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Lafayette County ‘Poor House’ Rediscovered During Highway 7 Widening Project

By Alyssa Schnugg
Staff writer

After the Mississippi Department of Transportation announced the widening of Highway 7 in Oxford was put on the backburner due to a lack of funding from the state Legislature, some people have wondered if there was another reason.

“I heard they ran into a gravesite out there off Highway 7 and the cost of moving the graves was more than they wanted to spend,” said Michael Rush, operations manager of JW Electrical, that had to move its building 100 feet after MDOT purchased land along the highway.

However, while MDOT did, in fact, find an old gravesite, it wasn’t what stalled the widening project. According to MDOT spokesman Jace Ponder, when and if the widening project receives the funding necessary to move forward, MDOT will not disturb the estimated 15 or so gravesites.

A monument was placed to mark the area where several people are buried. Photo by Alyssa Schnugg.

“MDOT will avoid the pauper graves discovered near the project by shortening the Frontage Road access road to Office Park Drive,” Ponder said. “MDOT will also install a fence around the gravesites.”

The small cemetery was associated with the County Home and Cemetery – or as most locals referred to it, “the Poor House,” that was located on what was known as “Poor Hill” from somewhere in the 1860s to the 1950s. The house was where the county’s poorest citizen would live, and in some cases, died.

That hill is where the Oxford-Lafayette School of Applied Technology currently exists. Around 2008, Boy Scout Troop 144, as part of an Eagle Scout project enlisted the help of local sculptor Bill Beckwith, to build a monument near where the gravesites are thought to exist on the hill.

Around 2008, Boy Scout Troop 144 enlisted the help of local sculptor Bill Beckwith, to build a monument near where the gravesites are thought to exist on the hill. Photo by Alyssa Schnugg.

Will St. Amand, vice president of the Lafayette County Historical and Genealogical Society said he isn’t sure how many people are buried in the old pauper’s gravesite.

“I don’t think anyone really knows for sure,” he said.

Residents were allowed to remain in the Poor House for six months. Many helped grow fruits and vegetables on the grounds. When they died, only wood or sand markers were placed that deteriorated quickly.

Local resident Maralyn Bullion remembers the Poor House.

“When we would drive down route 7 we could see it from the road,” she wrote about the Poor House in Lafayette County on www.poorhousestory.com. “It was a little farmhouse and usually we could see people sitting on the porch. It always evoked the oft-quoted sentence by my parents, ‘If you don’t stop wanting things, we will be in the poorhouse … This home had a bit of a mystique and we felt bad that people had to be there but even as a child I realized it was for people who had nowhere else to go.”

The Poorhouse was eventually torn down after 1950. Grass, brush and trees grew over the gravesites.

According to the website www.findagrave.com, there are at least six people buried there, however, radar used by MDOT a few years ago suggested there could be 15 to 20 people buried on the hill.

Those listed include: James A. “Jim” Bryant, who died in 1950; William Hodge, who died in 1880; Ellen Parks, who died in 1871; Col. William Thompson, who died in 1875; Polly Warler, who died in 1875; and Julia Wilson, who died in 1875.

Today, when someone of little means dies, the cost at times falls to the Lafayette County Board of Supervisors.

Lafayette County Coroner Rocky Kennedy said if a person dies in the county who has no assets, money or known next-of-kin, the county publishes the name of the deceased in low newspapers for five days. After the five days are up, plans for final disposition of the remains can begin.

“We try hard to make contact with family members,” Kennedy said.

The monument sits on the edge of the property where the Oxford-Lafayette School of Technology is located. Photo by Alyssa Schnugg

If no contact is made, the two local funeral homes, Coleman and Waller — who have crematories on site — “bid” on cremating the remains for the county.

“We then hold onto the cremated remains in hopes a family member will contact us,” Kennedy said.

With the worldwide reach of the internet, searching for the family of deceased individuals is easier now than it was a few decades ago.

However, if no family is found, Kennedy attempts to find a final resting space for the person’s remains at a church located in the community where the person lives.

“I can usually find a place in a church that is willing to hold the person’s remains,” Kennedy said. “It’s recorded so that if the family ever does come looking, we can tell them where the remains are located.

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