Pro-pecan faction hasn’t shared reasons

Published 1:35 pm Friday, February 16, 2007

A simple piece of wood stands in the back corner of my guest bedroom.

At first glance, it is nothing more than that — a 3-foot section of juniper that looks a little like something you might find on a log pile.

Of course, finding a piece of juniper would be difficult in these parts. And that might be a clue that this piece of wood is something special.

Email newsletter signup

Many beautiful objects and furnishings fill my house — paintings, historic Natchez photographs and several hand crafted pieces of pottery.

But this unassuming piece of wood is the most valuable to me.

Why in the world would a piece of wood be my most valuable possession?

Right after college, my girlfriend and I had parted ways, not really knowing if we would continue our year-long relationship. She went to New Mexico and I went to Michigan.

We corresponded over the next few months, but really never committed to our relationship.

Then August came, and she returned to Natchez and I to Mississippi to continue my job search.

When we met, she came back with a gift — a piece of wood that she discovered while blazing trails in the mountains and then hand-sanded to a polished finish.

To this day, it is probably the best gift my wife has given me.

And it is the one object in my house that I treasure the most.

It is one of the things in my life worth preserving, not just because of what it looks like but because of the stories and memories connected to it.

Without the stories, the object is just a piece of wood.

The same could be said of buildings.

Over the course of the past few weeks, we have heard a great deal about how much of an eyesore the former Natchez Pecan Shelling plant was before it was destroyed.

Many people expressed dismay that a building that looked like an industrial factory was considered a landmark at all. It had no redeeming architectural features, I have heard some people say.

Checking the criteria on the Mississippi Department of Archives and History Web site, I found nothing that said a landmark had to be pretty.

Like the piece of wood in my house, it is the story that makes something worth preserving.

In fact, many buildings that we consider landmarks in Natchez are not the prettiest buildings in town.

Richard Wright’s boyhood home, for example, looks like every other house on Woodlawn Avenue. And yet, it is a landmark.

William Johnson’s house is a rather plain building from the outside. Still, we preserve it because of its compelling and valuable story.

And that is where I think those who are opposed to the demolition of the pecan factory have failed.

What is the story behind the pecan factory and its property?

Yes, it was an Art Deco building and it was one of the city’s last industrial buildings. But unlike the William Johnson House or even the antebellum house, Longwood, I have yet to hear a compelling story behind the pecan factory that warrants preserving it.

Whether the mayor’s recent actions to demolish the building broke the law is for the courts to decide.

But in the court of public opinion, leaders for the preservation of the pecan factory have failed to explain their case.

The recent months of controversy have served to polarize the community.

It is not the mayor alone who is to blame for this situation.

The community, as a whole, shares part of the blame.

By not providing a convincing story for the protection of the building or land, preservationists could not help bring the community together on this issue.

In their failure to do so, they played a role in keeping it apart.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3552 or