Water Valley is situated on the Illinois Central railroad, about ninety miles southeast of Memphis, midway between Jackson, Tenn., and Canton, Miss. Water Valley has risen from a heap of ashes since the war and grown to a population of two thousand, eight hundred and twenty-eight and in wealth to several millions. The Indians still roamed the forest in the neighborhood in 1840, while some rude habitations indicated the thrift with which a live population were beginning to enter upon the work of reducing to civilization an unbroken wilderness. The first house in or near the town was built about this time by a Mr. Ragland, and is now occupied by Dr. Askew. It was a stage stand along a public highway between Oxford and Coffeeville. About 1847 Capt. P. D. Woods built near the same spot a rude storehouse and kept a stock of goods which would not now compare with the most unpretentious house in the city. The goods were brought by chance wagons from Memphis and other points. Capt. William Carr had already built a log house which now stands near the center of the business portion of town, east of the railroad. Mr. Rasha Robinson settled about a half-mile north. The town was incorporated in 1848 and B. H. Collins was the first mayor. About 1850 there had sprung up two or three business houses near the present site of the town. In 1856 the Mississippi Central railroad was complete to this point, and the little town of a half-dozen business houses began to assume the airs of a railway station. In 1861 there were perhaps a dozen places of business. A company was raised in the town and sur-rounding country which for gallantry and courage stand prominent in the history of the lost cause. The Federal army pushed its way to the city in the winter of 1862-3 and burned the little wooden village, and its people returned to find the rewards of their industry a heap of ashes. In 1865 there were left from the ravages of war two or three business houses. Oxford and Holly Springs suffered also, and at the latter place the car shops of the railroad were burned. Inducements were offered to the railway company to rebuild its shops in Water Valley, which was determined upon in 1867. Now began an era of prosperity, and hand-some buildings sprang up like magic. With the meager facilities merchants were scarcely able to handle the immense business which crowded upon them, but it seemed well nigh impossible to overtax the resources and tact of those who guided the destinies of the young city. Buildings sprang into existence every day and the population increased faster than industry could furnish shelter; yet the spirit of improvement never flagged, and in 1874 the population had grown from two hundred to twenty-five hundred. Already the city had overshadowed her plucky little neighbor. Coffeeville had wrung from her a division of the courts, and was fast absorbing the trade that formerly went to that place and Oxford. Other causes tended to cause a cessation of growth for some years; but her plucky business men faced the storm of depression and maintained a brave front, and now have finally overcome all difficulties and are on a solid financial basis.
Within the past three years many handsome buildings have gone up. Real estate has nearly doubled in value. The population is increasing.
Water Valley bank was chartered in 1888. The company is successor to Bryant & Shackelford, who began business in 1882. Mr. G. D. Able, formerly of Oxford, is the cashier, and Mr. John Wagner bookkeeper, the latter the son of Mr. D. R. Wagner. Both of them are native Mississippians. The bank does a daily business of about $15,000.
The cotton factory enterprise was begun by a joint stock company about 1870. The building was nearly completed by the company when it failed, and it stood idle for some years, when Mr. D. R. Wagner determined that an enterprise so important to the city should be enlivened by the hum of machinery. He, with his associates, purchased the property and imported the machinery at once. The value of this property to the city may easily be estimated when it is known that seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds of cotton are consumed yearly, and the gross earnings amount to nearly $40,000, a large part of which is paid to operatives, and the surplus of profit on the capital invested, goes into investment here. The Water Valley Manufacturing Company, which began operations in 1866, was later merged into the concern controlling the mills.
Around Water Valley, imbedded under the soil, is the best of clays for the manufacture of earthenware. The factory commenced operations a little more than two years ago, and has demonstrated the fact that a profitable enterprise is open for development here.
The planing mill and sash, door and blind factory is doing a good business.
Water Valley lodge No. 132, A. F. & A. M., was chartered in 1847.
Valley City lodge No. 402 was organized July 5, 1888.
St. Cyr Commandery No. 6, K. T., was organized January 25, 1867.
Water Valley lodge No. 82, I. O. O. F., was chartered January 23, 1867;
Grand Encampment No. 22, March 1, 1887.
Knights of Honor lodge No. 1062, is a prosperous organization.
Lochinvar lodge No. 55, K. of P. , was organized May 14, 1890.
The Water Valley Courier was established April 5, 1867, by E. A. Goodland, editor and proprietor. It was afterward sold to W. B. Yowell, who changed its name to the Southern Eagle. About one year later it was sold to P. W. Merrin, who called it The Vallonian, and afterward restored to it its original name. In 1882 he moved the plant to Plant City, Fla., where the paper is published as the South Florida Courier by S. W. Merrin & Son.
The Mississippi Central was founded in 1869 by Capt. E. M. Brown and A. V. Rowe. In 1875 it was purchased by S. B. Brown. In 1881 it was published by Johnson Ater, with E. A. Garland as editor. In 1885 it was changed to the Free Churchman, and edited by M. B. Fly. In 1887, as the People’s Friend, it was published by G. Aycock. In 1888 it was pur-chased by McFarland & Lee, and published as the North Mississippi Herald.
