History of Holly Springs

Holly Springs was created Feb 1836. The Chickasaw Indians, who came to drink from the great spring water amidst the holly trees, first called Holly Springs "Suavatooky" (or watering place). According to Legend, a young Chieftain named Onohon and a princess of a rival tribe, drowned themselves here to avoid separation. In 1832, the Chickasaw Nation ceded their lands to the US and William Randolph is credited for founding the town in 1835. It was incorporated in 1837. For a very short time, the name of this town was changed to Paris, but due to public pressure it was changed back to Holly Springs.

By 1838 the town consisted of 14 law offices, 6 doctor offices, 2 banks, 9 dry good stores, 5 grocery stores, 5 churches, 3 hotels, and several private schools. The first settlers were large slave owners from Virginia and the Carolinas. The town grew quickly with a population of 1117 in 1840 to over 5000 in 1860.

Holly Springs was used as a storage center for military supplies for Union General Ulysses S. Grant until attacked by Confederate General Earl Van Dorn in 1862. Over $4,000,000.00 in supplies was lost by the Union during this attack.

During the Civil War, the town suffered 61 raids, the courthouse was burn in 1864 during the Civil War, and had hardly recovered when it was struck by the yellow fever epidemic in 1878. Assuming they were immune due to a previous outbreak, Holly Springs refused the recommended quarantine procedures and 2,000 people died. Among the high profile people that also died during this epidemic were: A.W. Goodrich, retired colonel and mayor of Holly Springs; Harvey W. Walter and his three sons; W.J.L. Holland, Holly Springs Reporter Editor; Kinloch Falconer, newly elected Secretary of State.

Holly Springs was a planned community
By Lois Swanee, Museum Curator
The South Reporter, 16 Apr 1998

In 1837 Holly Springs was a boom town. Records show that we were incorporated then, we had ten schools, forty lawyers, thirty-six doctors where two years before there had been wilderness. Marshall County had begun in 1836.

Holly Springs was a planned community. Two of the Randolphs, William and Jack and other entrepreneurs, Samuel McCorkle, one of the Alexanders, were all first settlers. The Randolphs came originally from Virginia. They bought the land where Holly Springs is from the Chickasaws. On one survey map William Randolph's cabin was marked on highway #7 just south of town where that little stream runs by Mrs. High's property. The entrepreneurs laid out the plans for Holly Springs and gave the land for the square, the cemetery, and the public schools. Then they would build houses and set up plantations for second and third sons of Virginians and Carolinians because of the progenitor factor which was an inherited habit of giving everything to the oldest son. The second son usually went into the ministry and the third son went into the military. So Holly Springs was founded for these sons. Other towns were planned communities too. We weren't the only one. The first mayor was named Atlas Dargan.

The Randolphs had seen the Indians growing cotton and knew that he could grow great cotton.

Because of this, in the years preceding the Civil War, Marshall County produced more cotton than other place in the world per capita. Cotton was King. Our society was an agrarian society and cotton made us special.

The 1850s were the opulent period for Holly Springs and most of the grand houses were built at this time. Hamilton Place, Linden Terrace, Fleur deLys, and other big houses now gone were built earlier. There were many houses not so large and the town was developing into a showplace of a town. It was boom again in Holly Springs. Holly Springs was considered the unofficial capitol of north Mississippi. We had an eminent bar of lawyers. Holly Springs was the epitome of culture and refinement. Cultured folks from near and far sent their sons and daughters here to be educated. College Avenue was so named because there were at least six schools facing it. Then there were military schools on each end of town. Later on, Rust College was built in 1866 during Reconstruction as the second school for freedmen. In 1904, Bishop Cottrell, an ex-slave built Mississippi Industrial college.

In 1861 the War between the States erupted and because of our heritage, we sent to war ten Confederates generals: Samuel Benton, James Chalmers, Daniel Govan, W. S. Featherston, Elkanah Greer, John Frazier, A. J. Vaughn, Christopher Mott, Claudius Sears, Edward Carey Walthall, and then there was Ben Williams who was a general in the Mexican War. There was also a number of adjutant generals: A. B. Bradford, Howard Falconer, Kinloch Falconer, West, Ford, Williamson, and others. James Autry was receiving his general's commission when he was killed in the Battle of Atlanta. His father was Micajah Autry who was killed in the battle of the Alamo in 1835.

