See Rock City

See Rock City

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Olive Branch, MS

Olive Branch is a city in DeSoto County, Mississippi, United States. It is the ninth largest city in Mississippi. Olive Branch is a suburb of Memphis, Tennessee. The city is situated at the intersection of the U.S. Highway 78 freeway and Mississippi State Highway 302 (known locally as Goodman Road). The population was 21,054 at the 2000 census. The United States Census Bureau estimates as of July 1, 2007, the population of Olive Branch has reached 30,635. Along with other fast growing suburban cities in DeSoto County, Olive Branch attributes most of its growth and development to the exodus of large numbers of middle-class families from central Memphis (white flight).

Old Towne Tour

Olive Branch Old Towne is a triangular area of approximately one-quarter square mile, bounded by the rear property lines of properties on Goodman Road on the south, the west right-of-way line of Highway 305/Cockrum Road on the west and the northeast right-of-way line of Old Highway 78 on the northeast. The area is bisected by historic Pigeon Roost Avenue and contains the old Olive Branch Business District. Approximately ninety businesses are located in the Old Towne area. Many of the Old Towne buildings were built shortly after the start of the twentieth century.

Wesson House

The Wesson House, located on the southwest corner of the Pigeon Roost Avenue / Goodman Road intersection in Olive Branch, Mississippi is one of only Three dedicated Mississippii Landmarks in Desoto County (the other two being the Court House and the LaBauve House, both in Hernando).

The site where The Wesson House is located was included in the two sections of land (Sections 34 and 35) purchased from Chickasaw Indian Chief, Lush-Pun-Tubby by Milton Blocker and Stephen Flinn more than a century and a half ago on April 13, 1836. In 1840, Blocker traded his interest in Section 35 and $6,400 to Flinn for Flinn's interest in Section 34. The Wesson House is located in the extreme northwest corner of Section 34 so we know the property was owned in 1840 by Milton Blocker. In 1847, Milton Blocker was travelling down the Mississippi River on a cotton-selling trip to New Orleans on the Steamboat, Medora, when the boiler exploded and he was killed.

The next we know about The Wesson House site is that some thirty odd years later, in the mid-1870s, it was owned by Ben F. Wesson, who probably purchased it from Milton Blocker Jr. or from the Blocker estate. At that time Wesson built a mercantile store on the front of the site which fronted on Pleasant Hill Road (now Goodman Road). Further back on the property, he built his house which we know today as The Wesson House. We believe the house was built in 1875.

The community of Olive Branch, formerly known as "Cowpens" and "Watson's Crossroads", was incorporated on May 1, 1875 with a population around 150. Ben Wesson was elected as its first Mayor. He served only one term as mayor until 1877. He would later serve as the City's Postmaster from 1880 until 1888.

The Wesson House, and the store which would stand until the middle of the 20th century, was passed down through the female side of the family through Bet Wesson, Maude Wesson and finally to Martha Pearl Wesson who was married to Forrest "Red" Langston. Prior to Martha Pearl's death on October 15th, 1987, she indicated to the Mayor of Olive Branch, Milton Nichols, that she would like to deed the Wesson House to the City of Olive Branch to be used as a museum. Following Martha Pearl's death, her husband, "Red" Langston fulfilled her wishes and prepared his will leaving the House and property to the City.

"Red" Langston died in 1991 and, upon probation of his will, the City took ownership of The Wesson House and property and began restoration and preservation efforts on the House which was in immediate need of repair.

The City made application to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History for historical designation status for the House. It was determined, as a result of modifications made to the House, that it did not qualify for inclusion on the National Register of Historical Places, however, because of Ben Wesson's importance as a historical figure in Olive Branch history, the house did qualify as a Dedicated Mississippi Landmark and that designation was granted.

The Wesson House anchors the southern end of Olive Branch Old Towne. The old house will become a cornerstone of the development of that area with the construction of the new City Hall to be built across Pigeon Roost Avenue east of The Wesson House and Monument Park / Nichols Plaza which will be built across Goodman Road to the north.

