The New Town of Baldwyn

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I wrote last week about some of the first buildings to have been constructed in the new town of Baldwyn, back in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s.  I thought I might expand generally on the early history of Baldwyn this week, before moving into more specific details of early buildings and businesses.

The Mobile & Ohio Railroad reached “Baldwyn” in December 1860, but the Civil War broke out just a few months after, in April of 1861 when Union and Confederate forces clashed at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, and hopes of immediate, railroad-generated prosperity for the citizens of the new town were dashed for several years.

Carrollville was an original North Mississippi community which sprang up around the time the Chickasaw Indians were removed to Oklahoma.  Carrollville was very near to the current location of Baldwyn.  It was positioned on a road that connected the county seat of Old Tishomingo County, Jacinto, to Pontotoc, where the previously held Chickasaw lands in North Mississippi were dispersed.  A road that connected Ripley to Fulton also passed through Carrollville, making the community an important crossroads in the early history of North Mississippi.  Many sections of these original roads still exist, generally found now as county roads in modern Alcorn, Prentiss, Itawamba, Union, Tippah, Pontotoc and Tishomingo counties.  When the Chickasaw lands were ultimately ceded to the United States in 1837, Carrollville already existed and had probably since about 1832-1834. Interestingly, the last Chickasaw war chief Tishomingo made his home near the Carrollville settlement and frequently visited and traded in the town.  His homeplace is now marked with an historic monument west of Baldwyn thanks to the Chickasaw Nation and local historians.

Moving forward a decade, when the M&O Railroad was chartered in 1848, great enthusiasm was generated along the line’s proposed route, which included the town of Carrollville. A new railroad would be created to connect the city of Mobile, Alabama, to the Ohio River.  The idea for this endeavor came from Marshall J. D. Baldwyn of Mobile.  The U.S. had suffered a financial panic in 1837, and Mobile, a wealthy seaport, had been hit especially hard.  Baldwyn conceived and promoted a plan to restore his home to its previous position of prominence by creating the M&O which would give Mobile a northbound avenue of commerce to compete with New Orleans and its access to the Mississippi River.

It took several years for his plan to gain acceptance and financing, even in Mobile, and it was fiercely opposed by New Orleans, Memphis and other localities that would suffer at Mobile’s grab for increased financial power.  But finally, the wheels started moving, and the first section of track opened in 1852 connecting Mobile with Citronelle, Alabama.

The railway continued construction, aided by land grants, investors and political maneuvers, until finally J.D. Baldwyn himself drove a spike in the track alongside a newly constructed depot 1 ½ miles southeast of Carrollville.  The powers that be in Carrollville in 1859, to honor the creator of the railroad, named their new town Baldwyn.  And they literally picked up their homes and buildings in Carrollville and moved them to the railroad.

Historically, the M&O Railroad changed the face of Mississippi forever, even if the results were delayed by the Civil War.  Today, modern U.S. Highway 45 runs precisely parallel to the M&O line.  The M&O’s existence effectively created every town along U.S. 45 which wasn’t already located on a river or another ancient trail.  Year after year, vacationers from North Mississippi travelling to Florida — for a dozen decades — have essentially taken the exact route proposed by Mr. J.D. Baldwyn a century before.  And, I suspect, those travelers passed through Rienzi, Booneville, Guntown, Saltillo, Tupelo, Verona, Shannon, Okolona, West Point, Macon, Scooba, Quitman, Waynesboro – every north and south town from Corinth to Buckatunna – without any appreciation that their route was the product of an early-1800’s idea by a visionary citizen of Mobile, Alabama.  Optimistic and forward-thinking folks in old Carrollville did appreciate Marshall J.D. Baldwyn though, so much so that they named their town after him.

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As promised last week, here are the modern locations where historic businesses once existed.

Historic business: Kirk Hardware

Current business/location: Blue August, south side of Main Street between Front & 2nd Streets

Historic business: Lu-Ru Flower Shop

Current business/location: Paper Moon, south side Main Street, between Front & 2nd Streets

Historic business: Davis Saw Mill

Current business/location: P.C.E.P.A. office, north side of Clayton Street, west of the railroad tracks

Historic business: Home Hotel

Current business/location: Building under construction (most recently Water Street Bar & Grill), south side of Water Street, just west of the railroad tracks

Historic business: Outlaw Gin

Current business/location: Belles & Bows flower shop, north side of Clayton Street, just west of the railroad tracks

Historic business: Phillips Supply

Current business/location: Vacant lot, parking (most recently Buster McElroy & Co., building burned), southwest corner of Front & Clayton Streets

Historic business: The Cox Building

Current business/location: Empty building, some construction (most recently Raymond Hill Furniture), northwest corner of Front & Main Streets

Historic business: Baldwyn Dry Goods

Current business/location: Farmers & Merchants Bank Loan Office, northeast corner of 2nd & Main Streets

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If I’m wrong on any of this, feel free to let me know! More history (of something) next week!

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