Ownership in dispute for Army Navy digs|[02/28/07]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The future of ramshackle buildings on public land has Vicksburg officials and Army Navy Club members sifting through decades-old records trying to figure out what’s what.

The buildings are Quonset huts in an out-of-the way pocket off Army Navy Drive at City Park. Veterans organized the club 70 years ago, but city officials are looking for a place to consolidate water and gas department supplies.

South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman said the city asked for keys to the buildings, but only to inspect them for their potential, part of a months-long process. Supplies for the city’s water and gas utility companies are now kept in a number of locations, including on city land in Waltersville and a building behind the Klondyke on North Washington.

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Mayor Laurence Leyens said the administration had been considering taking the Army Navy building down and using the slab for a supply building before the question of ownership came up. Now, he said the city plans to meet with club officials.

John Turner, secretary-treasurer of the veterans’ group, said he got a telephone call from the City Clerk’s Office telling him to turn the keys over to Beauman. That has not been done yet.

&#8220All that was about was because Johnny Puckett (city buildings and grounds supervisor) wanted to get in and look at what was there,” Beauman explained. Puckett wanted to look because the city has ordered two steel buildings to house the supplies, he said.

The Army Navy Club of Vicksburg was organized in September 1937 with 42 charter members, some of whom were veterans of World War I and others were members of the U.S. Army Reserve and the Mississippi National Guard, Turner said. Their first meeting place was a restaurant on Washington Street at National Street.

&#8220The club started as a group of officers to work on their correspondence courses for branch qualifications for their promotions,” Turner said.

After a meal, he said, the members would discuss their individual courses and those who were familiar with the subjects would tutor those who didn’t.

&#8220They set up the meetings for the first Thursday of the month,” Turner continued.

In the 1941-42 time period, the group started meeting in a house on Rifle Range Road that had been the home of the commander of the rifle range, which was called Camp Williamson, where reservists and National Guardsmen practiced their marksmanship. At the time, Turner said, the club received permission from the Mississippi adjutant general and the Mississippi National Guard to take over the house and supervise the range, which was located across Rifle Range Road.

Then, in the 1954-55 time frame, &#8220the City (of Vicksburg) wanted to donate the (rifle range) land to Spencer Chemical,” he said. &#8220They wanted the club and the National Guard to give up their rights to the land.”

It was then the city made an agreement with the Mississippi Guard for an armory in City Park and agreed to let the Army Navy Club have use of a corner of the property. The club then obtained the first of three Quonset huts that make up the club buildings.

&#8220It was kind of a gentleman’s agreement,” Turner said. &#8220The old folks said the administration was supposed to deed the land to the club, but they never did,” he said.

But, Turner said there is at least some acknowledgement by the city of the old agreement. The club has been paying the water, sewer and gas bill since 1955 and has the records to prove it.

Turner said the club’s monthly meeting is Thursday and they plan to discuss what they want to do.

Another quirk of the original 1950s agreement was the city could use the building any time it wanted with no charge, Turner said, displaying written records from the time period of dates and the amount of the rent, and in the city’s case no charge, for various functions.

Beauman said the city is not poised to toss the Army Navy Club out of the buildings.

&#8220We are just trying to see what (agreements) are there,” he said. &#8220When we do we’ll sit down and talk to see what needs to be done,” he said.