Ride the rails or visit these repurposed depots for a taste of travel from a bygone era. written by Keith Gore Wiseman
“Look a-yonder comin’…” The first trains pulled into Oxford in the 1850s, when the Mississippi Central Railroad ran right up the heart of the state from Canton to Grand Junction, Tennessee. The Memphis and Tennessee Railroad joined the line at Winona in 1861, connecting the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. And Water Valley became a boomtown when the Illinois Central Railroad began to acquire the line in 1872. The last passenger trains pulled out of Oxford in 1941. But the Mississippi Central still has an active freight line with headquarters in Holly Springs, and a historic site near the original depot in Water Valley now houses a collection of train memorabilia, much of it associated with the infamous Casey Jones. To enjoy this legacy, take an afternoon to explore the Holly Springs depot district or the Casey Jones Museum in Water Valley. For a real
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dose of nostalgia, board Amtrak’s legendary “City of New Orleans” in Greenwood or the “Crescent” in Meridian for a day or weekend excursion.
Water Valley Casey Jones Railroad Museum Several hundred men were killed on the railroad in 1900, but only one is legendary. Jonathan Luther “Casey” Jones was an otherwise upstanding young engineer whose fatal flaw was a need for speed. Popular music immortalized Jones for jumping the tracks near Vaughan, but people in Oxford knew him as a humble engineer who mimicked the whippoorwill with his whistle on his route through the Hilgard Cut. “Jones’ legend sprang from a ‘nonstory,’ because trains jumped tracks, and men died, just about every day,” said Jack Gurner, nephew
of Bruce Gurner, the late curator of the Water Valley Casey Jones Railroad Museum. Jones figures prominently in Bruce Gurner’s Illinois Central Railroad collection, which fills the museum at 105 Railroad St., along with items from the shuttered rail museum in Vaughan. Bruce, the son of a railroad fireman, worked the railroad himself and had been fascinated with trains since childhood. He pulled many of the unique records and artifacts in his collection from trash heaps when Water Valley’s ICR headquarters closed in 1946. Visitors to the museum can see photos of Jones on his regular route in Engine 638, as well as a photo of the wrecked engine in which Jones earned his infamy. The exhibit includes a cracked bell, identified by its donor as the bell salvaged from the wreck. More information: caseyjonesmuseum.com
Published on Mar 1, 2018