Walk among the ruins of abandoned Hushpuckena, Mississippi with fine art photographer Keith Dotson
In this video, we walk the ruins of abandoned Hushpuckena, in the Mississippi Delta.
Listen to me discuss the history of Hushpuckena in a podcast episode below
Scroll down to see the black and white photographs I shot on this visit.
Note: Since originally publishing this article, I have received several messages with new information from former residents or descendants of residents. I’ve integrated their memories into the article.
Hushpuckena is a small community with a collection of abandoned, ruined buildings standing along a dirt road officially called Highway 61, in Bolivar County — not far from Shelby, Mississippi. Highway 61 is an offshoot of the modern Highway 278, which runs deep into the Mississippi Delta. Hushpuckena was once a flag stop on the Illinois Central train line.
Hushpuckena was mentioned in a line from the 1999 song ‘Pony’ by Tom Waits, where he sings, “I walked from Natchez to Hushpuckena …”
There are a couple of old houses, one partially collapsed, and another standing back from the road behind a screen of trees. The partially collapsed house had a post office in front (now collapsed), and living space in the rest of the house.
There are also two adjoined commercial storefronts on the corner of Hwy 61 and 2nd Street. The corner building features a very faded, painted sign that says “R.C. Tibbs & Sons” on one row, and below that, it says what I have interpreted as “Merchants and Planters.” I read references elsewhere calling R.C. Tibbs a merchant and planter, so it seems to fit the barely legible text on the sign.
The 2nd Street wall of the Tibbs building features a large ghost sign — a faded wall ad that has become incomprehensible over time. It may have multiple layers of old signs showing through, making the message more difficult to read. The only part I can decipher are the words “Muscular Aches,” along the bottom.
On the day I visited Hushpuckena, I found the interior of the Tibbs building littered with pieces of the fallen ceiling, a dirty old mattress, and bunch of black, plastic trash bags that had spilled forth their contents, which appeared to be mostly old receipt books and papers from a doctor’s office. I didn’t enter the building, but from what I could see, it appeared the documents were from the 1980s. Everything is dusty, and there’s a lot of evidence of rodents.
A commenter on YouTube said that the R.C. Tibbs store was an ongoing concern through the 1980s. Based on older photographs found online, there used to be a few wooden counters in front of long rows of wooden shelves that lined the walls. The counters are all gone now, but some of the shelves remain, although in poor condition.
The flooring along the back of the store has collapsed. I could hear deep inside the long space the sound of water dripping from the rafters. Just a single, occasional drip.
In addition to the front entrance, there are open doors on both sides of the building. One opens into the building next door, the other opens out into tall grass and weeds along 2nd Avenue.
A rusty old safe on the ground
Just outside that 2nd Avenue door on the side of the Tibbs building rests a rusty old Mosler safe, turned onto its side among the weeds and tall grass. It looks as if someone tried to remove it from the building but couldn’t manage the weight. It tumbled over on its side and there it still lies. It’s one of the old models with a small landscape scene pasted onto the safe door, above the combination dial.
History of the old buildings in Hushpuckena
Robert Clinton Tibbs
The R.C. Tibbs listed on the sign of the old building was Robert Clinton Tibbs (1859-1946), a merchant and planter. Born in Harrisburg, West Virginia, he married an Illinois girl named Susan Norman. They lived in North Dakota for a while, where some of their children were born.
R.C.’s father Eugene Tibbs served in the Confederacy under General Robert E. Lee.
In 1895, at age 37, R.C. Tibbs moved to Hushpuckena, where he operated a mercantile store and worked as a planter. Presumably, his namesake building was raised shortly thereafter, but we can safely say that it did not exist prior to 1895.
Our best clues to R.C.’s activities and interests comes from this obituary on Find-a-Grave, which says this about his life:
“Mr. Tibbs always manifested a commendable interest in civic affairs. He helped build the first school building of Hushpuckena, and served as a member of the county school board, while under President Theodore Roosevelt he served as Postmaster. His religious faith was indicated in his membership in the Baptist Church and throughout his entire life he had ever been true to any cause which he had advocated.”
It’s interesting that R.C. Tibbs is listed as a Baptist, because some of his descendants are listed as Catholics. Regardless of his civic accomplishments, his most visible legacy is his ruined but still standing mercantile store on the dirt road in Hushpuckena — and of course the accomplishments of his descendants, many of whom became educated professionals.
