By Anne McKee
The Meridian Star
Four crowns, you ask? Yes, just think of four vital communities, all clustered in Newton County, Mississippi (listed alphabetical order).
Decatur (Estimated population of 1,426)
The Newton County Courthouse is located in Decatur and was first constructed in 1840 – it burned and was reconstructed in 1845. It was destroyed again during the Civil War, February 1864, when General Sherman marched through the town. Finally, a brick courthouse was built at the cost of $7,000 in 1877. Today the Newton County Courthouse continues to serve the people. Another outstanding asset, East Central Community College (ECCC), earliest beginnings in 1912, continues academic opportunities for the entire region.
On a personal note, I know very well the talented and community-minded people living in Decatur. GFWC-MFWC Progressive Woman’s Club of Decatur portrays the immense energy of community involvement and support that is prevalent throughout the area, with such projects as recycling and town beautification and as well the recent highly successful Veteran’s Day Parade – an entire community effort.
The Bobashela Chapter, Daughters of The American Revolution, located in Decatur, continues the tradition of upholding our rich historic legacy – along with this endeavor is the very active Newton County Historical and Genealogical Society (NHGS) under the leadership of Dr. Harold Graham, assisted by the hands and voices of many dedicated volunteers.
One of my favorite excursions into Newton County, sponsored by NHGS, was a tour of General Sherman’s trek, as he marched through the area in 1864. On the morning of the tour, 40 eager people peered from the ECCC bus, as Ricky Harrison, the volunteer guide, explained the route that was followed so many years ago.
We rambled along near Box Creek to see the high point, where the soldiers encamped, and some say that even today, and on many dark nights, the campfires can still be seen. Yikes! Later we toured the Alex-Russell House, constructed in 1859, located on the Decatur-Conehatta Road.
I want to thank NHGS for the recent invitation I received to visit their monthly meeting and meet so many wonderful historians. I love historians!
Hickory (Estimated population of 499)
If you’re searching for a historic little town, then Hickory is the place. The delightful community is known as “a little town with a big heart.” It is located west from Meridian on Highway 80.
At one time, Highway 80 was the main thoroughfare through that part of the county. At that time, the community supported a thriving downtown area with restaurants, a motel and gas stations, but since the building of Interstate 20, the town has dwindled. Dwindled in size, perhaps, but not in the community spirit, where there are many dedicated residents supporting several churches and additional community-oriented activities.
The town is named after Andrew Jackson, nicknamed “Old Hickory” who passed through the area on his way to fight the Battle of New Orleans, during the War of 1812. I am excited to meet later this month with the Hickory Reading Club.
Newton (Estimated population of 3,699)
Newton is a thriving city located on Highway 80, near Interstate 20. Recently, the community progressed from a great, small town to the status of a city. The designation is due because of new businesses, which include unique shops, especially antiques, and eateries that have recently opened.
The city planning includes additional opportunities for business as well as the arts and historical endeavors. My husband and I took lunch with friends, Emily and Bill Jordan, at a yummy little café, with the unique name of Grits & Glory – delish.
Also, each year in March, Newton is host to the highly successful Loose Caboose Festival – a unique collection of crafts, arts, gifts, antiques, music, activities for children, and food, all located near the historic Train Depot. The Roxy Community Theatre stages several performances each year as well as the historic Newton Depot sponsors many community-inspired events annually.
Union (Estimated population of 2,021)
I’m happy that you have continued to read this column to this point, because I think the following information will reinforce the strength of the fabric and integrity of our Mississippi people as told through the story of Union.
The town of Union was settled as early as 1833 and was situated directly on the stage line running from Montgomery, Ala., to Jackson, Miss., and thus Boler’s Inn came into existence.
I like to think of Boler’s Inn as the jewel in the crown of Union Mississippi. You see Boler’s Inn is a survivor – three times a survivor. Newton County pioneer, Wesley Boler, in 1856, built it. The structure was first used as a home and eventually became a thriving stagecoach inn.
In 1864, during General Sherman’s March-to-the-Sea, it is said he felt the name “Union” signified the Union of the United States of America, and therefore, the little town was spared, including Boler’s Inn — survival number one.
After many years of neglect, a community-minded group came forth to save the historic structure from the final destruction of a tumbledown eyesore. With this group, Boler’s Inn was saved once again, and the third time was during the devastations of Katrina — three times a survivor.
One more thing … my very favorite route to Union is via Highway 19 North and then left onto the Old Jackson Military Road, now known as Highway 492, first built by Andrew Jackson for his troops. I make a point to travel that pathway of history at least four to five times per month.
Today, I’ve taken you on an armchair tour of Newton County, Mississippi. Make your plans to discover the good folks of Newton County, who are neighbors to the west of Meridian.
My, dear, dedicated readers,
I would like to thank each of you who requested a repeat of today’s column. The column originally published Nov. 21, 2008. I updated and made a few additions/deletions from the original.
Anne B. McKee is a writer and
storyteller. Visit her website at www.annemckee.net.