By Bess Hollingsworth
Patrons’ Union was located on the western boundary of Newton County, about three miles north of Lake on the Lake-Conehatta road. At one time it was one of the principal attractions for entertainment and education for Newton County and the surrounding counties. It was organized in 1883, and for the next 50 or more years held annual sessions. It was organized under the auspices of the Farmers Granges of Newton, Scott, Neshoba, Leake, Smith, Jasper and Lauderdale counties with one member of the “Order of Patrons of Husbandry” from each county to act as the governing body. It was organized by a few people with the stated purpose of creating unity among the people and of promoting educational, agricultural, and social advancement. It was thought by the organizers that the people needed a place to meet to share common causes and to develop individual interests. Immediately the people became actively engaged in improving education and in government reform.
The first year they met almost in the woods under a crude bush arbor to organize and elect officers. The first officers were: Dr. J. B. Bailey, President; A. C. Farmer, Vice-president; J. S. Scott, Secretary. After the first two years the organization was deemed a success, and the bush arbor was replaced by a comfortable and commodious pavilion, which, with various attachments, would seat one thousand or more persons.
At the very first meeting, the idea for a state supported college for women was promoted. This was to offer training for women to get an education, not just in the literary field, but with practical vocational training as well. Not only were they to think for themselves, but they were to be trained so they could support themselves. The legislature had been considering this, but no money had been appropriated to create the college. The Patrons’ Union supported the idea, and in 1884 (1886, chartered) the “Industrial Institute and College for Women” was founded.
The Patron’s Union soon became active for constitutional revision. They teamed with the Farmers Alliance and other Mississippi Granges to put pressure to bear on the Mississippi legislature to support the Constitution of 1890.
Mr. M. L. Hand claimed that the origin of the Patrons’ Union was the suggestion of some “good old women belonging to the Grange.” He claimed this part of the state needed a normal school to train teachers, and that the Patrons’ Union was a suitable place. The “Teachers Normal Institute,” which was supported by the Peabody Fund, was started in 1893 with several hundred teachers in annual attendance.
In 1894 , Mr. Hand stated the Patrons’ Union “had 90 acres of land outside of the guards (a wire fence); forty acres in cultivation, six in an experimental ground in cotton and grasses, thirty acres inside the wire fence; fifty cottages, some of two-stories; a large three-story hotel, furnished; a pavilion, an exhibition hall, some refreshment stands, a circular speed track on which to try stock, with suitable stalls for their accommodation, all well watered.” In 1894 about ten acres for a cotton experiment station was established under the direction of the State Experiment Station, A. & M. College.
The meetings were held each year in the last part of July and consisted of reports of committees on agriculture, horticulture, and educational topics of interest to the people. They also had speeches, recitations by the young people, essays, dramatic entertainments, music, and contests for prizes in various activities. Entertainment consisted of the social where the young folks were introduced to each other and “allowed to promenade around the grounds, and enjoy themselves in every way that is proper on these occasions (no dancing being allowed).” Sunday was devoted to the worship of God with very excellent sacred music, both vocal and instrumental.
There were exhibits of all kinds of agricultural products, both green and canned, quilts, embroidery, horses, mules, and cows. with prizes for the best. Lectures and discussions on better ways of doing things for both men and women provided much needed knowledge to the people who visited the Patrons’ Union. People came from Newton and surrounding counties to spend the week. Hacks met all of the trains at Lake to take the people to the camp grounds.
One month after the Patrons’ Union meeting, the Methodist Church held a yearly meeting. After the camp grounds were improved by the Union it was sold by the church to the Union people with the reserved rights of holding their annual meetings.
Neshoba County left the Patrons’ Union in 1889 to form the Coldwater Fair, later the Neshoba County Fair. Other counties began to drop out until Scott and Newton remained. The layout of the grounds was well suited for recreation and entertainment and a gradual change took place toward more fun activities. The grounds were laid out in a quadrangle with rows of wooden structures called “tents” (cabins). Most of these tents, or cabins, were two-story with cooking, eating, and visiting on the ground floor and four bedrooms with bunks upstairs for sleeping. A large pavilion which could seat five or six hundred people was in the center of the quadrangle. A large concession stand was on the grounds. At the entrance was a huge three story hotel. The ground floor of the hotel was for food, and with the use of bar counters and long tables could serve more than a hundred people. The second floor was for dice and cards, with plenty of moonshine and homebrew. The top floor, for sleeping and resting, had a private stairway. House guests from the French Quarter in New Orleans often occupied some rooms.
