February 3, 2011
Brown remembers Powerhouse
With renewed interest in restoration of the historic police station and Powerhouse on East Falconer by Holly Springs Main Street, John Dabney Brown tells some of the uses of the structures he remembers.
Brown, 91, served as alderman and mayor for 32 years - mayor from 1985-1989, and alderman-at-large before then. He also served as fire chief at times, rotating with Bob Fant, and as interim police chief and interim manager of the utility department.
“I really believe the span of interim police chief and utility manager was while serving as mayor,” said Brown, insisting that he does not remember dates of service.
The Powerhouse was the old building built to serve as an electricity generating plant, providing the first electricity supply to the city homes, businesses and street lamps. The switches for the street lights and generators were in that building.
A 24-hour watchman was employed in the electricity generating building which used diesel fuel, most likely, to generate power. Brown said he was sure there was no coal or gas supply at first. In later years, the building no longer was used for generating electricity since the Tennessee Valley Authority took over supplying power for the town.
“Mr. Ed Rogers was superintendent of the Powerhouse and had an office there,” Brown said. “He was in charge of electricity, water and sewer.”
Brown thinks the population at the time could have been a little north of 5,000.
Not a lot of electricity was generated, he said. People used oil lamps and burned wood or coal for heating and cooking at home.
The town started off with one well which pumped underground water to a reservoir built behind the Powerhouse. From there the water was pumped into a tank that was located in front of the Powerhouse, he said.
Annexations to the Powerhouse took place, which included the space used for the old city jail.
Brown said city prisoners had been held in the bottom of city hall, but space was not sufficient so the jail was moved. The police station was there for as long as Brown said he could remember at the Powerhouse building, which was converted into a police station. A jail was attached on the east end.
Later the Powerhouse building was converted into a fire station when the generating plants were sold and power was purchased from TVA.
“So, that part of the Powerhouse was used for the fire station,” he said.
A door for ingress and egress of fire trucks was cut out of the building. The city started off with one Chevrolet truck with a pump and an all-volunteer fire force.
Brown said Rogers may have served as fire chief, also. The original fire squad or department was built due to much interest by Jimmy Warren Sr., Brown said. He helped the city organize for a fire department and was responsible for getting four big fire plugs installed around the square.
“He went before the board and told it was needed,” Brown said. “I was on the volunteer fire department when it was first started. I was working at Booker Hardware the year the fire broke out in 1951. I started working at Booker’s in September 1938, the year I got out of high school.”
At the time, the city had a fire siren and when it blew, everyone would go to help put out the fire.
The fire that took out the buildings on the east side of the square in 1951 began in the Golden Rule. Brown said he remembers it was kind of cold and the fire started in the heating system in the Golden Rule and spread to the building that housed Crawford’s Drug Store and Buford’s Furniture.
He said the fire took most of the day to put out, having started early in the morning. Brown said the three buildings were, in his mind, considered a total loss.
The fire was fought from the front of the buildings with a water hose connected to the fire plug on the courthouse lawn. A second fire hose connected to the fire plug at the Van Dorn Hotel (the house that today houses the Marshall County superintendent of education’s offices) and extended to the back of the buildings to fight the fire.
“They ran a hose up the alley so we were fighting it from the front and the back,” he said.
Then Memphis Mayor E.H. Crump sent two fire trucks to help fight the fire, but one broke down on the way and didn’t engage in the fire fight, Brown said.
The burning of the square in 1951 definitely resulted in the location of four large fire plugs on the square, he said. And more interest developed in fire fighting and turnout of volunteers, and more money was spent on firefighting equipment. The result of the 1951 fire on the square has been an interest in fire fighting in Holly Springs.
“I would think we have one of the best fire departments in the state of Mississippi at the present time, for a town of its size,” Brown said.
The basement of the Powerhouse was converted for use as a city garage. The reservoir north of the garage was filled in when it was no longer needed, due to improvements in capacity of pumps to deliver water from underground and pump water to an elevated tower.
The gullies behind the Powerhouse that extended to Park Avenue were filled with excess dirt from the brick plant. The springs below Park Avenue in Spring Hollow at one time produced a larger stream of water than today. But water from Spring Hollow was not used for household supplies, Brown said. Instead, the primary source of water to houses was runoff rainwater that was collected in large cisterns.
“The springs were running when I was a kid, but we did not haul drinking water from them,” Brown said. “It was a heavy stream.”
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