HISTORY OF NEWTON1
by Nancy K. Williams
Table of Contents
The earliest document available recording land ownership for what became the town of Newton is the house deed for the property at 115 Railroad Avenue, which in 1986 was occupied by Mrs. Ollie Williams and her daughter.
This document states that on September 20, 1837, Col. Archilaus Wells bought four acres from the U. S. government2 on which he built a house. Though in 1986 the house was still standing in good condition, it was ravaged by fire a number of years ago and it has undergone several renovations.
Col. Wells traveled from Kentucky in 1798 to Washington County, Alabama, Mississippi Territory, and then on to Mississippi. He was related to the Chapman family of Newton, and a family member says Wells fought with Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812.
There were several owners between the time the house was built and 1866, but the deed to this house indicates that on December 25, 1866, the house was bought by Roger Williams Doolittle and his wife Virginia. In 1867, the house was sold to Newton Doolittle, and on October 18, 1911, it was sold to Zachery Taylor Doolittle, a brother of Newton Doolittle.
The Doolittle family history indicates that Roger Williams Doolittle had come to Newton County from Dallas County in 1842. Although the family history indicates that he operated a plantation close to Newton using slave labor, one printed source says he operated a stage route, which ran from Enterprise to Newton by way of Garlandville. After the arrival of the railroad in 1860, and until 1861, Newton was the terminus of the railroad. People arrived by stage and then traveled west by train.
According to A. J. Brown, no business was done on the site of the town of Newton until 1860, though Brown says that “in 1855 J. N. Shofner had a country store about one mile southeast of where the depot now stands. John B. Johnson of Decatur established a retail grocery and family grocers Brame and Morgan built a business house; Hyde and Shannon had a livery stable; Johnson kept a hotel; Roger W. Doolittle [owned] the land on which the town is situated, and sold to parties moving to the place as early as 1869.”
The Doolittle family history says Roger Williams Doolittle gave much of the land on which the town is situated. In any event, legal documents show he gave the land on which the First Baptist Church is located, to be used for a church; and he gave to the city the land adjacent to be used for a cemetery.
It has also been established that Roger W. Doolittle requested that the town be named for his little son, Newton S. Doolittle (1857-1922), who was his youngest child at the time the town was established.
Though Brown does not mention it, according to A Journal of Mississippi History article about Col. Edmund Richardson, in 1850, he and his brother, John W. Richardson, established a business at Jackson and opened branch offices in Brandon, Canton, Morton and Newton. The nature of this business is not stated, but Edmund Richardson owned extensive cotton plantations, was a cotton broker, and had several textile mills. Edmund’s brother was the father of W. B. Richardson, Sr.
It is not known where the Richardson “office” was, but Brown notes that because 1860 had been a dry year, corn had to be transported into Newton in sacks, and James McGrath built a good storehouse on property owned by W. B. Richardson.
James McGrath was the first postmaster in Newton. His tenure was from December 5, 1860 to January 16, 1861. The Newton Post Office was closed from 1861 to 1866. Another reason his tenure was so short may have had to do with the fact that McGrath was a northern man and “after the war had gone on for some time he went to the Yankees, as his sympathies were with them.” Had McGrath stayed longer, he would have been at Newton at the time of the Civil War raid by the soldiers commanded by Col. Benjamin Grierson on April 24, 1863.
During this raid the Union soldiers burned McGrath’s storehouse, the storehouse of a Mr. Hamilton, and Brown says, “probably one commissary house on the grounds of the hospital”R1. The buildings were on the site where Rush Hospital/Newton now stands3. The soldiers also captured a mixed passenger and freight train traveling on the Jackson-Meridian line, and another train filled with ammunition, which they destroyed. Both trains were carrying Confederate ammunition and artillery.
The soldiers also burned the depot, which had been established in 1860 under the name of Newton Depot. This name was shortened to Newton in 1870 and Newton was incorporated in 1860.
In 1863, Willis R. Norman received a government contract to build the hospital and commissary buildings on the current hospital site. Norman family tradition says there were seven buildings in all.
Brown says that the Union soldiers did not destroy private houses or private property during this raid.
