By Park Ranger Chris Hannaford
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Enid Lake extends an open invitation for the dedication ceremony of the newly constructed Ford’s Well Recreation Area and Spyglass Hill Trail at 10 a.m. on Thursday, October 8. The Ford’s Well Recreation Area is located on Yalobusha County Road 557 off Mississippi Highway 32.
The Ford’s Well Recreation Area and Spyglass Hill Trail includes a wrangler campground of 12 sites, gazebo, picnic shelter, comfort station, dump station, and a 17-mile multipurpose trail.
All campsites have crushed limestone pads, picnic tables, grills, fire rings, water, and electricity. This area was constructed through partnerships with the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks “Federal Trail Program”, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “Handshake Program”, and the Point Pleasant Trail Riders (Equestrian Group).
The Ford’s Well Recreation Area is a point of historical significance in that in the early 1900’s this was a site for many visitors who came to the area to either drink or bathe in the therapeutic waters that were produced by Mr. W.B. Ford’s water well.
The story was told that Mr. W. B. Ford dug a well in 1898 with the intentions of providing water for his livestock. The well was dug using a short handled pick and shovel and buckets connected to a windlass to send the dirt to the top and out of the well.
When the well was completed it produced great quantities of reddish-colored water, which could not be tolerated because of the taste. A sample of this water was taken to Water Valley and sent off to be analyzed. After analysis of the water, it was found that the water could cure different diseases, and the “Ford’s Mineral Water” was born.
The reddish water was reputed to be high in medicinal and restorative qualities. It was claimed by those who partook regularly that they were virtually assured long healthy lives, superb digestion, cavity free teeth and other assorted benefits. The water became famous and was bottled and shipped by railroad from Oakland and Water Valley.
The area attracted many visitors who came to the site to bathe in and drink the therapeutic water. Around 1900 there was a Post Office granted at this site that was named Leggo. The name Leggo was derived from the maiden name of Mr. W. B. Ford’s mother, Jemima Leggo.
The Post Office became Leggo but the site was always called Ford’s Well. The local store housed the Post Office. The area would later have a hotel, a school house, a church and a shelter that provided a place for numerous community dances, meetings and a place to vote.
Ford’s Well became a very popular place for 4th of July celebrations and attracted many of the communities from the surrounding area who participated in picnics, ball games, dances and courting. The last use of the shelter was as a hay barn.
Over the years the use of the well declined and the area was purchased by Mr. Homer Barton, who farmed in the area and lived at the site of the well through construction of Enid Lake. Mr. Barton and his wife lived at the site for more than fifty years. Thus this place was also referred to as “The Barton Place”.
Please join the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Enid Lake Field Office and partners in dedicating this unique recreation area. For more information on the dedication ceremony please call Enid Lake Field Office at 662-563-4571.
By Melvin Ford
In the late 1800’s a small village existed eleven miles west of Water Valley known as Leggo. The hamlet had a post office, blacksmith shop, store and an Inn. The Inn was named Magee’s Inn after its owner. It was located on the stage coach route between Memphis and Grenada. Since the hamlet was located on the stage line it served as the half-way rest station where the passengers could rest overnight and fresh horses obtained for the stage. Many horses were reshod by the local blacksmith and cared for until the coach returned. Mr. Magee owned the large plantation that surrounded the village.
When the railroad replaced the Stage Coach Line Magee’s Inn became dilapidated. The historic place fell to ruins against the struggle with time and the War. After the War it was sold to William Boyd Ford, a relatively new comer to the county.
William Boyd Ford, who was my great grandfather, was born in Winnsboro, South Carolina. We know little about the first years of his life other than he lived on a farm with his parents and siblings. At a young age he enrolled as a student at a military school in Blackstock, South Carolina.
In 1863, at the age of fifteen, Ford ran away from school to enlist in the service of the Confederacy. He served in the Calvary of General Wade Hampton. During his two years in the Army he fought in the Battle of Atlanta and was with the Army in front of Sherman and his arsonists. He never received a scratch until the morning of the surrender when a ball hit his knapsack and the calf of his leg was wounded. He was held prisoner by the Yankees for three days. After his release it took seventeen days for him to walk home. He started a farming operation and married. Eight children
were born. John Wilson Ford, his oldest child, was my grandfather. Along with many other families who thought better opportunities existed west of the Carolinas, sold his farm in which cotton was the principle crop, and moved his family to Yalobusha County, Mississippi in 1881. Several of his siblings did likewise but settled in Georgia or Alabama. He bought a farm west of Coffeeville and became a resident. The community was known as Goshen.
