Historic Lighthouse Lives On

It was a lighthouse and the community store, but to Sue Breland it was always home. Breland, 65, sleeps soundly where a hundred years earlier traders tracked mud from the Chickasawhay River into W.W. Avera's mercantile to buy supplies and mail letters. A flip of a switch lights a chandelier in the uppermost room in the house, where an oil lantern once guided travelers rafting logs down the river to Pascagoula. Breland said her home contains the only inland lighthouse in the state.

The lighthouse, located on the Chickasawhay River in the Old Avera community in Greene County, was originally built between 1840 and 1850. It served as a general mercantile store and lighthouse for traders, travelers and loggers on boats and rafts, making their way down the dark Chickasawhay. The light served to alert travelers of a dangerous bend in the river. Moss still hangs from the trees lining the Chickasawhay River a few steps from Breland's bedroom, which used to be the front porch.

Avera sold the lighthouse to Breland's grandfather, L.D. Clark Sr., in 1911. The Clarks operated the store until the late 1930s, she said. The father passed the lighthouse to his son, L.D. Clark Jr., who turned the building into a home by removing some of the heart pine wood from the second floor to build partitions for rooms. Breland, Clark's only child, spent her younger days in the house with her parents. She moved back about 20 years ago.

History is repeating itself as Breland's son, David Pryne, occasionally stays with her at the old home place. Pryne and Breland co-own the estate. The home isn't on a historical register because Breland doesn't want to be obligated to conform to a historical society's strict guidelines, but it has been featured on several tours by local organizations. Breland stays amazed that anyone wants to see the lighthouse. She agreed to a tour last year, expecting a few people to visit. Instead a guest book records several hundred visitors from across Mississippi and other states. Those visiting Breland's home can see a candy case from the original store, although the licorice and penny candies have been replaced with china cups and personal mementos. The doors of Breland's bedroom are the original front doors of the lighthouse and many of the walls and floors are the original wood Avera used to build the lighthouse. A highlight of the home is the winding staircase leading to the top floor. Self-supportive and built with wooden pegs instead of nails, the 19 steps wind around 360 degrees twice from the living area to the top floor. The staircase, along with the woodwork around the skylight, were hand-carved by a German craftsman when Avera built the lighthouse, Breland said.

As a child, Breland would often be caught sliding down the bannister, she said. The glass-enclosed room at the top, much like a bell tower in a church, houses the light, although the lamp hanging there now is mostly for decoration. A 20-foot ladder braced against the bannister on the second floor is used to change the three regular wattage light bulbs. Breland's parents never used the landmark for more than just a place to live, and she doesn't know when her grandfather stopped operating the lighthouse. However, she still uses the electric lights to guide her sons home. ``When my sons are running on the river and are late coming in they use that light as a guide. They can see it from the river,'' she said. Two floods have threatened the historic building. In 1990 the water rose four feet into the building, then in 1964 water reached the back door, flooding the cellar.