Thursday, April 30, 2009

On the Town Square

Pictured above is a view of South Cummings Street looking south on the Fulton town square during the late 1960's. This is a view as it appeared during my youth. Picture above is BB's (a women's clothing store) in the old Wilson Building on the corner, an appliance store in the old Fulton Bank building, the Lawhon Insurance building, the City Cafe building, and the two-story White's Store building. I recall passing by the cafe building many times on my way to the New Dixie Theater on many Saturdays during my youth. During the warm months, the cafe would keep their front door open and the smell of cooking hamburgers and onions would filter through the screen door onto the sidewalk enticing the casual passerby into the cafe. And White's Store was truly a variety store selling everything from groceries to comic books and toys. I spent many hours in that store thumbing through comic books and buying toys.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Greetings From Fulton...

A postcard mailed from Fulton to Guntown during 1942 shows a typical spring scene - breaking the soil for a garden.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Plotting Deeds With Your Genealogical Research

Have you ever copied an old deed that shows the property of your Itawamba ancestor and wondered where that property was located? With the knowledge of just a few basics of the Federal land survey system mechanics and a good detailed county map, you should be able to pinpoint the location of your ancestor’s property. The illustrations used in this article are based upon Itawamba County, Mississippi land records, but are easily adaptable to any geographic area that uses the Federal land survey system of sections, townships and ranges.

The illustration to the left is an old map showing the township and range mapping system of the Chickasaw Cession lands of Mississippi. The base line on the Tennessee state border numbers the land ranges. The Chickasaw Meridian line running north and south numbers the land townships. All ranges east of the meridian line are labeled east, such as Range 8 East. All townships south of the Tennessee state line (base line) are labeled south, such as Township 9 South. For example, locate the town of Fulton in Itawamba County on the map. It is located in the southeast part of Township 9 South, Range 8 East. The square block formed by the intersection of a township and range is called a township. Each township contains 36 sections of land with each section being one mile square, containing 640 acres. Therefore, each Township is 6 miles square.

The old map below shows the townships and ranges of the Itawamba County area in more detail. The ranges run west to east and are numbered accordingly. The townships run north to south and are numbered to the left of the map. Find Saltillo on the map (hint: upper right portion of the map). By using this map you can see that Saltillo is in Township 8 South, Range 6 East of old Itawamba County (present-day Lee County). As stated earlier, all ranges in Itawamba County are east of the Chickasaw Meridian and all Townships are South of the Base Line (Tennessee state line).

If you have an old land deed pertaining to your Itawamba County ancestor, by using the above map you can find the general location of the ancestor’s property in Itawamba County. However, to be more precise in locating your ancestor’s property, we will need to study the actual township itself and the sections that it includes.

There are 36 sections of land (each one mile square) within a Township. The sections are numbered beginning with Section 1 in the upper right hand corner (northeast corner of the township). By using the illustration below, along with the township and range map above, you can pinpoint your ancestor’s land with even more precision.

As an example, if your ancestor’s land was listed as in Section 5 of Township 9 South, Range 8 East, by using the above illustration and the county township-section map, you will learn that your ancestor’s property was in the Mantachie community of Itawamba County. In using maps with deed research from the above Mantachie example, first find the township formed by the intersection of Township 9 South and Range 8 East. Then locate Section 5 on the above township-section map to find the general location within the township map giving you the general location within the townships where the property was located.

Now let us use a real-life example from a deed found in the Itawamba County Chancery Court Clerk's Office:

“William H. Toomer of Itawamba County sold to Joshua Toomer of Itawamba County the southwest quarter of Section 22 and the northwest quarter of Section 27 in Township 9 South, Range Range 8 East on 21 August 1838 for $1,000: Book 2, Page 005.”

First find the Township 9 strip of land and then find the Range 8 strip of land by using the county township map above. The 6-mile square area where the township and range intersects will be the township area of the property. By finding the township area we learn the property was in the 6-mile square area where the Mantachie and Dorsey communities are located west of the Tombigbee River. Now notice where the section is located within the township using the township-section map. Section 27 is located in the lower middle area of the Township which will be a few miles east of the Dorsey community. Joshua Toomer bought the southwest quarter of Section 22 and the northwest quarter of Section 27 making a total of 320 acres (since a section of land is 640 acres and he purchased two quarter sections).

