Thursday, March 13, 2008
Burrow chronicles Byhalia’s past
By SUE WATSON
Jean Burrow recently provided an oral history of the Town of Byhalia going back to the early settlers and prior to the Civil War. Known by many as the unofficial town historian, Burrow provided information on the origins of roads, businesses and churches since the town was incorporated in 1836.
The community of Byhalia was known by several names. It was first known as Farmington, the name of the early Methodist Church, but the postal service rejected the name when it was planning to put a post office in the area. The name Corinth was a second choice, after the Presbyterian Church, but the postal service advised that Mississippi already had a Corinth. Finally the community was called Byhalia, a Chickasaw name for great oak, bear trail, or bear trail through great oaks.
As the area was covered by giant white oaks, the community settled on the Chickasaw name, Byhalia.
Byhalia was a good place for a settlement because it was located near the old Chickasaw Trail which was later named Pigeon Roost Road through Byhalia - the road that connected the community to Olive Branch by way of the community of Miller, and from there on to Memphis.
Pigeon Roost Road was located a little way north of what is now called Highway 178 before the road crossed the Coldwater River north of Byhalia. Pigeon Roost Road also ran through the middle of Byhalia on what is now Church Street.
“The reason it was called Pigeon Roost Road is because you could hardly walk without seeing a flurry of pigeons,” Burrow said. “It definitely was a part of the old Chickasaw Trail.”
Another development which opened the area to commerce was the coming of the railroad in 1885.
Byhalia’s first real estate developer was Frame Henry, who bought a large parcel of land and subdivided it into parcels of 100 square feet to 65 acres. A descendent of Patrick Henry and a civic-minded man, he donated land for the cemetery and the First Methodist Church.
His wife Frances, ironically, is the first person buried there.
Burrow said she has taken a few visitors on a tour of the old cemetery.
“People are always fascinated by the tall obelisk that marks the grave of W.C. McCrary and by the fenced-in area of the far north side,” she said. “It is said that you feel a cool breeze when you enter this area. On one tour a breeze did come and the visitors exited the area quickly.”
A.L. Chalmers was another early real estate developer and contractor who built the original part of Thistledome, today a bed and breakfast.
Burrow is connected to Byhalia by way of her grandparents, John O. and Willie Brown Armour, who owned about 250 acres of land near Cayce, then bought land north of Byhalia so their children could go to school. The railroad went right through the edge of the farm, she said.
A blacksmith by trade, John O. Armour, known as Big Daddy, and Willie, known as Big Mama, lived in a house situated right beside the railroad tracks in the pre-Depression era.
Hungry, homeless vagrants, or tramps, as they were called in that day, would disembark from the train and the Armour home was an easy mark, Burrow said.
Big Mama never turned any hungry person away from her door, but Big Daddy grew weary of so much traffic, according to Burrow.
“Big Daddy would turn the tramps away by saying, ‘This is my side of the road. You get on the other side,’ ” she said.
“The Armours, it is said, were arms-makers to the queen, but by the time they got to Marshall County, they were blacksmiths,” Burrows quipped.
Blacksmithing was in such high demand, Big Daddy opened a smithing shop at the foot of the hill at Highway 309 and Highway 178.
He built a thriving business sharpening all the plow points in the area and repairing farming equipment as well as fixing all the county’s mule-drawn, road-dragging equipment. He also shod mules and horses.
Big Mama, the cook, sent enough lunch in a long basket to feed five or six men at the shop.
Burrow said she still uses some of the family recipes including Big Mama’s chocolate pie.
The business district was built in the Church Street area and most of the first stores were “furnish” stores. Groceries, clothing, seed and equipment was bought on the ticket and paid for when crops were gathered and sold.
The first general merchandise store in Byhalia was opened in 1884 by W.C. McCrary on Church Street.
J.L. Burrow and Sons was established in 1885 as the second store in town.
James Lafayette Burrow, his wife Emma Diffey Burrow, and father Isham Burrow moved to the area from Jackson, Tenn. by way of Wyatt, Miss. The Burrows owned a business in Wyatt and a mule-drawn cotton gin before moving to Byhalia.
James Lafayette Burrow, better known as “Fate,” was injured in the battle of Chicamauga and walked with a crutch. Upon learning that the railroad was coming and would not pass through Wyatt as he had been told, but instead Byhalia, he moved. The railroad meant better business and Byhalia had better schools for children.
J.L. Burrow and Sons had a tavern in the basement and sold general merchandise upstairs.
It was told that carpetbaggers arrived in town after the Civil War and a group of local men challenged them to come no further.
“They were told to stop before they crossed the bridge between the railroad and what is now 178,” Burrow said.
