Railroads of Northern Newton County

By Ralph E. Gordon

 

Prior to 1905, folks in the northern part of Newton County traveled by horse and buggy, mule and wagon, rode a horse, rode a mule, or sometimes they used the oldest form of transportation known to man. They walked. It would probably be safe to say, they stayed home more often than not, and when they did go somewhere, it was out of necessity, and not far from home. In 1905 things began to change. Life began to change. Progress was on the way.

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The Mobile and Ohio Rail Road (M&O) laid tracks running north and south through the heart of the county, connecting Union with Decatur, and Newton to the south, and Philadelphia to the north. Eventually, connections were developed on into Memphis, St. Louis and Chicago. During that same year, the Meridian and Memphis Rail Road (M&M) laid tracks connecting Union and Meridian. These ribbons of steel not only changed the way folks traveled, they changed their way of life forever.

Some thirty miles of tracks were laid between Union and Meridian, using mostly manual labor to handle the heavy crossties and rails. Men swung nine pound hammers in the heat of summer, and in the cold of winter, driving spikes into treated oak crossties. For the most part, mule drawn dirt slips were used to build the roadbed. What few steam powered machines they used in building the line were confined to the newly built tracks, unlike bulldozers, and rubber tired earth movers of today.

Trestle bridges had to be constructed across the Little Rock, the Tallhashie and the Okatibbee Creeks as well as smaller streams. Workers, who built the railroad, nicknamed the M&M the Mud and Misery because of the swamps they had to cross, and the heavy rains which fell that year. Mosquitos and snakes were a constant menace in the blistering summer. Icy rain made life miserable for the workers during the winter months. The hours were long, and the work was grueling, but it provided a paycheck, something many Newton County farm boys had never seen before joining the construction crew.

       The first train to run the line was dubbed the “Doodlebug” which was a one car trolley-like vehicle with seats for passengers, and enough room for the mail, and a few small freight items.  The Doodlebug departed Meridian in the morning bound for Union, where it turned around, and headed back to Meridian, that same afternoon. Eventually a larger steam engine replaced the Doodlebug. It pulled one passenger car, and as many freight cars as needed. In the early years a train was made up of two or three freight cars, along with a caboose. Diesel-electric locomotives replaced the steam engines on the line in 1946.  The more powerful diesels pulled as many as seventy cars. They hauled everything from canned beans, to chemicals, to cotton bales. Perhaps the most unique piece of cargo shipped into Union by rail was a prefabricated house kit from Sears and Roebuck, delivered to a Mr. Nutt, around 1915.

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The M&M gave birth to several hamlets, and business in Newton and Lauderdale Counties.  The first stop for passengers who purchased their twenty five cent tickets from Union to Meridian, was Willoughby, about three miles out, near the Greenland Community. Their next stop was Little Rock, where Bunion Williams operated one of the largest cotton gins in Newton County, and then on to Perdu, and Duffee in Newton County. The train stopped at Shambersville and Suqualena in Lauderdale County before reaching its final destination in Meridian. The trip took about three hours.

William H. Smith, who celebrated his one hundredth birthday in January of 2012, recalled boarding the M&M at the Perdu station when he joined the Navy in 1934. He rode the train to Union, where he connected with the M&O to Newton, and then made a second connection with the Illinois Central to Jackson where he was processed into the service.

The M&M changed owners and names at least three times during its lifetime. A complete list of mergers of the railroads that served Newton County are too numerous to list, but this is a condensed version; in the early 1940s the M&M merged with the Gulf Mobile and Ohio line (GM&O.) The GM&O merged with the Illinois Central around 1970 and formed the Illinois Central Gulf (ICG). Several mergers have occurred since then.

As with other railroads, the coming of the automobile eventually diminished the need for the rail service between Union and Meridian, more especially for passenger service. The last passenger train departed the Union Depot in 1951.