By studying the township-section map, we see all of this land joined (the southwest quarter of Section 22 and the northwest quarter of Section 27 are adjacent to each other). Section 22 is north of, and joins Section 27.

Putting it all together

One of the best map references to use with plotting old Itawamba County deeds are the US Geological Survey topographic maps. These maps are very detailed, showing the various section, township and range numbers and also show various features including rivers, creeks, cemeteries, schools, towns and so much more. These maps may be purchased from various distributors or they may be viewed free of charge on the Internet from various sources (simply do a search for “topographic maps.”). Another excellent tool is the Mississippi Department of Transportation county map. These county maps show all the sections, townships and ranges of each county in Mississippi and are available free of charge online in PDF format.

The Muddy Tombigbee

Earlier this week I took a trip down to the river bottom on the old US Highway 78. The above photograph of the muddy Tombigbee River was taken from the bridge spanning the old river.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

A 1909 Penny Postcard From Dorsey

A penny postcard is shown above written to Miss Ollie Gregory of the Walton Cemetery community of Itawamba County from a friend in Dorsey. I always thought the penmanship on the card by this young man was quite elaborate.

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Bottom

This morning on my way to the grocery store in town I decided to take a detour onto the old US Highway 78 into the Tombigbee River lowlands west of Fulton. This once-busy stretch of highway is now almost deserted as it now dead-ends at the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway at Fulton. What little traffic is along this stretch of pavement is basically folks going to the Peppertown boat dock. This stretch of old paved highway crosses the Tombigbee River at the foot of River Hill east of Peppertown and then for three miles crosses several sloughs. When I was a kid, we traveled this highway going from Fulton to Tupelo. Along these sloughs during the summertime folks would be fishing from the banks and in the fields, white gold in the form of cotton would be growing. Today the fields are overgrown and the highway is silent as sand cranes stand like sentries in the swamps overseeing their peaceful domain.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Early Morning Rose

Early this morning I enjoyed working in my garden. The roses are now blooming throughout the countryside of Itawamba County - a sure sign that warm weather is here to stay for awhile. There's something about a garden during the early morning hours as the scent of flowers especially permeate the air. The above Astor Perry rose is one of my favorite garden roses. This rose blooms all summer creating a nice splash of yellow in the garden.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Rolling on the River

Yesterday afternoon in the warm sun a tugboat from ports unknown pushes a barge south through Itawamba County on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Thomas Bullard Monument in Old Center Star

The Thomas Bullard monument stands tall in the old section of historic Center Star graveyard in Mantachie. Thomas Bullard was the son of Alonzo Jessie (born July 1843 in Socapatoy, Coosa County, Alabama, the son of Thomas and Narcissa Bullard and the grandson of Allen and Rebecca Butler Bullard) and Lydia Ann Lackey Bullard. He is found in the 1880 and 1900 Lee County census records (Unity community) and in 1910 is listed as a salesman living in the town of Mantachie with his wife Mollie with daughters E.L., L.M. and sons Willie and Fred. It is interesting that his monument shows he was born January 18, 1878, yet the 1880 Lee County census shows him being five months old being born in January 1880.

Thomas Bullard’s father, Alonzo, served in Company C of the 5th Battalion of Hilliard's Legion from Tallapoosa and Coosa counties in Alabama.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Jessie Sheffield and Wife Minnie Shields

Jessie Sheffield was the half-brother of my great grandfather William Sheffield. He was the son of Adam Sheffield and his second wife Elizabeth Wilson Wadkins (widow of Richard Wadkins). Jessie was born during 1862 in Clarke County, Alabama and came north up the Tombigbee River to Itawamba County with his family after the Civil War settling on family lands that had been bought during the 1840s. On February 2, 1890 he married Minnie Caroline Shields (born 1872 in Itawamba County) the daughter of John William and Sarah Jane Nichols Shields. Jessie died on December 25, 1934 in Smithville, Monroe County. Minnie Carolina Shields Sheffield died during 1954 in Itawamba County. This couple were the parents of fourteen children.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Snowball Bush Blooms

