History of Waterford

Once prosperous town of Old Waterford claimed by obscurity
By R. B. Henderson
The South Reporter, undated

Sometimes towns, like people, move to a more desirable location. This was a frequent occurrence in north Mississippi counties during the railroad building era in the 1840s and 50s and so it was with the town of Waterford. The move was made in 1857 when the old Mississippi Central Railroad was constructed southward from Holly Springs. The site of the first town was about three-quarters of a mile west of the present site on an elevation across Little Spring Creek.

When the Chickasaw Indians sold their lands in North Mississippi, immigrants poured in with astonishing rapidity and almost every section of land in the sixteen counties formed from the Chickasaw lands became a bonanza for the land hungry immigrants.

Towns sprang up at desirable locations on rivers, old Indian trails widened into wagon roads and crossings of well traveled roads became a potential site for a town or village. When the railroads came a few years later, many of these towns and villages were literally moved "lock, stock, and barrel" to the railroad.

Old Waterford was located on the well traveled road that led from Potts Camp via Cornersville and Old Wyatt to Chulahoma where it again forked, one fork leading into Memphis. The course of the old road through the present city is preserved in the route of Chulahoma Avenue.

On the west side of Little Spring Creek, the Oxford and Holly Springs road forked, one fork leading to Holly Springs, the other to Byhalia and thence to Memphis. This fork was known as the Pigeon Roost Road. It was surveyed by the United States Government over which to move the Chickasaw Indians to the west following the Cession of 1832.

There are many old roadbeds in the area of Old Waterford, but old maps show the Pigeon Roost Road as passing slightly north of the townsite. Relics, plant growths and rubbish piles indicated that the stores and business houses faced the Chulahoma road on the south side of the town. Symmetry of the old cisterns, old building sites and growths of iris indicate that the town was built on an east west line along the road.

At the present time there is nothing at the old site to indicated that a once prosperous town was located there. The site was located there. The site is now a cleared field with a growing crop of cotton. The land is owned by Mr. Brooks Robinson, Sr. of Waterford.

The site of Old Waterford, was a most strategic one. It was located at the intersection of well traveled pioneer roads over which travel was regular. Spaced as the town was, several hours travel from neighboring towns, it was a natural rest stop for travelers. Little Spring Creek, a short distance east of the town, could be forded there and the free flowing creek furnished an abundance of good water for travelers and their animals. The town probably adopted the name "Waterford" from the well-known ford of the creek. In those days before erosion of the hills, streams had steep banks and could be forded only at cleared locations.

As with its physical properties, historical records of the old town have almost disappeared with the passing of so many years. In a chapter on "Extinct Towns and Villages of Mississippi", Volume Five, Publications of Mississippi Historical Society, there is recorded this data of Old Waterford:

"It was once a lively little town and was incorporated by the legislature in 1838. This place, at an early date, was a muster, or drill grounds, of the militia of this section of the state, where the brigade of Brigadier General Guy was reviewed once or twice a year. This purpose gave it prominence. Among the citizens and planters of the community were: Dr. Thomas J. Malone, Robert W. Malone, Shaderick Wooten, Alfred Brooks, Samuel Cole, John Killough, John W. Mooney."

Though not listed in the Journal of History, other long time owners of large tracts of land in the community, who may or may not have lived in the community were: J. D. Crouch, S. Bullen, Littleberry Laseuer, A. Gillis, F. W. Cawthorn, Poe & Raines, Wash Poe, (known to have lived in the old town), Mrs. H. McCaa, Nancy Cook, J. A. Bradford, G. W. Forrester, J. Williams and Benjamin A. Ford, who owned a plantation west of Wall Doxey State Park. He is also said to have owned a water mill at the site of the dam on Spring Creek Lake within the park area.

Most of the land in the Waterford area was sold to the Government following the Treaty of 1832 by Benjamin Love, a white man who lived near Old Pon te tok. Love, a "squaw man", had married one of the Colbert women and in this way had acquired large tracts of Indian lands. The Chickasaw Land Company and A. Gillis, probably a speculator in Indian lands, bought most of the land in the Waterford area from the Government and later sold to the early settlers.

A curious fact regarding ownership of the town lots of Old Waterford is the absence of recording in local records. With the exception of Dr. T. J. Malone and Samuel Cole, who are known to have owned stores in the old town, there are no other deeds of records on town property. The shopkeepers must have operated under property leases that were never recorded.

Recorded on microfilm in the State Archives there is an old newspaper that contains a letter written in 1841 by a traveler on the Pigeon Roost Road that tells of a stopover in Old Waterford. The letter, signed "A Wanderer", reads:

"Arrived at Waterford late in the afternoon and was forced to tie up on account of my horse going lame; spent the night at the tavern where I was most hospitably treated, despite the fack (sic) that my rest was frequently disturbed by some gentlemen in an adjoining room who were apparently indulging in "the cup that inebriates". The gentlemen seemed to be engaged in a card game of sorts, which caused some argument, but at length was finally settled by mutual agreement. Fare at the Inn was wholesome and plentiful and the bed, though plain and crude, was most neat and clean. All things considered, it was a good night's rest.

"The next morning my animal was pronouncedly worse and it was evident that I could not continue my journey upon him. I threw myself upon the mercies of Mr. Wash Poe who had a variety of animals on hand and approached him for a trade in order that I might continue my journey; he arranged it in a most accommodating manner, and at small cost to myself; however the animal that I secured was much smaller and had a very rough gait, but was also most tough so I continued my journey to Memfis(sic) without incident.

"On my return I was greeted most cordially by Mr. Poe and several planters gathered around the store; this is a country of large plantations worked by slaves, some of whom I readily indentified(sic) as Jamaican Negroes. All told, Waterford seemed a most prosperous place and a most contented place where I was accorded good treatment. I was again invited to spend the night but being in a hurry to continue my journey I continued to Oxford, a thriving place which I reached just about nightfall."