According to former Newton resident Richard Carr of Fairfax, Virginia, who has done considerable research on Grierson’s Raid, the Union cavalrymen who raided south from LaGrange, Tennessee down roughly what is now Highway 15 to Garlandville, were dressed in Confederate uniforms. In 1959, Carr wrote for The Newton Record a series of articles about the Civil War in the area.
D. Alexander Brown wrote Grierson’s Raid: A Cavalry Adventure of the Civil War, first published in 1954 by the University of Illinois, in which he relates that the man actually in charge of the Newton raid was a Col. Blackburn, whose subordinate Surby with a band of soldiers entered the town first. Blackburn came along later to stop indiscriminate looting. Blackburn ordered the trains moved down the track away from the hospital before destroying them.
At the time of the raid, the Battle of Vicksburg was in progress and about 1,000 wounded Confederate soldiers were treated at the Newton hospital. Roger Williams Doolittle invited the town authorities to bury the approximately 100 soldiers who died at the hospital in the Doolittle family cemetery close to Newton.
One of the human-interest stories of this sad time concerns Julia A. Doolittle (1846-1878) who is buried in the Doolittle Cemetery. According to the Doolittle family history, she was the daughter of Roger Williams Doolittle and was 18 years old when she met Dr. Albert Puckett of Nashville, Tennessee. He was a doctor in the Confederate Army during the Battle of Vicksburg and was stationed at a field hospital that had been set up on the Doolittle Plantation about where the Doolittle Cemetery at Newton is now located. The girls in the Roger Doolittle family acted as nurses to help the sick and wounded, and the young doctor and the beautiful brown-eyed Julia fell in love. They were married July 8, 1863. They had eight children, though three of them died in infancy.
The first railroad to arrive in Newton was built by the Southern Railroad Company—no relation to the later Southern Railroad—which had bought the Brandon and Jackson Railroad and “proceeded to extend the line into Meridian to meet the Mississippi and Alabama Railroad. The line, built by slave labor belonging to the railroad and slaves lent by plantation owners along the route, was completed between Morton and Brandon in 1858. By June 1861, the sixty miles between Morton and Meridian were in operation.” This information was provided by Jim B. Cooper. According to Cooper, this line was not renamed the Alabama and Vicksburg Railroad until 1889. It was later absorbed by the Illinois Central Railroad.
In 1869, the W. B. Richardson, Sr., store was opened in Newton. This store, located where the Newton Record office is now, attracted customers from a wide area. The front of the store was occupied by a millinery shop run by Miss Julia Brown and Miss Betty Watts.
The store sold a wide variety of goods, from pins to coffins, including dry goods, shoes, clothing, groceries, furniture, hardware, wagons, buggies, and agricultural equipment. According to the widow of W. B. Richardson, Jr., there was a large area in the warehouse for coffins from which a family might make a selection. The family selected material to cover the box, or they might select other designs from the catalogue kept for the purpose. E. G. Powe was employed to line the coffins in black.
According to Mrs. W. B. Richardson, Jr., “People came from 40 or 50 miles away to buy the coffins, camping at night because they traveled in wagons.” She states in a letter dated 1980, “People came from five or six counties to buy them (the coffins) from the W. B. Richardson store because he had a large stock of everything needed to live. People’s credit ran from one harvest to the next when cotton was sold.”
Mrs. Richardson said the store was forced out of business sometime before the United States entred into World War I because the boll weevil devastated the cotton farmer’s crops.
However, prior to the closing, the first Richardson store, Richardson and Company, had sold out to W. B. Richardson, Sr. The store had burned during the fire of 1883, and the new brick store Richardson built, the first brick store in town, was 50 feet by 110 feet and conformed to the fire codes established subsequent to the fire. One source says that about the only downtown building left standing was used as a “Chinese laundry” and it was separated from the other structures. Brown says the fire was caused by a suspected arsonist.
Roger Williams Doolittle founded and organized the first volunteer fire department in Newton.
In 1872, Captain T. F. Pettus came to Newton to run Richardson and Company and eventually sold his interest to W. B. Richardson, Sr. Pettus managed the company for about fifteen years and then was sent as consul to Ninpo, China, by President Grover Cleveland. Pettus lived in China for about four years. When he returned to Newton, he was elected mayor in January 1894. One of his relatives was the Pettus who became a governor of Mississippi and was instrumental in drawing up the Mississippi Ordinance of Succession.