I have a large snowball bush (Viburnum opulus 'Roseum') in my yard that is now in full bloom. This morning I photographed a small section of the blooms before the rain moves in later today.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A Museum in the Woods

Yesterday I visited Itawamba County’s museum in the woods – the Jamie L. Whitten Historical Center and Park located just north of Fulton on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. The center, designed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mobile District, includes an interesting museum with exhibits created by several Federal agencies involved in the economic development of Mississippi’s beautiful hill country including The Appalachian Regional Commission, Tennessee Valley Authority, USDA and Natural Resources Conservation Service, National Park Service and the U.S. Forestry Service. Several of the exhibits are multi-media displays and many illustrate the rich history and heritage of this area.

The historical center also includes a modern auditorium and a large covered terrace overlooking the beautiful waterway below. There is a gift shop area featuring regional books and other unique gift items. But this center is just a small part of the large complex which includes picnic pavilions, nature trails, boat ramp, paved volley ball and basket ball courts and a large camping area. The next time you are in Itawamba County, discover the rich history and heritage of Mississippi’s scenic hill country by visiting the Jamie L. Whitten Historical Center at 100 Campground Road just off the John E. Rankin Scenic Highway north of Fulton. It will be a fun time well spent.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Iris in the Early Morning Sun

Iris is now at its peak in Itawamba County. I captured this bloom early this morning. A favorite plant among local gardeners, the Iris has a long history in ornamental gardens.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Book Review: Isaac's Storm

Isaac’s Storm is the second book I have read by the author Erik Larson, the first being the excellent The Devil in the White City. I was certainly not let down with this second book I recently purchased. This work, simply put, was a page-turner – a type of read that you definitely can’t put down until the whole work is finished. Isaac’s Storm tells the story of the deadliest hurricane to ever hit the United States – the 1900 Galveston storm in Texas.

For years I have been interested in this storm. In one of the Itawamba County family lines I have researched I came across the story of a young married man who left Itawamba County under dire circumstances. Shortly before 1900 he had stabbed his brother-in-law during a fight, and thinking the man dead, took flight from Itawamba County ending up in Galveston. Within a few months the deadly storm hit the booming town of Galveston with a vengeance and the young man was never heard from again. It is ironic that he had inflicted only a flesh wound on his brother-in-law.

Isaac’s Storm is a most horrific story of the great hurricane of September 8, 1900 that, according to some estimates, killed between 6,000 and 12,000 individuals. It is also the interesting story of Isaac Cline, the Galveston Weather Bureau section director born during 1864 in Monroe County, Tennessee.

The pages of the book gradually lead up to that fateful September event. It tells the gripping stories of various individuals and the toll the storm took on their lives. Vivid accounts of those who rode out the storm are interwoven into the story. The author has a stunning ability to describe another place and another time in the telling of this horrific story.

Isaac’s Storm most definitely was a superb read. It is one of those reads you find hard to put down until the last page is read. The book includes 37 pages of notes and sources.

Isaac's Storm (Paperback)by Erik Larson, 2000, Vintage Books (ISBN 0-375-70827-8), 336 pages.

Isaac's Storm website


Easter Greetings

An Easter postcard mailed in Itawamba County during 1910.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

A Mississippi Fish Fry

Yesterday I attended a Good Friday fish fry sponsored by a local business. The meal was prepared by our local volunteer fire department. And I must say they are known far and wide for their delectable fried catfish. In Mississippi, the fish fry has been elevated to a culinary art form.

The Tombigbee River snakes through Itawamba County headed down to Mobile and throughout the history of the county folks have held a close bond to that old river. For generations locals have fished along the banks of its waters and in the sloughs found in the river bottom lowlands. And for generations folks around these parts have held the fish fry. For years all the restaurants around here have catfish on the menu. And we’ve always had restaurants that specialize in fried catfish alone called fish houses.