Union was a major railroad terminal in the early 1900s. The town owes much of its existence to the railroad. Originally, the center of the town was located about a mile east of its present location on Old Jackson Road, (Mississippi Highway 492), where the Spaceway Store and the new Family Dollar Store are presently located, but the location of the railroad changed that. Business gravitated to the west to be near the depot and railroad.

New businesses sprang up in Union, thanks to the railroads. One of those businesses was Buckwalter Lumber Company. Buckwalter was a major supplier of lumber in Mississippi from 1906 until 1961. The company built small railroads which paralleled the M&M line, called dummy lines. These short railroads hauled logs from the woods to a loading area. From there, the logs were loaded onto the M&M flat cars, and transported to the sawmill in Union. Remnants of the dummy line road beds can still be seen in the woods between Union and Duffee.

By the late 1960s, light freight was rapidly becoming a thing of the past on boxcars across the United States. Trucks were faster. They cut down on the number of times an item had to be handled, by delivering their loads directly to their destination, and ultimately less expensive than the railroads. Eventually most of the cargo hauled on the short Union/Meridian line was bulky items, and petroleum products.  Pulpwood from the wood-yards along the way made up a large portion of the freight. Little Rock wood-yard was among the bigger ones. But as technology changed the method in which pulpwood was harvested, it also changed the way it was transported. Instead of short five-foot lengths hauled on specially designed rail cars, more and more pulpwood cutters began hauling tree-length cuts on eighteen wheel trucks to more centralized railheads, like Meridian, for transportation to paper mills. The closing of the small wood-yards in the 1970s dealt the final blow to the life of the ICG between Union and Meridian.

While the railroad no longer serves Little Rock, the rail yard is still abuzz in Union, thanks to the giant Tyson feed mill there. Each year hundreds of tons of corn and other grains arrive from farms in the Mid-West, and the Mississippi Delta to fill Tyson’s needs. Dozens of grain cars can be seen lined up, waiting to be unloaded, or waiting to be pulled back to their homes for another load.

The whistle of the GM&O is but a distant memory to the people of Willoughby and Little Rock—or is it? Some folks claim they can still here its lonely whine echoing across the red clay hills and marshy hollows, late in the afternoon, about the time the train would be making its return trip to Meridian.

The dates in this poem, The Ghost Train, obviously don’t square with the dates in the article but, the M&M could be any abandoned railroad, and Little Rock could be any town progress built, and then left behind.

 

THE GHOST TRAIN

By

Ralph E. Gordon

In eighteen hundred and fifty-nine,

tracks were laid for M&M Line.

Mud and Misery she was called back then,

built by the sweat and the blood of good men.

For more’n a century she hauled riders and freight,

not a single time was she ever late.

She hauled brothers and cannons for the Blue and the Gray.

She saw many young men meet the judgment day.

She carried sailors and soldiers to two world wars,

America’s bravest rode in cattle cars.

Women folks would wait by the tracks,

praying she would bring all the young men back.

They took up her rails many years ago,

but the M&M whistle still wails and blows,

‘cause an old steam engine still runs the line.

You can hear her whistle blow around suppertime.

A man named Kirby is her engineer,

She squeaks and she rattles as she’s drawing near.

She’s hauling cotton, and cattle and coal and grain.

You can even hear her brakeman yodel and sing.

Some are skeptic and don’t believe,

But I’ve heard her whistle on a summer’s eve.

If you have faith, you can set your clock,

by the Old Ghost Train to Little Rock.

***

 

 

 

The Deason House

Built in 1845, the Deason home in Jones County, Mississippi stands as a Greek revival architectural gem from the antebellum era. As the oldest home in Ellisville, it was also the first painted home in the area and its detailed semi-octagonal vestibule is the only one of its kind known to exist in Mississippi, according to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

“It’s one of the oldest structures completely made of longleaf pines in the world because longleaf is only indigenous to the Southeast United States,” said Frances Murphy, Regent of the Tallahala Chapter of the Daughters of the Revolution (DAR). “Studies have shown that the wood was likely cut in the 1830s and the [longleaf pines] are estimated to have been growing in the late 1300s.”

