Simmons-Wright in the mid '70s before the Gulf gas pumps and sign were removed.
The Cotton Gin you see here has long since been deserted, but reminds you just how busy this area once was.
Bernice Simmons took over ownership and managerial responsibilities in the mid '70s. She never left the town of Kewanee except to attend college. When she passed away at the grand old age of 96 a mountain of history about this store and town went with her.
You could always find Bernice resting on the green bench in this picture or out in the garden adjacent to the store.
View from the 2nd story balcony that wraps around the store walls.
EXCERPT FROM THE SIMMONS-WRIGHT COMPANY NOMINATION
TO THE NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES
Narrative Statement of Significance
Originally established in 1884, the Simmons & Wright Company is locally significant under Criterion A for Commerce. The building is a great example of a historic general mercantile store. The front sign of the building reads as “The Simmons-Wright Company” but the store has always been referred to as the “Simmons & Wright Company.”
Simmons & Wright is located off Hwy 11/80 in Kewanee, MS on the N.W. corner of Hwy 11/80 and Kewanee-Lauderdale Road. Much of its significance is focused around the time period it was in business. Although Simmons & Wright Co. has been in business for over 100 years the height of its years was from the beginning of its establishment in 1884 to the 1960s. Simmons & Wright Co. was a business that relied highly on the cotton industry and the many farmers that needed supplies in the Toomsuba and Kewanee, Mississippi and west Alabama area.
The store was originally built in 1884 by William Simmons and Tom Wright. William Simmons and Tom Wright were the first to operate day to day business activities. Changes in ownership include C.H. Ryan buying 52% ownership of the store in the early 1950s and Rowena, Bo and Jean Simmons assuming the other partnership roles as it was left to them in the will of William Simmons. Bernice Simmons took over the store in the mid 1970s and ran it until she passed away in 1998 at the age of 96. She lived in the Kewanee area all of her life except for while attending college, but then returned to the area to be the Simmons & Wright’s book keeper. After Bernice died the store was left to Gary and Manning Pickett in Bernice’s will and is currently being run by Gary and Janice Pickett.
Simmons & Wright Company represents a past that Mississippi is well known for but is seen very little anymore. The production of cotton and sell of general merchandise made Simmons & Wright Co. a thriving business in its time. Its location was most likely chosen because of its close proximity to the railroad where the trains would stop and unload cargo for local farmers. When the store was first established Hwy 11/80 was not yet in existence (the highway was built in 1932), so the proximity to Alabama was most likely a contributing factor in its location. Since horse and buggy was a primary means of transportation highways were not available until later.
Surrounding the store is a warehouse, cotton gin, blacksmith shop and a couple of other buildings used for storage or to assist in the production of cotton. Most of these buildings are showing their years, but you can imagine how bustling this area once was. It almost seems frozen in time.
The store burned down in 1926 but was re-built in the same year of brick instead of the wood it was originally built from. No pictures exist of the original store nor do we know who re-built the store in 1926. Documentation does not exist in local newspapers regarding the fire of 1926 because of the rural location.
A modern addition to the store was the installation of gasoline fueling tanks that were located in front of the store along the highway. These were removed in the late 1980s.
Cuba, AL, is about 5 miles to the east of Kewanee. Within this small town there are a couple of general stores that resemble Simmons & Wright architecture and style. For the town of Kewanee, MS and surrounding areas, this is the only one of its kind.
Wood burning stove.
Photo courtesy of Kimberly Parker Pace
Original National cash register.