Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Research Trip to Attala and Holmes County - Third and Final Part

When I stopped writing in Part 2 about the research trip to Mississippi, we had just entered Madison County, Mississippi, north of Jackson. The town of Canton, once the bustling center of of the area's economy, is the county seat of Madison County. Twice a year, Canton hosts the Canton Flea Market Arts and Crafts Show, an event that attracts artists and craftsmen from across the South. Another beautiful and historic Mississippi courthouse graces the town's quaint square with it brightly painted storefronts. Interestingly, portions of "A Time to Kill," the first novel written by one of Mississippi's most well-known contemporary authors, John Grisham, was filmed in the courthouse in Canton. 

Source: Private Digital Photo Collection of J. Tracy
Madison County Courthouse
On the Square in Canton, Mississippi
As we continued to travel south on Interstate 55, the mega-sized Nissan-Canton Manufacturing and Assembly Plant on the east side of the freeway caught our attention. Built slightly over a decade ago, the auto manufacturing plant brought thousands of much-needed jobs to an area that had been economically depressed for several decades. According to Nissan's website, over 5,600 employees from all of Mississippi's eighty-two counties, make up the diverse workforce at the Canton plant. Further south, after we passed the exit for Gluckstadt Road near the former German farming village of Gluckstadt, now a growing area itself, is the ever-growing city of Madison, Mississippi. The newness of it all can be seen on both sides of the freeway. Each time I drive through Madison and its sister city of Ridgeland, I marvel at the constant growth of the two cities, as their city limits extend to the north of Mississippi's capitol city, Jackson. It wasn't so many years ago the cities of Madison and Ridgeland were very small railroad towns where the only noise at night was the whistle of the City of New Orleans as it made its way north to Memphis. Now these two cities are popular locations for businesses, corporate offices, medical facilities, churches, and schools. And let's not forget the abundance of newer upscale subdivisions and other housing where the cities' numerous affluent residents live. When I grew up in Jackson, the city ended at Briarwood Drive. My, how things change over time....

Other small communities in Madison County include Camden, once the home of former Governor McWillie and Flora, the site of Mississippi's Petrified Forest.  Not to be forgotten, is the historic national parkway known as the Natchez Trace, which can be accessed from areas within the town of Ridgeland, situated on the banks of a portion of an enormous lake known as the Ross Barnett Reservoir. Besides the many historic landmarks in the area, locals and visitors alike can enjoy shopping at Mississippi's largest mall, North Park, also located in Ridgeland, Renaissance at Colony Park, and fishing swimming, boating and sail on what locals refer to as "The Rez." 

Just south of Ridgeland, and slightly east of I-55, is a growing business and residential area known as Flowood, where we would be staying in a hotel for the next three nights.  Surrounded by areas of Brandon and Jackson, Flowood is located along a portion of busy Lakeland Drive (Hwy 25) and is just minutes away from the popular Dogwood Festival shopping area and from Jackson-Evers International Airport. In addition to being a central location for visiting close family members, Flowood was an easy early morning commute to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH), a few blocks away from downtown Jackson, and where I planned to conduct some research for my book about Tillman Branch.

Over the past few months, I had been searching for archived copies of the Lexington-Advertiser and the Durant News, newspapers once owned and published by Hazel Brannon Smith. Editorials and articles in the newspapers, I believed, would provide some facts and other information that would be useful in writing the book. Calls to the Lexington Library and to the Holmes County Circuit Clerk's Office in Lexington had revealed that copies of newspapers during the time periods I needed were not available. But I had researched further and found that MDAH in Jackson had microfilmed copies the newspapers for the years I needed. Our initial early morning visit to MDAH involved procedural items that included applying for and being issued an ID card at the front desk. The ID card, we were told, would be used to enter and exit the research area through turnstiles situated near the reception desk. Since we also needed to make some photocopies, we purchased a prepaid plastic card that could be used in the photocopy machines located in the media room.

Many things have changed since I last visited the MDAH.  Located at North and Amite Streets near downtown Jackson, the MDAH, according to its website, "is headquartered in the state-of-the art William F. Winter Archives and History Building."  Founded in 1902, the department has six divisions, specifically referred to as Administration, Archives and Library, Historic Preservation, Historic Properties, Museum, and Records Management. Named for William F. Winter, a former governor of the state, the gray granite building itself is a work of art, and its contemporary architecture on the outside is carried throughout the sleek interior. With lots of natural, filtered light and walls, floors and ceilings that seem to absorb any noise, the building is a perfect place to spend a few leisurely hours reading about Mississippi's history or, as it was in our case, do some serious historical research in a limited amount of time.

William F. Winter Building
Mississippi Department of Archives and History
Jackson, Mississippi
After we had completed the registration process and were officially "checked in" and armed with our proximity and photocopy cards, we made our way to the media room. Once in the room, we soon found open microfilm reader desks and started searching the online catalog for microfilm rolls during the time period I planned to research. And we continued to research for parts of two days. Luckily, the archive department is open for a few hours on Saturday morning, since I needed the extra time to complete what we had started on Friday morning. I consider the newspaper research effort at MDAH a true success, and it didn't take nearly as long as I had planned. The latter was an important outcome, since it left more time for us to visit with family.

As most family researchers already know, microfilm research is tedious work. And reading through microfilmed newspaper print is even more difficult, not to mention time-consuming. Years of that sort of work must certainly damage one's eyesight. The process required to scan and microfilm the newspapers, I was told by one of the very helpful research assistants, is just as difficult and time consuming. First, the newspaper pages must be cut apart and ironed. That's right -- ironed, like with an iron and an ironing table or board! Can you believe that behind all of these archived newspapers on microfilm, there are dozens of people who came to work many mornings with one purpose in mind: to iron newspaper pages and ready them for scanning. And the scanning effort itself must have been a cumbersome and time-consuming operation. Just thinking about the process made me appreciate even more what others have done and keep doing to make these archived documents and records available to the public - at no cost, except for a minimal photocopy charge if copies are needed. 

But the digital age is upon us, and things are about to change in the media room. One of the archive assistants also told me the State of Mississippi currently has a small grant that will likely be used for digitizing newspapers. She wasn't sure whether the effort will include digitizing more recent newspapers or some of the older ones. I suspect older newspapers from the time period we researched will require much work to digitize. This is especially true, since less than stellar print quality of many of these old newspapers will make optical character recognition almost impossible. 

With the research complete at MDAH, we left to visit family who live in and around Jackson, a visit that concluded with dinner on Saturday evening at the historic Wynndale Restaurant south of Jackson near the town of Terry, Mississippi. According to one of my brothers, Wynndale was the name of the now extinct town where the restaurant, once a country store, is located. He added that the former store and restaurant have operated in the same location for almost 100 consecutive years - quite a record. After a delicious dinner of steak (one of my brothers was courageous enough to order the 16 ounce rib-eye), catfish, shrimp, and all the southern trimmings (the homemade slaw is served in a large tub!) we took a few pictures and said our goodbyes. Family, good food, and lots of fun....what more can anyone want?!


  1. Janice,
    I live in Madison and I've really enjoyed your posts about your trip to my "neck of the woods." Thanks so much for sharing this!

  2. Thank you, Dede, for reading my blog and for your kind words! Also, I hope you will watch for my book when it is published next Spring. The tentative title is "Tillman Branch, King of the Mississippi Bootleggers."

  3. I've enjoyed reading your three part series about your trip to Attala and Holmes Counties. Mississippi is a great place for visiting. You share well.