Here’s the history of the Whiskey Chute

Published 9:57 am Wednesday, March 16, 2022

By John Howell, Sr.

Publisher Emeritus

Whiskey Chute is the name (unofficial, I guess. Doubt if it ever made it onto an Panola County E-911 street map) of the short connector road from near the end of Lomax Street, across the railroad tracks to Pearson Street/Highway 35. Lots of traffic over that short street.

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The Whiskey Chute was in the news, or at least enjoyed some time on social media sites, last week when the City of Batesville put out a notice informing drivers that Whiskey Chute would be closed for a couple of days while infrastructure work was underway. That prompted lots of discussion, some by people who were unaware the area was known as Whiskey Chute, and other curious of the origin of the name.

Once upon a time, there was no liquor store at its corner, nor were there liquor stores anywhere in the state, not as legally licensed businesses anyway. Mississippi enjoyed prohibition of alcohol until the state legislature finally changed the law in 1966 to allow county option referendums. 

Panola County voters that summer voted in legal liquor sales. Liquor stores began opening in Batesville.

(Beer was a different. It was already a local option. Panola voters had voted the county dry for beer in the late 1950s, so there was no beer sold legally here in 1966, either, but county voters approved beer sales also in another referendum that soon followed.)

Not that the thirsty couldn’t find quench for thirsts. Bootlegging thrived, sometimes in spite of efforts of the local constabulary, sometimes with their help.

Liquor legalization forced some to change buying habits. I remember asking the late Brooks Vance Jr. (not the longtime Panola County Chancery Clerk some will remember; he was Brooks III), shortly after the referendum passed, what he thought about having legal liquor. 

“I don’t like it,” he said. “They used to bring it to my house, now I’ll have to go to the store.”

Bootleggers could make purchases convenient. Also more private. Purchases from bootleggers allowed the buyer privacy that walking into a public place of business and purchasing a bottle outright no longer afforded.

Which brings me back to Whiskey Chute. The first legal liquor store in Batesville was located near the intersection at Highway 6 and 51, across Highway 51 from where McDonald’s stands today. It was a high traffic area then, if only a shadow of what has followed since. Too visible for an avowed teetotaler who needed to slake an occasional thirst. 

There were apparently enough of those part-time teetotalers back then that when a new liquor store opened in a small block building at the corner of Pearson Street, Highway 35 and the short connector street, they were soon making trips there for purchases. 

Less traffic, fewer eyes, fewer nosey passersby.  Many of those liquor buyers would drive down Lomax Street or Perkins Lane and shoot through the “chute,” across the railroad tracks to the whiskey store and then back again. 

And that short connector road crossing the railroad tracks has been known since as Whiskey Chute.

John Howell, Sr., is former publisher of The Panolian.