I’ll admit it. When the Wilson family sold out to Gaylon Lawrence Sr. and Jr. in 2011, I was skeptical. And worried. Lee Wilson & Company was as much a fixture in our little corner of Northeast Arkansas as the Mississippi River. Before my Daddy started farming, he worked as an accountant for Lee Wilson & Company. We lived in Wilson, Arkansas on tree-shaded Washington Street.
How could a total stranger just waltz in and buy up one of our towns? Our cutest town. The town where my high school team played football on Friday nights while I cheered from the sidelines.
Well it happened alright to the tune of $150 million. And so far, from what I’ve seen (and I’ve seen the chocolate chess pie at the Wilson Cafe) the change is a very tasty thing.
The Wilson Cafe (at the former Tavern location which still holds a sweet spot in my heart) is serving up marvelous homestyle food like 3-inch thick meatloaf smothered in cream gravy with sweet potato pie for dessert. And it isn’t just the food that has me blogging. The entire experience was a treat—clean, understated decor, walls lined with original paintings from local artist Norwood Creech, attentive wait staff willing to move us three times as our group continued to grow… Really, for a moment, I forgot I was home in the Delta.
Over one hundred years ago, Robert E. Lee Wilson created a vast empire from Mississippi Delta swampland. The effects of his vision have been far-reaching, affecting the entire region and country, affecting me. Change is often unsettling and difficult, yet Lawrence appears to be enhancing Mr. Wilson’s original vision, breathing life back into the charming town. And he’s only just begun. Additional plans including a private charter school and relocation of the Hampson Archeological Museum which houses a huge collection of pre-Columbian artifacts.
For the first time in a long time, Wilson is attracting first-time visitors, but perhaps more importantly, Wilson is bringing people back home.
Grace Grits and Gardening