Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Mississippian Railway: Opening Up the Tombigbee Valley in Itawamba County

The the early 1920s the town of Fulton experienced a period of tremendous growth. It was just a few years earlier that the new Bankhead National Highway was completed through Itawamba County and by 1923, a new railroad was incorporated in Amory that was to extend a line up through Itawamba County to Fulton.

It was during this time of great expectations that Fulton experienced growth like it had never seen before. New businesses open in the little town including a new hardware store from Amory (Staub-Stewart), a new automobile dealership, groceries and other businesses. With the opening of the Mississippian Railway, the timber industry in Itawamba County expanded into the largest industry in the county with lumber mills opening up all around Fulton.

The Missisippian Railway was organized in Amory during 1923. A newspaper article was published on August 9, 1923 that was copied from the Commerical Appeal in Memphis by the local Itawamba County News:

“Incorporation and organization of the Mississippian Railway, a proposed line to extend from Amory, Monroe County, to Fulton, Itawamba County, were completed yesterday at a meeting held in Amory, Miss., and actual construction on the project will go forward rapidly.

Itawamba County has heretofore had no railroad facilities and the new line will open up a territory along the valley of the Tombigbee of hardwood and pine timber, various farm products and cotton. The railroad when completed will be about 20 miles in length, connecting with the Frisco at Amory.

John T. Chochrane of Mobile, Ala., is the president and builder of the road. Mr. Cochrane is also president of the Alabama, Tennessee & Northern and the Alabama & Northwestern railroads. The new line is independent of these two lines however, and is in no way connected with them.

William Toxey is chief engineer of the new line, and will have actual charge of the construction programme. He will be assisted by John T. Cochrane, Jr. in the work. The construction work has been fully mapped out, and work is being pushed on the road.

The incorporators are the Messers. Cochrane and P.C. Byrne, while Mr. Cochrane Sr., is president of the corporation. Mr. Byrne, vice president, Mr. Toxey, chief engineer, and Mr. Cochrane, Jr., treasurer. – Commercial Appeal”

By the following September this new railroad was already finished to White Springs in Itawamba County and was due to be completed to Fulton by October. On September 16, 1924, an article in the Itawamba County News told of the progress:

“The progress of the new construction now under way on the railroad project running from Amory through Itawamba County is progressing even beyond expectations of those interested in the movement. The work of track grading has been completed to Fulton and steel has been laid approximately a mile beyond White Springs. The promoters are of the opinion that the road will be completed to Fulton by the first of October and trains will be running on schedule time in this once inland county. That Itawamba is forging ahead and is keeping abreast of the times is evidenced by the number of homes that are being built and the best sign of the progress is that they are all neatly built bungalows or nicely furnished buildings in modern designs. The new railroad, The Mississippian, will be continued thru the county and will open up one of the richest counties of lumber in the state. Gilmore & Puckett own fifteen hundred acres north of Fulton in virgin pine as fine as ever grew in the county and in which an axe has never been struck. The lumber industry alone is bringing many thousands of dollars into the county. – Tupelo Weekly News”

Today, the Mississippian Railway continues to make trips along the east side of the Tombigbee River between Amory and Fulton and the Mississippian Railway continues to be an important part of the economic history of Itawamba County .

Genealogical Notes:

1920 US Federal Census
Mobile County, Alabama
Page 213, 8th Ward, City of Mobile
John T. Cochrane: 46, AL,AL,AL, Railroad President
Alice: 41, AL,AL,AL
John Jr.: 19, AL,AL,AL
George: 12, AL,AL,AL
Oscar Owens: 33, AL,AL,AL, Chauffeur
Lilly:30, AL,AL,AL, Cook

John Taylor Cochrane was one of the leading industrialists and public men in Alabama. He served as president of the Mobile Chamber of Commerce twice and during one of these terms he organized a movement to build a ten mile bridge across the headwaters of Mobile Bay. At the time of his death in 1938 he was president of the Alabama, Tennessee and Northern Railroad. Cochrane was born in Tuscaloosa County during 1874 and attended the Univeristy of Alabama. His first wife, Alice Searcy, died in 1922 and in 1925 he married Katharine Crampton of Mobile. He had two sons by his first wife - John T. Cochrane, Jr. and George Searcy Cochrane.

Source: Cochrane Biographies in the Manuscript Collection of the University of South Alabama Archives.

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