By Jack Gurner
JACKSON, TENN. – If there were ever two towns linked by a common thread of history, they are Water Valley and Jackson, Tenn.
For more than a century, as many as eight trains a day ran the 119 miles between the two important points on the Illinois Central Railroad. When the Mississippi Division headquarters was moved from Water Valley, it went to Jackson.
But, perhaps the most intriguing connection between the two cities is the story of John Luther “Casey” Jones, the most famous railroader in American history.
Jones lived most of his life in Jackson, but spent a few years in Water Valley. He worked from Water Valley to Canton during the early part of his career before getting enough seniority to hold a job between Water Valley and Jackson.
From 1888 until the wreck in 1900, Jones was a Water Valley district engineer.
Both towns celebrate the Casey Jones story with museums named in his honor that draw visitors from all over the world.
Last year, the museum in Jackson completed a major expansion thanks to a federal grant through the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
“We had a gift shop, one bathroom, and a small video room that only seated maybe 15 people,” said Lawrence Taylor, director of the Jackson museum. “When we got the grant we went from 1200 square feet to 8000 square feet. The gift shop alone is twice as big as the whole building was.”
The new museum has exhibits that feature Water Valley. “The story started with Casey Jones on the Water Valley run,” Taylor said.
Norma Taylor, the museum’s historian and wife of Lawrence Taylor, has written a book on Jones that also includes information about Water Valley. The book, titled “The Legend Lives On,” is available at both the Jackson and Water Valley museums and by mail order.
Lawrence Taylor added that one of Norma’s favorite photos is of the watermelons being loaded in Water Valley. He, on the other hand, is a fan of the refrigerator or “refer” car on display in Water Valley that was once used to haul bananas from the coast to points north.
“I love the fact that Water Valley has the banana car,” he said. “Your museum will be featured again when we tell the story of the bananas.”
For information about the Jackson museum, visit www.caseyjones.com or call (731) 668-1222. It is located on the highway 45 by-pass at I-40 exit 80A.
View the video on YouTube.
Norma Taylor’s book “The Legend Lives On” is available locally at the Water Valley Casey Jones Museum.
It can be purchased by mail directly from Norma and she will autograph it for you. All you have to do is indicate who you want her to sign it to.
To purchase, send $10 (make checks or money orders payable to Norma Taylor) to cover the book and shipping to: