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Charles Cooper


Early Railroad Was Essential For Growth

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.

Some one had asked me why I haven’t written anything about the railroad recently and since it was always such a vital part of Water Valley’s history, here goes.  It’s hard for anyone to imagine how it was when there were no highways and everything moved at the speed of a horse.

I did some research into the writings of the late Bruce Gurner and I think you’ll like it.  As you long-time readers know, I sometimes refer back to previous columns to cover things I might have missed before.

In the eighteen fifties, cotton could only be sent to market by river boat or by hauling it all the way to Memphis.  The Skuna, Yalobusha and Tallahatchie rivers were the main rivers in the area. Cotton would have to be warehoused until a boat was available to transport it downstream to Greenwood or New Orleans.      

Many counties in the east and north that had no water access and had to haul their cotton by wagon to Memphis. Grenada was a port that could handle steamboats on a year-round basis serving the up river towns with supplies and taking cotton and produce back downstream.     

Locopoolis, west of Charleston, was a busy port that served the western parts of the county. Sardinia, near Long Branchm were Yocona river ports serving the northern part of the county. Yalobusha desperately needed a railroad.

A railroad headed north from New Orleans had reached Canton in March of 1858.  The people in north Mississippi and southern Tennessee, with the efforts of Judge Walter and Walter Goodman of Holly Springs, were instrumental in organizing the Mississippi Central Railroad in the spring of 1852.

The Mississippi Central was chartered primarily to build a railroad from Canton to the Tennessee line near Grand Junction. The railroads were primarily financed by stock subscriptions from planters and businessmen along the way.  The roster of the railroad included a General Polk, who was related to President Polk. Others were Senator George from Mississippi along with Governor McReaad and Congressman Singleton.      

This is where southern ingenuity came into play.  A planter would subscribe to shares of stock and provide labor and teams to pay for it.

This was a cash-poor economy at that time. Some would provide a certain number of crossties and maybe let the railroad have a right of way through his property.

The ground breaking was in November of 1853 and several thousand people attended. By 1855, English iron was arriving and two locomotives had arrived after being transported from Massachusetts by railroad to Cincinnati and from there by flatboat.

By the time the Jackson road was completed from New Orleans to Canton the northern division of the Mississippi was in operation between the Memphis and Charleston at Grand Junction and Water Valley.

The southern division was completed from Canton to around eight miles north where a new town and station had been laid out.

They had named it Goodman in honor of Walter Goodman and the town still remains and is the location of Holmes community College.

What Goodman didn’t tell his guests that construction of the Mississippi was at a standstill due to lack of funds.

The Illinois Central was a new but fast growing Midwestern line with a southern terminal at Cairo, Illinois.

They had become interested in having a line from Chicago to the gulf coast.  They were able to see the progress the Central had been making and encouraged Goodman to go to London to get further financing.

American George Peabody, who lived in London, was a partner of Junius Morgan, father of J. P. Morgan. In a few days they had arranged for a quantity of English iron sufficient to complete the “Big Gap”  which was the uncompleted 86 miles from Canton to Water Valley.

Next week I’ll try to continue this fascinating story to completion and I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did in researching and writing.

Let me hear from you as your input is always welcome. My email address is  or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.

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