By Anne McKee
The Meridian Star
We are on the countdown for the 4th Annual Rose Hill Historic Costumed Cemetery Tour (a Victorian cemetery), planned for Saturday, September 28, beginning at 6:00 pm. During the first three years the tour has had an amazing 5,000 plus attendees walk the pathways and hear some of the stories about Meridian and Mississippi -- celebrating history and heritage as taught by 75 plus volunteers, through the art forms of storytelling and drama.
Two of the most interesting personages buried in Rose Hill Cemetery are the two Founders of the Queen City – Mr. Ball and Mr. Ragsdale. However, the name Queen City was not used at that time, but rather several names were submitted by each of the founders. Thus, the feuding began.
Yes, Mr. Lewis A Ragsdale, originally from Alabama, and Mr. John T. Ball of Wahalak, Kemper County, seldom, if ever, agreed, even though some have claimed the two attended church together. According to the book -- Meridian: The Queen With A Past, Volume I, an elegantly penned and an intensely researched history of Meridian by author, Mr. Jack Shank, the founders are described as “squabbling rivals.”
Once word was out that Mobile and Ohio Railroad and Vicksburg and Montgomery Railroad planned to cross through land owned by Meridian’s first settler, Richard McLemore, both Ragsdale and Ball made proposals to buy land from the old gentleman. Ball was the first to buy 80 acres. Ragsdale as well purchased the McLemore farm plus a large amount of acreage. Immediately both men surveyed their land purchases and divided them into lots.
This is when the trouble began.
Mr. Ball opened a store. In 1854, he petitioned and received approval to open a post office in the corner of his store, as was the custom of the time, and named the area of his store and post office “Meridian.” The first railroad spur ran near what was called “Sowashee Station,” because it was near the Sowashee Creek, and then Mr. Ball changed his mind later and determined to name the railroad stop and settlement “Baldwin.”
Mr. Ragsdale did not squat idly upon his land, but prepared his new properties for sale and named the settlement “Ragsdale City.” Then, he had another idea to keep the name “Sowashee” (after Mr. Ball had changed to “Baldwin”). Sowashee meant “Mad River.”
Old-timers remembered that one morning the sign would read “Meridian” – during the night it was changed to “Ragsdale City,” then back to “Sowashee.” Over and over, back and forth, the signs disappeared and returned each morning barely legible, because of the haste and crudeness of the changes made during the nighttime darkness.
Finally, three members of the railroad management team from the Mobile and Ohio Railroad traveled to Jackson and requested a charter from the state legislature. The name given for the charter was “Meridian,” and that was that, or so you would think. The competition over the name of the small village stopped with the issuance of the charter, but that didn’t stop the survey stakes from being moved from place to place secretly during the night.
Therefore, even today, when driving the streets of Meridian, one will find themselves bewildered – why did the street dead-end? Why did the street make a sharp curve and practically maneuver a “loopy-loop?” Oh, it’s just Mr. Ball and Mr. Ragsdale.
Come out to the Rose Hill Historic Costumed Cemetery Tour and meet Mr. Ragsdale and Mr. Ball. Someone described their bitter lamentations as a “spirited rivalry.” Spirit or not, these two gentlemen seemed to have continued their competition even throughout eternity.
Want to come?
What: 4th Annual Rose Hill Historic Costumed Cemetery Tour
Where: 8th Street & 40th Avenue, Meridian, MS (across from Calvary Baptist Church)
Date: Saturday, September 28
Time: 6 p.m.
Duration: 2 hours
FREE and open to the public – suitable for all ages. Wear comfortable shoes and bring flashlight.
Parking available at Calvary Baptist Church and Calvary Christian School Parking lots ($3.00 per car, with attendants on duty).
More information: Call 601.681.8525 or 601.482.9752
Anne B. McKee is a writer and storyteller. Visit her website: www.annemckee.net