In 1883, W. B. Ford bought the former Magee Plantation located between Water Valley and Oakland. The land had to be cleared and cleaned up for his farming needs. After several years of diligent labor, the place was again called back to life.
Where the Magee Inn once stood, Mr. Ford chose to build his home on the same foundation. He cultivated the land and maintained a large herd of cattle. The only handicap for owning livestock was the absence of an abundant supply of water. Only a small stagnant pond existed. To solve this problem he decided to dig a well. For convenience and to save labor he had the well dug in the coolest shade and most level part of the pasture. The digging was done by men using a short pick and shovel. When the right strata of sand was reached, the water poured in and the task was finished. By this time the men were standing in cold water up to their waists. That is where the expression, “cold as a well digger’s legs in Montana” came about.
When the Well was completed in 1898, the water was different from any they had seen or tasted. It had a terrible taste. The stock would not drink it. The Fords tried in vain to drink it themselves but the taste could not be disguised even in coffee. In desperation, Mr. Ford carried a sample to the Mechanics Savings Bank in Water Valley and gave it to Mr. J. V. Blackmur, the President. Mr. Blackmur decided to send it off to be analyzed. The analysis proved the water had one of the strongest mineral contents in the state.
Word soon spread among the locals and people in surrounding communities about this unusual mineral water. They came in droves to sample it. Some would bring jugs and carry some of the “healing” water home with them. They soon discovered that this water was very beneficial to those who had dropsy. However, many ailments were helped by it. Many people would give testimonials of the healing powers of the water. They claimed it had
high medicinal and restorative qualities. It was claimed that those who partook regularly from the Ford’s Well were virtually assured long and healthy lives, superb digestion, cavity free teeth, and other assorted benefits that only a fool would spurn. The stationary for the resort had a heading which stated that the water would cure diarrhea, constipation, and was good for chills and fever.
One person stated that Ford’s Well water should have afforded all these marvelous benefits because it tasted so vile. It even looked bad. A jug of the water just freshly drawn resembled weak iced tea and as it “matured” in its jug it grew even darker. In addition, there were nasty little flakes of something swimming around in it. Even though it was determined that nothing alive was present in the water, these flakes did nothing to enhance the quality of water from an aesthetic view.
This Well that was dug for the purpose of providing water for livestock has now turned out to have other valuable possibilities. The pasture in which the Well was discovered contained forty acres square. It was flat and surrounded on all sides by large fields of cotton and corn. Large trees of various kinds also enclosed the beautiful site. Mr. Ford began to realize that this discovery could be developed into a business enterprise in addition to his farming operation. He started making plans for this to happen.
He had a concrete skirt built around the Well. A latticed gazebo with a cover over the top was added. It was a pretty place. People continued to come by increasing numbers. They began bringing barrels and kegs with bung holes in them so wooden faucets could be attached. The water could then be dispensed by the glass full.
Popularity of the place soon demanded that overnight accommodations were necessary. A two story hotel was built along with a store and well-house. The hotel was furnished with Victorian furniture. The place was kept immaculate. It consisted of a large dining room, several bedrooms, a welcoming room, and a huge kitchen. The linens were always freshly starched and pressed with irons heated from a fireplace or a bed of embers outside.
Later a row of cabins were constructed for overnight guests. Tables, benches, and sidewalks were also built. People who came from neighboring counties could now spend a number of days relaxing in the country and drinking mineral water. Visitors who lived a considerable distance from the resort would ride a train to Oakland. They would be met and transported in a Model T Ford or horse and buggy to their destination.
Out of the ruins of the ante-bellum days had now begun to grow a place far better and greater than its predecessors. The quiet old pasture had changed into a popular summer resort. The store also served as the Post office, named Leggo.
A Hack brought jugs of water to Water Valley to be sold to people who could not travel the road to the Well. Water was also shipped by train from Oakland and Water Valley in jugs with a special Ford’s Well label.
Ford’s Well became the popular gathering place for area residents. Mr. J. V. Blackmur built a very nice cottage on the land. His family would spend the summers there.
Since the mineral water could not be used for washing and cooking purposes, other water had to be hauled from a spring over a mile away. The mineral water, when soap was applied, curdled and looked like buttermilk. Three additional wells were dug before suitable water was found that could be used in households. It was not pure but had to be used anyway.
A large gate was built at the entrance to the grounds that now consisted of the Ford home, the Well, a hotel, a row of cottages, a store, a post office along with sidewalks and benches. A youngster was always available for the job as gatekeeper. Nickel and dime tips were received from entering guests.