General U. S. Grant chose Holly Springs as his headquarters and his family to live because it was on the railroad in the way to Vicksburg down thru the middle of the state. In all, 64,000 northern troops were stationed in Marshall County. Because of this, the town suffered as many as 62 raids. All the men were gone to war and one able bodied man who was old stayed here as chief of police to guard the women and children. The women were all loyal Confederates except one who married a Yankee officer and many of them were spies for the Confederates would have had a raid. On one such occasion, General Earl Van Dorn came to town at 3 o'clock in the morning on December 20, 1862, and destroyed millions of dollars worth of Federal supplies after supplying his ragged forces with clothing, food, guns, and ammunition. Then, after one day's work they blew up the rest with dynamite. The only thing destroyed for us during the Civil War was whatever had "Yankee" in it by General Van Dorn. The rest of Holly Springs was saved because General Van Dorn put guards around General Grant's living quarters (Walter Place) to guard his wife and children during the raid. Grant destroyed everything in his path until he got to the town of Port Gibson which was Van Dorn's hometown. To return the war favor, Grant said, "Don't burn this town. It is too beautiful to burn".

The troops from here joined as soon as war broke out. Most of them were young and wanting to defend their southland. It was thought that all the war would take place in northern Virginia and be over in 90 days. They were in every terrible battle from First Manassas to the very end at Appomatic and very few came home, it was a sad time.

Reconstruction was worse than the 62 raids on the town. Holly Springs, Vicksburg and Jackson were the only three towns in the U.S.A. to be federally occupied in that century and we were occupied by the northern army for ten years. It was hard on blacks and whites, everybody suffered. Carpet-baggers ruled the day. General Douglas McArthur's father was the last commandant and Douglas was almost born here. Reconstruction finally came to an end and General McArthur moved to Little Rock and Douglas was born at the base there.

When all of these catastrophes were over and we began to get back on our feet, a terrible scourge of yellow fever hit the town in 1878, hundreds died and even more were ill but lived through it. Because of all the strive and troublesome times, after yellow fever many food people moved away saying it was too hard to make a living here.

Before the epidemic, we were trying to make a comeback. A street car line was built to go from the depot to the square and back in a big oval. Every now and then the tracks were dug up and people wonder what that was.

Former editor Mickle relates history of Holly Springs
By John Mickle
The South Reporter, November 25, 1965

Spring Street was the first main street of Holly Springs. The city was founded in 1836 by William S. Randolph and descendants of early business men are still in business around the square which was the early pulsing heart of the city.

Jesse P. Norfleet, father of Frank and Cham Norfleet of Memphis, had a cabinet shop on the site of the Baptist Church. Eli Walker, father of the late R. E. Walker, worked for him and his grandson, Walker McDonald, is now with the Lucas Furniture Company. Later Mr. Norfleet entered the undertaking business with Israel Sailor under the firm name of Norfleet & Sailor.

Hiram A. McCrosky had a shoe store on Main Street and his grandson, Harvey McCrosky, is doing business here under the firm name of Anderson and McCrosky.

Manufacturing in the firm of Woodrift’s Gun Shop was carried on and the shop stood on the site of the home of Frank Stowjowki and Mrs. Una Thompson. It fronted on Main Street and his residence still stands as a part of Mrs. Grier’s home.

Woodruff literally made a rifle, carving the butt and boring the barrel, doubtless like those used by the embattled farmers on Concord Bridge who “fired the shot heard around the world”.

Main Street faded out with the opening of the square in 1836. The town snapped into prosperity at once.

My grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Dabney Minor, moved here from Spottsylvania County, Virginia in 1836 but located on the Woodlaw Plantation in the Old Salem neighborhood.

Writing to a cousin in Virginia, my grandfather said Holly Springs was teeming with landbuyers and lots were going fast at good prices.

This, when the town was but a few months old, an Episcopal missionary writing in the early records of the Christ Church about four years later estimated that the population was between three and four thousand – doubtless somewhat overestimated.

My grandfather told me the land was wonderfully rich and beautiful, timbered with oak, hickory and chestnut, but no pine trees near Holly Springs. The primeval forest resembled an English park for there was no underbrush as it had been kept down by the Indians who burned the grass annually. There was a wealth of wild flowers and all streams were filled with game fish. The late Capt. John McGowan insisted that salmon used to run the streams annually.

This was the empire that was to support the “City of Flowers” and enable its citizenry to make history, local and national. And the “Square” which I make the subject of my story today, was the pulsing heart of the place. On and around it was to surge a life that was brilliant, intensely interesting and never dull, though business might be.

The people were most wholly descendants of ancestors from the British Isles, whether they came from the north or south. They came principally from the South Atlantic States.

The hub of the Square, the courthouse, was originally a frame building about the size of the present one before it was remodeled in 1926. It was burned during the War by the Yankees but not by authority.

A Federal command resting here put some of its own men, who were prisoners temporarily for some reason, in the courthouse for safe keeping and these climbed upon and fired the clock tower. The Colonel was furious about it and “damned” them thoroughly. Fortunately the public records were saved.

The courthouse was built in 1870, and remodeled into the present building in 1926. Fireproof walls protect the public records.

Three lines of business are now carried on in the stores in which they started. There was a drug store in the Dancy Store Building before the War. Vincent opened the barber shop about 1870 on the north side of the Square. E. A. Shaw succeeded him and gave many middleaged native sons their first shave. The barber shop of those days served as a club and always had a copy of the Police Gazette. Ladies, in passing, always averted their heads that they might not see men in their shirt sleeves, believe it or not.

Whittington opened a meat market where Con Bonds still conducts one. Prior to that, meat markets were operated in the municipal markethouse on the site of the powerhouse. In the rear of the markethouse was the calaboose for city prisoners.

One of the locations of the postoffice before the War was in part of the South Reporter building and the slit in the door is still there. Another, and perhaps earlier location, is owned by C. N. Dean near the city hall. It has boxed the compass since then, coming finally to anchor in the present splendid government building.

During the War of the Sixties, a most unique post office was maintained on the site of the present postoffice.

Neither Confederate nor Federal government kept a postoffice here during the War. The Federals did not occupy the place, but sent raids so frequently from Memphis that the Confederates did not attempt it.

Prior to the War, Bob Simpson kept a store that fronted Memphis Street and was close to the sidewalks on front and side. Old timers still call it “Simpson’s Corner.” The store was vacant during the War and two cracker boxes were placed on it.

In one, soldiers dodging in here on furlough, left letters in one from the boys on the front. People would look them over and take their letters. Homefolks placed their letters in the other box and soldiers returning to their commands would take them and deliver them. The Federals never disturbed the “postoffice”.

In my youth there was only one railroad and, I think two mails a day, the one from the north, and, by far, the largest, arriving in the mid afternoon. The postoffice was small and it took more than an hour to open the mail.

At that hour, the postoffice became the exchange and general meeting place for the town and several hundred people would gather. This was not repeated on Sunday for many people did not go for their mail on Sundays.

My earliest recollection of the Square is connected with two incidents, the first, I am convinced, was the morning after the Van Dorn raid in the War, though I was scarcely three years old. I was in the Kelso Bakery Store, used as a sutler’s shop, and it had been looted. Someone took a handful of greenback money from a box and threw it back and remarked, “That is their money”.

The other incident was about the close of the War. Not all Confederate troops, regular or bushwhackers, were recruited from “the flower of chivalry”. There were some precious cutthroats among them. Both sides tolerated bushwhackers but true soldiers held them in contempt and hung the enemies wherever captured.

A band of robbers invaded the town and murdered poor old Mr. Nelson. When I saw them after they were riding back and forth before what is now Stafford’s Café on the southwest corner of the square. I heard someone say the shoemaker there had whiskey and had barricaded himself in.

After the War, Christmas Eve celebration came to my mind. The chief feature was the pulling of empty tar barrels, end on end, as high as could be reached and touching them off – they made a fine bonfire. Few fireworks were used then but, in later years, there were pitched battles with Roman candles on the Square – very pretty, but very dangerous.

Until the Magnolia Hotel was built, the accommodations were served by taverns and “houses”. The most pretentious extended from Levy’s Corner to, and including, Frank Stowjowski’s and was a frame building, as were most of the buildings on the Square.

The Thomas House and the Bracken Houses faced each other on West College Avenue. Bracken House stood on the site of the Holly Springs Marble Works. McClung, the noted duelist who had killed a number of men, was a guest there once and, as was his custom, he had to have a light in his room all night and walked the floor much of the night.

The Magnolia Hotel occupied all the northwest block except the First State Bank of North Mississippi, served the public for many years before the War. Banks issued their own money in those days, as did states, and values varied from par down.

Col. F. A. Lucas was president of the Bank and later Judge Mills, uncle of Dave McDowell, came here and was in charge. He lived in a beautiful suburban home where M. I. College is now located.

Two newspapers were published here when the War broke out – the Southern Herald by Judge Thomas A. Falconer and another of which Sam Benton was editor. Benton’s wife was a niece of Judge Mills and he was at Col. Benton’s side when he fell at the head of the regiment.

I cannot give the names of all the business houses prior to the 50s but, in dry goods, there were John Hull under the Masonic Hall, Ed and Sam Frank on Rather’s Corner, John C. Walker near Kelso’s Bakery; John Bradley at Jim Warren’s corner, but in another building – I. C. Levy came in 1858 and was in the southwest block.

Book and music stores were Heber Craft’s in Hans Wittjen’s and Louds.

I can’t learn the names of the druggist though there was one at Dancy’s Corner. Dr. Litchfields Drug Store was at Davis Mize & Co.’s corner and Dr. P. A. Willis at Shumaker’s corner. E. H. Mitchell kept a confectionary in Moberley’s shop and served ice cream in summer.

Jack Holland and Jim House kept the best livery stable that Holly Springs ever knew.

Wet as the town was, there was only one saloon, a ten year monopoly having been granted John Bradley & Co. for building and operating the Magnolia Hotel. Sixty drinks in a gallon, good whiskey at fifty cents a gallon, lots of money – just figure it out for yourself.

Business went on during the war.

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