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Out of the Depot

Depot Was Center Of Communications

By J. K. Gurner

The name of this column “Out of the Depot” needs some explanation. Back in 1858 when the railroad was first built, Water Valley had very little contact with the outside world. Once the railroad went into operation, the train traveled from here to Oxford, then on to Holly Springs and then to Grand Junction, Tennessee.
The train crews would talk to people along the line and bring news back to the depot in Water Valley. The people in town would stop by the depot to hear the latest news and even though it was a little old by the time folks in Water Valley got it, it was still news to them. One advantage to old news is by the time you get it, all the bad stuff is over and you don’t have to worry about it.
As business increased, the number of trains on the railroad increased. The railroad companies needed a better means of communication to control the fast growing rail traffic. A new system of electric powered communication had just been developed called the telegraph that made it possible to pass information up and down the railroad instantly. And, that meant better control of rail traffic.
The railroad also made this new means of communication available to the general public, making it possible to pass news to and from the outside world much faster. Although it was not an official function of the railroad, the depot became the center for gathering and distribution of local, national and foreign news and quite often gossip. If some one stopped you on the street to give you the latest update on the news, they would always add that it just came out of the depot.
The telegraph was a marvelous invention that changed the world. The system itself is trouble-free and easy to use. But, there were some problems with how people viewed the telegraph. At the time, very few people understood how the system worked and this made it easy to blame the telegraph for floods, storms, illness and you name it. This quickly passed, and soon everybody was using the telegraph.
However, many people still didn’t understand how it worked as illustrated by a young lady who came into the telegraph office and handed the operator a folded piece of paper. She explained that her note was a very personal message to Mister So-and-So in Jackson, Tennessee, and under no circumstances was he to read it. The operator accepted the note and assured the young lady that he would take care of everything. Needless to say, every telegraph operator on the Illinois Central railroad between Chicago and New Orleans heard that poor girl’s note as it was transmitted.
If you want to know more about Water Valley’s railroad history, come visit me at the museum. I’m there Thurs-day, Friday and Saturdays from 2 to 4 p.m.
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