Mrs. W. B. Richardson, Sr., was the daughter of the historian and hotel owner, A. J. Brown, and his first wife, Cornelia Watts. For more than fifty years, the W. B. Richardsons, Sr., lived in the house at 413 South Main Street, which Mrs. W. B. Richardson, Jr., said she first visited as a bride in 1921. This house was long occupied by the W. K. Prince family when Prince was married to his first wife, the late Lorene (Mabry) Prince.
W. B. Richardson, Sr., lived to be almost 93 years old, and his son, W. B. Richard, Jr., was only three weeks from his 91st birthday when he died in 1979.
After the railroad arrived, it was much easier for people from the surrounding areas to shop in Newton. One source said it was possible to take the train from Lake to Newton to shop and return to Lake the same day, using the convenient train schedule.
Shopping at Richardson’s store was not the only way of obtaining goods in Newton County in the late 19th century. By 1878, James Guthrie had acquired the hotel called the Guthrie House, later run by his son-in-law, B. D. Williams. Claude Cunningham, founder of The Newton Record in 1901, lived at the Guthrie House until he married and built his home at 503 West Church Street.
The late Miss Kate Williams describes the situation in Newton at the time B. D. Williams took over the hotel in 1895: “Newton had neither lights nor water then, so each room had a kerosene lamp for light. There were no outdoor toilet facilities. Each room had a washstand with a bowl and pitcher, a soap dish, a toothbrush mug, and a slop jar. The rooms were heated in an open grate.”
The salesmen or “drummers” who stayed at the hotel brought their heavy trunks filled with samples. “The hotel had a sample room located where Dr. R. J. Reynolds’ office and other medical offices are now. After the schoolhouse burned, the sample room was used as a schoolroom from Sept. 1910 until the fall of 1911. After the hotel burned, probably in 1906 or 1907, the Williams family lived in the sample room for a while.”
Though Miss Williams was not living in Newton at the time of the fire, she still had a good memory at the time she died in January 1986, though she was 98 years old. She remembered that the dinner was cooking on the stove at the time of the fire and the stove was carried out with the dinner on it. A considerably younger sister, who had been living in Newton at the time of the fire, disputes whether this incident took place.
The sample room was a long room in which the drummers laid out their wares on long counters. To quote Miss Williams, “after he put his samples on the counters, he would go up to town and get the merchants to go look the samples over and make an order. Then he would hire a dray to haul his trunk back to the depot and be off to the next town.” Both the dry goods and shoe drummers followed this procedure, the shoe drummers coming mostly from New Orleans.
The black men who operated the drays were Charles Scott and Peter Beale. The black man employed by the hotel to meet the trains and take care of the ordinary passenger baggage was Caesar Jack.
The grocery drummers, mostly from Threefoot and A. J. Lyons in Meridian, followed a different procedure. Miss Williams said the grocery drummers would “work a town, then hire a rig to drive to the country stores—Garlandville, Baxter, north to Decatur, even as far as Philadelphia. Rigs and drivers were available at a livery stable located next to the railroad right-of-way. Some drummers were out three days at a time”. Mrs. Williams located the livery stable about where the Quick Sak’Um is now.
Some prominent hotel guests were John Sharp Williams, James K. Vardaman, and Anslem McLauren—two of whom became governor of Mississippi, and all of whom served in the U. S. Senate.
The only meat market in town around the turn of the century, according to Miss Williams, was run by a black man named “Red” Williams. His shop was located behind what is now known as the Richardson Building.
Many people raised and butchered their own pork and produced their own milk, butter and eggs, and if any of these commodities were needed, they were bought from the neighbors. Chickens and eggs were brought in from the farms around about and marketed by the farmers’ wives for “pin” money.
Another store of exceptional prominence in Newton was Eagle’s, or Eagle and Wise, or Eagle and Levine, depending on the time being referred to. This store was located at 109 South Main, and the Eagle and Wise name is still set in tile embedded in the sidewalk in front of the address.
Joe Eagle, uncle of the late Phillip Feldman, immigrated from a small village in the old Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1890. He began his business in Newton in 1893. Eagle was the brother of Phillip Feldman’s mother. The store became Eagle and Wise in 1910. Wise died in about 1922 and the store became Eagle and Levine. In the 1930s, Eagle opened a store in Laurel and the Levines moved to Louisville, Kentucky. The store occupied more than 12,000 square feet of space and did a large mail-order business. Some say Levine operated a store in Newton for quite a while after Eagle left.
Wise was Joe Eagle’s brother-in-law, and in 1910, Eagle took Wise in as a partner. Joe Eagle’s daughter Frances married Joe Levine, so the Eagles, Wises, Feldmans, and Levines were all related.
After a twelve-day journey across the Atlantic, seventeen-year-old Phillip Feldman landed at Ellis Island, the typical destination for immigrants at the time. He did not have to endure the difficult steerage passage on his immigrant ship because his Uncle Joe had sent him a first-class ticket costing $65. Feldman stayed only twenty-four hours in New York, and then left for Newton, where he worked in his Uncle Joe’s store from 1907 to 1915. While working in the store, he met his future wife, Sadie, another employee, who was from Nashville, Tennessee. Mrs. Feldman died in 1973.
In 1915, Feldman opened his own business in Decatur, and in 1927, he opened a store in Newton close to the current location of McBeath’s Drug Store. In 1934, he moved his store to its current location at the corner of South Main and East Church Streets. This store had been occupied by the business of Rew and McClinton, and as late as the 1940s the names of Rew and McClinton could still be seen painted on the side of the building.
John McClinton built the house at 601 West Church Street, now occupied by the Joe Carruci family. This house was built in 1903.
His brother-in-law, Charles Rew, built an identical house where Laird Home Health Agency is now at 302 South Main. This house burned, and the Charles Rews moved next door to live with their son Robert at the corner of Rew and South Main Streets.
In 1981, Phillip Feldman died, leaving the store to be managed by his son Sam and grandson Davis.
Feldman became an American citizen in 1912. He worked hard after he came to America to acquire his estate. During an interview given before he died in 1981, he mentioned that he had sold East Central Junior College 10 acres in 1915 on which the college was to build dormitories. In 1927, when he moved to Newton to establish his business, there was a problem of getting a cow from Decatur to Newton, so Bernard Feldman, one of Phillip’s sons, and a black man named Norman walked the cow from Decatur to Newton.
At one time Feldman owned considerable real estate in Newton, fifteen acres from South Main to Belmont, and in 1928, he decided to build a house on his property. However, the Henry Chapman house, built in 1924 across from the hospital and on the site of the old Guthrie house, became available, so he bought that. This house was demolished in 1986.
These Orthodox Jewish families have always been good citizens and were easily accepted by the community. The late Mrs. Sadie Feldman was very active in the Hospital Auxiliary, organized at Newton Hospital in the 1950s. They had, and the family still has, good friends here. Mrs. Olga Edmonds said that one could not buy yeast in the stores in order to make homemade bread so sometimes her mother would borrow hops from their neighbor, Mrs. Eagle, in order to make the yeast. Mrs. Ellen Moore McGee (Mrs. Lindsey McGee) says she does not remember which of the Jewish merchant families was their neighbor, but she does remember that her mother would go over to the neighbor’s house on Saturday and light the fires so that the family would not have to do this type of work on the Jewish Sabbath.
Mrs. Cornelia “Judy” Watts Logan (Mrs. Heber Logan), said that when she was employed in the Eagle store, she would often be invited over to the Eagle home to make taffy, which was sometimes difficult because of family dietary restrictions. These restrictions meant that ingredients would be substituted for those called for and certain cooking utensils had to be used in order to make the result “kosher”.
Another store worthy of note was Bell’s Jewelry Store, located at 116 North Main, where Newton Cleaners is now. The business was established in 1891 and Bell acted not only as jeweler, but also as optician. He also sold silverware and musical instruments, Victrola and Edison Phonograph records. The Edison records were one-quarter inch thick and 10 inches in diameter.
John Lawson Bell, the jeweler’s son, said the building on North Main, built in 1906, was a freestanding one and was the first one in the business section that was designed by an architect. The architect was P. J. Krause of Meridian. The store featured a bay window on the second floor and a diamond shaped window with a plate glass back on the ground floor. There was a beautiful chandelier in the center of the store. The store had its own lighting system.
The upper floor was designed for a traveling photographer who weighed over 300 pounds. The photographer, according to J. L. Bell, drove a two-horse surrey and later bought a Model T Ford. Bell lived on the corner of Bell Street and South Main.
