Before we knock off for Christmas, I thought this article about a Christmas tradition in Greenwood would put us all in the Christmas spirit. If you’ve been through Greenwood on Highway 82, you’ve spotted the impressive former Buckeye Cotton Oil Mill (now Delta Oil Mill) on the south side right on the river. But unless you’ve driven through at night in the Christmas season, you probably missed the star high above the complex. Here’s the story as told in 1991 in the Greenwood Commonwealth (recent daytime photos by Mary Carol Miller to set the scene).
Daughter’s star a Greenwood gift
Oil mill star built in the 1930s
By Susan Montgomery
Willie Smith was a wise man when he erected a Christmas star and later told his baby girl, “That’s for you.”
Fifty years have passed, and the star’s still shining for the girl and for everyone in her hometown Greenwood.
The girl is Suzanne Smith McIntyre, who now works at Greenwood City Hall. Her father, who died in 1969, was the superintendent at Buckeye Oil Mill, now Yazoo Valley, when the star first shone.
“My husband, Robert Edwin Smith, made that star,” said Mrs. McIntyre’s mother, Eloise Middleton of Greenwood. She said Smith, known as “Willie,” put the structure together sometime after they were married in 1935.
“The star was originally the star on top of a huge, live Christmas tree,” T.S. Schuler, president of the Yazoo Valley Oil Mill, said. The tree was situated each holiday season for several years on the rim of one of the mill’s cottonseed storage tanks.
The practice of putting up a tree, he said, was discontinued during World War II. “But the star was continued. Everybody liked it, and it was just a tradition.
Shuler, unable to join the military, took a “war job” at the mill. The star was already there then, he said. For a while, the Christmas tree was erected at the site of a pond near the mill. The pond, which no longer exists, contained goldfish.
The star used to be more isolated and therefore more visible from its high point west of town.
When Mrs. McIntyre was growing up, the area around the oil mill had fewer large structures. Cotton was planted where Greenwood Leflore Hospital now is located. Cooperative Elevator, which is near the mill, had not been built. Neither had U.S. 82 bypass and its Hinman Bridge. A gravel road ran beside the mill, and the Smiths lived in the two-story frame house nearby.
“That house was the place to grow up,” Mrs. McIntyre said. “We played up and down the river bank. We swung on vines out over the river. I would have died if my children had done that.”
After she became a mother, she and her children–a son and three daughters–would view the star, knowing that it was special for them.
“My father said he built it for me,” Mrs McIntyre would tell her children. “That’s what I was always told–that it was supposed to be my Christmas star.”
The children now are grown and Mrs. McIntyre is a grandmother. Each December within her memory, the star has been lit on the night of Greenwood’s Christmas parade, which is 56 years old. That, too, is a tradition, Shuler said.
Mrs. McIntyre said she does not remember the Christmas tree. She suspects the tree would never have meant much to her.
Although her father “certainly built the star to share with Greenwood,” it was “my Christmas star.” And it was also something more. It was the guiding light of the wide men, the symbol of the birth of Christ.
For more of Greenwood, the star shone in the western sky. But for young Suzanne Smith, it has the opposite perspective. “From our house,” she said, “it was the Star in the East.”
Greenwood Commonwealth, December 25, 1991, p.3
As luck would have it, I recently came across another article about the star, this one from the Christmas of 1934 that may have been the first year of the tradition, if not of the exact star that is in place now. I’m really just posting this because of the second paragraph though, which describes a more generous Christmas gift than I’ve ever gotten from my employers.
Striking Decoration At Buckeye Oil Mill
One of the most striking of the Christmas decorations is that of the Buckeye Oil Mill. A huge lighted star placed high upon one of the mammoth tanks at the mill, above a colored Christmas tree makes a beautiful decoration for the holidays.
The Buckeye this year will follow its annual custom of giving Christmas baskets to its employees. This year 177 baskets will be presented on Monday morning. In the baskets will be one ham, pound cracker jacks, pound hard candy, two pounds mixed nuts, one 5 ounce candy cane, one dozen oranges, one pound coffee, twelve pound sack flour, peck corn meal, quart syrup, pound flakewhite, pound sugar.
Greenwood Commonwealth, Dec. 19, 1934
I hope your Christmas is as filled with good things at the Buckeye Christmas basket of yore. Merry Christmas, y’all!