By Jace Henderson
Foxfire Ranch is located in Waterford, an unincorporated small town roughly thirty-minutes away from Oxford off Highway 7 in Marshall County, Mississippi. The ranch is a loving, open-armed resource for community. It is a beacon of comfort, good energy, and great food with music to match, but it didn’t begin that way. In a time where black land ownership was considered distasteful to some, Albert Hollowell filed a written intention to purchase 80 acres of land in 1918 and further obtained the acreage a year later. The property became a home for Albert and his wife, Wilma, to raise their six children who were born by midwives. Of those children, Bill Hollowell was the driving force, the sole proprietor who decided to keep the family’s land after learning his siblings desired to sell it as they grew older and moved away from the South. The decision to buy his brother’s and sister’s shares was rooted from a dream he had in the 90’s of his father telling him to do so. Bill had a long career in the military and got to travel the world as a result. However, he always felt that Waterford was his home and later returned with his wife, Annie, after he retired. He slowly but surely cleared the land by cutting timber and bush-hogging, eventually building a road and a small cabin for his family to reside in while construction took place on the main family home. During this time, he remembered his brothers hunting at night when they were kids and telling stories of the light they saw in the woods. This light, of course referring to bioluminescence found in fungi that is present in decaying wood, is known as “foxfire”, which Bill adopted to give the ranch its fitting name.
In 2007, the Hollowell’s were preparing for a family reunion on the ranch but didn’t have much infrastructure. Together with the help of local carpenters they built a 5,000 sq. ft. concrete slab that evolved into an open-air pavilion to host the 300-company reunion. After the pavilion was built the vision was born. In the winter of the same year, the Hollowell’s reminisced on their youth in the hill country. They thought about the traditions and values they grew up with. The Sunday evening traditions, including church and after-church porch playing blues, were stuck to their core. They thought about community, safe gathering, and sharing that with people they love. The family decided to have a dinner party inviting musicians, friends, and historians at music colleges and shared the idea of hosting Sunday Evening Blues shows. The idea was a hit among the crowd. They even started an impromptu concert after dinner. Bringing back the blues shows gave the family the opportunity to bridge the gap that felt lost over time. The first month of shows was highlighted by performances from Cedric Burnside and Lightnin’ Malcolm every Sunday. People from all over the world arrived on the sight to hear them play. The Sunday Evening Blues shows quickly became a service for the community to connect while feeling the soulful rhythm of the blues. Although these shows were initially held every Sunday from March to Thanksgiving, around five-years ago the Hollowell’s decided to host them only on the second and fourth Sundays of each month as requests for different events began to surface.
Today, Foxfire Ranch boasts the large open-air pavilion, an indoor banquet hall, multiple stages, four private cabins, outdoor showers, and a full-service catering kitchen to host a plethora of events. The ranch entertains around a hundred events per year ranging from blues shows, weddings, quinceaneras, festivals, and other private sanctions. Foxfire Ranch employs around 10 people as of late, and they are always looking for a helping hand to help keep the grounds and guests well taken care of. Over the years, people have spread the word about the ranch and it’s capabilities. People feel the need to be there and to connect with nature in a shared space. Foxfire Ranch has welcomed those who visit with a space for connection. “The inspiration behind it was being responsive to the community. What you see when people come out here is they start to relax their shoulders. They start to rest and settle into their own pace. They also start having visions of what they would like to do out on the land, who they want to invite and be with,” said Annette Hollowell, daughter of Bill. Annette has managed her family’s ranch for over 15 years and wants to continue serving the community the best she can for many years to come. When she spoke about her family and the importance of Foxfire Ranch, her voice ignited with excitement. You could tell this place means the world to her.
The people who have visited share Annette’s passion for the ranch as well. The fast-paced reality of the world today has led many people to yearn for a place like Foxfire Ranch. The Hollowell’s understand this and have committed to ensuring a safe space for those who are respectful and caring. Annette’s thoughts on the topic were that “We are living at such a frenzy pace; people are always on the move, there’s so much happening all the time. We are so connected to our devices and our schedules and disconnected from each other in so many ways. We see once people go out there, they meet somebody new, they hear something different, they eat something good. Over the course of the last several years, we’ve truly become an intergenerational and interracial gathering spot in North Mississippi.” Reconnecting with nature, making new friends and attending live shows aren’t the only benefits of Foxfire Ranch. Mrs. Annie’s cooking is renowned throughout the community. Some people come just for her food. Her fried catfish, chicken, greens, cornbread and barbeque, which she says are “made with a lot of love” are a few fan favorites. The family urges people to come enjoy everything this unique place has to offer.
This season’s blues shows just kicked off on March 12 with a fundraiser for the Holly Springs Cowboys, of whom Bill is a member, and included a local act. Although the schedule is still in the process of being finalized for 2023, the familiar faced Lightnin’ Malcom is booked for a show on March 26th. The Hollowell’s are excited to welcome everyone back to Foxfire Ranch this year after an annual four-month break over the winter. They miss the customers and can’t wait to reunite with friends and supporters who have been coming to the ranch for years. The future looks bright for the ranch. The goal is to continue growing infrastructure by being able to house 25-30 people by continuously adding spaces across the land and offering the engrained southern values they have since the ranch’s inception. While this land has been in the family for the over a hundred years and exceeded their wildest expectations, the next hundred years is what the Hollowell’s are most excited for. They plan to continue providing a piece of their homeland to their guests by pushing the message that “Foxfire Ranch is an invitation to reconnect with the land, an invitation to slow down. Our commitment is to offer radical hospitality insuring people feel comfortable, respected and at ease. Part of our vision is for the land to be a resource for community, deep learning, celebration and healing.” Experience for yourself the southern hospitality that has led people to love this special 80-acre ranch in small town Mississippi.