The Wesson House presently is not open to the general public on a regular basis, however it is available to local citizens and civic organizations for special events and functions. The Olive Branch City Beautiful Commission holds a Christmas Open House each year in December, at which time The Wesson House is open to the public in all of it's holiday splendor. Future plans call for The Wesson House to be open to the public and for guided tours several days a week. There is even the possibility it could evolve into the museum for which it was originally intended.

Bill Cruthirds, Sr.

Mrs. Maud Wesson gave us some interesting facts concerning the early settlement of what is now Olive Branch. Miss Wesson is a descendant of Milton Blocker, one of the first white settlers of the county, and told us that Blocker and wife, Mrs. Frankie Blocker, secured the land which now comprises the greater part of Olive Branch from a Chickasaw Indian in 1833. She said that she gained this information from an abstract which was in the possession of her family for years. In 1834, the Blocker home was built, and still stands as one of the familiar landmarks of Olive Branch, which was named by Mrs. Blocker and her daughter, Julia.

Frank Congor, Chancery Clerk, helped find this bit of information concerning the present site of Olive Branch: In the Chain of Title, Court House Record, Volume I, we find that Lush-pun-tubby is recorded as the original owner of Section 34, Township 1, Range 6. It is recorded here that Stephen Flinn bought this section from Lush-pun-tubby, and that Milton Blocker, in turn, bought it from Stephen Flinn. However, Congor said, it is possible that the courthouse records are not entirely accurate in their statements concerning these early transfers of property. Miss Wesson is positive that Milton Blocker owned the property as early as 1833.

In an interview at his home near Olive Branch, Dr. M. A. Stuart related some interesting facts about the early settlers of Olive Branch, and events took place near the town: Dr. Stuart said that his grandfather, Atabelopa Stuart, bought in 1837, from Alan Dupree, two sections of land, which included the present site of his home. The land cost only $4.00 per acre, and Dr. Stuart pointed out the spot just back of his home where his grandfather's log house stood; near the home of Dr. Stuart, and south of Mineral Wells, there was once an Indian camp; that the old Pigeon Roost Road, now Highway 78, was, before the war, a plank road, and that it was torn away by General Sherman's army as it marched toward Holly Springs. The road was named âPigeon Roostâ because it was along its course that droves of pigeons roosted each year on their way to and from the South.

The first church of Olive Branch, Dr. Stuart continued, was the old State Line Baptist Church, a few miles north of Olive Branch. He recalled that Dr. W.H. McCargo was the town's first doctor, and that Paine and Rowlett owned the first store. Among the earliest settlers mentioned were: Messrs. Dandridge, Alan Dupree, and Sam Watson, who consecutively owned the old place where T.H. Norvell's modern home now stands. Here, in the old log house, Sam Watson, ardent spiritualist, wrote several books on spiritualism.

Mrs. T.H. Norvell, Olive Branch, also spoke of Watson as being a scholarly person, and said that his books on spiritualism were written in a small brick study in the yard, which he used for a lodge or office. One of his books, âThe Clock Struck One,â is said to be very impressive. It was based upon an occurrence at the death of one of Mr. Watson's daughters. The book emphasizes the fact that an old clock in the loft of the house, which had not run or struck for years, suddenly struck one shortly after the death of the girl downstairs.

Mrs. Anna Maples stated that, besides the Blockers, there were other families who settled at what is now the town of Olive Branch. These were the Paines, the Flynns, the Watsons, and the Rowletts. Rowlett Paine, former Mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, is a native son of Olive Branch. Mrs. Maples' present home is located on the land settled by the Rowlett family. She was of the opinion that the settlement, now Olive Branch, was originally called Cow Pen, and later, Watson, in honor of the Watson family, who were early settlers there. Among Mrs. Maples' valued possessions is an old scrapbook containing many newspaper clippings. Among these clippings was an eighty-one year old advertisement that originally appeared in the city directory of Memphis in 1855. It was an advertisement for the firm of Forrest and Maples, Slave Dealers. The Forrest of the firm was General N.B. Forrest, of the War between the States. Her scrapbook also contained a picture of what was believed to be the first automobile to enter DeSoto County - a Cadillac costing $1,600.

An interesting fact concerning Gen. Forrest, related by Mrs. Maples, was his having worked for Josiah Maples in his youth, on the old Evans place, a few miles from Pleasant Hill.