Home Again

The Hollowell Family provides a gathering place for fun, fellowship and freedom at Foxfire Ranch.

Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem

When 68-year-old Bill Hollowell was a little boy, he often said he wanted to have a ranch one day. He learned later that turning intentions into realities was in his DNA.

In 1918, Bill Hollowell’s father, Albert, fixed his written intent to purchase an 80-acre plot of land in the Waterford community in Marshall County between Oxford and Holly Springs. In 1919, his vision became a reality.

It was on this land where Albert made a home for his family; it was where his six children were all delivered by local midwives; it was where Bill Hollowell, number four among his siblings, spent his boyhood; and it was where he always felt he was home. Even today he talks of his boyhood as if it were recent.

“We were a farm family that raised a garden, cotton, corn, sweet potatoes,” he said. “We had a few cows, some chickens and hogs, some orchards. My mama did a lot of canning — we grew most of what we ate. We were independent, self-sufficient members of a Black farming community.”

His father died when Bill Hollowell was 9. His mother remarried another farmer who had farmland nearer to Holly Springs. They moved there and rented their Waterford acreage to another family.

“I was old enough to start doing manly type chores,” he said. “I learned about planting and plowing and working with livestock.”

He left home at 14 to live with an older brother, and, at 17, he enlisted in the service.

“I saw a little bit of the world, including Vietnam,” he said.

His mind was never far from farming or the ranch he wanted to one day own.

After four years in the Marines, Bill Hollowell returned to Mississippi and went to work for the Holly Springs police department. He also worked with ROTC programs in the Memphis schools and at Ole Miss. After getting a degree from Ole Miss in 1980, he returned to the Army as an officer.

He married Annie, a Mississippi girl he’d known since childhood; he traveled a lot and learned while still serving his country that his siblings wanted to sell the family land.

“So, I bought it,” Bill Hollowell said.

In 2000, he retired from the military and built a home for his wife and two daughters, Hollie and Annette, on the family’s 80 acres.

“We raised cattle for a while, had about 30 head,” he said. “We had a horse and then the horses multiplied to 13.”

In 2007, Bill Hollowell’s vision for his ranch broadened. He built a 5,000-square-foot, open-air pavilion and hosted family reunions — from his side and his wife’s side of the family. These were no small affairs — there were about 300 people in attendance.

“Things just took off from there,” said daughter Annette Hollowell, who left New Orleans during the COVID-19 pandemic and returned to Waterford with her daughters, Selah, 8, and Ida, who will be 6 in September.

Annette shares her dad’s vision for the family land, known since 2007 as Foxfire Ranch. She serves as manager of the homeplace that has become a venue for weddings, family reunions, retreats, festivals and other events.

When Bill Hollowell was trying to come up with a name for the ranch, a childhood memory did the trick.

“Dad’s older brothers would often go coon hunting at night,” Annette said. “He was too little to go, but they’d always come home from hunting talking about seeing this glowing moss. This story lived in Dad’s imagination.”

The foxfire phenomenon is the bioluminescence created by some species of fungi present in decaying wood. It gives off a blue-green glow.

For the past 13 years, Foxfire Ranch has continued a Marshall County tradition, hosting the Sunday Evening Blues Concerts each second and fourth Sunday from March through November. The slate of musicians who’ve graced the stages at Foxfire conjure a strong “wow” sentiment, like Bobby Rush, Cedric Burnside, Lightnin’ Malcolm, Keith Johnson and The Big Muddy Band, Afrissippi, to name just a very few.

It’s also home to Hill Country Harmonica, the largest blues harmonica gathering in the United States.

If you get hungry while visiting Foxfire, all you have to do is find Annie Hollowell. She runs the kitchen there and is known across the wide expanse of Mississippi Hill Country for her barbecue, greens, cornbread, fried chicken and other soul-soothing delicacies.

The visitors who’ve come to Foxfire — singularly and collectively — include groups of social justice advocates, transgender artists of color and women writers from New Orleans.

“The crowds that show up here are intergenerational and interracial,” Annette Hollowell said. “It’s a wonderful mix of humanity. Whether people need to be creative or refresh their spirits or just find peace, they seem to find it here.”

If there’s a most important rule that must be followed at Foxfire, this is it, according to ranch manager Annette: “As long as you lead with love and show respect, you are welcome here.”

Of course, COVID changed the day-to-day way of being at Foxfire. Large social gatherings ceased for a while, but the Hollowells used the time to make a few changes at the ranch. Two new cabins were built, bringing the accommodations to four private cabins. There is also an indoor banquet hall and a full-service catering kitchen where Annie Hollowell works her culinary magic.

“This place is all-consuming,” Annette Hollowell said. “You’re either in or out. I surrendered years ago. It’s a gift to be (part of) a place that is peaceful, safe and comfortable for others. And it’s pretty amazing that my grandfather’s vision more than 100 years ago was big enough to hold what we’re doing now.”

Learn more about Foxfire Ranch at foxfireranch.com; on Instagram @foxfire.ranch; and on Facebook @foxfireranch2008.

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