Heathman Plantation has had 5 owners since the mid 1800’s. Christopher Gillespie started buying land in 1854 totaling about 8000 acres. Since Mississippi only became a state in 1817, later some of this land being cleared of alligators, bears, and snakes was deeded by Governor Bilbo representing the state.
Mr. J.M. Heathman bought the land and changed the name from Dogwood Ridge to Heathman. After 15 years of marriage, Mr. Heathman was killed by a kick to the head by a mule. His widow, Lillie went to California to visit a cousin and met Mr. James A. Crawford from Dekalb, Mississippi. They later married.
Mr. Crawford came to Heathman and loved the area. He was a very good businessman as well as a very generous and kind man. He saw a need for the Commissary and built it 1911 to supply goods for about 4000 people that eventually lived in the area. It is dated on a plaque in front of the building. Heathman became a regular stop on the Southern Railroad. Mr. Crawford brought in Dr. Campbell who had his office and living quarters upstairs.
The train delivered medicines by the gallon as well as all supplies needed for the people. Shoes, boots, shovels, saddles, cloth, food and other supplies were delivered to the store. A ledger system was used so at the end of the crop year the money was paid for their supplies needed earlier.The rope elevator that is still working took the supplies to the top floor to be stored until needed.
Many Italian farmers became a part of the community and have relatives still in the area today. Mr. Crawford also was instrumental in bringing in other Kemper County men to clerk and manage the land and gin.
There was a bell system used at that time. The special number of rings meant certain things to the people. Three quick rings meant there was a fire, get there to help quickly! One of the bells is still in front of the building today.
Inside of the building a post office was established and used until 1956. A voting precinct was also located in the building until 1974. Noted in the Sunflower Tocsin in 1894, Mr. And Mrs. Crawford built a palatial home. In 1894, an elegant party was given and Mr. Crawford sent a railcar to Greenville to pick up his guests and returned them later in the evening.
Inside the building is also a room with a 10-inch safe door in the front, then when opened into the room a second safe. These safe combinations are still used today. Many deeds and records were kept in the safe and valuable information was still inside. An "anti-nuptial" agreement was found in the safe.
In 1919, the Crawfords sold Heathman to Herman Paepcke of Chicago and Mr. F.N. Robertshaw of Greenville, Mississippi for $1,110,000 with 21 notes at 6% interest. The total land sale included 6775 acres.Mr. Paepcke of Chicago was a German immigrant whose holdings included Chicago Mill & Lumber Company and the Hugh Box Manufacturing Company in Chicago. Mr. Paepcke married Julia Elizabeth Robertshaw in 1912. The marriage included the "anti-nuptial" agreement. When Heathman purchased it was changed to included her as a 1/5 partner. Herman Paepcke died in 1933. His son Walter by a previous wife, took control and moved the corporate headquarters from Chicago to Greenville in 1965. This company owned 3 sawmills, 2 box factories and over 200,000 acres of timberland in Mississippi and Louisiana.
Bobshaw Seed Company was started to research cotton seed in the building still standing behind the Heathman Commissary. The original logo is still on the outside of that building painted on the concrete front. Bobshaw Seed Company became a part of Mississippi Certified Seed directed by Mr. Posey Brown. It grew one variety of cotton seed and was only ginned at the gin in front of the Heathman building. Only the footprint is still remaining today. Bobshaw Seed Company was taken over by Stoneville Pedigree Seed Company after the release of the Dixie King variety.
In December of 1945, the Billups Brothers traveled to Chicago where they were able to strike a deal with Walter Paepcke to buy the land. The Robertshaw family didn’t sell their part but Mr. Paepcke sold everything he owned (about 4200 acres) for $100 an acre. His son, Walter, took his part and went to Aspen, Colorado and started the Aspen Ski Company. This was the beginning of Aspen, Colorado turning from a declining silver mining town to “the most expensive real estate in the USA” some say.
The name of the farm was then changed to Billups Plantation. The mules were soon replaced by modern and more efficient tractors. One of the first tennis courts in Sunflower County was built beside the two-story house located in the Pecan Grove. Mr. Vernon Beard, whose father was a manager for Billups, learned to play tennis there and went on to play tennis at Mississippi State University.
Soon Billups started growing certified seed under the Delta Pine and Land Company brand. Mr. J.C. Calhoun developed a smooth leaf cotton plant and was hired in 1959 to move to Billups to farm and work with cotton breeding and varieties.Mr. Calhoun died in 1965 and Mr. J.W. Waldrup was hired as general manager. He advised the Billups Brothers to get into cattle in a big way or get out. This resulted in all the cattle sold, fences torn down and cotton and soybeans planted. He remained general manager until 1998.
In 2007, after renting from the Billups for 9 years the Robertson Brothers, James and Bill, had the opportunity to buy Billups Plantation along with Lawrence Long. The name was then changed back to the original community and family of Heathman. When the building was reentered after nine years of not being used it was in need of 20 windows repaired and lots of vines removed from the building, as well as cleaning and all the office supplies removed.
In Mr. Strong’s oral history, he said he remembered “wine making, lots of dancing, singing and quilting. Happy, happy times at Heathman.” Our purpose is to preserve and extend those happy times!