Rickie Vaughn considers himself an “old fashioned” person when it comes to working with tools, which is a major reason his ongoing work in the former Bruce Company Store building has a personal appeal to him.
“I grew up learning to work with old fashioned hand tools, not all these modern tools used today,” Vaughn said. “This town was built on hard work by hard working people – people that worked with their hands. That’s what this building represents. Bruce Company and the sawmill industry is a valuable part of our history and we don’t need to forget it.”
Vaughn and Lader Gregory are leading a team of volunteers working to install a restroom and kitchen in the building to open an endless array of possibilities for the facility in the future.
“We see this historic building providing a great place for wedding receptions, class reunions, banquets, and all kinds of other gatherings in addition to its function as a museum,” said Ellen Jeffery Shaw, vice-chairperson of the Bruce Museum Committee and overseer of the current renovation project.
“We’ve received so many inquiries from people wanting to use the building already for various purposes,” said Joel McNeece, Bruce Museum Committee chairman. “We’re confident it will provide a great service to the community.”
Vaughn, who retired from a career in education, including 12 years as principal at Bruce High School, said the renovation project at the museum is “personal.”
“Harry Waller was one of the best friends I ever had,” Vaughn said. “I know if he was still here he would want to see this completed.”
Joe Bennett, Bryan Maddox, Joey Shaw, Larry Mason, Daniel Hathorne, John Edward Brasher, Phil Yarbrough, Clay Gregory and Ryan Keeton have been among the many other volunteers that have pitched in on the renovation.
“Once we started, everybody has just asked if they could help,” Ellen Shaw said. “It’s truly been a community project.”
Shaw, 39, remembers the store from its TWL days.
“I remember it vividly,” Shaw said. “It was like a mini Bruce Company Store. Mother would let us walk over from the store with our $1 to buy whatever we wanted.”
Shaw said the history of the building and its possibilities for the future keep her excited as the work continues.
“I see this museum as the centerpiece of our community,” Shaw said. “So many people have so much pride in that building and what it stands for. I think the museum is so important to preserve our history and provide a revered space the community can use and enjoy.”
The ongoing restroom/kitchen renovation is the latest on a long list of projects performed since the Bruce Chamber of Commerce first began work on establishing the museum.
The Bruce Company Store building is believed to have been built in 1927. Its first occupants were a Clarence Saunders’ Grocery operated by Ed and Thelma Schuh; D.L. Fair Lumber Company office (D.L. Fair Lumber Company operated a sawmill in Bruce near the current site of the Piggly Wiggly); and a GEM?movie theater operated by Fair Company and Dee Countiss.
The second floor served as a schoolhouse after a fire at the Bruce School in the late 1920s.
Also upstairs at different times were Jesse Yancy’s first law office, City Hall, a Masonic Lodge, movie theater, Dr. Waits dentist office, apartments, and the Health Department.
The building also housed White’s Auto, operated by Jimmy Tedford.
The building is most commonly remembered as home of the E.L. Bruce Company store, which operated in the facility from approximately 1942-1972.
The building had been empty for approximately five years when the chamber purchased it from Jimmie Lois Tedford in 2005.
Following the purchase, the chamber was able to access a $125,000 appropriation the Mississippi Legislature had designated for the museum through the Department of Archives and History. Former State Rep. Joey Grist, of Bruce, was instrumental in obtaining that initial funding.
Those funds were used to remove the metal facade from the exterior of the building and do major masonry and roof repair around the building.
The chamber then recruited volunteers to help tear out the carpet and parquet flooring, as well as other interior debris to initiate the interior renovation.
A $20,000 grant from the Mississippi Arts Commission provided new wiring and lighting.
Yard sales, bake sales, fish fries, silent auctions and a variety of events from local civic clubs continued to contribute to the museum’s coffers. The largest fundraisers have been private donations and the engraved brick sale that recently concluded.
The final shipment of more than 200 bricks are due in this week and will soon be installed on the front exterior of the building.
“That was a huge success allowing us to pay for the installation of heating and air conditioning systems and the current renovation,” McNeece said. “We plan to reopen the brick project soon. The next set of memorial bricks sold will be part of a courtyard project we are working on behind the building.”
The museum has also benefited from two $500 grants from the Calhoun Endowment Foundation.
“I believe it is important for us to save this building because it is the only remaining landmark directly associated with the E.L. Bruce Lumber Company, which everybody knows is responsible for Bruce, Mississippi being in existence,” Bruce Mayor Robert Edward Oakley said.
He noted that the flooring plant burned in 1968, the sawmill is now gone, and the railroad has closed.
“The Bruce store building is the last remaining vestage with direct link to the Bruce Company, outside of the old houses the company built around town,” Oakley said. “Its prominance on our square and its history make this project extremely important.”
The building has already been used for a variety of functions including an art show at last year’s Sawmill Festival.
“I believe the museum will make, and has already made, a huge impact on the arts culture of our town,” said Bethany LaValley, a local artist who coordinated last year’s show. “Other than smaller meeting rooms like in the library, before now we haven't had a place for mass display. There were so many people that I met at last year's show that I didn't know enjoyed the arts. Now we know each other and can build on that great experience. The museum gives us a place to all come together and see that you don't have to be a painter of perfect still-life's to be an artist. We come in all shapes and forms, all medias, all experience levels. It's wonderful to have an area where we can celebrate all of the talented people who live in our county. There are so many.”
The museum will host the art show again this year during the Sawmill Festival, July 8-9. It is also scheduled to host a wedding reception in June and other events later this year.
Donations to the Bruce Museum may be mailed to the Bruce Chamber of Commerce, PO?Box 1013, Bruce, MS 38915.