The special meal I had yesterday (pictured above) is exactly like the family fish fry we had when I was a kid. So what’s on the menu for an old fashioned Itawamba County fish fry? The meal consists of deep fried Mississippi catfish, fried to a crispy golden brown, a generous heaping of deep fried cornmeal hushpuppies crispy on the outside and spongy on the inside savored with onions, black pepper and green bell pepper, cold spicy cabbage slaw and a heaping of hot crispy French fried potatoes. And there’s plenty of sliced lemons, onions and dill pickles to compliment the meal. All of this is washed down with good iced sweet tea.

You have missed out on a special culinary experience if you haven’t attended an old fashioned Mississippi fish fry.

Photograph of my dad and his cousin during 1956 with their catfish bounty after a fishing trip to the Tombigbee River bottom lands.

The Catfish Institute


Friday, April 10, 2009

Storm Clouds Forming Over Itawamba County

Storm clouds are gathering in the sky over Itawamba County on Good Friday afternoon. Today proved to be a stormy day in parts of the county with hail, winds and rain.

Blackberry Bramble Memories

Yesterday I took a walk in the countryside near my house and noticed the blackberry brambles are blooming. The delicate white blooms reflecting the warm sunshine instantly brought back fond memories of picking blackberries during my childhood.

My mom and a few of my aunts would take the children to the edge of the fields where blackberry brambles covered the countryside. With buckets in hand we would harvest the delectable juicy berries in the warm Mississippi sunshine. We would always go quite early to avoid the hot mid-day sun. Spending a few hours among the blackberry brambles was a treat for the kids and we always got our fill of eating fresh blackberries off the vine.

By the end of the foray into the wilds, with purple dyed fingers we were always pleasantly full, happy and tired. The berries were brought back to the house and while the kids played in the yard around the house the sweet scent of cooking blackberries permeated the air as the women produced and canned jellies and jams from the sweet berries. During the afternoon when the family blackberry social ended, the dining room table was full with Mason jars holding some of the best homemade blue-ribbon jams and jellies around. The women would gather up their kids, portion the jellies and jams, and head to their respective homes loaded with a year’s supply of blackberry jelly and jam and also a nice portion of fresh uncooked berries.

Those fresh uncooked berries would later be transformed into a most wonderful dessert – fresh blackberry cobbler. There was nothing better on the dinner table than a nice hot blackberry cobbler straight out of the oven, with a crispy and buttery crust served with a generous scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Yesterday’s walk among the blooming blackberry brambles definitely got me longing for a good home-baked blackberry cobbler.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Old Center Star Graveyard on an Early Spring Morning

The old Center Star Graveyard near my house is one of Itawamba County's historic cemeteries. Established shortly after the county was formed, this cemetery is the final resting place of many early citizens of northwestern Itawamba County. It was adjacent to this old burial grounds that the village of Center Star was established. The pioneer village boasted several stores, saloons, a Methodist church, Masonic hall and livery. The old village gradually moved south and later became the town of Mantachie during the later 1800s.

The old graveyard is the final resting place for five generations of my maternal line. It is here my great grandfather Marion Albert Cockrell is buried. His memorial service was held under the ancient oak pictured above, on a hot summer day during 1944. As the mourners fanned themselves with paper fans, his elderly sister Nancy Cockrell Thornberry sang Amazing Grace a cappella to her beloved brother. My great great uncle Jordan Cockrell, who left the hills of Itawamba County with his fiddle under his arm headed to the St. Louis World's Fair winning the World's Champion Fiddling Contest is buried here. My great grandfather Thomas Buse and wife Mary Gassaway rest on a knoll in this old cemetery. He had moved down from the old Natchez Trace, where his family had settled during 1840. It was here during 1940 a young farmer and is wife laid their first-born child to rest - the sister I never knew. The old cemtery is the final resting place of scores of aunts, uncles and cousins from generations gone. And it is here my parents were laid to rest.

Old Center Star is a refuge of beauty and solitude, and to me, it's a very special place to visit.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Research Freebies Online: Internet Text Archive

There are many free research sites on the Internet featuring digital images of maps, source documents and hard to find books. One such site is the Internet Text Archive, a part of the massive Internet Archive site. More than 1,301,000 items are digitized in this text archive. To get the most out of this site use the advanced search engine where you can search among various fields including title, author, description, custom fields and dates. Be sure to select text in the media type field. I found several hard to find books in this massive collection including the 584-page Mississippi: A Guide to the Magnolia State by the Federal Writers Project from 1938. In searching for the word Mississippi in a title search I came across several wonderful 19th century volumes including several Mississippi histories and first-hand accounts of life in the state. A search of the term genealogy produced over 7,700 results.

