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Mendenhall: A Small Town with a Unique...

Mendenhall: A Small Town with a Unique Name and More

By: Laura Lee Leathers - July 14, 2023

Mendenhall Courthouse (Photo from the city's website)

In 1901, the town was named for a former Simpson County state lawmaker, Thomas L. Mendenhall, a prominent citizen and lawyer from Westville.

Have you traveled Highway 49 south of Jackson lately? Did you notice a sign that says, “Welcome to Edna?” 

That was a test. There is no such sign, but there is one that says, “Mendenhall.” Edna was the original name for the town back in 1899.

And why that name? It originated with Phillip H. and Eula Maude Didlake. They purchased land as a real-estate speculation venture based on the probability that the Gulf and Ship Island (G&SI) Railroad would put a rail line through the area. They were right! When the town plat map was created, the Didlakes chose to name the town after their one-year-old daughter, Edna Earle Didlake (1898 -1982), who later married Dr. Hayne D. Blakely.

The G&SI Railroad was not pleased with the town’s name. Therefore, the station’s name became Edmore. In 1900, when an application was made for a post office, it was denied because a town by the name of Edna already existed. In 1901, after several names were suggested and debated, the name was changed to honor Simpson County’s State Legislature representative, the Honorable Thomas L. Mendenhall, a prominent citizen and lawyer from Westville.

The Beautiful Historic Courthouse

The first courthouse for Simpson County was a log cabin, established in Westville in 1824, where it remained for almost 70 years. But when the G&SI Railroad decided on a more direct route, it bypassed Westville.

According to information on the Simpson County Historical and Genealogical Society Facebook page, the Honorable T.L. Mendenhall wrote about the situation in the “Reminiscences of Simpson County.” A legal battle developed regarding the location, and the decision was eventually determined by the Mississippi State Supreme Court. The county records were to remain in Westville until the new courthouse in Mendenhall (shown above) was completed.

New Orleans architect Andrew J. Bryon designed the courthouse based on the design of the United States Capitol building. Contractor M. W. Land of Jackson was awarded the contract with a bid of $59,000. The building project was completed in one year for the bid amount.

Today, the Simpson County Courthouse is known as “the most beautiful courthouse in Mississippi.” It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on August 29, 1985. The building was restored to its historical detail in 1987 for $1,750,000. The impressive building stands majestically at the top of the hill at the east end of Main Street.

The Alice E. Davis Memorial Park

After walking up and down Main Street while listening to the music from the outside speakers and visiting the businesses, spend some time in the well-maintained Alice E. Davis Memorial Park. It was developed by the Mendenhall Business Women’s Club in 1999.

Renovation of the stage was completed in 2019, according to The Simpson County News. Business organizations and private citizens made donations. Leading the project was James Pierce, who served as the President of the Mendenhall Chamber of Commerce that year. He stated the park was a “hidden gem.” And it is!

One of the buildings adjacent to the park has a hand-painted mural depicting Mendenhall’s historic sites and businesses, along with a portrait of Thomas L. Mendenhall. Artists Sara Qarqish and Julia Keys were hired in 2021 to refurbish the mural.

The Chamber of Commerce recently sponsored the 14th Annual Mendenhall in May event. It included a BBQ cook-off, petting zoo, kids’ zone, car show, and vendors with arts and crafts. The park is for music entertainment and other events, such as Pumpkins in the Park held in October, Easter egg hunts, and Christmas programs. Check the City of Mendenhall MS Facebook page for future events.

Alice E. Davis was known as a pillar of the community and a strong advocate for the town. A scholarship for the University of Mississippi was established in her name in 2007 for the students graduating from Mendenhall High School.

A Totem Pole and Historic Artifacts

Next on the list is a stop at the Mendenhall Library. There you will find Mississippi’s tallest totem pole. It was carved by local artist Johnny Knight and donated to the town before his death on December 29, 2003. The memorial stone placed at the base of the pole states the dedication service was held on August 15, 2013. Be sure to go inside the library to view the display of artifacts and learn more about Mendenhall.

Mr. Knight is also credited with creating the previously mentioned mural in the memorial park. Johnny Knight, known for being “an eclectic and talented artist,” also built a treehouse. His niece, Gloria Patrick Lucas, acquired the property and offers The Treehouse and The Cottage as vacation and event rental facilities. The Treehouse sleeps up to six people, and The Cottage sleeps two people. For more information, visit the website. It is located minutes from downtown.

The Nostalgia Creamery

Through a friend, I connected with Melinda Thomas, a pharmacist and life-long resident of Mendenhall. We met at the new Nostalgia Creamery, located on Highway 149, and enjoyed a scoop of ice cream—delicious—while we visited.

When asked to share her perspective on why she and her husband, Steve, enjoy living in Mendenhall, Melinda replied, “There is nothing like living in a small town where people know you. The people here are helpful and friendly. It is country living. We are minutes from church, good places to eat; we have doctors and a small, expanding hospital, and we are not far from Jackson, Magee, or Hattiesburg.”

Melinda and I enjoyed more fellowship before it was time to interview Grayson and Walker, relatives of Nostalgia Creamery’s owner, Kelli Reynolds. The business opened this year on March 31 and is a family affair. Kelli’s daughter, Maggie, created the whimsical artwork throughout the building. They operate the business seven days a week. The website gives information about packages available for birthdays, weddings, and corporate events. The back patio offers another location for family gatherings and events; see the website for ideas and pictures.

Outside, parked next to the shop, is their cute vintage 1980 Serro Scotty Ice Cream Truck. “Scotty” is available for hire for family, public, and business events. 

Simpson County Heritage Trail

Ensure your gas tank is full before you visit the following towns within the boundary lines of Simpson County:  Braxton, D’Lo, Harrisville, Pinola, Weathersby, Sanatorium, Magee, and Mendenhall.

The Heritage Trail was created in 2011 by the Simpson County Development Foundation.

After driving, it’s time to return to Mendenhall for great food. Here are a few suggestions:

  • The Steakhouse on Main, 142 Main Street N, opened in March 2023.
  • Williams Country Buffet (previously Granny’s Table Buffet Restaurant) is on Highway 49 and is under the new ownership of James “Slim” Williams.
  • B & B Meat Market and Deli, 3084 Simpson Highway 13.

The Simpson County Bicentennial

Next year, 2024, marks the 200th birthday of Simpson County. The Simpson County Historical and Genealogical Society is making plans for the big event. 

About the Author(s)
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Laura Lee Leathers

Laura Lee Leathers is a writer and speaker. Imagine Lois Lane, over sixty-five, and living on a farm. Her metropolis is the area of freelance writing. Her primary love interest is the Word of God. She digs for information, interviews fascinating people, offers a cup of biblical hospitalit-tea, encourages, and helps others with the ‘how-to’s’ of life.
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