Interesting Things

By Ray L. Bellande

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The Little Children's Park: A Glorious Gift

 

March 1994 

As the pendulum motion of the swing rests, before commencing it downward arc, the child sitting calmly in its wooden slat seat reaches deep for the energy burst, which will thrust him into that imaginary orbit.  Another youngster may be contemplating parachuting into the French blue skies above.  Aren't those children on the monkey bars really climbing the north slope of Everest, or the little girl riding her luge at Lillehammer, as she slides face up on the sliding board?  Are their parents planning an escape to Hawaii?

Possibly these and other imaginary visions are created and enhanced by the fantasy atmosphere created in a park scenario?  Fortunately, Ocean Springs is blessed with such an environment.  We call it, Little Children’s Park.  For those of you not familiar with this green space, Little Children’s Park is located in the City of Ocean Springs on the northwest corner of Washington Avenue and Calhoun.  It extends eastward to Dewey Avenue and encompasses 1.84 acres.  The park is equipped with swings, sliding boards, and monkey bars.  A small picnic shelter is located in the northwest corner of the park.  It is naturally landscaped with pecan, oak, sycamore, and cedar trees.  A small, landscaped, parking lot is located in the southeast quadrant at the northwest corner of Dewey and Calhoun.

            The park was a gift to the people of Ocean Springs from Katherine Crane Powers (1891-1961).  One who visits the park is reminded of this fact by the concrete monument with metal plaque located in the extreme southwest corner of the grounds.  The plaque reads as follows:

 

 

LITTLE CHILDRENS PARK

Presented by

Mrs. Neely Powers

1959

 

                       

Land donation

Mrs. Katherine Crane Powers and spouse donated the land for Little Children’s Park to the City of Ocean Springs on February 6, 1959.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 186, pp. 435-436)

 

 John Shanahan

Over a century prior to Mrs. Powers donation, this land belonged to John Shanahan (1810-1892), an Irish immigrant.  In June 1854, he purchased Lot 12 in Block 4 of the Culmseig Map (1854) from Azalie Lafauce Clay Ryan (1820-1866+), the granddaughter of Louis Auguste LaFontaine and Catherine Bourgeois (1768- c.1847), the Widow LaFontaine.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 39, pp. 221-222)

 John Shanahan was a carpenter.  Here he built a home, and with his wife, Maria Torney (1826-1909), reared six Irish-American children: Bridget S. White (1860-1943), Mary E. Ill (1862-1937), John J. Shanahan (1864-1883), Richard Shanahan (1866-1896), Sallie T. Simmons (1869-

1947), and Thomas B. Shanahan (1872-1932).

Circa 1894, a few years after her husband's demise, Mrs. Shanahan commenced the Shanahan House, a tourist home.  In 1906, the Shanahan edifice, a two-story, wood frame

building was enlarged.  This family inn was a landmark on Washington Avenue until its destruction by fire on December 24, 1919.  Bridget White, Mrs. Shanahan's eldest daughter, was the proprietress at the time of the conflagration.  She moved to Natchez to live with her sons, Thomas (1884-1917+) and John (1887-1919+).  Bridget Shanahan also had a daughter, Alice Winona White (1890-1960).

In September 1920, with the family hotel destroyed, Thomas Shanahan sold the large, vacant lot, formerly occupied by his parents Hibernian hostel, to Charles E. Clark.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 48, pp. 540-541)

 Charles E. Clark

Charles E. Clark (1879-1945) was the son of Edwin A. Clark (1853-1936) and Katherine T. Glasscock (1849-1925).  The Clarks came to Ocean Springs circa 1897, probably from Concordia Parish, Louisiana.  Charles E. Clark married Lulu Haviland (1880-1972), the daughter of Samuel T. Haviland (1845-1911) and Sue Moss Haviland (1860-1903).  He was educated at LSU and Cumberland University.  C.E. Clark made his livelihood with the railway mail service, as a rural mail carrier, and as an attorney-at-law.  In 1936, his legal practice was office on the second floor of the Farmers and Merchants State Bank Building on Washington Avenue.

The Jackson County Times of October 9, 1920 related that Charles E. Clark who had closed a deal on the Shanahan Hotel land intended to build a home on the tract.  Clark had just sold his home to Thomas E. Dabney (1880-1970).  The Sanborn Insurance Map of 1925 indicates a small cottage and stable near the center of the old hotel tract.

