Vicksburg landmark on state’s list of threatened structures

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 1, 2015


Visitors look at Margaret's Grocery on U.S. 61 South on Friday, Jan. 21, 2011. (Bryant Hawkins/The Vicksburg Post)

Visitors look at Margaret’s Grocery on U.S. 61 South on Friday, Jan. 21, 2011. (Bryant Hawkins/The Vicksburg Post)

A Vicksburg landmark of sorts has been named to the list of the 10 most endangered historic structures in Mississippi.

The Mississippi Heritage Trust named Margaret’s Grocery, located on North Washington Street in Vicksburg, as a building it thinks is in danger of deteriorating past the point of reclamation if significant effort isn’t made to save it.

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Ella Shines Goldsmith of Houston, who is the niece of long-time Margaret’s Grocery owner the late Margaret Martin Rogers Dennis, nominated the building for consideration by the Mississippi Heritage Trust.

“I’m extremely excited it’s been put on the list,” Goldsmith said.

Margaret’s Grocery is known as a folk art treasure because its owner’s second husband, the Rev. H.D. Dennis, transformed it into a work of art, using inexpensive materials such as cinder blocks, Christmas lights, Mardi Gras beads and artificial flowers.

Goldsmith said Dennis preached the gospel to all who entered the store.

She recalls spending time at Margaret’s Grocery as a child.

Margaret Dennis was the sister of her grandmother, Mentha Martin, who lived in a mobile home located on property near the grocery.

Margaret Martin Rogers and her then-husband Abie L. Rogers purchased Margaret’s Grocery in 1944.

Abie Rogers was murdered during a robbery at the grocery store in 1979, Goldsmith wrote in her blog about the store.

Margaret Rogers married Dennis in 1984, promising her he would turn her store into a palace if she would agree to marry him.

“When we were growing up, we thought our uncle was an old eccentric man. My aunt Margaret was the sweetest woman, but we just thought he was eccentric. He preached fire and brimstone and painted all these signs,” Goldsmith said.

It was only recently when researching her family history that she took an interest in and began researching Margaret’s Grocery.

“I started finding all this information about Margaret’s Grocery. People wrote books about it. Bruce West wrote an entire book on Margaret’s over 20 years ago. He even photographed the funeral” of the Rev. Dennis, she said.

Goldsmith said people have come from all over the world to photograph the store, and she has found at least two documentaries about it.

“I was just flabbergasted when I started doing this research,” she said.

Margaret Dennis died in 2009 at the age of 94 and Dennis died in 2012 at the age of 96. He spent a number of his last years in a nursing home.

Margaret Dennis willed the Margaret’s Grocery property to the members of Cool Springs Baptist Church, where she taught children in Sunday school. Goldsmith said she taught many of her Sunday school students to read.

A telephone number listed as belonging at Cool Springs Baptist Church has thus far not been answered, when seeking comment about that property.

“He (Dennis) loved my aunt and they built that house together,” Goldsmith said.

Unfortunately, the structure is in ruins. Many of Dennis’s signs have been vandalized and removed. She writes on her blog that the bricks are falling down and the wood has been eaten by termites and otherwise suffered from the elements.

“I hope being put on this list will help it get attention for some funding or potential backing for saving it,” Goldsmith said.