BROOKHAVEN -- When construction crews broke ground on a new accounting office here, they unearthed a mystery from Brookhaven's past: a small brick room with steps and a small space that leads to a door in the sidewalk.
Since the discovery there's been much speculation, but a deeper look into the lot's past has illuminated an interesting chapter of Brookhaven's history.
The earliest records available show the lot was sold to a Peter Lucich in 1876. Lucich built the two-story St. Marco Hotel.
John Perkins, whose family bought the property from Lucich, said the St. Marco was a layover place for railroad crews who liked to drink and enjoyed the nightly company of female companions.
Perkins said the hotel resembled buildings in New Orleans. It had a balcony with intricate iron railings. Several residents recounted the tale of a man who was so drunk he fell off that balcony and died.
Brookhaven was not a place you would bring your children in those days, the story goes.
There are two hypotheses about the underground room's purpose. Some say it was used for shoveling in coal for steam heat and others for storing water in case of a fire.
If it was for steam heat, the little door on the sidewalk could have been used for shuttling coal to the boiler. Coal heat was very messy, though, so when natural gas was available, people abandoned the older-style fuel.
If the space was built to store water firefighters would use in case of fire, it would have housed a kind of cistern firefighters could pump water from. This method of firefighting was used way before the Lucich building existed, and it could explain the hole in the floor of the room.
A small branch from the room leads to a metal door in the sidewalk.
National prohibition ran from 1919 to 1933. Mississippi's prohibition began in 1908 and lasted until 1966. During this time, drinking became an underground activity fostered by moonshiners and speakeasies.
Most residents' speculations about the room revolve around a moonshiner's keep.
Perkins said it was definitely used for liquor, although he never took a drink down there.
The general consensus is the basement door was sealed off sometime before 1938.
In 2007, the 131-year-old building burned down. The property sat unused for seven years, no one knowing about the secret room just below the surface of the red dirt until earth-moving equipment uncovered it.