Charles E. Clark sold the old Shanahan lot to Ellis Handy (1891-1963) on May 15, 1925 for $2000.  Captain Handy must have been acting as a broker, since he immediately conveyed the lot on the day of his acquisition, to William L. Reilly of Fulton County, Georgia for $2750.  Mr. Reilly held the property for several months before he sold it to George H. Leavenworth in December 1925, for $8000.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 55, p. 264, Bk. 55, pp. 264-265, and Bk. 57, pp. 280-281)  

George H. Leavenworth

George H. Leavenworth (1875-1956) was a native of Sainte Genevieve, Missouri.  Ste. Genevieve, which is located on the west bank of the Mississippi River, south of St. Louis, was founded in 1729, by the French.  Growing up in an old French Colonial village appears to have given Mr. Leavenworth a penchant for French Colonial towns as he was residing at Natchez in 1926.  Ocean Springs, founded as the site of Fort Maurepas in April 1699, is also French in origin.

George H. Leavenworth owned a large mill at Greenville, Mississippi where he manufactured hardwood and had large timber holdings throughout the South.  He and wife, Katherine W. Pasch (1884-1951), would spend summers in northern Michigan.  Their daughter, Josephine, attended Battle Creek College at Battle Creek, Michigan.  This small private institution was founded by John Harvey Kellogg.  Circa 1929, the Leavenworths came to the coast permanently, when he purchased the large real estate holdings of H.F. Russell (1858-1940) in November 1929.

Mr. Leavenworth sold his Washington Avenue property to Lachlan W. MacLean in May 1927.  MacLean was the son of Senator W.H. MacLean (d. 1924) of Kenilworth, Illinois. 

The family owned a farm on the Ocean Springs-Vancleave Road.  With the depression years burdening all, Mr. MacLean lost his property to the State of Mississippi for taxes on April 4, 1933.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 60, p. 368 and JXCO, Ms. Chancery Court Tax Sale Book 3, p. 142)            

State and taxes

For the next eight plus years, the future park site was owned by the State of Mississippi.  Ironically, on November 13, 1941, two men, E.F. Shanks of Taylorsville, Mississippi and William Sheppard Van Cleave Jr. (1899-1947) of Ocean Springs, paid the back taxes, which were less than $400.  They were both issued forfeited land tax patent deeds by the Secretary of State.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 78, pp. 424-425 and Bk. 78, p. 503) 

Naturally, this action initiated litigation.  Shanks sued Van Cleave in the Chancery Court of Jackson County, Mississippi as Cause No. 6883, filed May 31, 1943.  In the complaint, E.F. Shanks alleged that Van Cleave, in addition to not having clear title to the land, had also collected rents from D.R. Gillon, who was occupying a house on the property.  Shanks wanted the rent money and clear title to the Shanahan tract.  This Chancery Court Cause was not settled until after Sheppard Van Cleave's demise in February 1947.  The Court ruled in favor of William Sheppard Van Cleave Jr.            

William S. Van Cleave Jr.

William Sheppard Van Cleave Jr. (1899-1947), called Sheppard, was the son of William Sheppard Van Cleave (1871-1938) and Eudora Casey (1876-1950).  His parents were married in December 1897, at the Ocean Springs Methodist Church (now St. Paul's) on Porter.  Mr. VanCleave's sister, Sarah "Sallie" Van Cleave Reid Westbrook (1876-1934), married D.F. Reid at the same time. 

In August 1920, Sheppard Van Cleave opened a vulcanizing plant in the rear of the Mobile Pressing Club.  He repaired old tires and tubes.  Sheppard also was in real estate and also later operated a tire and automobile company at 406 Reynoir Street at Biloxi.  In his later life, Sheppard worked as a clerk in his father's store.  W.S. Van Cleave is well known for the general store that he established in 1906, on the northwest corner of Washington Avenue and Porter.  It survived until 1967, when the property was sold to the City Ice Delivery Company, a Georgia corporation. 

