Potts Camp

Potts Camp Frontier Town
Photo Courtesy of Katherine Greer Sundstrom

"Tom Thumb Wedding", Potts Camp School 1954-55
Photo Courtesy of Peggy Kimery Mitchell

Potts Camp Class Photos

Potts Camp Coal Shute (ca 1916)
Photo Courtesy of Sylvia Seymour Akin

Memories of Potts Camp
by Dale Potts Hollingsworth

The Old Potts Camp Landmark Destroyed

With tears in my eyes and hands over my ears, I watched with many others the destruction last week of Potts Camp's historic landmark, the coal chute.

Built in 1915, the huge concrete structure was probably the last one of its kind left in the United States. It was the only one located on the Frisco Railroad between Memphis and Amory when in use and the largest on the entire railroad.

During my childhood days, we visited my mother's parents, Dr. and Mrs. T. C. Harris in Plantersville on weekends very often. After boarding the train, anxious to get started, we would ride from the depot to the water tank and coal chute where the train would have to stop and fill up with coal and water. That ten or fifteen minutes seemed like hours to me.

Later I climbed to the top of the coal chute with my brother and looked over the town.

Many of us remember how the service men gathered around the famous old coal chute when troop trains stopped in our town during the 1940's. Some of the town's citizens were always there to boost their morale. They were very impressed by the coal chute.

Sometimes strangers would stop to take a picture of the old landmark because it was so unusual. Benny Goolsby painted a lovely likeness of it for the Potts Camp Bank and Mrs. Larry Crockett of Oxford also captured the structure on canvas.

Because the railroad felt that the old coal chute had become dangerous, it had to come down. Potts Camp will never be the same without it.

Memories of Potts Camp
The South Reporter, date unknown
By Dale Potts Hollingsworth, posted with permission

How exciting to recall childhood memories about the past, some of them told to us by our ancestors and carried down from generation to generation. Come let us relive some of these unique stories that contributed to the American way of life, in and around the area.

Picture Indian braves paddling down Tippah River in their bark canoes, fishing or hunting with their bow and arrows. On the river banks near their wigwams, Indian squaws cooked food on an open fire and made clothing from animal skins. Tea lee hatchie was the name the swift and colorful Indians gave their favorite meeting place, located about a mile from our town. (This spot on the banks of the Tippah River played an important part in the history of Potts Camp.) The area was covered with forest, except for a few open spaces and trails made by the Indians. It was truly a hunter's paradise! The Pontotoc Trail, used for so many years by the early settlers, was once an old Indian trail. Later it became a road.

Although Mississippi became a state in 1817, Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians held a large part of the land. By the treaties of Dancing Rabbit and Pontotoc of 1830 and 1832, the Indians agreed to give up the land in the Mississippi and move west of the Mississippi River.

In 1833 this land, which had been divided into 26 counties, was advertised for sale. Marshall, the largest and wealthiest county, caused hundreds of migrants from other states to rush to this area. Potts Camp is a part of this famous county, known as the Empire County.

Col. Erasmus Potts
Photo Courtesy of Dale Potts Hollingsworth
In 1836, the year Holly Springs became a town, a young man from South Carolina, Colonel Erasmus Ferdinand Potts, traveled the Pontotoc Trail to the Federal Land Office in Pontotoc and purchased several sections of land in Marshall and Benton Counties. He also owned land in the Delta. His first home, and a large trading post, was built (near the site of the T.M. Stone home) on the Pontotoc Trail, a short distance from the Tippah River.

Later the first Potts Camp Post Office was built of logs near his home, with Colonel Potts' daughter, Mary, as the first postmistress. It stayed open until the war started in 1861.

Elizabeth Brownlee, whose family settled near Columbus, was the wife of Colonel Potts. They reared three children; another child died at age two and a half years old.

At this time in history before erosion of the hills, Tippah River ran wide and deep with steep banks, so there were only a few places it could be forded. Where the Pontotoc Trail passed, east of the river was a natural ford, with a broad field and a high bluff on the south. From the bluff poured cool springs of water and the trees near by for firewood made this an ideal place for weary travelers to stop overnight. They used wagons, buggies, and horseback for transportation and as a long journey usually took several days, Colonel Potts encouraged people to stop at the camping site and furnished them with supplies. His hospitality became so widely known, people began to call the place Potts Camp. This was the same area used by the Indians many years before.

Sometime later Colonel Potts built a 22 room mansion and a girl's school named "Woods Academy", located a short distance from the site where Winborn stands today. Mr. Wright Greer's grandmother, Emily Morgan, was a student at the school. Mary Potts, daughter of Colonel Potts and her mother, Elizabeth, were instructors there. The school burned in 1855 and the students were transferred to Pontotoc.

