Wednesday, September 9, 2009

HILL COUNTRY PLACES: Amory, Mississippi

by Terry Thornton

AMORY: Named for an official of the
Kansas City, Memphis, and Birmingham Railroad

COTTON GIN PORT seems a more appropriate name

Amory is a young town --- it is now in its 122nd year. Formed in 1887, Amory's roots are, however, much deeper and much older. Amory has its origin in the first town in all of North Mississippi --- Cotton Gin Port.

Along the eastern side of the Tombigbee River, a cotton gin was built in 1801 by the United State government. Although the gin wasn't a popular idea with many of the citizens of Indian Nation upon which lands it sat (it was promptly burned to the ground), a small port, village, and ferry was established called Cotton Gin Port.

Cotton Gin Port, the first town in north Mississippi, was connected by water to the rest of the world via the Tombigbee River. Steamboats could nagivate as far north as Cotton Gin Port. Overland, the Natchez Trace was just a few miles west inside Indian Nation and connected south to Natchez, Mississippi, and north to Nashville, Tennessee.

A horse path surveyed by Edmund Gaines in 1807-08 to theTombigbee River at Cotton Gin Port from a point along the Tennessee River in the Shoals area of northwest Alabama was opened in 1811-12. That horse path became known as the Gaines Trace --- and that small narrow path was etched forever in the history of the Hill Country in 1816 when it became the international boundary separating Indian Nation (to the north and west) from newly opened United States lands (to the south and east). The treaty signed in September 1816, Treaty of Pontotoc Council House, formally opened what is now eastern Monroe County for settlement.

Look at any current map of modern Monroe County (the official MDOT Monroe County Highway Map is a good one to use) and you will see that the townships and ranges stop at a line running across Monroe County ending at the original site of Cotton Gin Port.

After settlers were officially allowed to come into Monroe County and take up lands, Cotton Gin Port was the final frontier town on the border between two nations. It became a vital link and a vital point of connection between the United States and Indian Nation.

Monroe County, during these early years, didn't extend west of the Tombigbee River. Smithville didn't exist because that land was not a part of the United States; Aberdeen didn't exist because that area was not a part of the United States; and Cotton Gin Port was the point of travel for the earliest settlers into this new country.

In late 1816, Frederick Weaver (my great-great-great-grandfather) lead the first wagon train of settlers and they came straightway to Cotton Gin Port. That group of pioneers "spent the Christmas of 1816 at Cotton Gin Port" according to Weaver's daughter Dorcas Weaver Hollingsworth (my great-great-grandmother). Those hardy early settlers scattered across the land and forged a new county --- and for several decades Cotton Gin Port was the leading city along the river.

The first post-office in the newly formed county of Monroe was at Cotton Gin Port -- it was established in 1822. The second post-office was the one mastered by George Good in 1827 --- the office was called Good's Tanyard and there is evidence that it was located near present-day Amory.

By the mid-1830s, the boundary of the United States was moved west of the Tombigbee River and Cotton Gin Port lost some of its influence as a center of business and government and society with the development of Aberdeen. Rich planters, some were absentee landlords, flooded the rich flat farm lands west of the river with plantations looking to make their fortunes growing cotton and slaves.

Cotton Gin Port continued to survive buts its influence began to wane when the county seat was moved from the Hill Country to the newer town of Aberdeen after a protracted conflict between the west-of-the-river-group and the Hill Country group.

But the deathblow to Cotton Gin Port came in the 1880s when the Kansas City, Memphis and Birmingham Railroad surveyed out the route of a new line across Monroe County missing the little port city by about four miles. The officials of the railroad pinpointed a spot mid-distance between Memphis and Birmingham and decree that there they would build a railroad center to provide maintaince on the vital rail link between those two major cities.

Cotton Gin Port closed down and was moved. "Lock stock and barrel" is how I've heard it described as, in some cases, entire intact buildings were rolled on wheels from Cotton Gin Port to the new empty city of Amory. The railroad surveyors had platted the city placing a main street running parallel to the railroad, a park, and streets for residential lots. The sale of those lots was brisk and fast --- and Cotton Gin Port moved to Amory.

Today Cotton Gin Port is completely empty except for some foundational stones and a monument or two. On private property, the ruins of the oldest town are out of public view.

But the new town of Amory which opened for business in 1887 is going strong and, as all young thriving towns, is still expanding and growing.

With the development of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, the Port of Amory has many more options and larger traffic than officials of the port at Cotton Gin Port could have ever imagined.

Main Street, Amory, Mississippi, looking north

Not only does Amory trace its origin to the oldest town in North Mississippi, it is also proud of its heritage as Mississippi's first planned city. Following the wonderfully laid out lines of the original plat, visitors can determine where the original town started and stopped. More recent developments around that planned portion are easily seen by driving any direction from the center of town just a few blocks.

For instance, I once owned the May House at 100 North 9th Street (just beyond Amory Middle School and across the street from the Old National Guard Armory). That property was originally a part of the town's community pasture --- a log cabin sat on the site where the family lived who took care of the town peoples' cows. And that site was just beyond the reaches of that original "planned" part of the city. The area of the old cow pasture was low, swampy lands made less so by fill of cinders from the railroad. Anywhere in my yard, if you dug deep enough, you would usually strike a layer of cinder-fill.

Further down the street to the north was once the town's brick yard and a pit from which clay was dug to bake into brick for building --- that area is now a beautiful lake surrounded by lovely homes, McAlphine Lake. Very close to the park at McAlphine Lake is a city block containing a walking track --- once home of the Amory Elementary School, a large two-story brick building removed in fairly recent times.

McAlpine Lake, Amory, Mississippi

A couple of block south from that walking track is the current Amory Middle School ---- which was once the location of the Amory High School, another two-story brick structure long removed. The large playing field south of the school and in front of the old Armory was the footfall stadium for Amory High at one time.