“Being certain that nothing would happen, the Carpetbaggers pushed forward and met with gunfire from the tavern in Burrow’s store.”
The Carpetbaggers returned to Tennessee, without injury.
Another favorite story of the Civil War was the story of the “Little Red Trunk.”
Mr. Ingram, father of Sally and Wilma Ingram (who later married W.C. McCrary), had been to Texas to look into the possibility of moving there. He brought back to Sally a small red trunk complete with lock and key. Inside the trunk was a small China doll and clothes to change her.
Yankees, on a looting trip from their camp at the Coldwater River, entered the Ingram home to loot anything of value. One soldier took his sword out to force the lock and little Sally ran forward begging him to wait for her to open it with her key.
The commanding officer, seeing the child’s anguish, said “We are not here to upset children,” and stopped the harm to the little red trunk.
Across the street from Burrow’s Store was W.C. McCrary Company (today known as Southern Corner), which opened a year before Burrow and Sons in 1884. The store sold general merchandise and groceries on one side, clothing and fabric on the other and feed and seed out of the basement.
The upstairs was used to store caskets and as a morgue.
Caskets were brought up the outside stairs and through the fire door. McCrary’s was one of the first buildings in Mississippi to have a fire escape, Burrow said.
Dave McLeary operated a general merchandise store beside W.C. McCrary’s and behind the store built a stable and a house.
Beside McLeary’s Store stood E.B. Horne’s general merchandise store - thus rounding out the four general merchandise stores on Church Street.
Gardner and Jones Grocery and Bowen’s drugstore opened beside Burrow and Sons.
The town had two banks - Citizens Bank and Merchants and Farmers Bank.
In 1925 the town got its first electricity.
On the west side of Highway 309 and Church Street the post office was located in the lot where the Chamber of Commerce is now located.
Across the street (where PattyCakes Etc. was first located) Clyde Neely built a lumber shed. With the coming of the railroad, Neely moved his lumber and hardwood business near the present Byhalia Clinic and built a new lumber shed beside the railroad tracks in order to receive lumber and materials by rail.
When Neely remodeled his old lumber shed, M.D. Herring opened the first town newspaper, the Byhalia Journal, in the late 1800s. On March 3, 1982, the Pigeon Roost News became Byhalia’s second official newspaper.
After Herring, John Eddins continued the paper and put in an insurance office in the building. On the west side of the building a Rexall Drugs opened.
Above Rexall Drugs, Dr. Curtis Senter opened a practice and the funeral parlor moved in behind Rexall’s.
In the little white building beside Rexall’s, Dr. Trotter, a dentist, set up practice in the west side and later D.R. Moore established a medical practice. Later a beauty salon moved upstairs beside Dr. Senter’s practice. Then the space was converted into apartments.
Church Street does not get its name by chance. The Methodist Church was established first, followed by the moving of the Presbyterian Church, board by board from the county line, to the north side of Church Street in 1875.
In 1946, the Presbyterian Church was bricked, making it ineligible for placement on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Unmodified, the Methodist Church is listed in the National Register by virtue of the famous architect who designed the church building.
The Presbyterian Church bell was brought from North Carolina by a
Mrs. Nesbitt, who also had her own tombstone brought with it in an oxcart. The bell was cast in a foundry in Scotland in the 1700s.
Burrow said the Presbyterian Church is known for its adherence to the study of the catechism, taught from one generation to the next. Carrie Myers taught the class first, including her granddaughter Lucy Perry. Afterward Perry, then Burney McCauley Olson taught the class. Burrow now teaches catechism class “to keep it going,” she said.
Two schools were operating before the Civil War - Eckles Female Academy and the Male Academy. The female academy was later renamed the Kate Tucker Institute and the Male Academy was renamed Waverly Institute - a junior college. The two schools were both co-educational and later were consolidated into Byhalia High School.
In an attempt to preserve as much of Byhalia’s original architecture and historical district, the Burrow family bought and began to restore the W.C. McCrary building (Southern Corner) after fire damaged it and destroyed the McLeary store several years ago.
Burrow said the family not only wanted to bring the building back into the family but to preserve it for its rich history.
Before the fire, a restaurant was put in downstairs and the upstairs was converted into three apartments.
“One match took it all,” she said.
After the fire, the city of Byhalia considered the building a hazard and wanted to condemn it, but the Burrows had a structural engineer examine the building. He recommended the building be saved. Since the fire, the building has been sold but so far has not been put back to the good use it deserves.
“Byhalia has many stories to tell and places to show,” Burrow said.
“I imagine sitting there in a nice restaurant with the ambience of the Old South around, to wonder what stories the walls and furnishings could tell.”
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