In giving economic statistics, Brown says that in 1888-1889, 11,203 bales of cotton were shipped from Newton. He said that in 1894 there was a spoke lathe owned by Z. T. Doolittle, and in 1893, P. E. Blelack (correctly Blalock) erected a hub lathe and “furnished the Progress Manufacturing Company at Meridian a large supply of lathes.”
In 1910, H. C. Majure wrote a letter to the editor of the Newton Record in which he gave details about Newton as it appeared in 1890. He said there were 350 residents of the town of Newton, “only $100,000 of assessed valuation. There was one railroad, one grist mill, one blacksmith shop, no schoolhouse, and no school.” Nevertheless, other records indicate that J. D. West opened a school in 1866. The Male and Female Academy, actually more of a high school, opened in 1888.
Majure said that 12,000 to 15,000 bales of cotton were handled every year, and the town had a payroll not exceeding $1,000.
Businesses Around the Turn of the 20th Century
Records indicate that in 1895, Newton had twelve business houses, three livery stables, two newspapers (probably the Mississippi Baptist and the Commercial), and two hotels—the Guthrie House and the Brown House, the latter run by the historian, A. J. Brown.
The population of Newton increased dramatically near the turn of the century. In 1900, the population was said to be 537; in 1910 it was listed at 1,878; in 1970 the population was officially listed as 3,442 and in 1980 the population was 3,708. Though the 1901-1903 minutes of the Newton Board of Alderman indicate that, early in the century, the boundaries were extended quite frequently. Mrs. Lorene Prince’s History of Newton County, 1860-1975, states “The city limits that remained constant for decades were extended north, south and east in 1959 and northeast in 1967. The 1902-1903 boundaries were extended in 1904, after which the town marshal was sent to take a census. This functionary also had to collect taxes, keep the animal pound, and perform numerous other duties. The current police chief says that at one time the Newton town marshal was also expected to maintain law and order in Decatur. The result of the 1904 census was that a population of 1,059 persons lived within its boundaries.”
Newton was still a wild place when it came under the code of municipalities in 1903. The first action taken by the Board of Aldermen at the time was to specify again that the name of the town was to be Newton. One source says that until R. W. Doolittle requested that the town be named for his son, the town had previously been called Doolittle.
Early on, the Board members designated the town marshal as the one who would collect taxes, be street commissioner, sanitary officer, and so on.
There was a great need for the marshal to act in his capacity as sanitary officer, because there were frequent cases of diseases such as typhoid, and though the Newton situation is not known, in 1904, there was a case of small pox reported in Hickory. The Board enacted ordinances regarding yellow fever and required, for that and other diseases, the family of the victim must be quarantined and the house disinfected. The marshal must see to it.
Another ordinance required that surface privies were to be disinfected once a week and the exact ingredients to be used when carrying out this procedure were listed in detail.
The members of the Board were vitally concerned about the use of firearms inside the city limits. There was an ordinance enacted against “pointing a firearm”. Another ordinance stated, “If any person be guilty of racing or shooting in the street or public highway, he shall, upon conviction,be fined not more than $50 dollars or be imprisoned in the municipal prison not more than ten days or both.”
There was also an ordinance enacted against “carrying deadly weapons concealed”. The deadly weapons listed with this ordinance included butcher knives, sling shots, swords and sword canes”. Violators would be fined as steep as $300 and imprisoned 90 days.
There were exceptions, however. The ordinance stipulated that it was not to include “persons who have been threatened, a person setting out on a journey and is not a tramp, a mail carrier, and a person transporting valuables.”
The early Board minutes include another ordinance enacted to prevent fighting in a public place, or private place, with deadly weapons. The sentence for violating this last act was a fine of $300 or 90 days.
A most curious ordinance was one which stated that one was “not to give deadly weapons and cartridges to children and drunks.” It is supposed that there was a need for this law or it would not have been enacted.
An effort was made to legislate morality, and ordinances were enacted to prohibit “the operation of houses of ill fame.” There was also an ordinance which prohibited the taking or receiving of bribes, and an ordinance prohibiting the sale of liquor.