The Progress was founded in 1882 by S. B. Brown as editor and publisher, with his son, T. D. Brown, as assistant editor.
The Cumberland Presbyterian church of Water Valley was organized October 14, 1843. Rev. Angus Johnson was first pastor, with James M. Morrison and Robert Nickle as elders. The organization was originally known as the Otuckaloffe Church, but its name was soon after changed to Water Valley church. W. V. Johnson had charge in 1848-59; E. C. Davidson, 1860-78; J. W. Roseborough, 1878-80; S. I. Reid, 1881-2; H. M. Sydenstricker, 1883-5; J. T. Lester, the present pastor, came in 1886. The church now has a membership of one hundred and ninety-three, and the house of worship was completed in 1868 at a cost of $8,000. Mr. Lester, the present pastor, is a native of Union County, Tenn., and was ordained in 1883 at Memphis, Tenn. He is stated clerk of the synod of Memphis, and clerk of the North Mississippi presbytery. The elders of the church and the dates of their ordination are: J. C. Mury, 1859; A. G. Butord, 1861; W. E. Benson, 1883; R. R. Pate, 1 883, and Baron Leland, 1883. Elder T. J. Price, ordained in 1887, died in 1890.
Methodist Episcopal Church of Water Valley was organized in 1858, by Rev. Robert Martin, with a membership of twenty. Services were held in the Masonic building. In 1859 the church erected a house of worship, completed in 1861, which was replaced by the present building in 1870, at a cost of |6,000. Rev. Mr. Martin was succeeded by Revs. M. D. Fly, W. S. Harrison, J. M. Boone, J. W. Honnol, J. W. Price, J. S. Oakley, J. M. Wyatt, and the present pastor, Rev. T. W. Dye. The church has a membership of three hundred and fifty, and its Sunday-school numbers three hundred. The church received its largest accession of membership during the labors of Rev. Harrison, a most noble man, now of Starksville, Miss.
Missionary Baptist church of Water Valley was organized August 19, 1859, with a membership of five, all of whom are now deceased except Mr. and Mrs. Shaw, of Natchez, Miss. The present membership is about one hundred and fifty. Rev. E. L. Wesson is pastor. There are other religious organizations represented here.
Coffeeville is one of the go ahead cities on the Illinois Central, and has a population of eight hundred. It is one of the county seats of Yalobusha, located in the southwestern portion of the county, and is surrounded by a rich country and was incorporated in 1836. It has no boom, but each year shows a large increase of population. It has good schools, good society, and many churches. The business men, as a class, are spirited, enterprising, progressive, sagacious and public- spirited merchants, and a more generous or whole souled class was never gathered in one city of its size. The new and elegant courthouse and many fine stores and buildings are evidences of thrift and prosperity.
The Coffeeville high school has quite recently moved into new buildings. The number of pupils enrolled has greatly increased during the current year. By the introduction of all the many branches taught in the higher schools, the advantage to be derived from attending this school has been greatly increased. An endeavor is being made to make the school so thorough that it will not be necessary for students to go from home to receive an education. The school has been brought to such a standard that it has few rivals in Mississippi. The Wynn and Preston institute, with a large two-story building, was founded in 1890.
Coffeeville was a very popular and flourishing city in the antebellum days, and had among its citizens some of the highest men of the South.
The first paper published at Coffeeville was the Yalobusha Pioneer. The pioneer editor was E. Percy Howe. Beginning about 1850, the Southern Appeal was published for some years. Coffeeville Masonic lodge No. 83 was founded in 1818.
The first merchants of Coffeeville were D. M. Rayburn, Bridges & Shaw, and James Jones. The first white child born in Yalobusha County was James D. Haile, now bookkeeper for Herron & Co., of Coffeeville. S. McCreles built the first house in Coffeeville some time in 1830, and gave the place its name.
The Methodist church was probably the first religious body formed here’. It now has a neat building and a membership of about eighty-five.
The Cumberland Presbyterian church was organized by Rev. W. S. Burney, of Oxford, Miss., in 1845. Rev. Mr. Burney was succeeded by Dr. J. C. Provine, now of Nashville, Tenn., and he by Dr. E. S. Thomas, the present pastor, for over forty years in charge of the church. When he came in 1848 the church had only eight members. The present membership is sixty-five. The first building was erected in old Coffeeville in 1850, the present brick structure in 1877.
The Baptists have a building here. Their pastor is Rev. Mr. Farris.
The Coffeeville academy was founded by Dr. Thomas in 1850, and flourished until the war. The Coffeeville institute, founded in 1867, flourished about ten years.
Other towns and villages in this county are Torrance, Oakland, Garner and Tillatoba. Coffeeville, Water Valley and Torrance are on the Illinois Central railroad; the other places mentioned, on the Mississippi & Tennessee railroad. Pine Valley is an old and well-known business point. Tabernacle lodge No. 340 was organized there with thirty members. Tabernacle Methodist Episcopal Church South was organized in 1840. It now occupies its third house of worship, a large structure, with a Masonic hall in connection.
Source: Biographical and Historical Memories of Mississippi, Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1891