When Dixie Wilkerson found a hand-hewn wooden shingle labeled “George County Library,” she knew the rumor must have some truth to it.
Mrs. Wilkerson and her husband, Bill, live in a circa 1914 house whose study is lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Descendents of the home’s original owner claim the shelves once stored books that were loaned to the public making it possibly the county’s first library of sorts.
“We found the sign years after we had been told about the books and although we have nothing in writing saying there was a library in the house, finding the sign made it seem very likely to be true,” she said.
Their stately, four-gabled, three-story house lies on Scott Hill three miles south of Lucedale on Old Highway 63. The hill got its name from the home’s original owners, Walter and Sylvia Scott.
“The Scott children said this room was originally a master bedroom. Mrs. Scott loved music and reading. She had shelves put in here to hold her books and would loan them to friends and neighbors. I don’t know what kind of system she used but I’m sure she had some sort of catalog system to keep up with who had borrowed what book,” Mrs. Wilkerson said.
The Scotts died in the mid-20th century. The Wilkersons purchased the property and home in 1967. They moved in December while Mrs. Wilkerson was on her two-week break from school teaching. Their older girl and boy were six and four at the time and their younger girl and boy were born in 1970 and 1977.
“The house needed a lot of work and it was a really difficult time. What made it worse was that Bill had to leave two weeks later to attend the legislative session,” Mrs. Wilkerson recalled.
Both Wilkersons initially taught school, and Mr. Wilkerson was principal at Broom School for three years before he enrolled in law school in Jackson. He practiced law for 20 years and served in the Mississippi House of Representatives for over 18 years. Afterward, he was a member of the State Tax Commission, a member of the Worker Compensation Commission, and executive director for the Public Utilities Staff. Later, he worked in governmental affairs for the Electric Power Cooperatives of Mississippi.
The Wilkersons learned much of their information about the house from the Scott children, who are now deceased, and from a booklet written by Mrs. Scott about her family’s life and their move from Northwest Iowa and South Dakota to Lucedale. Her booklet, however, doesn’t mention the library.
The library consists of two wooden bookcases that flank windows on the eastern and northern walls just inside the front entranceway. An iron bar that secured a ladder for reaching books on the upper shelves is still attached to one of the shelves but the wooden ladder has been kept in an outside shed since the Wilkersons moved here.
“The kids were little and climbing on anything so we moved it and never put it back,” she said.
Since the Wilkersons have lived here, the library room has been open to the adjoining living room, also located on the house’s front end. Two thick wooden columns and a half wall separate the two. When the room ceased being the master bedroom is unknown. It’s also unclear whether the library was there when it was still a bedroom or if the shelves were built to establish the library after it was opened to the living room.
The Wilkersons use the room as their own library with the family’s books dotting the shelves and a computer desk in the corner. The desk’s chair is Mr. Wilkerson’s actual seat from the state legislature. He bought the chair when the chamber was redecorated.
Two slightly larger columns form an entranceway from the living room to the dining room. The two rooms share a double fireplace in the center of the original structure. The house also has a cellar that can be accessed through a door from the dining area. All four bedrooms are on the second floor and have the original doors and knobs. The stairwell features a midway landing with a bay window that has always been a prime spot for children’s play.
“The Scott children said this was always their favorite place to play, and it was the same with our children and now our grandchildren,” Mrs. Wilkerson said. “They love to get their dolls and toys and play in this little spot.”
The house’s most distinctive characteristic, its four identical gables, offers views to the east, west, south, and north from the third-floor attic. Permanent stairs lead from the second floor to the attic. It served as a storage area for the Scotts and for the Wilkersons until they converted it into a bedroom and playroom for their grandchildren. The library sign was discovered in the attic.
The original house had a long porch with a pitched roof, which the Scotts replaced at some point with a small porch. The Wilkersons wanted to build a porch similar to the original design. In 1997, they added a wide sitting porch on the front accentuated by decorative railings on the bottom and second floors.
“We pondered that decision for many years because we didn’t want to detract from the house’s style,” Mr. Wilkerson said. “We took lots and lots of pictures of similarly shaped houses whenever we traveled to get an idea of what would look right. We weren’t really sure how it would turn out when we started the addition, but we’ve been very pleased with the results.” Also, that year they added a large sunroom and carport on the back.
When the Wilkersons bought the property, they intended to live in the house temporarily and to build a new one. However, as they discovered its unique qualities and sound craftsmanship, they decided to stay.
“Remodeling or repairing anything here has never been easy, though,” Mr. Wilkerson said. “The lumber has no precise measurements. There’s probably not a true 2×4 in here. You might find a 2 ¼ x 4 3/8 or some other measurement that’s slightly off and that makes it hard to work on.”
Of the original structure, the only major change has been the kitchen, which they remodeled to provide more counter and cabinet space.
Scott Hill’s history dates to 1912 when Walter and Sylvia Scott traveled from South Dakota to look at land in the South. They had seen ads in the Chicago newspapers of the Kissimmee Valley Lands in Florida and the Lampton Lands of Mississippi that were for sale. While lodging in the Bienville Hotel in Mobile, Ala., Mr. Scott met a representative of the Lampton Land Company who persuaded them to view the Lampton Lands before venturing further south to Kissimmee.
“We liked the land here and bought 320 acres at $25 per acre, which was two and a half times what we could have bought it for if we had been acquainted with the local prices,” Mrs. Scott wrote in her 1955 booklet to her children.
The Scotts built the house from downed timber on their property that they had sawed at the Bill Parker Sawmill a mile away. They first built a small structure, which later became a barn, and lived in it for two years while the house was under construction. Designed like a midwestern farmhouse, the dwelling has unique traits to the period in which it was built. For example, the original structure had indoor plumbing and running water supplied by a windmill near the house; and the kitchen had a sink.
It also had closets. According to Mrs. Scott’s booklet, the couple had a difficult time securing a contractor to build the house because of the closets in the blueprint.
“The contractors all tried to persuade us that closets in Mississippi were not practical and were unnecessary. Whether or not that was true I was sure we were going to try them out,” she wrote. The original structure also had 49 windows, which created cross ventilation in the days before air conditioning.
When Mrs. Scott began loaning books and hung the George County Library shingle is unknown but it is assumed by many that she could have had the first public library in the county. It is documented that Sylvia Scott was president of the county’s first Library Commission and that her daughter-in-law, Maude Scott, was the first librarian when the Work Progress Administration library was established in 1934. A Mississippi Library Commission document reports there was a library in George County as early as 1929 that was forced to close because of the Depression, but attempts have been unsuccessful by historians to find someone who remembers a library before the WPA library.