Though some might think that in 1973 there would not have been a need for a weapons ordinance, the minutes of the Board of Aldermen for April 11, 1973, record an ordinance stating, “It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge any description of firearms or pellet guns, or guns operated by compressed air or gas within the city limits except when absolutely required in performance of military duty or in actual self-defense, or enforcement of law.”
The 1902-1904 members of the Board of Aldermen enacted more mundane ordinances, such as the one that listed the places of business that could stay open on Sunday. These privileged places were drugstores, butcher shops, icehouses, restaurants, and bathhouses.
In an effort to improve the quality of life, an ordinance was enacted that prohibited the posting of signs for patent medicines which showed the advertising to be “indecent or offensive”.
In addition to the population explosion, Newton was growing in other respects during the early 20th century. In a 1910 letter to The Newton Record, H. C. Majure stated that “in 1902 Newton got the Mobile, Jackson, and Kansas City Railroad”. In 1910, according to Majure, the town had a population of more than 2,000. His count was a little different from the official count, though at one time Majure was postmaster and should have been expected to be informed on matters such as population. Also, according to Majure, the town had four fine brick churches, which would include the Central Baptist Church, now used as the City Hall, and one of the best-equipped sanitariums in Mississippi.
Majure goes on to say that in 1910, Newton had “the largest and best compresses in the state, an ice plant, and the best electric light plant in the state, the largest planing and woodworking plant in the state”. He speaks of the $50,000 college, the two newspapers (The Newton Record and Baptist Record), the “two fine banks with combined capital of $85,000, the two farmers union warehouses, the two first class meat markets, the two barbershops, the three restaurants and the four hotels.” His four-hotel count may be understated, because the late Mrs. Mamie Hunter Powe said that when her family bought the Central Hotel in 1912, there were five hotels in town, and these can be named.
Majure states that in 1910, Newton had one reliable nursery, one livery stable, one bakery shop, one leather repair shop and manufacturer, one electric gin, and work had begun on a large spoke mill. “Our payroll today is over $150,000 a year,” he says. “You seldom see a drunken rowdy or hear a pistol shot in the city limits, while twenty years ago it was a weekly occurrence.”
Majure states that there were twelve passenger trains leaving Newton daily and though that sounds like a large number, many people who were there to see them have mentioned the figure of eight daily passenger trains stopping in Newton later in the century.
There were quite a few significant events with regard to utilities that took place in Newton during the first decade of the 20th century.
In 1902, a lawyer named G. H. Banks moved to Newton from Hillsboro and established a law partnership with M. P. Foy of Decatur. In 1903, G. H. Banks was chairman of a civic organization of merchants formed for the purpose of discussing “watering the town and giving it electric lights.”
In 1904, the contract was let for a water system. That same year an ordinance was enacted granting W. M. McRaven “the right and privilege to erect posts and wires along streets, alleys and ways of Newton, Mississippi.”
G. H. Banks was on the Board of Aldermen in 1905 and 1906.
In 1907, bonds were issued for the Newton water system. With the bond money, a reservoir was to be constructed, and at a cost of $1,900 a tank and water tower were to be constructed. A pipeline was to be constructed for $7,000, a deep well was to be sunk for $1,600, and $40,000 worth of bonds at 6% were to be sold.
In 1908, a mass meeting was held concerning a sewer system and sidewalks for Newton, and later in the year, sewerage bonds were issued. Also, in 1908, Newton’s first deep well was finished, and in 1909 the town board ascertained the cost of a light plant.
Between 1903 and 1913, something like $70,000 to $75,000 was spent on a light plant, sewerage, and street improvements. By 1913, the city owned a light plant that furnished light for all the business houses and about 75 streetlights.
Nevertheless, by February 1920, expensive repairs were in order, causing Mayor G. W. Walton to call a special meeting about the matter. The February 5, 1920, edition of The Newton Record records the meeting in detail. The mayor, the Board of Aldermen, and interested citizens, attended the meeting. Mayor Walton said that when he took over as mayor, “the lights and water plant were in deplorable condition”. At the meeting, the mayor called upon Dr. G. H. McNeill for expert testimony. Dr. McNeill was, according to the historian A. J. Brown, a graduate of the “Medical College in New Orleans” and had done post-graduate work in New York City. The mayor called upon McNeill because, he said, “the doctor had more to do with getting the light and water plant than any man here”.