Records show that Colonel Potts owned many slaves, cultivated a vast acreage of crops and raised hundreds of head of cattle, driving them overland to Memphis to be sold, or shipped to New Orleans on cattleboats. He also shipped quantities of grain.

In 1856 Potts invested in the Mississippi Central Railroad and furnished most of the material and labor for the section between Holly Springs and Oxford. He became master mechanic and one of the directors of the railroad company. The entire railroad was completely destroyed during the War Between the States.

Because of the muddy and dusty roads, Potts and his workers layed boards a long distance on the Pontotoc Road in this area. They built the first levee in the Mississippi bottom, also Tippah River bottom.

Calvin Potts and his wife, Sarah, lived with their Aunt Liz and Uncle Ray (Col. and Elizabeth Potts for 15 years. Sarah kept records during these years and handed them down to her descendants. She told about many happy and sad events during that period of history. It seems that Mary was very special to her father so he sent her to college in Memphis. Later he gave her a lovely wedding in their home with college friends attending.

She married Mr. Fant and they had two children, Dora and a son who died very young. Later Mary divorced him. Mr. Charlie Reid became her second husband they reared one son, Cornelius Potts Reid, the father of Mrs. Fred Oakley. Mary A. Reid played an important role in the settlement and growth of our town. Mary Reid School was named in memory of her. She gave the land for schools, churches, and cemetery.

When the war broke out, Colonel Potts, who was too old to fight, spent his time and money to help the Confederacy.

The Federal Troops stationed in Memphis and Holly Springs rode through the country raiding homes, burning barns and houses and stealing horses, food, and valuables. My grandparents told us about this terrible time in our history many times. They tried to hide special items when they heard the sounds of horses in the distance, but many times their efforts were worthless.

When the Federals began to take over this area Colonel Potts counted his gold and silver one night, blindfolded two slaves to go with him and rode away in a wagon. (I've heard that after the men dug the holes to bury the treasure, they were blindfolded again. Many tales have been told about this.) Colonel Potts was arrested, tried on three counts, and convicted for helping the Confederacy. He was sent to Memphis then to Alton Federal Prison (near St. Louis, MO, on the river banks). He was too old to stand the brutal treatment, so the first settler of Potts Camp died December 16, 1863. I've read about Alton prison and it was terrible.

His son, James Benton Potts (same name as my father), was injured while serving the Confederacy and never completely recovered. He married Liza Jane Stevenson, a relative of the McAlexanders of Holly Springs, and they had three daughters, who moved to Knoxville, TN, after his death. James B. is buried in Hillcrest Cemetery in Holly Springs.

Sarah told about the Federal Troops bringing Uncle Raz's body home in a metal box filled with shavings. Aunt Liz wouldn't let them bury him until she examined the body to be sure it was her husband. After finding a scar on his ear she was satisfied, so they buried him in "Potts Cemetery", near Winborn. Later in 1870 Elizabeth was buried near him. I have visited the cemetery and was impressed by the two tall monuments with rose buds, poems, and their names clearly engraved.

After the Feds helped bury Colonel Potts they ripped the carpets from the floors of his home, loaded them in the best carriages the family owned and drove away.

Many years passed before the railroad came through this area in 1886 and Mary A. Reid gave them the right-of-way. People began to build houses and establish businesses near the depot located a mile from the river. The Greers, Reids, Vaughans, and Jones' were the first four Potts Camp families. Dr. Vaughan was the first doctor, A.Q. Greer the first banker, and his son, Lester Greer, the first baby born in 1887.

The first board meeting for the new village was held two years later in 1888 and the Methodist Church was organized and built in 1889. Seventy-five residents lived here at the time.

The board voted to build plank sidewalks in front of the stores on Front Street and to the depot. They also voted to build a caboose and walks to the Oaklimeter Creek bridge leading to Eagle Springs, a famous health resort.

People of the new settlement honored their first settler and my great-great grandfather by using the name of the old camping site for their new village. Around 1912 Dr. F.P. Boatner and A.Q. Greer helped change Potts Camp into a town when money was needed for a deep well.

The project was completed in 1916 after water was piped to homes in town.

Among the early settlers of Potts Camp were the Wills, Smith, Taylor, Edwards, Coyle, Miller, Boren, Cook, Laws, Overton, Cox, and Potts families. Others gradually moved into the area.

As my brother Lindy says, "Potts Camp is the center of the universe, no doubt!"

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