Reflections

Mississippi Blessed By Modern Road System

By Charles Cooper

Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  Did you know that after the end of the War Between The States the South had no real plan for its roads.  A Supervisor would “warn” men in his beat that they were to donate so many days work each  year toward road upkeep.  

The men “warned” would show up with picks and shovels and wheelbarrow and even slip scoops.  They adhered to the faulty belief that they should pile the loose dirt in the middle of the road and grade the sides to drain into the ditches.  

A Supervisor, if he was patient, could simply wait at the nearest county store and eventually the men “warned” would show up and save him many long dusty miles looking for them.  When I was a child I remember that Papa Badley had a section of road that he graded with a mule drawn drag.  I can remember riding on the cross board as he graded his section.  He was paid a small wage for his work and I’m sorry to say that I never asked him how much?  

It wasn’t until the early part of the 20th century and the advent of the automobile that the county officials realized that they had to have a more comprehensive road system.  Papa Badley’s farm was in Beat 4 in Lafayette county and ran to the Yalobusha County Line.  There were no gravel pits in Lafayette county and consequently no gravel roads.

C.B. Shipp was Supervisor during the forties, but by this time we had moved back to town.  He was Bill Sissell’s father-in-law and lived at Taylor.  Today you can drive over any road in the county and most are black top or gravel and no one could realize what a chore it was in those days just to get up Palestine Hill in wet weather.  As a mater of fact the school bus drivers would let me out at Palestine cemetery in bad weather, and I would have to walk the two miles to Papa’s house and then back again the next morning.  

I mentioned the county stores, they also had an interesting history.  After the War Between The States, wholesale houses vowed to have a store within reach of every farm.  They would even put up capital for the building and supply the first inventory to an enterprising individual.  The railroads, not to be outdone, would offer financing to someone to build a store and freight depot.      

One  young man was approached and he hesitated because he way afraid he would go broke.  The representative asked him if he have any money and when he replied no, the man said, “Well how in the devil can you go broke if you don’t have anything?”  

Apparently that put things in a different  perspective because soon he had a station doing a good business.  Sales reps for the companies were called “drummers” and they traveled by buggy and horseback to their customers.      This created another  business- – the boarding houses. These nearly always were located near the railroad and the drummers would crowd into the them at night to eat and swap lies with each other.  

These houses usually had a long porch around half of the building where the boarders could sit outside during humid summer nights, as this was long before air conditioning or even fans.   One of these that I remember well was Granny Matthews in Oakland, which was located across a narrow street on the Illinois Central main line.  She would sit outside in a swing during good weather and talk to people passing.  During meal time she would preside at the head of the table.  

One two-story building was built on the railroad property east of the tracks on Martin Street.  It seems to have lasted from about 1875 to after 1900 and was known as the Block Boarding House or simply Mrs. Block’s.  Casey Jones was one of the more renowned tenants off and on from about 1888 until 1900.  During the Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878, Mr. Block sent his family north and he remained and died of the fever on October 10, 1878.  That winter the Block family returned and it was a favorite place for the railroad men.  

One of the Block daughters, Minnie married Earl Brewer in the Parlor and he went on to be Governor of Mississippi.  One of the first funerals after I went to work for Newman-Gardner in 1948 was Edward Block who lived up on Wood Street.  I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane and I’m indebted to the late Thomes D. Clark of the University of Kentucky for the  information  about the country stores.  

Your input is always appreciated so let me hear from you.  My email address is charlescooper3616@sbcglobal.net or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.

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