The first owners, Amos and Eleanor Deason, built the home as a farmhouse.

In 1890, Isaac Anderson, Jr. and wife Sarah Rebecca “Sallie” Pool purchased the home and lived there until 1939 when it went into the Anderson estate. In 1965, Mrs. Frances Anderson Smith, a descendant of both Amos Deason and Isaac Anderson, Jr., bought the home and in 1991 presented it to the Tallahala Chapter.

“Actually a lot of the Chapter members are family or descendants of the Anderson family, so I guess you could say it’s still owned by the same family,” said Frances.

Oh, and by the way…it’s haunted.

“The claim to fame the home is most notoriously known for is that Major Amos McLemore, Confederate Army officer was shot and killed in the home during the Civil War by Newton Knight,” said Frances.

Newton Knight had deserted the Confederate Army because of the 20-slave law, which stated that a man owning 20 slaves or more didn’t have to fight. Knight, who had never owned a slave, felt the Civil War had become a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.” Jones County, being mostly wooded country, wasn’t a good place to raise cotton and therefore very few slaves lived there as compared to the rest of the state, Frances explained. Other soldiers with the same sentiments deserted the Confederacy along with Knight. Major Amos McLemore, who was from the area, headed up the troops sent to round up these deserters.

“Newton and his men could have stormed the house and killed everybody, but Newton specifically targeted McLemore,” said Frances. Everyone accepts that Newton Knight killed Amos McLemore even though there was no eye witness to the crime and Newton was never charged. “From this event, the house got the reputation of being haunted.”

Every year, the Saturday before Halloween, the Deason Home hosts a reenactment of the McLemore shooting, with the assistance of the Rosin Heel Camp of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“They are dressed in Civil War Army uniforms and they sit around the campfire outside,” said Frances, adding that the ladies are dressed in the period costumes. When guests touring the home enter the bedroom where Major McLemore was shot, McLemore is waiting for them. “As he talks to the guests. the door flies open and Newton Knight rushes in. So guests get a little taste of what it was like when the shooting took place.”

The reenactment event, which has been going on for 20 years, is family friendly, said Frances, although it may be a little startling when the gun goes off.

“But nothing gory.”

Frances encourages parents to make the tour a family event because children experience what life was like during the war while learning about the oldest home in Jones County.

“It’s not your traditional Halloween spook house by any stretch of the imagination.”

The house will also be open Halloween night, but rather than a reenactment, the night will be a Ghost Tour with past residents of the house telling their stories.

After all, some stories never die…and some characters refuse to.

 

For information on special events, tours, cost, and space rental, visit the website: http://www.deasonhome.org/

photo courtesy of  The Deason House

Build A Village…and They will Come

Thomas Landrum of Laurel, Mississippi didn’t set out to build a village.  It just…happened.

The village started as a business of handcrafted pine furniture, which has now been in business for over 33 years, explained Deborah (Landrum) Upton.

“My dad said the grandchildren didn’t appreciate how the people used to live and how their ancestors lived, worked and built their homes.”

Tom Landrum took the kids into the woods where they logged the trees and had a portable sawmill come in cut the wood into boards. This family project started in 2003.

“There was no master plan,” said Deborah.  “We started the first cabin. As soon as we got the cabin built we filled it with old things.” 

Today, that one cabin is one of 70 buildings located in the beautifully landscaped Landrum’s Homestead & Village located off Highway 15 in Laurel. With exhibits, wagon rides, gem mining, nature trails, a Confederate soldier encampment, an Old West Shooting Gallery, and a Native American Village, every visitor steps back into the late 1800s. In addition, through a partnership with the USDA Forest Service and the Mississippi Forestry Commission, the Landrums created an educational display on the Civilian Conservation Corps and South Mississippi’s reforestation history to show the importance of preservation and conservation. Biscuits are cooked on an old wood stove and there is a nature trail and a small lake with a pier where people can feed the catfish.  You can also play horseshoes and basketball.

