Residents have mixed feelings about pecan factory

Published 8:55 am Friday, February 9, 2007

The former Natchez Pecan Shelling Company factory is now only crumpled steel and broken beams mingled with piles of bricks.

The factory, even with its sagging roof, was a landmark to many citizens. Today, people driving down toward the bluffs have a clearer view of the river.

Jerry Dixon, a member of the Historic Natchez Foundation, said he thought the timing was ironic with the Historic Natchez Conference in town Wednesday through Saturday.

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“The mayor gave a speech last night at the conference about preserving buildings, and today they are tearing the building down,” Dixon said. “It’s disturbing.”

Mayor Phillip West said Thursday the demolition was not intended to be disrespectful of the importance of historic structures, but that the safety of the public took priority.

The building was a monument to the industrial age in Natchez, Dixon said, the only one remaining.

“Although it (was) not a 150-year-old building, it (had) elements and architecture,” Dixon said. “It (had) dignity.”

Although West cited safety as his rationale for signing an executive order to demolish the building, Dixon said he didn’t consider the building a hazard.

“I really don’t think it was a danger,” he said. “And even if it was, it was against the law. It’s tremendously surprising and disappointing, especially when the court case is still going on.”

The way the public land was sold to condo developers prompted a group of citizens to sue, and the ruling has been appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.

Gwen Ball, a participant in the suit, said she was upset with the decision to knock down the factory.

Ball was among a small group of citizens who protested the demolition at city hall at noon Thursday.

“We’ve been suspicious of this since we got word last night that there was equipment down there,” Ball said. “We thought maybe it wasn’t really going to happen, that they were storing equipment.”

Not everybody’s sad to see the building go. Ray Clark, who works at Blankenstein’s Supplies and Equipment across the street from the demolished building, said he was, in a way, glad to see it fall.

“It’s good they get rid of the eyesore, but it’s bad they’re putting up what they want to put up,” Clark said. “Instead of an industry that would bring in young people, they’re putting up condos for people who have never been here.”

Clark said he had to leave Natchez, his hometown, for years to find work. He’s back, but he would like to see something different go where the rubble fell.

He said although many in town cared about preserving historic buildings, he and others had to be realistic.

“I don’t care about history of the city (that much),” Clark said. “I have to think about my kids.”