In November 1946, Alcena Casey (1885-1961), the sister-in-law of W.S. Van Cleave, was awarded a deed to the former Shanahan House lot by the Chancery Clerk for paying the delinquent taxes on the property.  Thereafter, Gordon Van Cleave (1906-1964) and his family moved into the six-room cottage on the large vacant lot.  They remained here until 1950.  The structure was later purchased by Adam Westbrook and relocated to 1912 Kensington Avenue.  Mr. Westbrook has subsequently remodeled the building.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 95, pp. 278-279)

After Sheppard Van Cleave's demise in February 1947, the old Shanahan property was inherited by his mother, Eudora Casey Van Cleave; brother, Gordon Van Cleave; and the children of his deceased brother, Dryden Van Cleave (1901-1946).  Alcena Casey gave Gordon Van Cleave a quitclaim deed in May 1950, to clear the title.  In April 1954, the surviving heirs of Sheppard Van Cleave conveyed the property to David Neely Powers (1890-1983) and spouse.(JXCO, Ms. Land Deed Bk. 112, p. 435 and Bk. 138, pp. 349-352) 

Katherine Crane Powers and David Neely Powers

The Little Children's Park donor, Katherine Crane Powers (1891-1961), was born on April 5, 1891, at New Brunswick, New Jersey.  She was the daughter of Frank H. Robson and Alice C. Crane.  Katherine married industrialist, David Neely Powers (1890-1983), a native of Butler, Alabama.  Neely, as his was known to his friends, was the son of Joseph Neely Powers (1869-1932+) and Ava Gavins.  The elder Powers was born on May 15, 1869, at Havana, Alabama.  Circa 1907, Joseph Neely Powers was appointed the Mississippi State Superintendent of Education by Governor Vardaman.  Powers served the University of Mississippi as its Chancellor (President) in the years 1914-1923 and 1930-1932.

Circa 1950, the Powers family had come to Ocean Springs to retire.  They settled on lower Washington Avenue at 1012 LaFontaine.  In May 1943, Mr. and Mrs. Powers had bought a large tract of land (285 feet x 407 feet) at LaFontaine and Washington from the Ocean Springs State Bank.  Mrs. Mignon Courson Lundy (1878-1957), the widow of F.J. Lundy (1863-1912), was the former owner.  She and her daughter, Margaret Lundy (1903-1957+), had left Ocean Springs in the mid 1920s for Townshend, Vermont where they lived at "Terraced Fields Farm".  The old F.J. Lundy house burned on April 14, 1926.  It was used by the D.H. Holmes Company of New Orleans in the early 1920s, as a summer vacation home for its female employees.  The house was called "Haven-on-the-Hill" at this time.  Prior to its destruction by fire, the domicile was in a severe state of demolition by neglect.

On their LaFontaine Avenue site, the Powers built an international-style house designed by local architect, William Raymond Allen, Jr. (1911-1985).  The Powers' estate was called "Windswept".  The affluent Wing, Tebo, and Lundy families had all enjoyed the magnificent view and witnessed powerful hurricanes in former times from this elevated site.  David Neely Powers had made his career as an industrialist.  He was president of the Colson Corporation at Elyria, Ohio, which is located in the Lorraine-Avon industrial triangle, an area tenanted by large Ford assembly plants.  The Colson Corporation employed about five hundred people when Powers was at the helm.  They manufactured bicycles, casters, hospital equipment, stretchers, lift-jack systems, skids, and other industrial equipment.  The company relocated to Jonesboro, Arkansas in 1957.

The Powers were active in many social and cultural activities while they resided in Ohio.  They were members of the exclusive Elyria Country Club.  Mrs. Powers was active in the theater and civic projects, and was a personal friend of stage, screen, and television actress, Beulah Bondi (1892-1981).  A native of Chicago, Miss Bondi, was a pioneer, character actress.  She was a two-time, Oscar nominee for best supporting actress.  In 1935, with Henry Fonda and Fred McMurray, Bondi made a motion picture, "The Trail of the Lonesome Pine".  It was the first outdoors color film.

Neely Powers sold his industrial interests to the Pritzer Brothers of the Hyatt Regency Hotel chain and retired to Ocean Springs where he enjoyed golf and his dogs.  The Powers often entertained at "Windswept".  In April 1958, Mildred Dilling, the premier harpist in the world, was a guest of the Powers.  Neely's sister, Powers Fisher of Jackson, was a well-known Southern lecturer and very active in state politics.  She made occasional stops here while on lecture tours or campaigning for the League of Women Voters.

