Skip to Main Content
Looking Back Mississippi

Looking Back Mississippi: Towns and Places

Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 224
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Looking Back Mississippi
    Book Description:

    For the past three decades, historian and archivist Forrest Lamar Cooper has written a regular column forMississippi Magazineabout unusual, fascinating aspects of the state's history, culture, products, and people. Whether describing the Jubilee Beverage Company of Jackson, the origins of the Mississippi State Fair, a Mississippi veteran who fought at Iwo Jima, or Biloxi's Riviera Hotel, Cooper's "Looking Back" columns are thoroughly researched and written with verve and clarity.

    Looking Back Mississippi: Towns and Placescollects thirty-nine of Cooper's best essays on the various cities, towns, dwellings, parks, and institutions of historical resonance. Covering all corners of the state, from the mid-1800s to the 1930s, the volume offers an engaging, convivial alternative history of Mississippi, one that emphasizes the obscure and small-scale over the big picture. Each short essay is accompanied by photographic and illustrative postcards from Cooper's private collection.

    These postcards and other memorabilia give delightful visual clarity to Cooper's historical accounts of towns as far north as Hernando and as coastal as Pass Christian, from the Delta to the Pine Belt. Cooper focuses on Mississippi places, and the people and events that made them famous. Much of the architecture and even the terrain-as with the Gulf Coast's once legendary orange groves-has disappeared, making Cooper's postcards invaluable resources for understanding and visualizing what no longer exists.Looking Back Mississippiprovides a treasure trove of history and insight into long-vanished corners of the state.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-495-7
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. preface
    (pp. vii-1)
  4. the heart of the delta
    (pp. 3-7)

    On March 21, 1918, a reinforced German army stormed the allied trenches of French, British, and Belgian defenders along a cold, slippery, 60-mile western front—the final German push in the Battle of the Somme—in a supreme effort to take the lead in the four-year-long war which had seen little change in real estate since fighting began in 1914. More than one million steel-helmeted invaders charged shoulder to shoulder as fast as a man in soggy leather hobnailed boots can run across a treeless, grassless, lifeless no-man’s-land, rechurning 100 kilometers of muddy Belgian earth into a virtual sea of...

  5. beulah land
    (pp. 8-11)

    These words of comfort are still sung in English-speaking Christian services around the world. Penned by Edgar P. Stites (1836–1921) in his popular “Beulah Land,” this hymn was the favorite of Colonel Frank A. Montgomery, a devout Methodist, who in 1855 moved into the virtually pristine wilderness of western Bolivar County.

    Here along the edges of the Mississippi River he began clearing his land by cutting the thick stands of cane and timber to build his vast plantation, Beulah. Only seven years prior to this move, Colonel Montgomery (who attained that military rank later during the Civil War when...

  6. the last spa
    (pp. 12-19)

    “Allison’s Wells, a rambling, old-time spa and art center 10 miles north of Canton, burned to the ground shortly after noon Monday, going up in a tremendous pillar of flame and smoke that only a big old frame building can cause.” So read the top story on the front page ofThe Clarion-Ledgernewspaper on Tuesday, January 15, 1963.

    Before, during, and for several years after the War between the States, the property, which later became well-known as a weekend resort, was part of the 960-acre William Lambert Plantation. Surely it must have been with heavy hearts in January of...

  7. in the right place at the right time
    (pp. 20-28)

    It is no secret that Mississippi College is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of Mississippi. The origins of this prestigious school date back to 1826 when John Quincy Adams was President of the United States—a union which then consisted of only 24 states. The Great Northwest corner of what is now the continental United States—known then as Oregon Country, an area which now consists of the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and a large portion of Montana—was still occupied by Great Britain. In addition the rugged vastness of what is now America’s Great...

  8. streetcars in columbus
    (pp. 29-32)

    Soon after the turn of the 20th century, the enterprising city of Columbus became one of at least 14 Mississippi cities in which trolley car service became a reality. For Columbus, this service began on May 22, 1906. The photo shows a happy crowd gathered around three open-air streetcars. Ceremonies for the opening-day run were held on Main Street where it intersects with Market Street. In the foreground of the picture, one can see a 12-piece band and its director, Louis B. Divelbiss. This picture was reproduced from an old postcard which was published and sold by the L. B....

  9. the coldest city in the state
    (pp. 33-35)

    During January of 1909 Corinth epitomized the definition of winter. Heavy gray skies hung over sleet-covered wires, slushy streets, and citizens bundled in cumbersome clothing. Lack of vegetation created a winter barrenness not common to Mississippi. An example of the misery accompanying this uncommon cold snap is described by the caption that was added to a postcard by J. M. Lowry, the sender. It reads: “This is the day the troublemen got busy at Corinth, Miss. Jan. 11, 1908.” “Troublemen” must refer to repairmen who were kept busy by broken telephone and telegraph wires. Apparently Mr. Lowry made a mistake...