The couple’s children included Clara Murphree of Tunica, Mae Harris of Duncan, Maud Taylor of Hushpuckena, Robert Norman Tibbs, and Eugene Clinton Tibbs, both of Hushpuckena, with eleven grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Daughter Maud (or Maude) graduated from college and worked as a school teacher in Hushpuckena and did bookkeeping for the “Tibbs store” prior to her marriage in 1916.
R.C. Tibbs died in 1946 at age 87 after four years of illness. He is buried at Shelby Cemetery.
Photographs of R.C. Tibbs and his wife Susan can be seen on Find a Grave here.
Doctors in the family
R.C.’s son Eugene Clinton Tibbs (1904 – 1969), and grandsons Eugene Edward Tibbs (1934 – 2008), and Robert C. Tibbs II (1931 – 2005) all became physicians. There are still Tibbs family members serving as doctors in the Cleveland, Mississippi vicinity today.
This Petty Pace
Here is the Amazon synopsis of This Petty Pace, quoted verbatim:
“Often times the history of the Miss. Delta is lost in the effort to make more exciting and glamorize its past. The travail of the ordinary working classes, the plebeians and lower elements, who exerted most of the physical toil and sweat and anguish of clearing this land, draining its forbidding mosquito swamps, saving it from the raging river, then bringing some aspect of civilization to it, are painted over completely or glossed with an imperfect brush and sometimes left out entirely. These tales are about some of these people. How their ranks are encumbered by long generations of consanguinity, isolation, fear and superstition and how their disposition, character and religion are molded by this. They evoke a closeness and affinity to place and an almost palpable perception of some of their simple pleasures and fears, their cravings and needs and their response to the daily burden and elation of living. THIS PETTY PACE is the tale of the author.”
The Hushpuckena School
This Petty Pace is a must-read if you want to learn about the tiny community of Hushpuckena. The book opens with a history of the Hushpuckena School, which sprang from humble beginnings in 1895, flourished and grew to include real student desks (rather than the homemade desks used in the early years) and even a music program with a piano and phonograph, before ultimately closing in 1930.
Dr. Tibbs included interesting intimate details, like how students could go to a nearby turnip field to find a fresh garnish for their lunches.
Dr. Tibbs memories of his father’s store in Hushpuckena
Dr. Tibbs also described his father’s store in Hushpuckena. He said it had “The warm smell of corn meal, of nutmeg and cloves, of new leather and oiled pigskins, all this together and varying a bit.”
He said, “A side room ran the entire length of the north side of the building and about 20 feet further to the north, under the shade of a pecan tree, there was a lighthouse. A small 16 x 16 foot building which housed a ‘Delco plant,’ batteries and a small electric generator powered by a one cylinder water-cooled gasoline engine.”
The adjacent building
The building attached to Tibbs Store was more mysterious after my visit. The only clues I had about it were based on the shipping information stenciled on the ironwork columns that were sent from the manufacturer in Memphis. The company name appears to be Mott & Ward, although the first letter in “Mott” may not be an M.
According to This Petty Pace, the building was at one time a store run by a Chinese gentleman named Joe Tong, although he also went by the name Jimmy Joe. This fact was confirmed by a reader who remembered the Chinese family (below).
Memories from Shirley Lawhorn
Fortunately, a reader who grew up in Hushpuckena has come forward with information about the adjacent building. I received a wonderful email from Shirley Lawhorn, who had recently celebrated her 86th birthday, and offered some of her memories of Hushpuckena, quoted verbatim below:
“Hi – I grew up in Hushpuckena and wanted to tell you a bit about the building adjacent to Tibbs Store.
In the early forties, a Chinese family had a store there. About 1944 they moved to another town.
My father used the building for about a year for his commissary and office. After that, Mr. Yates had a small bottling company in the building. When my father occupied the building, there was a small office area at back left and at back right was a room used for storage of feed and supplies for the commissary. I remember listening to the radio in the office around Christmas when Lionel Barrymore played Scrooge. Also remember playing in the storage room with Betty Tibbs. She was 6 or 7 and I was 9.
Occasionally, a fierce windstorm would come in from the west. We could see the dust cloud coming, and I can picture my mother and Mr. Barton West out front trying to tie down the awning so that it would not come crashing through the window.
Lots of wonderful memories of growing up there.
The postmistress was Mrs. Eva Feather and their home was behind the post office. The school bus picked up children in front of Tibbs’ store. I celebrated my 86th birthday this week and want to thank you for the best present . . . a visit to my old childhood hometown!”
