Old homes in Mississippi are hardly rare.
Thousands in the state date back to the 1800s and before, according to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. They run the gamut from well-maintained, occupied mansions to abandoned shacks or cottages.
A Steens resident uses a vacant house along Porter Lane for an unusual purpose: a small-scale zoo.
“I first got a few goats to get rid of some of that brush back there on my land, and then I guess I fed them too much,” Tim Younger said. “The rest of the animals moved in on their own.”
These are the animals that can be found at the property, which is behind the post office and surrounded by a fence: a miniature clown bull, three horses, three pigs, geese, turkeys, chickens and goats. When someone has an animal they do not want, they give it to Tim. He puts it in with the others. The animals roam the yard. Sometimes they go inside the house.
Tom Younger, Tim’s father, purchased the house about 12 years ago from Todd Pennington. Tom was childhood friends with Todd’s father and bought the house because Todd wanted to sell. He turned the property over to Tim to manage.
“I’ve mainly done it for the kids,” Tim said. “You’d be amazed at the kids that have never touched an animal, never fed one or anything.”
Tim has two children who like going out to the property. They have given names to each of the animals. But they aren’t the only children who enjoy visiting the animals.
Ever since Tim filled an old gumball machine with corn and set it up by the fence, people have come by daily to feed the animals. Tim did not anticipate how popular the animal house would become.
“They’ll empty that corn thing out every day,” Tim said. “I fill it up at least six times a week, sometimes twice on Saturday and Sunday. I guarantee there’s somebody out there right now.”
Eddie Estes has lived next door to the house for 14 years. He said people come by daily to visit and he helps manage the property.
“Sometimes my wife or I have to get a goat untangled from the fence when it gets caught,” Estes said. “But that’s just country living.”
The Pennington property used to be the Steens doctors’ office in the 1800s. When Tim first entered the house, he found doctor’s books from the 1890s sitting on the table. The Penningtons lived in the house, but Tim said that when things started deteriorating, the family would simply vacate the problematic part of the house.
“When the floor would start falling, they would just add another piece of wood and shut the door,” he said, “So by the end, they only lived in like two or three rooms.”
According to Tim, the disrepair of the Pennington property is an exception in Steens. Most of the houses from the 1800s are still lived in and in good shape.
Todd Sanders, architectural historian for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, said keeping old buildings intact is vital to a community’s identity.
“It’s a huge part of the identity of the community, the physical structures that remain,” he said. “In almost any town, if you ask, there are always a few buildings that people say, ‘I hate that they tore down that store, or church, or courthouse.’ At the time it seems like just another old building, but people regret losing that connection to the past.”
For Tim, though, the Pennington house has more personal than historical value. When asked why he kept the property, he laughed.
“Because,” he said, “all the animals have names.”
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