After Katherine C. Powers died in 1961, Neely Powers married Irene Nelson Endt (1916-2007).  Mrs. Irene Powers resided at "Windswept" until she became ill.  A resident for seventy years, she expired on May 16, 2007.(The Ocean Springs Record, May 24, 2007, p. A5)           

Recent improvements

Citizen interest in the welfare of Little Children's Park has been responsive in recent years.  Good neighbor on Calhoun, Harriett M. Perry, has maintained the landscaping in the parking lot for several years.  During the spring and summer of 1996, Cherie Hanneman led a group of HOSA "green thumbs" who planted a variety of shrubs and flowers on the south central area of the green space.  The Historic Ocean Springs Association (HOSA) provided about $700 in funds for this "butterfly garden".

           

Little Children's Park improvements

[L-R: images made December 1997 and January 1997 by Ray L. Bellande] 

In early January 1997, McPhearson Construction Services commenced work on a boardwalk to unite the parking lot with higher ground in the park.  The span crosses a low drainage area, which is generally wet except during an occasional summer drought.  The Historic Ocean Springs Association again provided the funding for the project from their annual November fundraiser.  The civic group budgeted $8,000 for the footbridge.  After the wooden span had been completed, a Carl Germany AIA, designed, rest area was added to the west side of the span.  Park superintendent, Carolyn Stafford of the OS Park Commission completed a walkway to the main area of the green space.  Stafford promises that the new path will be either boardwalk or cement and acknowledges the incongruous nature of the asphalt path installed in 1995.  It will be replaced with an appropriate material.  The City invested $25,000 in new playground devices.  District Four Supervisor, Tommy Brodnax, promised that county workers will grade the parking lot to prepare it for a surfacing with crushed limestone.  HOSA spokesman, Larry Cosper, said that this organic aggregate will be in keeping with the natural theme of the park.           

 

Dolphin Family

On March 29, 2008 Marlin Miller, a wood sculptor domiciled at Fort Walton Beach, Florida carved  a mother dolphin with her young utilizing a chainsaw on a pecan tree in the park.(The Ocean Springs Record, April 3, 2008, p. A1) 

THANK YOU, MRS. POWERS for your generosity and insight into the future needs of Ocean Springs.  Green can always replace the gray in our daily lives. 

 

REFERENCES:

Ray L. Bellande, Hotels and Tourist Homes of Ocean Springs, Mississippi (1853-1968), (Bellande: Ocean Springs, Mississippi-1994). 

Alen Cabaniss, The University of Mississippi-Its First Hundred Years, (Second Edition), (The University and College Press of Mississippi:  Hattiesburg, Mississippi-1971), pp. 129, 134, 144, and 148. 

Polk's Biloxi City Directory (1922-1923), (R.L. Polk & Company:  Memphis, Tennessee-1922), p. 193.

 

Journals

The Daily Herald"W.S. Van Cleave Dies", February 28, 1947, p. 9, c. 5.

The Jackson County Times, "Local News Interest", October 9, 1920.

The Jackson County Times, "Death of Senator MacLean", August 2, 1924, p. 4.

The Jackson County Times"Local and Personal", April 25, 1925.

The Jackson County Times"Lundy Residence Destroyed by Fire", April 17, 1926, p. 1.

The Jackson County Times"H.F. Russell sells large real estate holding", November 30, 1929, p. 1.

The Mississippi Press"Springs group driving force behind park bridge (photo)", January 13, 1997, p. 8-A.

The Ocean Springs Record, “Lundy-McClure Family”, March 16, 1995.

The Ocean Springs Record, “Lundy-McClure Family”, March 23, 1995, ditto, part II

The Ocean Springs Record, “Lundy-McClure Family”, March 30, 1995, ditto, part III

The Ocean Springs Record"HOSA funds bridge for park", January 9, 1997, p. 1, (photo) and p. 8.

The Ocean Springs Record"Herb Fest hooks Martin", April 3, 2008, p. 1, (photo).

 

 Personal Communication:

 J.K. Lemon-March 4, 1994

Howard Jones-March 17, 1994 (Elyria, Ohio), son of Leola Jones

Adam Westbrook-April 26, 1994

Norwood Alley-August 1997