But these were not the first schools in Amory --- they were schools built to accomodate the rapidly growing population of the young city as it grew and grew.

As a railroad center, Amory has served as the mid-point on the railroad line between Memphis and Birmingham. The Frisco Railroad was for years one of the major employers in Amory --- and Amory was a staging area for railroad workers plying the line. A "round house" and maintenance shops were developed along with a large depot in Amory. Locomotives could be turned around in this facility; repairs could be made to rolling stock in this railroad "shop."

During the years when steam locomotives were "state of the art" Amory was a vital link along a busy railroad corridor. But as steam locomotives were converted to diesel powered machines, several developments occurred that have had a lasting impact upon Amory.

When Frisco Railroad needed a new facility to moniter and contol rail traffic on the line between Memphis and Birmingham, they built an administrative building in Amory adjacent to the city park in downtown. In the early 1950s, that building was dedicated and an open-house gave the citizens of the area a first-hand look inside.

I was about twelve years old --- and I remember the activities associated with that event vividly. My most "gee-whiz" moment was in the control room of the Frisco Building where all of the railroad lines between Memphis and Birmingham were shown on huge boards with diagrams and lights to indicate switches and trains. As a train would move, the lights on the board would show that movement. This in the age before transistors and digital information was an impressive use of the latest in processing information using electrical current and electrical display boards and a multitude of small lightbulbs. I was amazed that a controller sitting in Amory could monitor and control all of the Frisco train traffic over that distance.

The other sight that inspired me was the gift of Frisco's Engine #1529 to the City of Amory. A temporary spur railroad line wa put down from the main Frisco line across the city park and Engine #1529 came steaming down that track to its final resting place as memorial to the railroad. The gift today stands as a major fixture in city park, a park now called Frisco Park.

Engine #1529 is credited as being the last steam engine to pull a passenger train on the Frisco Railroad --- and is a monument to the workhorse steam locomotives of the past. Engine #1529 also pulled President Roosevelt's passenger train across north Mississippi in the 1930s. My mother was fond of telling me that she saw that train when it passed through Gattman, Monroe County, Mississippi.

Today the Frisco Administrative Building serves as Amory's City Hall. The Frisco Building continues to serve the citizens of Amory --- and is a constant reminder of the importance of railroading to the town.

An early family in Amory was the Gilmore family. E.D. Gilmore and his wife Virginia Gilmore established a hospital, the Gilmore Sanitarium, in Amory in 1916. From that beginning, the Gilmore Hospital grew --- the Gilmore Foundation prospered --- and when the hospital outgrew its original location, the old sanitarium was accepted by the City of Amory as a Bicentennial Project. Converted to a regional museum in 1976, the building has recently undergone extensive remodeling. It reflects the city's past assosication with railroads --- and it preserves much of the history of the Hill Country in its artificts, display, and structures including the Wright Cabin on the museum grounds. Also at the museum is a restored Pullman Car.

Amory Regional Museum. West Entrance.

Wright Cabin, Amory Regional Museum

Next door to the museum is the Gilmore Foundation Center which continues to serve the interests of Amory and of the Hill Country.
Many lovely Victorian-style homes are found in Amory's older residential areas.

The public library in Amory is another major asset of the city.

The Park Hotel on Main Street is undergoing extensive rennovation.

The Monroe Journal, Monroe County's newspaper, is headquartered on Main Street.

A landmark on Main Street, Amory, Mississippi

New commerical building on North Main Street, Amory, Mississippi.

Monroe County Office Complex, Amory, Mississippi

Two additional articles relating to Amory may be also of interest to readers. They are

Amory Mississippi: Through the Windshield Video -- a short video of an early morning ride up main street. Click link to view.


Amory -- A Planned City at (click to read)

Amory Regional Museum at (click to read)

Evans, W.A. Mother Monroe. Hamilton, Mississippi: Mother Monroe Publishing, 1979, page 32 [September 20, 1816, Treaty with Chickasaw Nation or the Treaty of Pontotoc Council House] and page 43 [Dorcas Weaver Hollingsworth's statement about being in Cotton Gin Port in the winter of 1816].

Gaines Trace. Wikipedia (click to read)

Indian Land Cessions Maps at TNGenWeb Project [On map linked here, click to enlarge. The Indian Treaty Boundary Line is shown as "Gaines Road" and is superimposed on a more modern map of Mississippi.]

List of Post-Offices in the United States With the Names of the Post-Masters, of the Counties and States, to Which they Belong; the Distance from the City of Washington, and the Seats of State Governments, Respectively, Exhibiting the State of Post-Offices, on the 1st of June, 1828. By Direction of the Post-Master General. Washington: Way and Gideon, Printers, 1828. Available at Google Books.

List of the Post Offices in the United States Arranged Alphabetically and Giving the Salaries of the Postmasters; also an Appendix Containing the Names of Post Offices Arranged by States and Counties with Money Order Officers and Other Postal Information. Washington: Government Printing Office. 1870. Available at Google Books.

Monroe County Highway Map. Mississippi Department of Transportation. Available at

Photographs of Amory, Mississippi., September 6, 2009. Terry Thornton. Fulton, Mississippi, September 6, 2009. All RIghts Reserved.


Judy Sullivan, Amory MS said...

A wonderful factual story of Amory from her Cotton Gin Port beginnings to her present accomplishments. Good history lesson. One that so many may not know.

Terry Thornton said...

Thanks Judy. Hope you also watched the video of that fast ride up Main Street --- and remember all those years of traffic lights and bumper-to-bumper traffic cruising main street (do kids still do that?).

Terry Thornton
Fulton, Mississippi