Out of the Depot
By J. K. Gurner
The year is 1879. In a photo looking north from the Wood Street railroad crossing, you can see the Block boarding house located on the right side of the tracks. You can also see the switching yard and the shop facilities of the old Missis-sippi Central Railroad.
The photo also shows the old car shop on the west side of the switching yard and the yard itself, much smaller than in later years. The car shop was moved to the area behind the back shop near town creek, probably at the same time that the switching yard was enlarged in 1892 and 1893.
Bob Ward said that the Illinois Central Railroad brought in a contractor who, working with mules, slip scrapers and wagons, moved about half of Greener’s hill over into Charley Dunn’s pasture. It was spread it out for the fill on which the yard trackage was greatly extended. At the time Dunn had the town creek bottom rented for cow pasture.
The boarding house built in the winter of 1878 – 79 and was the home-away-from-home for many of the Jackson District crews and others, like Casey Jones, who had homes away from Water Valley. It all began when the Yellow Fever epidemic struck Water Valley and the entire mid-south area in the summer and fall of 1878.
A man named Block, who was a foreman in the shops, sent his family north as “refugees” from the fever. While they were away Block was stricken with the fever and died. When Mrs. Block returned with the children, the railroad built this large two-story boarding house and engaged her to operate it. Like Mrs. Brady’s boarding house in Jackson, Mrs. Block’s house became well known as a good place to stay when a railroad man was tied up in the Valley.
The boarding house continued to operate until shortly after the turn of the century when it burned. Casey boarded with Mrs. Block except for the period when the Jones’s lived in Water Valley.
Mrs. Block raised her family of four girls and one boy in the boarding house. Of the children, one of the girls, Minnie, married a young lawyer, Earl Brewer, who later became governor of Mississippi. The wedding took place in the boarding house. Another of the girls married Jim O’Rourke, an engineer; another married Tom Myers, an engineer, and after his death married Bill Hatfield, also an engineer. The other daughter married Bill Price foreman of the blacksmith shop. The son, Ed “Booker” Block became a machinist in the shops.