Changes on Cherry: Ownership turnover simple evolution,’ end of era’

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 11, 2001

James Wilkerson stands on the front porch of his home at 1810 Cherry St. Wilkerson and his wife are selling their home and moving to Madison for business opportunities. (The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[06/11/01] The oak trees are almost all gone now, and Mr. Sheddy has left this world.

Cherry Street, former resident David Dabney says, bears little resemblance to the stately thoroughfare where he grew up in the 1950s. Back then, Dabney said, the only business on the street was Sheddy Jones’ small grocery store, now the site of Malick Joseph Tobacco Co., a place where neighborhood children bought Cokes and Popsicles for a nickel apiece. Great oaks lined the street, he said, and the houses they shaded were synonymous with family names.

But the people, places and prices Dabney knew as a child are gone now, victims of death, development and inflation.

And Cherry Street isn’t done changing. Currently, four of the street’s oldest houses, all built around the beginning of the 20th century, are on the market. Two others have recently changed hands John and Lucille Ridges moved into Beaulieu (pronounced “bowl-you”), formerly The Columns, this year, and Preston Ruther and family are now moving into the 1711 Cherry home where “At” and Dorothy Atkinson lived for more than 50 years until they moved three years ago. And some of the younger homes are on the market, as well.

“That’s not that unusual in my business,” said Vicksburg Realtor Pam Beard, whose firm is handling four of the Cherry Street homes, which range in price from $100,000 to $350,000. “For instance, one year we might have 10 houses for sale in Openwood and the next year we’ll have 30.”

Cherry Street homeowners’ reasons for moving are as different as the architectural styles of their houses.

Betty Barnes Jackson, who has lived in her 2212 Cherry house since 1982, is moving to nearby Drummond Street to get away from the responsibilities of running a full-time bed and breakfast. James Wilkerson is leaving 1810 Cherry St., his home since 1992, for a business opportunity in Madison. Allen Derivaux has already left the 1818 Cherry house that he bought in 1999 and moved to Vicklan Street, saying his former home was too big for his new family. Dabney has been trying to sell his family’s house since the death of his mother in 1996. Likewise, the heirs of the VerBeck estate placed 2025 Cherry St., on the market after Mary Louise VerBeck’s death in December.

“I think it’s really just a big coincidence,” Wilkerson said. “Some people are just reaching turning points in their lives when they have to move.”

Wilkerson would stay on Cherry Street if he could, if BancorpSouth hadn’t swallowed Merchants National Bank, where he was executive vice president, in 1998.

He had planned to retire at 1810 Cherry, even arranging his mortgage so that it would be paid by his 65th birthday. He loves its high ceilings, grand staircases and good location, the way it takes him only 5 minutes to get anywhere he wants to go.

Likewise, Dabney, Derivaux and Jackson said their houses have character that makes it hard to leave.

Derivaux was drawn to his Cherry Street home by its classical columns, high ceilings and big rooms. But he found its acoustics less than desirable.

“We could be sitting around in the living room and not hear someone at the back door,” Derivaux said. “Other than that, it’s a great, neat old house.”

Dabney moved to the Martha Vick House on Grove Street, in 1996, the year his mother, Eloise, died. He still stays on Cherry Street sometimes, whenever memories overtake him.

“I checked on my house this morning and almost said, To hell with it, I’m moving back here,'” Dabney said last week. “When I say I’m going home, I mean I’m going to Cherry Street.”

Home has meant Cherry Street both literally and figuratively since the house, the longtime home of Rig Perry, caught her eye. In 1984, she started running a bed and breakfast, the Cherry Street Cottage, at her house.

Eventually, she grew tired of the daily grind of managing a business and caring for her house constantly answering phone calls, preparing big breakfasts every morning, waking up before dawn to greet workmen she hardly knew.

Still, Jackson spent a year deciding whether to leave, and she won’t be going far. Her new place adjoins her old lot.

“I love sitting out on the porch and seeing everyone go by,” Jackson said. “That’s something I can do on Drummond, too.”

Jackson said she believes Cherry Street will remain at the top of Vicksburg’s most beautiful and charming streets.

“People need to understand that neighborhoods are in a constant state of evolution,” she said. “Cherry Street was changing when I got here. It’s still changing. It’s up to the people who live here to make it a good place to live.”

But Dabney thinks Cherry will never be as grand as the street he grew up on, especially because of the expansion of a neighborhood church.

“Baptists have happened to Cherry Street,” he said, citing First Baptist Church’s decision to demolish the LaBarre House at 1701 Cherry to widen the church parking lot. The church also tore down a house on the other side of the street to build a “ridiculously small” parking lot in the 1980s, Dabney said. “They’ve annihilated some of Vicksburg’s finest old homes.”

Ben Atkinson, minister of education at First Baptist and no relation to the former church neighbors, said the homes were all demolished by congregational votes. “Beyond that, I can’t speak for the whole church,” Atkinson said.

Whatever the agent of change on Cherry Street, though, Dabney talks of it as if he’s describing the destruction caused by the Union army in what he calls the “War of Northern Aggression.”

“Cherry Street has changed forever,” he said. “And I think it’s changed for the worse.”