Family reunions and small picnics were held there during early spring and summer. July 4th became a special day for celebrating at Ford’s Well. We do not know when the first one was held but it became one of the year’s highlights for many. A Dance Plaza was built along with baseball fields to add to entertainment for the day.
For many years hundreds of people attended the Fourth of July Picnics each year from Yalobusha County and from several neighboring counties. It was THE PLACE TO BE on that day. For several days in advance of the day,
laborers cleaned the barbecue pits, butchered steers and pigs and began preparing food for the event. Neighborhood women would create mountains of fried chicken, potato salad, along with pies and cakes of every description. One thing for certain, no one left a Ford’s Well picnic hungry.
In the early years of the famous picnic there were no cars so to get there you walked, rode horseback, drove a horse and buggy or rode in a wagon pulled by horses or mules. By nine o’clock in the morning there was an animal tied to nearly every tree in the grove and more were arriving. By twelve o’clock hundreds had gathered. At noon the ground was a checkerboard of white and plaid tablecloths covered with food.
After lunch, baseball games were organized for the young men. Teams from Leggo, Sylva Rena, Lovejoy, Sardinia, Hatton and other communities played spirited games.
Other activities during the afternoon were horse and mule races along with rooster fights that were held in the barn.
Much courting went on during the day among the older teenagers. Many marriages came from the days at Ford’s Well.
There were also fights among disagreeing boys. Children would crowd around when a fight was in progress.
Later in the afternoon and evening the center of attraction was the Dance Pavilion. At one end of the Pavilion space was arranged for a band. As darkness approached, kerosene lamps and lanterns were hung for light.
One particular year, a band known and the “Dixie Serenaders” was from Water Valley. Members of the group were as follows:
Charles Ray William Wagner Jake Ray Turner Hubbard Frank Whitehead Varda Smith
Elsie Ray, piano player Grace Barrett, soloist
During election years, politicians were on hand and the crowds listened to many debates and speeches.
The picnic became a real social event. Men and women dressed in their Sunday-go-meeting clothes. The ladies wore long dresses that almost touched the ground and their high-top shoes. On their heads they wore wide brim bonnets that shaded their faces from the sun. The men wore suits.
As the years went by, the crowds for this celebration increased, especially after cars were invented. On this day it was common to see a continuous line of cars, wagons, and horses on the roads leading to the Resort.
The heyday of Ford’s Well was in the period prior to the Great Depression. It was said the Mr. Ford was a good business man and the Well made money for him.
In the latter part of the 1920’s, economic conditions stifled most people’s recreational activities. When Mr. Ford’s health failed he sold the property and moved to a farm on Highway 32. Several short time owners were not successful in keeping the operation profitable. The area soon fell into disrepair and was abandoned thus bringing to a close the saga of the famous Ford’s Well.
William Boyd Ford suffered a stroke and died in 1924. He was buried in the Goshen Cemetery located between Coffeeville and Oakland.
The land where the Well is located remained private property until the late 1940 ‘s when the decision was made by the Corps of Engineers and the US Government to build Enid Reservoir as another flood control measure. Through Eminent Domain authority, the land owners who owned land bordering Yocona River were forced to sell their very productive farm land and relocate. The Ford’s Well area was included in this plan.
The home in which W. B. Ford lived near the Well remained with a occupant for many years. Later high water destroyed it. The area where the hotel and other resort buildings stood grew up with tall grass and trees. In fact, during the summer months it was difficult to even locate the Well. A large tree fell across the well casing and caused much damage.
Howard Barton, who grew up in the area, became interested in restoring the area where the once popular resort was located. He contacted the Corps of Engineers and they supported his idea. Plans got underway to establish recreational facilities at the site. Mr. Barton and the Corps are largely responsible for this project along with many volunteers.
Improvements are as follows:
The entire area has been bulldozed and cleared.
The Well casing has been straightened with a new concrete slab surrounding it. A_new Gazebo has been built around the Well. A rope and bucket will be available for_those who would like to sample the water.
A pavilion has been constructed with picnic tables, benches, and cooking grills.
A number of concrete slabs are available for parking campers for those who wish to_spend the night. Water and electricity are available at each.
Sidewalks have been laid.
Bathrooms have been installed.
A riding trail consisting of seventeen miles is part of the project.
When construction is completed and area is landscaped it is going to be a beautiful spot. Several large magnolia trees are already there. A great view of Enid Lake is also possible.
A dedication ceremony is being planned when the project is complete. Hopefully, many will attend.
We are grateful that a small bit of Yalobusha County history is being preserved.
Otherwise, in a few years it would have been lost forever.