Outside the quadrangle there was a baseball diamond, a race track and grandstand which was in constant use. There would be horse racing in the morning, baseball in the afternoon, and young lovers in the evening. The pavilion was used for lectures, educational forums, and political speaking during the day and dancing at night.
I would like to read to you some excerpts from this book by Milton McMullan called Lake Chronicles…True Tales of a Mississippi Boyhood about his remembrances of Patrons’ Union.
“One of the main attractions at the Patrons’ Union was baseball. A five game series was played between Newton and Scott County teams. There was a fierce and irrational rivalry between the two teams and the fans. One game would be long remembered. Newton County had won two years in succession and Scott was out for blood. Friday was the big day. The series was tied, two and two. Newton had won two and Harold Loper, of Lake, pitching for Scott, had won his two games. Harold had struck out some of Newton’s heavy hitters, A. Byrd, LeRoy Nicholson, Jeff Ford and Sansing. Lake had a reputation for producing good ball players. The Lyle brothers, Claud and Dewey, were two of the best. Claud was then playing for the Phillies. He had named his baby girl Connie after the beloved Connie Mack. Dewey was pitching for a team in the Texas League and was home recuperating from an appendicitis operation. Putting on an old bathrobe, Dewey went out to see the last game of the series and sat with the players on the Scott County bench. The game had see-sawed all afternoon, Newton ahead one inning, Scott ahead in the next. It was that close. The game had run past the ninth inning and had been tied up for the last two innings. It was the bottom of the eleventh. Scott had scored one run in the top half and the score was now nine to eight with Scott leading. Word of the tied game had spread. The grounds around the tabernacle and concession stands were deserted. The grandstand was overflowing. Small boys had climbed trees to see over the heads of rabid fans, who always stood on the ground with their noisemakers. Excitement had reached a fever pitch. Newton had two men out and bases loaded. Fans on both sides were frantic. A hit would win the game for Newton. Dace Davis had pitched a magnificent game for Scott but he was tired. He had let men on base and the famous hitter Bear Miley was coming up. A relief pitcher was needed but there was none. Harold might have gotten Bear out but he had pitched the day before and had a sore arm. The manager went out and after a few words with Dace looked over in the direction of the bench where Dewey Lyle was sitting and gave him a signal. Dewey stood up and throwing off the old bathrobe walked out to the pitcher’s mound. Pandemonium broke loose. Nobody could have imagined Dewey dressed out in player’s uniform under the old bathrobe. He had been out of the hospital only three days. At any rate he was out there warming up. The umpire shouted ‘play ball’ and big Bear swaggered up to the plate. He had bragged that he could hit any pitcher that wore a Scott County uniform. Dewey opened with a fast one and Bear let it go by…The umpire called strike one. He called the next throw a ball. It was close. Bear tipped the next one and fouled out. He fouled the second time. Another ball and it was two and two, the big one coming up. The catcher signaled and Dewey shook his head. The catcher knew what was coming. Dewey wound up and let his fast ball go. It must have been going nearly a hundred miles an hour. You couldn’t see it. Bear must not have seen it. He had taken a mighty swing and missed. The game was over. Scott had won.”
Another story Mr. McMullan relates I think you will enjoy:
“Bob Marley, who lived on a farm near the Patrons’ Union Campground, had a mule named Clarence. Clarence was the son of a race horse from Louisiana whose owner sent him to Mr. Marley. “By the time Clarence was two and a half years old he had grown into a magnificent animal. Bay in color, seventeen hands high, and weighing nearly twelve hundred pounds, he had all the features of a thoroughbred, tall, narrow, long slender neck, short back, prominent withers and long legs. He began training Clarence. Clarence was a smart mule, and with Bob’s guidance, he mastered the running-walk of the Tennessee Walking Horse and also became a perfect pacer…
From the early beginning there was horse racing at Patrons’ Union. There were no race horse owners in Scott, Newton or adjacent counties, but they came in good numbers from Belzoni, Yazoo City, Columbus, West Point and Aberdeen. The purse for the main race, the Sweepstakes, was a thousand dollars, a big sum in those days. The big race was on Friday. Word had gotten out that there would be a mule in the race. The sports and dudes from the Delta and the black belt around Columbus thought it was a big joke. The redneck with the mule would never show up. The betting odds were twenty to one that Clarence couldn’t win. Bob was popular and well liked in and around Lake and the odds dropped to ten to one when his friends started betting. No one around there had ever seen a mule race against a thoroughbred and no one wanted to miss such a race. The crowd had been gathering all morning. It was eleven o’clock and the big race was about to begin…The starting pistol fired, the race was on. Clarence just stood there, he was left at the post. Suddenly Bob let out a Rebel Yell and Clarence took off like he was shot out of a gun…He had tremendous stride…There were some fine horses in the race and Clarence had his work cut out. Starting late he caught up, turning into the long home stretch. As he moved out in front, Bob let out another Rebel Yell and Clarence, without breaking stride, responded with a long honk and whistle…They won by two lengths. Clarence reared up on his hind legs and brayed and brayed and brayed. The bray, the honk and whistle of a mule is an awesome sound. This was his day of glory and he knew it... The dudes from the Delta and the Black Belt had been humiliated. They were in disgrace. They had been beaten by a mule. They loaded up their nags, pulled out and never returned.
