has for a long time been a puzzle to architects. "A dozen architects from other states have visited Lochinvar to see the stair. They have asked permission to take up two or three steps to see how it is framed underneath, but so far it remains a mystery."

Mr. Robert Gordon deeded Lochinvar to his only son, the late James Gordon, who was, until his death a character of interest both in the United States and abroad. It was he who brought Lochinvar into publicity. James Gordon was considered an authority on all forms of sport. His writings, "The Pious Jeems" are found in the old English sport journals. These writings gave him a wide acquaintance with men and women of that proclivity and his home became a rendezvous for the great sportsmen of the North and East, who came to this country during the hunting season. Mr. Travis, a New York artist of some fame whose special interest was in the painting of dogs, visited Colonel Gordon at one time to paint several of his blooded hounds. He made a painting of the Colonel's favorite hound, Minta-ho-yah, named for his boyhood Indian sweetheart, about whom Mr. Gordon wrote the following poem, which gives a bit of his intimate life:

Minta-ho-yah was the name of a maiden in the Chickasaw nation, the sweetest wild rose of the plain , with lips as red as a carnation;

Besides she was a chief's daughter, Old Itawamba, her sire,

Was the biggest chief in the nation, but rather addicted to Fire.

Firewater, I mean, that pale-faces gave the reds,

Then cheated them out of their land for which their forefathers bled.

But Minta-ho-yah, the beauty, Minto-ho-yah, Love's morning star,

That beamed on my heart in my boyhood; my boyhood at old Lochinvar,

Isito Kobafo (Broken pumpkin) was the Indian name for the place, which my father changed into Lochinvar, the ancient home of his race.

His race that dwelt on the Solway, where the laird came out of the west

To Netherly Hall, on his swift stead, and bore off his bride to his nest.

With such an ancestor to boast of, no wonder the old Scotchman frowned. When he saw his heir sweet on an Injun; so he bought up the old Chieftain's ground,

And sent Itawamba to westward, the chief and the little brown maiden

And I, fickle, false lover forgot every promise I made

But oft; when weary and careworn, and my heart with its burden o'er-teems,

Minta-ho-yah the love of my boyhood, comes to me in my dreams.

Dreaming am I? Old memories will often rise out

And a voice Aeolian whispers a lonely faraway knell,

From the cinders of the past, when you stir the cold ashes about:

Echoing through the heart's chambers ----Minta ho-yah my first love farewell?

Lochinvar was not only a point of interest to sportsmen and statemen, but it was the social gathering place for the beaux and belles of the surrounding country. The following vivid description of an evening at Lochinvar is narrated by Mr. Cadge Winston, who often attended social functions there:

"Lets be off to Lochinvar! Whisk, and we see the moon is mounting above the trees to look and an old mansion is ablaze with light from cellar to dome. In the perspective is the tall elegant form of the proud possessor of this proud realm - James Gordon - how are you to this; com in to another. Hello, two violins coming down the grand stairway! Here comes the guitar, banjo, another violin, bass fiddle, tambourine, bones, triangle --- all will go to work presently. Hired bands were unknown in these days.

Couples of young people on a sofa are in delightful conversation. The gentleman is in such high state of cruel boots, razor soap, hair oil, and love that he is becoming liquid. His collar is limp although a superabundance of starch is apparent. ...

This concludes the first 182 pages of the WPA History of Pontotoc County. If you would be interested in helping to get the rest of it posted online, please let me know!

(1) Lamar Fontaine, Life and Lectures, (Neale Publishing Co., New York and Washington, 1908).

(2) Mrs. N. G. Augustus, Pontotoc, Miss.

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