 

“We do all kinds of groups and see a lot of families,” said Deborah. “Kids who come say it is their fifth time here.  We have families that come on a regular basis because they can bring a picnic lunch or tour.  They go at their own pace.  Nobody is rushing you through.”

Deborah grew up as the oldest of five children and during their travels, they always used the back roads, never the interstates.  Plus, they camped in a tent.

“Dad and Mom were always into history and preserving history,” said Deborah. “Dad always said that’s where you see things on the back roads.”

In today’s world of technology, a place like Landrum’s Homestead & Village is important to children. We don’t have conversations anymore, said Deborah. “What we’ve found is that when kids come here on a trip they can feel and see things and experience things they can’t get from a computer.”

The Landrum family always has a project going, but the one thing Deborah hopes people take home with them is a sense of family.

“This is my mom’s family land,” said Deborah. “We have a connection to the land. But when kids and other families are here, you see they are connected as well.”

At Landrum’s Homestead & Village, you hear and share stories of what was, but leave with a sense of heritage and an understanding of why heritage will always be important to future generations.

 

Website: http://landrums.com/

Open year round Monday – Saturday from 9 – 5

Walk-ins welcome!

 

Photos courtesy of Landrum’s Homestead & Village 

Originally published in Parents & Kids Magazine and Brad Smith

Antebellum Days (Part 3)

AGRICULTURE

The success of cotton production in the south is actually due to Massachusetts resident and Yale graduate, Eli Whitney, who patented his cotton gin invention in 1794. According to Mississippi Forests and Forestry even though cotton production greatly improved because of the Whitney’s gin, planters didn’t want to pay the high cost required to use the gin, which had been installed throughout the southern states. The cost was two-fifths of the profits paid in cotton itself. Because of this, disgruntled planters designed their own machines after Eli Whitney’s invention giving no regard to the violation of Whitney’s patent #72X dated March 14, 1794.

In 1795, John Barclay, a Natchez planter who had seen Eli Whitney’s gin in South Carolina, and Wilkinson County planter, Daniel Clark, Sr. developed a crude gin much like Whitney’s.  Barclay and Clark’s pirated machine brought mass production capabilities to the cotton industry that would soon dominate commercial agriculture in the Mississippi Territory.

Whitney and his partner, Phineas Miller, fought for the patent rights to the cotton gin with costly law suits against the owners of the pirated versions, but a loophole in the wording of the patent, which didn’t change until 1800, seriously delayed the process. Whitney never collected the monies due him. 

After the War of 1812 and the inauguration of Mississippi into the Union in 1817,

east central Mississippi, wherein Lauderdale County lies, developed the plantation order of raising cotton, selling it to English markets for approximately ten cents a pound. Two decades passed before the territory improved its cotton production, not due to the gin, but to the early varieties of cotton, such as the Creole strain imported from Siam. Though it was of high quality and yield it was difficult to pick and subject to disease.  The Tennessee green seed was immune to disease and rot, but was deficient in quality and yield.  Around 1820, a type of Mexican cotton characterized by easy-to-pick large open bolls appeared and during the next decade, this strain was crossed with Tennessee green seed, producing a hybrid that flourished throughout the South. This species, later refined by Dr. Rush Nutt and other planters, became known as Petit Gulf Cotton.

Cotton money became as well established as cotton and in 1822

the legislature established a uniform system for handling this money. This system allowed ginners to issue receipts certifying the number of pounds of cotton delivered to the gin. In turn, the receipt was used like money in settling debts or handling other business operations.  Cotton money enabled planters to operate on the basis of cotton that would be available in good salable condition at the ginner’s warehouse.

The early 1830’s expansion, including the establishment of Lauderdale County through the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, in the United States was fueled by the widespread construction of new railroads and canals. The government had sold millions of acres of public lands, mostly to speculators who hoped their well-located parcels would increase in value as the railroads and canals drew settlers into the area.

