Reflections

The Railroad Comes To North Mississippi

By Charles Cooper


Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.
It is a sad commentary of our time how railroading has declined in north Mississippi,  since it was largely responsible for the growth of Water Valley. It was on  Nov. 16, 1853, that a crowd of 6,000 people gathered in Holly Springs to witness the  ground  breaking ceremony of the Mississippi Central’s beginning of construction from the Tennessee state line to ultimately connect with the group coming north from Canton.  
At that time the only cash  crop was cotton and getting it to market was by wagons to pick up points on the Yocona, Skuna and Tallahatchie rivers. There it would be warehoused until boat transportation was available to Greenwood or New Orleans.
Steamboats could operate year round to Green-wood but beyond that only barges and flatboats navigate the shallow waters. It was vital that a railroad be constructed through north Mississippi.
Much of the financing was by selling stock and many times planters would pledge labor in lieu of cash.  An American born, London-based financier named George Peabody arranged for a supply of English iron sufficient to close the gap between Goodman and Water Valley. A sidebar here, the Peabody hotel in Memphis was named in his honor.  
After many difficulties the complete connection was made in early 1861 and the  Water Valley district was formed just as the war between the states began.  
The period after the war until 1930 constituted what was known as the golden age of railroading. A one story building housing the Water Valley division office  was destroyed during the war. After the war, a two story building was constructed north and across from the depot.  This building later became the Oak Hall Hotel and operated until it burned in the early 1930s.  
After the Illinois Central acquired the Mississippi Central in the 1880s, a larger two story structure was built on the site of the depot and served until the division offices  were moved to Jackson, Tenn., in 1946.  The first repair shops for the Mississippi Central was at Holly Springs, but after the war it was moved to Water Valley and set up on the creek north of the depot. When the Illinois Central took over it was enlarged and ultimately employed nearly a 1,000 men.  
We probably had the best rail system of any industrialized nation and it should never have been allowed to go down as it did.  However, it seems to be making a comeback as finally we realized it is still the most efficient way to move large cargos over great distances.  
My email address is still cncooper1@hotmail.com or write me at P.O. box 613189 phis, Tn  38101 and have a great week.

Leave a Comment