  10. chautauqua assembly
    (pp. 36-41)

    Few Americans give much serious thought to entertainment. After all, radio, television, and films make it possible for anyone to be entertained at any time. News is relayed to the public almost as soon as it happens.

    But before the evolution of a sophisticated communication network, entertainment and news had to be sought. The hardship fell not only on the public but also on those who wished to communicate with the populace. The candidate could not reach voters across the country with a thirty-second commercial. The social reformer did not have television cameras covering the demonstration for the six o’clock...

  11. greetings from lake cormorant
    (pp. 42-46)

    In 1850 Green T. Blythe, who, along with his brother Captain Andrew K. Blythe of Columbus, organized and led the once famous Blythe’s Battalion during the Civil War, purchased a large tract of land from the Chickasaw Indians about fifteen miles northwest of Hernando near the western edge of DeSoto County. Located on a slight rise, this area was the ancient home of the Chickasaws for generations. Proof of this was revealed during the early part of this century when two nearby Indian mounds were excavated, yielding a valuable archeological find of pottery, tomahawks, and human skeletons.

    In 1856 Blythe’s...

  12. influential florence
    (pp. 47-56)

    Positioned at the southwestern corner of Rankin County, Florence is the historical entrance into what is today the third-fastest-growing county in Mississippi. The longtime village is rapidly developing into a town with a population of 2,500-plus. It is a bud beginning to blossom. It is my hometown.

    Mississippi, the seventh state formed following the American Revolution, is our nation’s 20th oldest state and is unique in that it was settled for the most part from west to east. Like a multilane highway, the Mississippi River played an enormous role in this development. Because there were no interior roadways, the majority...

  13. an early look at downtown greenwood
    (pp. 57-58)

    In 1911 few cities in the state enjoyed as much daily activity as did the energetic city of Greenwood. With a population of 9,000 and growing, it had a well-established reputation as one of the leading trade and cultural centers of the Delta.

    On April 5, 1837, Titus Howard and Samuel B. Marsh purchased a large tract of land on both sides of the Yazoo River in what is now Leflore County. They bought the land from Coleman Cole, a Chakchiuma Indian, with the understanding it would be used as a town site. This area, which had previously been referred...

  14. mississippi citrus
    (pp. 59-64)

    For over half a century oranges grew profusely along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Because of the warmth resulting from the water frontage, the entire coastal area was, for an era, especially adapted to orchard fruits in general and orange culture in particular. At the turn of the 20th century, the Mississippi Coast area was known as the Satsuma Belt, with thousands of trees bearing their golden fruit in groves stretching from Bay St. Louis to Pascagoula.

    According to Mr. John H. Lang, a lifelong resident and historian of Harrison County, orange trees which he referred to as the “Louisiana Sweets”...

  15. where the lights live
    (pp. 65-72)

    Nestled along Mississippi’s 75-mile shoreline, high atop cone-, pyramid-, and even cottage-shaped lighthouses, is where the lights live, or—more correctly—lived. All but one are gone. No longer do the lights actually exist as live flame like they once did, providing guidance to safe harbors for sailors, fishermen, or weary travelers. Once, more than 10 lighthouses guarded the Gulf waters from the Alabama state line to the Louisiana border. Today, those lights have faded almost completely away.

    Throughout the expanse of the Mississippi Sound, the only original lighthouse still in place is the Biloxi lighthouse. Built in 1848—the...

  16. high cotton in gulfport
    (pp. 73-77)

    Most people think that the city of Gulfport and its harbor share a history reaching far back into the last century. But unlike her sister cities of Biloxi, Ocean Springs, and Mississippi City, Gulfport is a relative newcomer.

    The city was founded on May 3, 1887, by a former C.S.A. captain, William Harris Hardy, and the first stake marking the new city’s boundaries was driven that same year on August 27. Gulfport was conceived and built as the terminus of the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad, a company of which Hardy was named president in 1887. Epitomized as the Southern...

  17. hardy loved hattie—and there’s a city to prove it
    (pp. 78-82)

    This year marks Forrest County’s centennial. Shaped like a large numeral “1,” the 469-square-mile county was formed by the state legislature on January 6, 1908, and was named for famed Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest was revered by many as the greatest cavalry commander of the Civil War. This opinion was shared by his two foremost adversaries: Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Gen. William T. Sherman. Grant wrote in his personal memoirs that Forrest was “the ablest cavalry general in the South,” and according to the official war records, Sherman believed “that devil Forrest must be hunted down...

