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WV’s Golden Age Of Railroading Was Over

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  Last week I wrote about the early days of railroading in Mississippi. The column stopped at about the time that Goodman had gone to London to meet with George Peabody and arrange for iron to be shipped to the fledgling railroad.

On January 31, 1860, word went out over the telegraph line that the last rail had been driven just south of Winona. The railroad was ready to haul cotton from Tallahatchie and Yalobusha counties, which had been at the mercy of the uncertain rivers which might be flooding or too shallow to navigate. The Mississippi Central and the Mississippi Tennessee met at Grenada, and for a time shared the same depot.

In the eighties, after an acquisition by the Illinois Central, a junction was established one mile north of Grenada.  

The old Mississippi Central Road from Canton to Jackson, Tennessee became the Water Valley and Jackson district. The Mississippi and Tennessee road became the Grenada district.  It was on these districts that Water Valley trainmen and engineers held seniority.  

The Mississippi Central established headquarters in Water Valley in a one-story building that was burned in the War Between The States.  After the war, a two story building was built across from the depot.  That building later became the Oak Hall Hotel which burned in the early thirties.  

After the Illinois Central acquired the Mississippi Central, a larger two-story building was built on the site that now housesa the Casey Hones museum. The Mississippi division occupied  the entire top floor until 1946 when the division offices were moved to Jackson, Tennessee.          

The first repair shops were at Holly Spring, but after the war a larger well equipped shop was built in Water Valley.  This was an area north of Wood Street and running along the creek ending about where North Court is today.  

When the Illinois Central took over a much larger and better shop facility was built and at its peak almost a thousand men were employed in the shop alone.  Many people today can trace their roots back to the railroad employees.  

My cousin, Beverly Siegrist, and I both had fathers who worked for the Illinios Central. Bev even worked at the headquarters in Chicago after finishing school.  When the Illinois Central started consolidating their shop facilities in 1927, the shops in Water Valley were moved to Pacuah, Ky Memphis, and Centrali, Il.  

The division offices were moved in 1946 and Water Valley’s connection to golden age of railroading came to an end.  I can’t close this column without my tribute to Mary Lib Carothers.  She in every way would be what we call a great lady.  She fought a crippling illness from nearly 30 years and always seemed cheerful and upbeat when I’m sure she was never free from pain.

I’ve known her for many years and she and Arnold, along with Jim Peacock and Jo, were the closest of friends.  I remember once that we all went to the sky of the Peabody, which had an orchestra and dance area where you could look all over Memphis.  

We thought that was really a big deal to dance on the Peabody roof.  Jim Peacock and I dropped in one day several years ago and we had fun bringing up old times.  Mary Lib and Arnold started their company with faith, love, and savings and saw it grow to a company recognized all over the country.  

Mary Lib even contributed  to this column several years ago and I called to thank her and we talked and laughed and I think I came away inspired by  her optimistic outlook and genuine sense of humor.  

I realize that this doesn’t begin to do justice to May Lib but I can say that I was privileged to have known her and she was a devote wife and mother and as I offer my condolences to the family, I know that she will be greatly missed. Let me hear from you, and again I am so indebted to my old friend, the late Bruce Gurner, for the research material that helped me write these two railroad columns.  Let me heard from you as my email address is or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.

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