Change on the way to country road|[08/11/2008]

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 11, 2008

A thick canopy of pine and oak trees lines most of Fonsylvania Road. Gaps along the roadside lead to imposing gates, the owners’ dwellings shrouded in mystery aided by woods. Near its midpoint, the land opens wide to a stunning vista of grassy canyons and whirring breezes.

Longtime landowners along the 3.5-mile road agree it seems more distant from “civilization” than it is. Change might be coming, but slowly.

“It’s like its name, a spring in the woods,” historian Gordon Cotton said.

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Though the road has had informal names through the years – Rattlesnake Road and Folkes Road, to name a few – it has officially been Fonsylvania at least since 1988 when county roads were delineated as Mississippi counties converted to a unit system of countywide road inventories for maintenance purposes.

The name goes back to a famous Mississippian, B.L.C. Wailes, who was owner of Fonsylvania Plantation and lived on a large tract near present-day Fisher Ferry Road. Wailes, a founding father of Mississippi history, was a diarist and naturalist who recorded his observations and also published “The Agriculture and Geography of Mississippi” in 1854.

“There’s a story of Wailes going to church near there in 1860 or 1861,” Cotton said, alluding to what the plantation owner thought about the road’s many curves. “He said it had the twists and curves and all those things.”

Shelby Flowers Ferris, whose family has long owned Ferris Farms on Fisher Ferry agreed the road is “like a little mountain stream in the woods.”

District 5 Supervisor Richard George said the county has been seeking a larger right-of-way along Fonsylvania, perhaps to improve the thoroughfare for true, two-way traffic.

“It’s a lovely road. I hope they don’t mess it up,” Cotton said.

Residents who have watched change happen little by little through the years said the work, while still a long way off, will be a welcome sight.

“Those huge, massive hills and curves when you drive by are scary,” said Natasha Savage, 25, a college student living with her grandmother across from one of the area’s many cattle pastures.

Their landlord, Bobby Ferguson, 73, lives near the western end of the road where a mile of Fonsylvania is already paved. He remembers even rougher times for getting around. “It took them 30 years to pave what we got there,” Ferguson said. “They said they’d do this in sections, but a lot of property owners have died off and moved away and all that jazz.”

Since last year, county road crews have graded property periodically as rights-of-way have been secured.

“It’s still in search mode,” George said of the process, mired in title searches seeking heirs to deceased property owners. About 20 landowners have been approached, with some negotiating rights-of-way sales and some donating acreage, George said.

Key to the venture’s success and impact on quality of life may hinge on unrelated factors – how private development takes place near the eastern end of Fonsylvania and bringing water service to areas past the end of existing pipes.

Fisher Ferry Water District serves non-municipal residents in south-central Warren County, between Fisher Ferry and Halls Ferry roads south to Jeff Davis Road. However, it includes only the edges of Fonsylvania and leaves those closest to the center high and dry.

“There’s that no-man’s land in there,” said Carol Van Norman of the water district, adding those living more than a mile past the district’s franchise area must apply to the district and foot the bill if they want water lines.

One of a handful of residents near the midpoint would like to see coverage expand.

“I want water for everybody,” Lafern Massey said, adding the “stress of applying for permits” grates on people having to dig their own lines.

While water service was a big issue for Emily Wright, a neighbor, safety remained paramount in her take on current plans for the road.

“I want this road widened,” Wright said.

Development plans for the eastern side were filed with county engineers in late July.

Also, about 100 acres of previously agricultural land is being offered for development by Mississippi Land & Timber Investment Inc.