The Tariff of 1833 and government land sales brought wealth into the Treasury’s reserve.

In 1835, President Andrew Jackson paid off the national debt and the American Treasury rapidly accumulated a surplus. Congress passed a measure to distribute the surplus to the states. This surplus was invested in more railroads and canals.

As high cotton prosperity thrived in mid 1830’s, more and more forests were sacrificed for fields. Though production of cotton greatly improved and increased, corn remained the principal staple in the south throughout the antebellum period.  Easily grown all over Mississippi, corn was an important food crop to everyone, including hogs, cattle, and other livestock. The long growing season allowed for two crops of corn to be planted each year, one in early March and the other in late May or June.  Cotton seed was used as a fertilizer and cowpeas were planted between the rows of corn to reduce erosion and add nitrogen to improve the soil’s fertility. 

The boom reached its height with a wealth of cheap land, lenient credit prerequisites from state banks, and high prices.  More banks had been established and were issuing notes with no regard for solvency. State government and individuals hoarded gold and silver and used paper notes to discharge debts instead. Thousands of immigrants, planters, farmers, and speculators poured into Mississippi to reap the rewards.

Alarmed by the vast amount of state bank notes paying for public land purchases,

before leaving office, President Andrew Jackson issued Executive Order passing the Specie Circular (Coinage Act) that commanded the Treasury to no longer accept paper notes as payment for such sales. Gold and silver would be the only acceptable payment for government land.

It would be up to newly elected President Martin Van Buren to carry out that order in early 1837 when he stepped into the new administration and a major bank crisis. Banks began restricting credit and calling in loans while depositors rushed to their banks to withdraw their funds. Unemployment affected the entire nation and food riots broke out in large cities. Construction companies who couldn’t meet their obligations sparked the collapse of railroad and canal projects, and damage to thousands of land speculators.

The Panic of 1837 left the country’s economy in ruins, severely hampering the cotton trade with federal tariffs and duties. In 1838, almost $7,000,000 of “paper” money was still in circulation.  Nevertheless, as Mississippi intensified its efforts in industrial development, by 1840 east central Mississippi’s cotton production had doubled, as had its Negro slave laborers.

In 1850, the East Central Mississippi developed it agricultural and forestry resources with cotton gins, sawmills, farm implement manufacturers, grain millers carriage makers, and leather finishers,  adding greatly to the industrial capital investment. The 1850 Census records for Lauderdale County reveal that the white population was 6,052 and the slave population was 2,661. The 1850 Agriculture census reveals the following annual statistics for the year ending June 1, 1850:

Acres of improved land: 51,386

Acres of unimproved land: 86,714

Livestock:       horses – 2,080

                        Asses and mules – 418

                        Milch cows – 4,839

                        Working oxen – 1,695

                        Other cattle – 6,580

                        Sheep – 6,191

                        Swine – 28,481

Bushels of wheat: 2,808

Bushels of rye: 109

Bushels of Indian corn: 324,459

Bushels of oats: 21,771

Pounds of rice: 102,203                     

Pounds of tobacco: 1,529

Bales of cotton (400 lbs. each): 4,195

Pounds of wool: 10,500

Bushels of peas and beans: 15,411

Bushels of Irish potatoes:  3,705

Bushels of Sweet potatoes: 111,444

Bushels of barley: 20

Bushels of buckwheat: 150

Pounds of butter: 69,034

Pounds of cheese: 888

Toss of hay: 10

Pounds of hop: 20

Pounds of beeswax honey: 20,344

By 1860, corn remained the major staple crop in Lauderdale County,

enjoying an increase in production of approximately 46-47%. However, from 1850 to 1860 the county’s cotton production rose by astonishing amounts with an enormous increase of approximately 370%.

by Richelle Putnam

Antebellum Days – Schools (Part 1)

In Lauderdale County’s early days, education revolved around household activities and everyday survival.

