Woodville (population one thousand) the seat of justice for Wilkinson County, is one of the oldest towns in the state, and prior to its incorporation (which dates back to about 1808) was one of the earliest settlements in the then Natchez district. Peopled by one of the proudest races on earth, its population comprised men whose sense of honor was the most exalted, and whose chivalry, exhibited whenever occasion presented, led them to deeds of valor and heroism.
It would be difficult to point out a location for a town that would combine more advantages than that of Woodville. Situated upon an elevation four hundred and fifty feet above the river level at Bayou Sara, the breezes of the gulf are here distinctly felt and enjoyed. The topography of Woodville and its immediate environments is one that is admirably, adapted to thorough drainage and perfect sanitation. The watershed of the town is four-fold, and drainage occurs at the four cardinal points of the compass. The inevitable consequence of all this is that Woodville is one of the most healthful spots in the country, and enjoys unusual immunity from the ills that flesh is heir to.
Woodville is supported wholly by the trade afforded by its surrounding agricultural country, whose inhabitants raise principally cotton, corn, oats, hay and live stock for the market, the county being specially adapted to the successful cultivation and growing of either. Wilkinson County contains twenty-five townships, and has a population of about seventeen thousand five hundred and sixty-four, the principal portion of which is engaged in agricultural pursuits. Were its arable lands wholly occupied it could, with ease, sustain a population of from sixty thousand to seventy-five thousand souls. It will thus be seen that excellent opportunities exist for the acquirement of land and homes by immigrants from other states and countries. Quite a number of large, well supplied stores provide the agricultural population with all needful supplies, and during the busy cotton season this town wears an aspect of thrift and bustle that would be creditable to much larger business places. The enterprise and promptness of her business men are proverbial.
Perhaps no town in the state takes greater pride in her secret organizations than Woodville. The Masons have a lodge, a Royal Arch chapter and council, all of which have large membership and are in first-rate financial condition. The Odd Fellows have a lodge and encampment in like excellent standing. This latter order is in a flourishing state financially. The Knights of Honors have a large membership and a flourishing lodge, the order being justly popular here. The American Legion of Honor is also represented in a lodge numbering about forty-five members.
The Protestant Episcopal Church (St. Paul’s) is one of the oldest churches in the town, and has its pulpit regularly supplied. This church has a fine organ and a choice choir.
The Catholic congregation of Woodville has an attractive, commodious house of worship, where services are held every fourth Sunday in each month.
The Methodists have a large congregation and a handsome church edifice, where they worship every Sunday.
The Baptist church is likewise a very handsome building. This denomination is also a large one. They have services on the first and third Sundays in each month.
The Presbyterian congregation worships in a large and comfortable church in the town, and number among their worshipers a goodly list of the old residents of the town and county.
The Hebrew population of Woodville numbers about twenty families, who hold their regular weekly services in the Jewish temple, Beth Israel, which was built in 1878. The congregation was organized a few years prior to the construction of the temple. Rabbi Henry Cohen, formerly of Kingston, Jamaica, and London, England, is the spiritual head of the congregation. Besides filling the pulpit at the synagogue here, his labors extend to Bayou Sara, where he has a large Sabbath-school, and to other neighboring localities. There is also a Jewish cemetery here, which was dedicated about twenty years ago.
There is a large public school for whites in Woodville, in a most satisfactory and flourishing condition. There is also a public school for colored people in the town. This is perhaps one of the best colored schools in the South. The late Judge Edward McGehee donated, during his life, a handsome sum of money toward the education of the youth of Woodville, which was one of the many generous benefactions bestowed by this big-hearted philanthropist. The donation is represented in a fine building and ample grounds, in the corporate limits of Woodville, and is under the management of the conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Though controlled by the Methodist church the school is in no wise sectarian. The public schools throughout the county are sufficiently numerous to meet the requirements of the school population, and here, as elsewhere in the South, there are ample educational advantages for all.
Woodville has only one direct connection by rail with Bayou Sarah, via the West Feliciana railroad, over which trains leave Woodville at 7 a. m., on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays; returning, arrive here at 4:30 the same day. A mail is carried over this route.