Many thanks to Ms. Lawhorn for this new information. If any other readers have more details about Hushpuckena, please contact me.
Ms. Lawhorn said that her father was Louis V. Dickerson, who managed the Burroughs Plantation for his sister Maye Dickerson Burroughs for 25 years.
We now know that the space next door to the Tibbs’ building was a store, a bottling plant, and a supply house and commissary for a large plantation.
Read more about Eva Feather in the section about the old post office below.
While the Tibbs Mercantile building still has a roof and walls and remains somewhat intact, the building next door — I’ll call it the Mott and Ward building (for lack of a better name) — is wide open. The roof is long gone, and the floor resembles an unkempt garden, filled with greenery and dead leaves.
The front doors and window glass are all gone. Some of the plaster on the adjoining wall has fallen away revealing vividly colored paint, but not enough to make out the design. This makes me think that the Mott and Ward building was constructed later than the Tibbs building, and the construction covered what was once an ad or sign on an exterior wall.
The post office someone lived in
The old house with the collapsed front was a private home with a post office in the front. The postmaster lived in the house for decades. I’ve gathered these facts from people who lived in Hushpuckena or had relatives there, based on their comments on photos found in various places online.
Updated information: Postmaster Max Feibelman
After publishing this blog post, I received a message from a reader who said her father’s maternal grandfather was the postmaster in Hushpuckena. His name was Max Feibelman. Max was born in Bavaria and emigrated to the US at about age 18.
Max had a son and daughter, both of whom were born in Memphis, even though the family was over an hour away. The reader was unsure how her great-grandfather, Max Feibelman, ended up in the Mississippi Delta, but she said that he moved to Memphis in the 1930s.
She was informed by a cousin that Max had worked as a bookkeeper on a plantation in the region during the 1910s, before becoming the postmaster. We can assume that Max Feibelman and his family lived and worked in this house for a while.
The reader said her father — Max’s grandson — remembered driving to Hushpuckena in about 1948, and he said there wasn’t much to the town even then.
More information about postmistress Eva Feather
As mentioned earlier in the section about the building adjacent to the Tibb’s store, a postmistress named Eva Feather lived in the home behind the post office in the 1940s. Perhaps she was the person who took over after Max Feibelman left for Memphis. Eva Feather was born in Missouri in 1898, and was married to J.A. Feather. They had two sons, Robert and James, and two daughters, Edna and Florence.
Memories from former resident James Humphrey
A viewer on YouTube named James Humphrey left a lengthy comment about his life in Hushpuckena in the mid-1950s. He was friends with Tibbs’ son Harmon and they went to school in nearby Shelby, Mississippi. He said his father worked as a mechanic for Bob and Gene Tibbs in Hushpuckena for three or four years, until the family moved to Sugar Hill.
Mr. Humphrey said there was much more to Hushpuckena in those days — perhaps 15 – 20 houses.
Mr. Humphrey remembers that the Tibbs store sold groceries and had one one gas pump. He remembered buying many snacks and Cokes from the Tibbs store.
All the farm business was conducted in the back. He remembered the safe in the back of the building. It held funds for paying workers and all the farm records. Behind the store was a big, open lot where kids would play ball on weekends, and sometimes during the week.
Mr. Humphrey remembered Mrs. Feather as the postmistress in the 1950s. He recalled that an Illinois Central mail train came through twice a day to retrieve a mail sack that had been hung out for pickup. Those tracks were removed many years ago. (Paraphrased from a comment submitted via YouTube on January 2022).
My sincere thanks to readers for generously taking the time to supply new information. I love getting more information from people with direct knowledge of the people and places.
Black and white photographs of the ruins at Hushpuckena
Fine art prints are available. Click the photograph to go to my e-commerce page and learn more.
My book about abandoned places
If you’re fascinated by abandoned places, you may enjoy my book Unloved and Forgotten: Fine Art Photographs of Abandoned Places
Thanks for reading.
Email from a reader, received June 2, 2021
Email from Shirley Lawhorn, received Sept. 11, 2021
Find a Grave: Robert Clinton Tibbs
Find a Grave: Susan Minerva Norman Tibbs
Find a Grave: Eugene Edward Tibbs
Legacy.com: Dr. Eugene Edward Tibbs
Suzassippi’s Lottabusha County Chronicles: Hushpuckena on old highway 61
This Petty Pace, Robert C. Tibbs, 2005, Xlibris (Buy on Amazon)
Urban Decay: “The Mississippi Delta 9: Hushpuckena and Shelby”
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