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Yalobusha County Economic Development Foundation

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A Brief History of the County

Yalobusha is an Indian word meaning "tadpole place," and before the county which bears that name was formed, it was the home of both Choctaw and Chickasaw Indian tribes.

In 1816, General Andrew Jackson ordered the surveying of the Choctaw-Chickasaw Line. The line as surveyed then cut almost a perfect diagonal across the area making up the present day Yalobusha County.

The Choctaws ceded their Mississippi lands to the United States in 1830 through the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Two years later, the Chickasaws signed the Treaty of Pontotoc ceding their lands to the United States.

In 1833, the Mississippi Legislature authorized the formation of 17 counties, including Yalobusha, on what had been Indian land.

Yalobusha County was officially organized and its first officials elected February 21, 1834. The first Board of Police (Supervisors) held its first meeting at Hendersonville, then the largest settlement in the county.

Hendersonville was a settlement established in 1798 by John Henderson, a Presbyterian missionary who was one of the first white men to settle in the county. Other early settlements were Elliot, Chocchuma, Tuscohoma, Pittsburg, Talahoma, Plummerville, Preston, Pharsalia, Sardinia, and Washington.

At its first meeting the Board of Police solicited donations of land for a county seat, and at its second meeting, the Board selected a site and named it Coffeeville. The new town was named in honor of General John Coffee, who represented the United States in the treaties with both the Choctaws and the Chickasaws. The next Board meeting was held in the new town, and in 1837 the first courthouse in Coffeeville was built.

Later that same year, one of the early settlers in the northeastern part of the county, G.B. Ragsdale, established a stagecoach stand near what is now Water Valley. In 1848 the town of Oakland was chartered.

Yalobusha County had a population of 12,248 in its first census, taken in 1840. In 1844, a post office was opened at Ragsdale's Stand. Three years later, the post office and stagecoach stand were moved to land owned by William Carr, and the name of the post office was changed to Water Valley.

One prominent early Yalobusha County landowner was Representative James K. Polk, later President Polk, who purchased a plantation south of Coffeeville in 1835. After Polk's death, his wife managed the plantation successfully for several years.

In 1850, the county's population was 17,258. In 1852, Calhoun County was formed, and a tier of townships on the eastern border of Yalobusha County were taken to form part of the new county.

The Illinois Central Railroad built a branch line from Jackson, Tennessee to Grenada, passing through Water Valley and Coffeeville, in the late 1850's. ICRR officials wanted to set up shops in Coffeeville, but could not obtain the property they wanted. Residents of the fledging town of Water Valley offered to donate the needed land to the railroad; therefore, the shops were located there, and Water Valley quickly became the largest town in the county. It was officially chartered in 1858, and at that time had a population of 300.

In 1860, the county's population was 16,952. Water Valley had become a thriving community with two hotels and several churches. The first church built in Water Valley was the Presbyterian Church built in 1843. Two years later, the First Methodist Church was organized, and in 1860 the First Baptist Church of Water Valley was organized.

With the completion of the railroad from New Orleans to the Ohio River, and because the ICRR's shops were located there, Water Valley was an important railroad community at the outset of the Civil War. In 1862, Union troops captured Water Valley, and it remained in their control until the war ended.

After the war, the railroad shops were built at Water Valley, bringing a large influx of new residents to the town. In 1867, Yalobusha County's first manufacturing industry, Yacona Mills was the largest manufacturer of twine anywhere in the world.

The Reconstruction Legislature in Mississippi created a number of new counties. Grenada County was formed in 1870 and included nearly two tiers of townships which had formerly been the southern part of Yalobusha County.

In March, 1873, Yalobusha County was divided into two judicial districts, and Water Valley was named the county seat of the second judicial district. Because the town overlapped the Yalobusha-Lafayette County line, the legislature gave Yalobusha a two-mile strip of land from the southern portion of Lafayette County.

The town of Tillatoba was chartered in 1873. In 1880, Yalobusha County's population was 15,649.

In 1889, Coffeeville's second courthouse burned. It had been built in 1840 at a cost of $25,000. A new courthouse, also costing $25,000, was built in 1890. That year, the county population was 16,629.

Famed railroad engineer J.L. "Casey" Jones moved from Jackson, Tennessee to Water Valley in 1893. In 1896, four years before his death in a train wreck which brought him fame, Jones moved back to Jackson.

A new courthouse was built in Water Valley in 1896, and 16 years later, it burned. The second judicial district offices were moved to the Water Valley City Hall, but within a month, it too burned. The courthouse was restored after the fire, and a third floor was added but never completed.

Yalobusha County's population peaked in 1910, with that year's census showing a population of 21,519. By 1920, the population had fallen to 18,738, and it continued to decline steadily for the next 50 years.

Between 1926-1928, Yalobusha County suffered two tremendous economic setbacks. In April, 1926, Yacona Twine Mill, which had employed approximately 450 people, burned. The next year, the ICRR began moving its railroad shops from Water Valley to Paducah, Kentucky. By the end of 1928, these shops, which had at one time employed over 800 people in Water Valley, were gone.

In 1931, the first Watermelon Carnival was held in Water Valley. The carnival was a great success, drawing 20,000 visitors to Water Valley. For the next nine years, the Watermelon Carnival was an annual event bringing national recognition to Water Valley, which was proclaimed the "Watermelon Capitol of the World" in 1932. However, the Watermelon Carnival was suspended at the beginning of World War II, and another one was not held until 1980. Since this time it has been an annual event the first Saturday in August.

There was little industry in Yalobusha County after the war, and in 1950, the county's population was down to 15,191. In the early 1950's the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began work on two flood control reservoirs in and around Yalobusha County, much to the distress of county farmers who lost thousands of acres of fertile bottom land. However, Enid Lake and Grenada Lake, both completed in 1955, have become popular recreation spots for local people and for visitors from throughout the nation.

Yalobusha County's population was 12,502 in 1960, and in 1970, it bottomed out at 11,915.

The 1980 census shows that the county gained over 1,200 new residents since 1970, giving it a population of 13,183.

Sine the 1960s, Yalobusha County has been successful in attracting new industries to boost its economic growth. Today, its two largest industrial employers have a combined total of well over 2,000 employees, and several other local industries provide hundreds of additional jobs for county residents.

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