Living off the land required the backbone of most household members, from fetching water from a nearby creek to firewood for cooking and staying warm.

The first school in the territory had been established for Choctaw children by Presbyterian Missionaries in 1824 at Coosa Indian Village, six years before the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek and the death of Indian Chief Pushmataha in Washington, D. C.   Evidence of white men living among the Choctaws was reported the 1831 Armstrong Choctaw Indian Census of the area, which was before the Indian Removal Act.

Somewhere around 1835, after log homes and a few churches had been built,

settlers began seriously considering their children’s education. Families in a somewhat close proximity of one another banded together to establish what was known as a “patron” school, where one settler furnished a log cabin, another furnished wood and bare necessities, such as tables, chairs, etc., and everyone pitched in to the pay the teacher.  The teacher and/or the patrons provided the few books for the schoolhouse.

Schools operated in various time increments, one or more months at a time, in different locations in the vicinity due to poor transportation capabilities. The school house was usually located near a water spring or creek to assure ample water supply. Often church, community meetings, and Justice of the Peace court were held in the school. Often, when a new community church was built, the school relocated into the old church building.

These schools were referred to as academies,

such as White Sulphur Springs Academy in Lauderdale and Walnut Springs Academy in the Alamucha area. By the 1840’s, patron schools existed in or near Marion, Alamucha, Sageville, Bailey, Suqualena, and Lauderdale and taught grades one and two for one or two 4-month periods each year.  Higher Education academies were Marion Academy established in 1837, and Alamucha, formed in 1838.  Later academies were Pinckney-Vaughn Academy and the Cook Academy.

On May 9, 1837, the State Legislature passed an Act to incorporate the first trustees of the Marion Academy.

They were James Ruton, James Murry, Benjamin T. Larke, John R. Leath, Isaac Barr, John F. Chester, Horatio B. Warbington and Theodore S. Swift. These trustees were empowered to receive donations, purchase or mortgage real estate, these purchases not to exceed $5000 and personal estate not to exceed $10,000.  Another stipulation was that the academy could not be located more than one mile from Marion.

The Board of Police, formed by the laws of the State of Mississippi in 1841, established further guidelines for the state’s public school system, including the appointment of a school commissioner for each of the five Police Districts in Lauderdale County.  The Board of the Police retained most of the power over the school system.

No Board of Police existed until the 1832 Constitution of the State of Mississippi, and even then the Sheriff retained most of the power until the 1840’s and 50’s.

The Board of Police divided each respective county into five districts and from each district, qualified voters elected one member for the term prescribed in the constitution under the rules and regulations the board had adopted. The first members of the Board of Police served for a period of 18 months until the second election, which was for a period of two years.

Lauderdale County set up five districts in April 1834, but no records exist since the records were burned in a courthouse fire at Old Marion in November 1837.

On November 16, 1847, the Lauderdale County Board of Police composed the following:

“Whereas the Board of Police (forerunner of the Board of Supervisors) for the county have held their meetings without any rules of order governing themselves, which has by allowing wrangling and disorder greatly delayed the transaction of business and prevents any dignity from attaching itself to their court, and thus tended to detract from their authority – giving occasion for idle and jesting remarks calculated to bring the board into contempt – we therefore the members of the board of police for Lauderdale County do for the more speedy and regular transaction of business, and for the respect we bear for each other, for our government to adhere and maintain the said rules and such others as we may from time to time find it necessary to adopt.” This was signed by L. B. Banes, President; Isaac G. Suttles; L. B. Moore; Daniel Cameron; and A. (Abie) Clay.

The Jan. 24, 1854 Lauderdale Republican recorded that bids were being taken on the building of Alamucha Academy, Marion, evidencing its longevity.

1854 – 1856 – A Directory of Marion, MS compiled by Fred W. Edmiston from the Lauderdale Republican

 

by Richelle Putnam