Greenwood in the Delta — Part 2

It was a major economic development coup for Greenwood, Miss., when that city was chosen as the site to film a major motion picture, “The Help,” which is based on a best-selling novel by Mississippi author Kathryn Stockett.

The estimated economic impact of the project is almost $12 million.

“Preserving our historic buildings has been our No. 1 asset other than the people,” Mayor Carolyn McAdams told the Delta Business Journal earlier this year.

As I noted in a recent post, Greenwood is a treasure trove for those who love historic preservation, Southern heritage and good food.

“The city is revitalizing downtown’s Howard Street with brick pavers, light fixtures and traffic lights more fitting with the historic feel of the area,” Greta Sharp wrote in Delta Business Journal. “Where possible, the city is placing utilities underground. The city parking lot on Fulton Street is getting a facelift and construction on a multimillion-dollar airport control tower begins soon.

“Additionally, Main Street Greenwood is working with property owners to restore and renovate building fronts in the Johnson Street and Carrollton Avenue area thanks to a facade grant project. … There are 14 facade projects in the works for this year with four already completed. In the 42-block downtown area, Main Street focuses on organization, design, promotion, economic restructuring, recruitment and retention.”

The 2004 New York Times article that I referenced in the earlier post on Greenwood mentioned Ben Hussman of Little Rock and Little Rock native Ann Jennings Shackelford, who now runs the wonderful B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Miss. They were attending the Viking Cooking School in downtown Greenville when the article was written. The cooking school, a spa, the wonderful Alluvian Hotel and much of the downtown revitlization is all thanks to Fred Carl’s decision to locate Viking Range Corp. in his hometown of Greenwood.

In the process, he has attracted thousands of culinary pilgrims such as Hussman and Shackelford during the past seven years to a town that just keeps getting better.

Taylor Holliday wrote in that New York Times article: “Mr. Carl originally planned to locate Viking in Jackson, Miss., where it would be easier to recruit top management, but soon, feeling disloyal and guilty, he said to himself: ‘To heck with it. I’m going to do it in Greenwood or I’m not going to do it anywhere.’

“In addition to building the factory, he turned his attention to the center of town, restoring a 1903 opera house and former cotton market buildings to be Viking’s headquarters and later renovating the old car dealership. Then (in 2003), the Alluvian opened in what had been the Hotel Irving, ‘an abandoned, horrible eyesore,’ Mr. Carl said. He saw the restoration as a ‘chance to do something special for Greenwood.’

“While the outside of the hotel is now pristine 1917, the inside is elegant 21st century — a cream-and-wine-colored decor accented with bold local art. The lobby’s first and lasting impression is made by Bill Dunlap’s large canvas ‘Delta Dog Trot,’ in which a larger-than-life dog seems to be stepping out of the dramatic, orange-hued alluvial plain of the Yazoo basin, whose inhabitants Tennessee Williams is said to have once called Alluvians.

“Building a $175-a-night hotel in the poorest part of the country might seem a little risky, but Viking knew it would fill the rooms Sunday through Tuesday with dealers in training, and it populates them the rest of the week with executives on corporate retreats, stove groupies in town for custom tours, cooking-school enrollees and travelers on the hotel’s Delta Discovery packages featuring food and blues tours.”

Carl told an interviewer earlier this year: “My initial intent was to provide lodging for our dealers and distributors who were coming to the Viking headquarters in Greenwood, but also to bring more in-depth exposure to the company and its products.”

Holliday ended the article on this note: “One evening last month, a friendly man at the high-style Giardina’s bar issued a visitor a coveted invitation to his other regular hangout, the Cotton Row Club. It’s a men’s social club of sorts, an ancient dive in the alley behind the Viking offices that’s seen decades of poker playing and chewing the fat, where five quarters buys a beer out of the Coke machine and a bit more gets a shoeshine from a popular old-timer called Hambone.”

Back on June 28, L.V. “Hambone” Howard died at age 72 following complications from a stroke. It marked the end of an era.

If you go to the Southern Foodways Alliance website at www.southernfoodways.com, you can find more about “Hambone” and the Cotton Row Club.

“The Cotton Row Club has been a fixture in downtown Greenwood for as long as anyone can remember,” says the website’s introduction for a series of interviews that were recorded back in 2003. “Located just off the Yazoo River and behind the legendary Cotton Row, this building is rumored to be the second oldest building in town. Once a stable and blacksmith shop, it eventually became a hangout for cotton buyers and other businessmen sometime during the first half of the 20th century.”

The owner at the time of the interviews was Stacy Ragland, who began coming to the club in the 1950s, began working there in the 1970s and later bought the place.

“You can’t get food here,” the introduction stated. “Sure, there are peanuts at poker games and a potluck during the Super Bowl, but this is not a restaurant. Rather, it’s a private little hideaway and watering hole for local businessmen and their friends. … Stop in, though, and get a beer out of the Coke machine.”

Last year, a 16-minute documentary titled “The Last Kings of Cotton Row” was created by Matt Boyer for the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. The documentary features “Hambone” along with Ragland (who owned the club for almost 40 years) and Tommy Gregory Sr., the last remaining old generation cotton broker on Greewood’s Cotton Row.

“Hambone” is gone, but his memory lives on.

In the October 2007 issue of Here’s Greenwood, Laura Barnaby wrote: “L.V. Howard, or Hambone as he is universally known, has been preaching almost as long as he has been shining shoes, both of which he started doing as a youth. … Unless you attend McKinney Chapel Baptist Church, where he is assistant pastor, you’re most likely to see Hambone cruising the streets of downtown Greenwood, running errands for various folks and delivering newspapers. It’s hard to catch Hambone not in constant motion, but your best bet is to track him down early mornings or late afternoons at the Cotton Row Club down Ramcat Alley, where he has been shining shoes since 1986.

“The Cotton Row Club and Hambone — both downtown fixtures — are a good fit. The club, which was owned by W.A. ‘Smitty’ Smith, used to be a favorite gathering place for cotton brokers and other businessmen during the cotton capital’s heyday. Stacy Ragland, who started working there in the 1970s, had just bought the place from Smith when Hambone started there.”

Someone posted this during the summer as part of an online discussion about the Cotton Row Club: “The golden age of the Cotton Row Club was really something by all accounts — a way of life and business that is gone forever. In many ways, it is very sad to those of us who knew Greenwood many years ago.”

Yes, things change.

The cotton era ended in Greenwood. But thanks to Fred Carl and Viking Range, a new era has begun in recent years.

Greenwood is well worth a visit.

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