  18. the gentleman from rock rose
    (pp. 83-90)

    On May 13, 1539, the stillness of a Florida morning was shattered when 80 iron-shod Spanish horses clambered out of the hold of Hernando Mendez de Soto’s 800-ton flagship,San Christobal. Nearby, 157 other horses neighed and snorted as they, too, gained freedom from inside the dark and dank bellies of the other six ships anchored in pristine Tampa Bay, tucked within the western shoreline of central Florida.

    De Soto, who descended from a noble family in the Province of Badajoz (the Kingdom of Estemandura) in southwestern Spain, was born in the year 1500 at Jerez (Rock Rose) de los...

  19. famous houston
    (pp. 91-97)

    Sam Houston, the first great Texan, a legendary giant who walked at the right time on Texas soil, was the man for whom the first judicial district county seat town of Chickasaw County was named. Initially founded as a settlement during the winter months of 1836 preceding the organization of the county on February 9 of that year, Houston, located only two miles east of the Natchez Trace, rapidly became popular with merchants, farmers, and lumbermen alike. On December 5, 1837, merchant Henry B. Carter became the first postmaster, and before the year was out, the status of the thriving...

  20. jackson: 175 years of history
    (pp. 98-105)

    December marks the 175th anniversary of the birth of the city of Jackson. As Mississippi’s capital city, Jackson is rich in history and steeped in Southern traditions. It is envied for its cultural activities. Because of business decisions made in the last decade or so, it is well positioned economically to enter the 21st century.

    Jackson provides leadership in many different areas: politics, medicine, and religion, as well as in the fields of communication, distribution, transportation, storage, lodging, and, of course, education.

    The site on which the city is situated was designated as the state capital by the legislature on...

  21. merriment and memories on the midway: the mississippi state fair
    (pp. 106-110)

    The Mississippi State Fair, dressed in a bright, festive atmosphere of multicolored waving flags, fluttering pennants, and filled with the cries of carnival barkers hawking their games of chance, welcomed an opening day crowd of more than 5,000 on October 25, 1915. An enthusiastic description of the much anticipated opening day appeared in the following morning’sDaily Clarion-Ledger:“The Twelfth Annual State Fair opened its gates to the public yesterday and the attendance was more than gratifying. One heard the din of the whistle man and his wares, boys and girls wanted balloons and whips, the Ferris wheel and flying...

  22. brave and true
    (pp. 111-117)

    Mount Kosciusko is the tallest mountain in Australia. The 7,316-foot peak is found in the Snowy River Mountain Range near the southern edge of New South Wales, halfway between Sydney and Melbourne. In America the city of Warsaw is the county seat of Kosciusko County, Indiana.

    In Mississippi, the only state in the U.S. in which there is a city bearing this same unusual name, is today perhaps the best known Kosciusko of all, as it is the hometown of television’s Oprah Winfrey.

    Like a bull’s-eye, Kosciusko, Mississippi, is located in the very center of the state, and is surely...

  23. the star of creation
    (pp. 118-122)

    Churches, by their very nature, are about being the center of the community. Most are identified by a sign attached to the building or placed upon the lawn. However, even without a denominational sign, Mississippi’s churches that were built prior to World War I, were, in most cases, easily identified by architectural enhancements in the form of symbols. To quote Andrew Young, owner and operator of Pearl River Glass Studio, Inc., in Jackson: “The Bible is a treasure trove of symbolism.” It is this truth that for generations has prompted architects and religious leaders to utilize emblematic Christian symbols to...

  24. famous warrior friend
    (pp. 123-127)

    On St. Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1836, Louisville, the county seat of Winston County, was incorporated and named in honor of the same man for whom the county was named, Colonel Louis Winston. The county was established just a little over two years earlier, on December 23, 1833, from land acquired from the Choctaw Nation through the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in 1830. Colonel Winston is a somewhat shadowy figure in the history of our state; however, there is enough recorded information about him to show that, like so many men during these early times of our nation, he...

  25. making his mark
    (pp. 128-132)

    In 1868 a young Jewish boy named Leopold Marks left Germany with optimistic expectations of a better life. He was 17 when he reached New York City, spoke no English, and had only 18 cents in his pocket. Through the aid of a newfound friend, he became a peddler and began selling jewelry and kitchen items crosscountry. A few years later he entered Mississippi at Friars Point, where he sold his wares from one plantation town to another.

    He traveled, as most people did then, by riverboat, slowly and quietly through virtually pristine wilderness. Seated aboard a steamer churning its...