For other data upon Old Waterford, excerpts from old newspapers, and stories and traditions handed down by descendants of pioneer families, are the only sources of material now available. Volume 1, Number 1 of the "Paladium" a weekly newspaper at Holly Springs, under the dateline of April 25, 1825 [please see note below], carried a card of the Waterford Masonic Lodge which stated that the Lodge met "Every Friday evening at eight o'clock." Officers of the Lodge were listed as: M. L. Harper, W. M.; J. E. Wynne, S.W.; J. Vancannon, J.W.; W. D. Gray, Secretary; T. J. Malone, Treasurer; S. M. Allen, S. D.; W. B. Lynch, J.D.; R. Cherry, Tyler.

The present town of Waterford has a most interesting history of its own. A historical sketch is proposed for a later issue of THE SOUTH REPORTER.

Submitted by E.R. Palmer Jr.

Note: Please note the date of April 25, 1825, is incorrect, Waterford was not founded until 1838. Due to the persistence and patience of David Johnson and his cousin and information provided by Martha Fant, this date was researched and proven to be April 25, 1851.

Waterford – A transplanted town
The South Reporter, date unknown
By R. B. Henderson

The town of Waterford south of Holly Springs on Highway 7 is literally a “transplanted” town. It was founded in 1856, when the Old Mississippi Central, now a part of the Illinois Central System, built its line southward from Grand Junction, Tennessee, eventually to be constructed to New Orleans.

The earlier village of Waterford was located about a mile west of the present town and, when the railroad was assured, the business houses and most of the people moved to the railroad.

The earlier villages were formed almost as soon as the county was organized. Its location was a most strategic one, near the intersection of the Oxford and Holly Springs Road with the famous old Pigeon Roost Road, a heavily traveled thoroughfare of colonization days.

At the hey-day of its prosperity, Old Waterford had several stores and other business houses, a tavern, two churches, a grog shop, livery stable and a slave market. It was also on a loop of the Collierville-Memphis stage line and at one time, a postoffice. Old Waterford was incorporated in 1838. From early years until its removal, Old Waterford was a muster ground for the state militia of this area and was headquarters of the brigade of General Guy.

Old Waterford was a common meeting place of the wealthy planters of this section of the county. Most of these planters came early and bought up most of the best land in the area and brought their slaves and farming equipment with them.

Some of these large planters were the Brooks, Robinsons, Crouch, F. W. Cawthorn, Poe & Raines, G. W. Forrester, J. A. Bradford and Benjamin A. Ford. Dr. T. J. Malone, although he never practiced medicine, owned large tracts of land and was engaged in real estate transactions. His brother, Robert Malone, owned a huge plantation. Robert Malone was a common ancestor of this famous family of Memphis. Alfred Brooks was related to the Brooks families in Old Waterford, and after first visiting, spent considerable time there. He was, perhaps, the wealthiest man to come to Marshall County during the pioneer era.

Stephen Cole was a wealthy merchant and extensive operator in the slave business. According to tradition, Gen. N. B. Forrest often bought slaves from Cole. When the village was moved to the railroad, Cole built the first brick home and also moved his store there.

Today, the only traces of the once lively town of Old Waterford are a few old cisterns that indicate the line of buildings, and the old cemetery to the east of the town site. The cemetery has badly eroded away and trees and undergrowth have covered the unwashed sections. Only a few of the once numerous monuments can now be found.

The new town of Waterford got off to a good start and, at the outbreak of the War Between the States, it was a thriving little town. The town in its entirety supported the cause of the Confederacy; a company of volunteers was recruited and the muster grounds were used as a training center for Confederate recruits until the federals forced the Confederates across the Tallahatchie River. After that time the federals kept a large force of soldiers in Waterford. The federals camped north of the town on Spring Creek on land now owned by Mr. Jack Johnson.

Waterford was the early home of many prominent Marshall County families, among them Tottens and McGowans and many present day families of Holly Springs had their beginning in Waterford.

Waterford was almost totally destroyed by the War Between the States. Recovery from the ravages of war was slow; the large plantations were broken up and much of the land was sold for taxes. A few of the once wealthy planters managed to save at least part of their lands from the high taxes and corrupt rule of the Carpetbagger, but many of the survivors of these families moved away to Texas or some other new country to try to recoup their fortunes. Some of the wealthy families of Holly Springs and Marshall County trace the beginning of their wealth to the family holdings of the Waterford community.

In 1859, Dr. W. C. Warren, a native of Greene County, Alabama, came to Waterford for the practice of his profession. Dr. Warren was most successful in the practice of his profession and also did well financially. A brother, who came with him to Waterford, became a historian of note. He held a Ph.D. degree and was for many years, connected with the early Archives and History Department of Mississippi. Dr. Warren compiled a history of the Chickasaw Indians of North Mississippi that is most comprehensive and is the most dependable source of information of these Indians.

Following recovery from the War, Waterford was a busy and prosperous little town for many years. In 1910, James B. Warren, a son of Dr. Warren, decided to develop the business potentials of Waterford. He established a bank, built stores and promoted other projects. For a time the new business enterprises prospered, but the country was on the eve of a new order. The advent of the automobile, construction of all weather roads, as well as a rapidly changing national economy, were all adverse to the development of the small inland towns. The day of big business had begun and the population was rapidly shifting from rural to urban. So, Waterford, like so many other historic old towns in all sections of the country, was relegated to a status in the new era consistent with its natural and economic potentials at the local level.

In this status quo, Waterford is today a trade and social center of a substantial segment of Marshall County's population.

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