Next Tuesday marks the red letter day — the 58th annual Country Store Bake Sale at the Stephen D. Lee Home in Columbus. It’s a highlight in the community’s countdown to Thanksgiving. When the doors open at 10 a.m. Nov. 20, the line of people already formed will fill the antebellum landmark as shoppers select from made-from-scratch cakes, cookies, pies, candies, breads, cheese straws, jellies and more for their Thanksgiving tables. The made-from-scratch sweets and savories are made by many of the city’s good cooks. Peggy Phillips is one of them. She never has to be asked twice to bake something special for the event sponsored by the Association for the Preservation of Antiquities in Columbus and Lowndes County. Throughout the years, the sale has generated many thousands of dollars toward the upkeep of the circa 1847 Lee Home, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“I love supporting the Country Store Bake Sale because I feel very connected to the house itself,” Phillips said. “It was part of S.D. Lee High School, and my mother taught math there. And later, when it had become Lee Junior High, I was an eighth-grade student there — that was also the year it burned.”
A fire in December 1959 destroyed the school that the home was connected to, where it served as the home economics building. The house was severely damaged, but immediate efforts by concerned citizens saved the structure from demolition. They were given permission to restore the former home of CSA Gen. Stephen D. Lee, first president of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Mississippi — now Mississippi State University. Lee was also instrumental in the congressional passage of the law creating the Vicksburg National Park in 1899 and was its first superintendent. He was also president of the Mississippi Historical Society and trustee of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. He was described by some colleagues as “the father of industrial education in the South.”
“He was quite a remarkable man,” said Phillips, a Lee Home docent. “He was honored by three U.S. presidents and was respected by thousands. In reporting his death, one of the midwestern newspapers said that, in his writings and speeches, he had done much to heal the wounds between the north and the south, that he had taken Rebels and Yankees and made Americans of them.”
The Lee Home, which is available to rent, now serves as the site of weddings, receptions, meetings and educational events. It’s also open for tours on Fridays from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Upstairs it houses the Florence McLeod Hazard Museum.
Phillips said, “We are so grateful to the people who saved the home from being torn down after the 1959 fire destroyed Lee Junior High. Today it holds a wealth of information about life in Columbus in the late 1800s and also a peek into the early- to mid-1900s. It’s such a treasure for Columbus.”
For the holiday table
Phillips enjoys making a variety of treats for the annual Country Store that has helped with Lee Home projects such as a new roof and wheelchair-accessible ramp.
“I’ve made something different just about every year. I’ve made cakes, cookies, toffee, brownies … and this year, I’m making Mississippi tea cakes. They are tiny tea cakes cut out in the shape of the state.” The recipe is one Phillips customized, from the cookbook “Come on In!”
She’s been getting a bit of help from her 14-year-old granddaughter, Miriam Madan. The Heritage Academy eighth-grader is practicing her tasting and wrapping skills. Bake sale goodies are festively presented, making them attractive as holiday hostess gifts.
“I’ve been learning a little in the kitchen, but I also like eating what she makes,” Madan grinned, referring to her grandmother’s specialties.
Paulette Garton chairs the 2018 Country Store.
“We are so excited about all the delicious things everyone is bringing for the bake sale,” said Garton, noting that the list of contributing cooks is about 16 pages long.
Although the sale doesn’t begin until 10 a.m. sharp, shoppers can stop by the Lee Home at 316 Seventh St. N. beginning at 8 a.m. Tuesday to pick up a number to lineup shortly before doors open — and to get a peek at the treats available.
“We’re doing something just a little different this year,” said Garton, explaining that when doors open, the first 10 numbers will be admitted for “a couple of minutes” before the next 10 numbers go in, and so on.
As in years past, $1 tickets for a drawing to win a centerpiece by Mildred Austin will be available at the front table.
Free tours of the museum will be given Tuesday morning.
“There is no way to overstate the importance of the Country Store,” said Stephen D. Lee Foundation President Eulalie Davis. “These funds help us with repairs, maintenance, and building projects as well as pay our insurance. The Lee Home Board is grateful to these ladies who work hard to make the event a success and to the community members who come shop. It is a delicious way to contribute to historic preservation in Columbus.”
IF YOU GO:
WHO: Association for the Preservation of Antiquities in Columbus and Lowndes County
WHAT: 58th annual Country Store Bake Sale
WHEN: Tuesday, Nov. 20; 10 a.m.-noon (may end earlier if sold out)
WHERE: Stephen D. Lee Home, 316 Seventh St. N., Columbus
ADMISSION: Free. For more information, contact Paulette Garton, 662-364-7080.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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