There is also a regular hack line (conducted by Mr. G. M. Petty), which connects Woodville with the Mississippi Valley railroad. The hack leaves Woodville every morning at 7:30 o’clock, making close connection with the south-bound train at Centerville, Miss. The hack lays over and connects also with the north-bound train, and, returning, arrives here at 4:30 p. m. This gives Woodville a daily mail from New Orleans, as well as from the North.
The Woodville Republican is the name of the local paper, whose editor and proprietor, Mr. J. S. Lewis, devotes himself assiduously to its publication. The Republican is a hand-some county paper and deserves to be well supported.
The patriotic ladies of Wilkinson County organized themselves into a Confederate Monumental Association, and through their noble efforts, ably seconded by the veterans of the lost cause in the town and county, erected a beautiful monument in a square lot opposite the south side of the courthouse, “In memory of the Confederate soldiers of Wilkinson County 1861 to 1865.” The foregoing inscription appears upon one side of the shaft, near the base, and just above the word “Confederate.” Upon another side appears the Confederate battle-flag, and just beneath a private soldier wearing the gray, his musket held at rest. On a third surface is the coat of arms of the Confederate states, and upon the front a Confederate cavalryman, mounted and equipped for battle. Above this figure a second battle-flag is unfurled. The shaft is sixteen feet high and surmounts a mound covered with an evergreen sward. It is a very handsome monument, and the entire work reflects credit upon the dutiful daughters of patriotic old Wilkinson. A suitable iron railing to enclose the monument square completes the work.
Fort Adams was settled by Wilkinson’s army in 1798, when the soldiers were in cantonment until about 1807. Fort Adams was named in 1800, in honor of the president. Pinckneyville, the original seat of justice, was founded in the first settlement of the territory. It was platted in 1805 by Thomas Dawson, and its plat was recorded in 1806 by James Johnson, clerk.
Jackson academy, incorporated in 1814, was located in what is now John A. Redhead’s yard, where the site is still to be seen. The school flourished for a number of years, and afterward the place was known as a stand for physicians. The Wilkinson lodge No. 10, I. O. O. F. was started in 1846. Asylum lodge No. 63 was chartered about the same time.
The Baptist church in Woodville was incorporated in 1824;
Presbyterian Church at Cold Spring in 1825;
St. Paul’s Episcopal church in 1825;
Consolation church below old Mount Pleasant, in this county, in 1831;
Bethel church, at the old camping grounds near Thompson creek, the present site of Bethel church, was first built of logs by Edward McGehee, William James and friends, and was dedicated by Rev. Lewis Hobbs in 1813. Some years after this building was replaced by a frame church, that later by a brick building, which stands as a monument to the honor of Judge Edward McGehee.
The Methodists had a church at Pinckneyville some years before this, and another at Loftus Heights.
The next oldest church was at Midway, first known as Grave’s church, founded by the Bowman family and established about 1815 or 1817 by Mark Moore, afterward moved to Centerville, where there is a flourishing organization with a membership of one hundred.
The Presbyterian church of Centerville has a neat frame building and a membership of fifty. The Baptist church at same place numbers about thirty-five members.
In the western part of Wilkinson County, Miss., is a stream running almost due north and south. It runs through an alluvial country and in many places has high banks. With almost every overflow, like the Mississippi River, it changes its current and causes large caving of the banks. For many years these caving banks have brought to light remains, such as bones, tusks and teeth, of some extinct animal, said to be the mastodon. In one instance a tusk was found measuring five feet, from the point, in length, and six inches in diameter at the largest part. Unfortunately this specimen was neglected and gradually crumbled away from the action of the air. If varnished with common copal varnish these specimens may be preserved indefinitely, otherwise they soon crumble and perish. There are in the county many valuable specimens, such as jaw teeth, front teeth, points of tusks and larger bones, which have been treated with varnish and are well preserved. One specimen consists of the jawbone with the teeth all in good state of preservation. The Negroes gather up these remains after an overflow, and for a consideration bring them to the curious in such matters. The supply seems to be inexhaustible.
Source: Biographical and Historical Memories of Mississippi, Goodspeed Publishing Company, 1891