  26. almost a ghost town
    (pp. 133-137)

    McHenry is situated about a quarter of a mile west of Mississippi Highway 49 south, deep in the long straw pine area of Stone County. It is one of the many towns in the state that owe their existences to the vast stands of virgin pine timber that stood throughout most of Mississippi less than a century ago.

    The opportunity for large profits from Mississippi’s pine timber first brought the railroads and then hundreds of loggers, sawyers, and mill and turpentine workers into the state in the mid-1880s. Many of these settlers came from the Carolinas and Georgia; however, large...

  27. a brief history of mize
    (pp. 138-142)

    The small Smith County town of Mize is situated along Mississippi Highway 28 midway between Magee and Taylorsville. The area was settled by the Scotch-Irish, many of whom bore the surname of Sullivan. Mize’s heritage stretches back almost two full centuries, and so many stories have been told about the town and the sparsely populated area south of it known as Sullivan’s Hollow that historians find it difficult to separate fact from fiction.

    Records compiled during the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration and preserved by the state archives in Jackson note the early history of this so-called Piney Woods...

  28. the bell of st. mary’s
    (pp. 143-149)

    The first Roman Catholic church in Natchez dates from 1788, during the period in which Spain controlled this westernmost area of what was then known as West Florida. The Spanish-built church was housed in a two-story frame building, the lower part of which was used as a dry-goods store, located on the east side of Commerce Street, between Main and Franklin streets. Initially the Spaniards named this mission church San Salvador of Natchez. However, apparently the designation of Saint Savior, or Holy Savior, was soon adopted and it was by this name that the chapel was called for the next...

  29. a town of two counties
    (pp. 150-153)

    Few towns in Mississippi enjoy the type of unusual location that has given the Lee County town of Nettleton its personality, or rather has given the Monroe County town its personality. Nettleton is situated in both Lee and Monroe counties with Main Street being the dividing line between the two. This special characteristic has provided Nettleton with an extraordinary identity.

    Like a number of towns throughout the state, Nettleton owes its very existence to the railroad. Back in 1886–1887 when the Kansas City, Memphis, and Birmingham Railroad was being constructed through the northeastern part of the state, a group...

  30. fort henry
    (pp. 154-156)

    Congress passed a measure on March 3, 1885, that provided for the establishment of a Board of Fortifications and Coast Defenses. It was through this measure that the U.S. War Department began to organize the state national guards. Congress made an appropriation of $5,000 to each state having a sufficient waterfront upon which to build and equip a battery or fort, provided each eligible state would furnish the land to the government for that purpose. In early 1887, the citizens of Pass Christian raised sufficient money to buy land with 1,205 feet of frontage on the beach near Henderson Point....

  31. the destruction of purvis
    (pp. 157-160)

    As friends and relatives of the graduating class of 1908 filed out of Purvis’s two-story brick schoolhouse on April 24, few paid much attention to the storm clouds that were lingering about one mile to the southwest of town. Such clouds were not an uncommon sight at that time of year, and most people thought the threatening clouds would soon blow away.

    Just before 2 p.m., however, the clouds began to join forces, taking the shape of a funnel. Suddenly a deafening roar was heard, and panic struck as everyone realized that a tornado was headed toward Purvis. As the...

  32. where families gathered
    (pp. 161-163)

    I have my grandfather’s favorite arrowhead. It is the one that he found while plowing cotton. I like it because I know it meant so much to him. I also have my dad’s favorite pocket knife and my first football helmet he bought me in 1957.

    Most of us have kept some small family memento from our past. It is our link with a happy moment. I cherish my small collection of Cracker Jack toys that I collected one at a time from my family’s grocery trips from Florence to Jackson in the early 1950s. These bring back memories of...

  33. sardis, prince of joy
    (pp. 164-168)

    A few years back, eighteen to be exact, a book was published by the University Press of Mississippi which showed how Mississippi differs from all the other states of the union. The book was the result of a symposium held at the University of Southern Mississippi at Hattiesburg on October 5–6, 1978. At this historic meeting, twenty-four of the state’s gifted writers, including Willie Morris, Will D. Campbell, and Patti Carr Black, presented their papers which shared their personal views about Mississippi’s rich cultural heritage. Their collection of essays is bound together under the titleSense of Place: Mississippi....

  34. the heart of oktibbeha
    (pp. 169-175)

    Early historians have written that the site of present-day Starkville was originally called “Hic-a-sha-ba-ha,” reportedly meaning in the language of the Choctaw “sweet gum thicket.” Apparently this area was a favored campground of numerous Indian tribes for hundreds of years prior to the arrival of the Spanish in 1540. The Indians often gave names to places based on simple logic, and this northeast Mississippi town is no exception. Today, the still plentiful groves of sweet gum trees are just as eagerly sought for their shade as they were in pre–De Soto days.

