CATEGORY: Pontotoc County
OLDEST PONTOTOC HOME DATES FROM CHICKASAW TREATY
By Jane Hill
PONTOTOC – In the early 1830s, what would become Pontotoc County was a land speculator’s dream – a dream Thomas McMackin lived to the fullest.
McMackin and the two other men credited with founding what would become Pontotoc County – Joel Pinson and Ben Anderson – bought large portions of the 6 million acres of land ceded to the U.S. government by the Chickasaw Nation in the Pontotoc Creek Treaty. The three began selling part of their holdings to would-be settlers and merchants migrating to the area from the east.
“A tent city sprung up overnight. People built fake store fronts, just enough to look like a building before they opened for business,” said George Stegall, a local historian and one of the organizers of the county’s annual Bodock Festival that celebrates the county’s history. “There was a Chickasaw settlement down where the city cemetery is now.”
Amid this chaotic bustle of instant entrepreneurship, McMackin began to build his house.
“This house is constructed of bricks made by the Chickasaw Indians,” said Lindley Thompson, who has owned the original McMackin home on Green Street in Pontotoc for more than 20 years.
When Thompson took possession of the home it was rumored that the oldest existing house in the county was about to be bulldozed to make room for a parking lot.
Though the house was in a sadly dilapidated condition, Thompson believed it could be saved.
“Everyone told me I was crazy,” Thompson said with a smile. “Parts of the roof were falling in, the flooring was rotted through in places and parts of the foundation needed jacking up.”
Reclaiming the past
Taking on the reclamation one project at a time, Thompson slowly brought the house back, close to the handsome yet quirky condition of the original.
Despite the structural problems the building suffered before she took possession, Thompson was careful to preserve as much as she could of the original style and craftsmanship of the house.
Original brickwork made by the Chickasaw has been saved. The original handmade mantel pieces were preserved, as were the original doors, heavy-duty portals with panels joined by tongue-and-groove construction instead of nailed or glued together as modern doors are.
The very walls of the house’s interior date it. All were built four bricks thick. The front sitting rooms reflect a time before modern conveniences such as electricity and air conditioning.
The east parlor, designated for winter use, has an 8-foot ceiling. The lower ceiling conserves heat in the winter and keeps warmer air closer to the occupants. The west parlor has a 14-foot ceiling for use during the summer when the occupants wanted the hot air as far away as possible.
Instead of flame-shaped light bulbs, the chandelier hanging in one of the front rooms of the house has candles.
“Some things I didn’t have wired for electricity,” Thompson explained. “I wanted it to be like a chandelier would have been when the house was originally built.”
As many reclamation projects as Thompson has seen completed in the time she has owned the home, she said she doubted the work would ever be done.
“It isn’t finished yet,” she said seriously. “You never really get through. Anytime I want to decide what to do next, I just say eeny-meeny-miney-mo.”
Old home atmosphere
Thompson furnished the house with many Victorian period pieces she has collected throughout the years and with some heirlooms from her own family. None of the furnishings are original to the house, she said.
However, the effect of the settee and chair sets, antique china and glassware and the fire screen and seat cushions done in fine needlepoint are very evocative of an earlier age.
Thompson’s paternal line traces back to Ben Anderson, who was one of Pontotoc’s founders and the father of the first European-American child to be born in the county. She said she feels a special kinship with the house that dates back to the time of her ancestor.
“You hear so many stories about a house this old. It’s hard to tell which ones are actually true,” she said. “I’ve been told that it served as a boys school after the Civil War.
“They also said that during the war the young men training to be soldiers would drill out here on the street behind the Methodist church and that the ladies of the town would sit in chairs on the front porch of this house and watch the young men march up and down,” she said, smiling.
Though Thompson’s house is listed as one of the points of interest on the Pontotoc Historic Tour, with few exceptions, Thompson does not give tours of the house’s interior.
Thompson did open the house during the first annual Bodock Festival to a delegation from the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma in view of the historic connection the house has with the Chickasaw, Stegall said. Thompson said she approves of the renewed interest in history sparked by the festival.
“I approve of it. We’re full of newcomers who don’t know anything about the past,” she said.