Friday, March 5, 2021

Oxford’s Olden Days: Miss Annie’s Yard


William Shakespeare in the Tempest stated, “Whereof what’s past is prologue.” The Trigg-Doyle-Falkner-Brown House on corner of Buchanan Avenue and South 11th Street is a prime example of this statement. The home was built in 1855. In the 150 years since its construction, what started at this home and its yard, has remained until the present day. In the time before Oxford had an Oxford Park Commission, an Avent Park, or a Pat Lamar Park, the yard that I knew as Miss Anne Brown’s was our playground.

James G. Trigg, a native of Kentucky and a Princeton graduate, had the home constructed. In 1847, he had opened the first clothing only store on the Square in Oxford. He sold the home to Robert E. Doyle, a local grocer and commission merchant in 1861. Sometime in 1870, the Doyles had the Victorian columns and ornate gingerbread trim added to the eaves and dormers. Doyle sold the house to local attorney J.W.T. Falkner, the grandfather of William Faulkner, in 1887.

J.W.T. Falkner and his wife, Sallie Murry, would live in the house until 1900 when he constructed a new home. This home was built on the site of the present day McPhail’s Chevron Station on the corner of South Lamar and University Avenue. To the Falkner family this large two-story home would be known as “The Big Place”. In 1902, Falkner sold the railroad that had been started by his late father. His son Murry had worked for the railroad in Ripley and after the sale he moved him and his family to Oxford. He had three sons. William was the oldest and the two younger sons were Murry and John. They would live in the home until 1905 when Murry Falkner traded homes with local merchant John B. Brown. The Falkners would move closer to “The Big House” in Brown’s home on South Lamar near where the Kangaroo Pouch is today.

It is not known if the Triggs or the Doyles had children that played in the large front yard, but the children of Murry Falkner certainly did. The front yard of the home is as large as a football field. It also had a fenced in side lot that was the pasture for the three phonies owned by the Falkner boys. One of the best known pictures of a young William Faulkner is that of him seated on his spotted pony and his two younger brothers holding the reins of their ponies in front of the home. Faulkner would have been ten years old or less in the picture.

John B. Brown married Miss Annie Chandler in 1916 a few years after his first wife had died. Mr. Brown would die in 1951 and Miss Annie would live on in the home until her death in 1967. Mr. Brown had three children by his first marriage and he and Miss Annie did not have any children. One of Brown’s sons was local merchant and cotton gin owner Ross Brown. He had two children, Billy Ross and Patricia (Mrs. Loren Young). Patricia Young has great stories of playing in the yard of the home. Her father and grandfather would store cotton bales in the large yard during and after ginning season. All the neighborhood children would play on these bales of cotton. One the neighbors, Loren Young and his twin brother, Lester, who lived a block away on South Lamar, also played on these bales of cotton. Loren would later become the husband of Patricia Brown. Mrs. Young also stated that her grandfather had a dormitory style building in the back of the home where his field hands, that were not married, would live. He would also stored cottonseed behind the house where the children would play. She states that is the reason she had problems with her lungs today.

Other Oxford children that played baseball and football in the yard over the years were Thomas Elliott and his cousin Baxter Elliott, Hunter Little, Howard Duvall, Leighton Pettis, and many others played in the 1930s and 1940s. Children of my age played there in the 1950s and 1960s. My friends Walter Roberts, Neil Lovelady, James Sprayberry, and Tom Moore to mention a few had some great ballgames in the yard. One of our favorites was to play football on our knees. If you haven’t tried to play football on your knees, try it sometime with your children or grandchildren.

All during the years Miss Annie lived there, her yard was the Oxford Park. We had no place to play except in someone’s yard until Avent Park was built around 1960. Miss Annie would sit on the porch and watch us play. William Faulkner would sometimes stop and watch us play when he was walking to and from the town Square. I guess that he was reliving the days of his youth.

Even today local neighborhood children are using the yard to play and practice their sports. My grandson, Thomas Dacus, and his friends, William Elliott (Thomas Elliott’s grandson} and Chadwick Lamar (Pat Lamar’s grandson) use the yard. They also call it Miss Annie’s Yard even though Mrs. Knox Gary now owns the house and yard. I have seen her grandchildren playing in the yard like many before them. As Faulkner had been quoted as saying, “The past isn’t dead, it isn’t even past.”

Mayfield 34Jack Lamar Mayfield is a fifth generation Oxonian, whose family came to Oxford shortly after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832, and he is the third generation of his family to graduate from the University of Mississippi. He is a former insurance company executive and history instructor at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs, South Panola High School in Batesvile and the Oxford campus of Northwest Community College.

In addition to his weekly blog in Oxford’s Olden Days, Mayfield is also the author of an Images of America series book titled Oxford and Ole Miss published in 2008 for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for restoring the post-Civil War home of famed Mississippi statesman, L.Q.C. Lamar and is now restoring the Burns Belfry, the first African American Church in Oxford.