    Geographically, Starkville is centered near the heart...

  35. molders of men
    (pp. 176-181)

    The Tupelo Military Institute once gave its namesake city a sense of spirit. The very presence of the private academy, with the motto “Send us a boy and we will return him a man,” gave Lee Countians a sense of pride and a feeling of purpose. The disciplined and polite manly bearing of the young cadets, dressed in their tailored “butternut” grey uniforms and looking very much like the “boys in grey” of an earlier era, influenced practically everyone to reach above and beyond.

    No history of this once prestigious school can be separated from the personality of its founding...

  36. washington: the most honorable name
    (pp. 182-187)

    Outside of New England, Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas, Mississippi may just be America’s most British state. Among the first to acquire statehood following our nation winning her independence from King George III in 1783, Mississippi on December 10, 1817, became the seventh state to be formed after the nationalization of the thirteen original colonies. Today, many of Mississippi’s citizens can trace their lineage back to England, Ireland, Scotland, or Wales. Many are also justifiably conscious of both our American and British heritage. In fact, it is from this courageous pedigree that we have inherited our spiritual values, much of...

  37. wesson’s wishes
    (pp. 188-194)

    When Colonel James Madison Wesson, the founder of the city of Wesson, read the words “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging; and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise,” he believed them. His understanding of this proverb apparently encouraged him to also adopt as his motto the old adage that “whiskey and manufacturing do not mix.” Never one to compromise his principles, Wesson, like a great many Southerners of the Victorian era, was an idealist who placed high values on both character and respect. A recent study of his life has revealed that yes, one person really can...

  38. christmas in wiggins
    (pp. 195-200)

    Christmas Day, December 25, has been celebrated by followers of Jesus since the 7th century A.D. In England, for hundreds of years after this date, each civil, ecclesiastical, and legal year began on Christmas Day. For some reason, the Anglican Church dropped the custom in the 14th century and began the year on March 25, and the new dating procedure remained in force until the reformation of the calendar in 1752. Nevertheless, December 25 has remained a holy day for almost 2,000 years.

    We, too, have traditions that have been handed down to us. In more modern times, it is...

  39. steeped in history
    (pp. 201-206)

    The historic town of Woodville, the seat of Wilkinson County, is located atop what is reported to be the second highest elevation in Mississippi. The elevation here is 460 feet above sea level.

    Incorporated as a town in 1811, Woodville is one of the oldest settlements in the state, and consequently has played a leading role in providing Mississippi with a number of distinguished politicians and business leaders. It is home to the oldest business institution in continuous operation in the state, the local newspaper.The Woodville Republicanfirst began publishing on Saturday, December 2, 1823.

    In 1831, the Mississippi...

  40. yazoo toys and trolleys
    (pp. 207-211)

    When the city council voted 6 to 2 to accept the bid from construction engineers Harry K. Johnson and W.A. Pollock of Greenwood on December 5, 1908, history was made in Yazoo City. The bid was for the installation of an electric streetcar system, and the “Queen City of the Delta” became the second city in the United States to own and operate a municipal electric street railway. The first was Monroe, Louisiana.

    There were several cities in the state in which electric streetcars or trolleys operated earlier than Yazoo City. They included Jackson and Vicksburg (1899), Meridian and Greenville...

  41. a lesson in flowers
    (pp. 212-216)

    Here in Mississippi the list is long of plantations, communities, towns, and cities that bear the names of blossoming plants, shrubs, and trees. Magnolia, Pike County’s seat of government town, was named in the 1820s for the numerousMagnolia grandifloratrees, which profusely inhabit both the hills and lowlands of all eighty-two counties in our state. Named by pioneer settler Mrs. Mary Sinnot, Magnolia is a grand example of man’s love for beauty.

    The small town of Sunflower, which was first called Sunflower City, is thought to have been named for the little yellow flowers that grow in abundance along...

  42. named in her honor
    (pp. 217-224)

    On May 10, 1908, Rev. Harry C. Howard preached a Mother’s Day service at the request of a longtime friend and member of his congregation, Miss Anna Jarvis. This special sermon was preached in Andrews Methodist Episcopal Church in Grafton, West Virginia, in honor of Mrs. Anna Reeves Jarvis, Miss Anna’s mother. Throughout his sermon Mrs. Jarvis was recognized and remembered for her service as a teacher in the primary department of over twenty years. Four years later a delegate representing this church at the General Conference, held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, introduced a resolution recognizing Miss Anna M. Jarvis as...