The depression of the thirties came. Two disastrous fires destroyed the hotel, the pavilion and most of the cabins…Halfhearted attempts to revive the institution failed. The Patrons’ Union, after fifty glorious years, was no more.”
However, in The Newton Record for 1934, 1935, 1936, 1937, there were articles listing the dates and plans for the meetings. In 1938 the paper stated that Rainbow Amusement Company would play the midway.
In June, 1939, the paper stated that the Offices of the National Youth Administration of Jackson had notified officials of the Patrons’ Union of their approval of a project covering the construction of a swimming pool, lodge house, the renovation of existing cabins and construction of several new cabins on the Patrons’ Union Grounds near Lake. On June 22, same year, the paper state that renovating of the tents and grounds to be handled by NYA could begin the next week to be ready for the meeting July 23. On July 13, 1939, the paper mentioned that this would be the 57th annual event. It was under new management this year, and would be sponsored by Lake Community Club on the old Patrons’ Union grounds which have been bought recently by Lake High School…
Large crowds were expected with 30 or more tents (cabins) occupied, and with a different type of program which would revert to the Agricultural Forum and horse racing. At night there would be picture shows, stage shows, and dancing. It also stated the Patrons’ Union seems to have attained new life since it was taken over by Lake Consolidated School* and sponsored by the Lake Community Club with C. C. McClendon and Fred Helen as managers.
The last notice I found in the newspaper was in 1940, when the newspaper stated the Patrons’ Union would hold its annual 58th meeting from July 28 - August 2, with C. C. McClendon as manager and Dewey Massey as president of the Lake Community Club, sponsors of the event. Rodeo and horse racing, picture shows, dancing and concessions would be offered, and some tents were available for rent. The rodeo would include bronc riding, calf roping, bulldogging, wild steer riding, wild cow milking and Braham bulls.
As far as I have been able to ascertain, the 1940 meeting was the last.
Why did it close? Maybe because it had met their objectives. A college for women had been established. Some of the people of the state may have been concerned that Ole Miss had admitted women in 1883, and they thought a separate college for women would be better for their sons than going to school with girls. Changes were made in school laws which meant that teachers needed to be certified with college training; there was no need for the training institutes at Patrons’ Union. The Decatur Agricultural High School was established (and a little later, ECCC) which taught some of the same things Patrons’ Union was doing. High schools began teaching home economics, agriculture and industrial arts. County Agents, Home Demonstration Agents, 4-H Clubs, County Fairs, and other organizations became active because the people now had automobiles and could participate in such things. Movie theaters sprang up in the county. This brought to a close an important chapter in the history of Newton County. It provided unity for the people of the county, a time and place for recreation, and a closeness to Scott County. It provided opportunities for learning for teachers, housewives and farmers. It was one of the first experiment stations in the state. It provided Neshoba County with one of its biggest claims to fame …the Neshoba County Fair!
Information for this article came mostly from:
Brown, A. J., History of Newton County from 1834 - 1894, 1894.
McMullan, Milton, Lake Chronicles…True Tales Of a Mississippi Boyhood, 1990.
Lowry, Robert and McCardle, William H., A History of Mississippi For Use in Schools, 1898.
Various issues of The Newton Record.
Newton County Land Records.
*County land records show that:
THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI,
In consideration of $1.00 another valuable consideration, the undersigned by its proper officers hereby convey and sell to Lake Consolidated School District the land described as
Nine acres in East part of SE ¼ of SE ¼ Section 7, six acres in SW corner of SW ¼ of SW ¼ section 8, Fifteen acres more or less in east part of NE ¼ of NE ¼ section 18, and ten acres more or less in NW part of NW ¼ of NW ¼ of section 17, all in Township 6, Range 10 East, being the lands owned by the grantor and known as the Patron’s Union Camp Ground.
Situated in the County of Newton, in the State of Mississippi.
Witness my signature this the 4th day of April, 1939.
Witness: Patron’s Union, Incorporated
W. H. Waldrop, City Clerk By: J. L. Summer and
Gladys Steele W. A. Johnson
Its President and Secretary