With your research using the Internet, don’t forget the Internet Text Archive. It will be time well spent.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Dogwood Winter

Yesterday, Sunday was a beautiful warm day. One of those perfect days for quiet quality time, just enjoying the sights, sound and smell of nature. The azaleas, dogwoods and a host of other flowering trees, shrubs and plants are in their full-bloom period throughout the countryside of Itawamba County. I photographed the above scene on my front lawn. But overnight, colder weather returned to Mississippi. Some folks call this Dogwood Winter, when cold weather returns for a brief period while the Dogwood trees are in full bloom. Then there's Blackerry Winter, when the same happens while blackberries are blooming. It always seems we have a cold snap before and around Easter, and this is usually the last blast of cold weather. Freezing temperatures are being forecast for tonight and tomorrow night and for those who have already started their gardening, it will be a day to cover those tender tomato and pepper plants. I must say when I was growing up my grandmother always said to never plant anything in the garden until after Good Friday. I strongly suspect our elders knew what they were talking about.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Old Rushing Country Store

Once during Itawamba County's past, country stores dotted the countryside. Every community had such a store. Many of those old stores were voting precincts and served as the community post office. Picture above is the old Rushing Store near the Centerville community in northwestern Itawamba County. I photographed this scene during the mid-1970's.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Country Supper

I have recently been wanting an old-time meal I remembered from childhood. The meal consisted of boiled rutabagas, country-fried potatoes and cornbread. Thursday I went to the neighborhood grocery and bought a big rutabaga and some Irish potatoes. Cooking the meal that evening was really easy. I simply cut the big turnip into large sections, dropping the sections into a pot of boiling water seasoned with salt, black pepper and a little lard. It took about an hour for the concoction to boil down producing very tender and savory rutabaga sections.

Country-fried potatoes have been a staple on farm tables in these parts for generations. This treat is simply sliced potatoes (I slice mine like little French-fries), diced onion, corn meal and lots of black pepper. After cutting the potatoes and onions, I tossed the concoction with some corn meal and coarse black pepper in a mixing bowl before frying in a black iron skillet. To make good country-fried potatoes, you need to cover the skillet so the potatoes are steamed as well.

I prepare my cornbread, not in the oven, but on the stove-top, pouring the batter in a greased iron skilled and flipping the bread halfway through cooking. There’s something about stove-top cornbread that makes the bread crispy on the outside and spongy on the inside.

I enjoyed my country supper with a big glass of sweet iced tea. The only thing missing from the meal was a generous slice of garden-ripe tomatoes. Hopefully this summer I can have this missing ingredient for the perfect country supper.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Remembering the Five and Dime

Perhaps of all the stores I remember from childhood days, the Ben Franklin store on Fulton’s court square brings back more fond memories. Simply called “the dime store,” this store was a treasure house of affordable goods for the families of Itawamba County.

It was the place where packages of colorful valentines were bought in February, and plastic Halloween masks were on display during October along with candy corn, red wax lips and licorice wax mustaches. We called those masks false faces. In this store such items as rolls of toy pistol caps, miniature plastic soldiers and cowboys, colorful paper kites, and metal wind-up toys (few plastic toys during those days), And there were colorful comic books galore – from Archie and Superman to the more high-brow Illustrated Classics. But the “dime store” wasn’t only for children. All types of household items and notions could be bought here – everything from dish towels, pots, and pans to cobalt blue bottles of Evening in Paris perfume.

The Ben Franklin “dime store” in Fulton was definitely the center of attraction on Fulton’s town square for many years and today that old building continues to hold many cherished memories from times gone by.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Apple Blossom Time

It's apple blossom time in Itawamba County, Mississippi. I took a walk out to an old orchard behind my house this morning and enjoyed all the blooming apple trees in the early morning sunlight. Those blooms are the promise of delicious fresh apples later this summer.