Dr. McNeill revealed the water situation in vivid detail. He stated that when he came to Newton “there were a number of cases of typhoid fever every year until we got the deep well water”. Since that time he could not think there had been a single case that was not traceable to some outside source. He said that he was a member of the Board when the plant was installed, and he thought he had a good system then, and still thought so. “It has been in operation about 12 years, and if any money has been spent on improvements, I do not know of it,” Dr. McNeill said. The Newton Record then noted that Dr. McNeill “suggested that we ought to have the water in the reservoir analyzed at least once or twice a year and see that the canal that carries the sewage should be kept up and kept open”.
In 1950, a new deep well was dug by the Newton Water Department.
In April 1920, the Board agreed to a plan proposed by Martin J. Lido, a consulting engineer from Birmingham, Alabama, who suggested that light and water meters be installed. Lido proposed to improve the light and water plant at a cost of $15,520.
In 1918, “night current” operating continuously was available in Newton. In 1944, a curfew was observed due to an electrical shortage in February.
After a great deal of controversy, on December 7, 1926, the Inland Utilities Company bought the light plant from the city for $75,000. Later, in 1927 according to some sources, Mississippi Power Company bought the light plant from Inland Utilities. One source said that it was Mississippi Power, not Inland Utilities that erected a new building at 406 College Street (now Scanlan Street). In 1971, the minutes of the Board of Aldermen indicate that an election was held to gain approval for renewing the Mississippi Power franchise for 25 years. This renewal superseded a franchise, which had been approved on March 20, 1956.
Even though the automobile had come to Newton sometime between 1909 and 1913, more information is available about cars bought in 1913, though there seems to have been one agency earlier. Newton did not get its first stoplight until some time after 1928.
There is a good deal of controversy about who had the first automobile in Newton. A good many votes go to lumber mill owner D. L. Ragland, who had a Hupmobile. A good many votes go to J. L. Crawford, Ragland’s son-in-law and partner in the lumber business. Some cast votes for J. R. Rowzee, though others say Rowzee bought Ragland’s Hupmobile. There are a large number of voters who say the first car in Newton belonged to Charlie Jackson, who owned the drugstore, and many say he kept an alligator in the basement of the store.
In any case, Newton resident Forrest D. Copeland, one of Mississippi’s first highway patrolmen, says that in 1938 when the state first began requiring driver’s licenses, people “pretty much drove as they wanted to”.
Traffic discipline on Main Street in Newton was restored by “Shorty” Smith. Reburn T. “Shorty” Smith, a genius in dealing with electricity, joined the Mississippi Power Company in 1928, and was in charge of the Newton Power Plant completed in 1929. He built the controls for the first traffic light in Newton. He built the first automatic controls for the Newton water pump, so when the tank was full the pump would cut off. He built and installed alarms on all motors and pumps in the power plant. He built and installed a system to blow the fire whistle when someone called the fire department.
Smith also wrote music, and his musical family was part of the church orchestra at the First Baptist Church. It is said by some that he came to the door of the power plant every evening at dusk to play the trumpet. For more information about this unusual man, see the “Yesterday in Newton” column in The Newton Record for December 19, 1979.
Upgrading Streets and Utilities
The minutes of the Board of Aldermen dated October 3, 1972 note a proposal to issue $550,000 worth of bonds for the purpose of “improving, repairing, and extending the water and sewer system of the municipality”.
On June 5, 1973, the minutes of the Board of Aldermen show a 1973-1974 proposal to build a 250,000 gallon elevated tank for $134,870.
Paving of Newton streets did not begin until the late 1920s. Talk of street paving first began in the 1926-1927 minutes of the Board of Aldermen, and on December 2, 1926, they began to discuss “the paving project”. They decided on December 14, 1926 that paving was to be done on Center Street (apparently Main Street) with bricks 2½ inches thick with a concrete base four inches in thickness. The paving was to begin at the “north end of the Alabama and Vicksburg Railroad”. The paving contract was to be let to Merrill Engineering of Jackson because their bid was $8,455. For this sum of money they were to undertake paving, grading, gutter and lead pipe connection in a rather limited area, “beginning at School Street, thence north on Center Street to the intersection of Third and Decatur Street”.
The property owners “abutting” the pavement were to be assessed two-thirds of the cost, and one-third was to be paid for by the town, with the town paying for work done on the intersection.
Some members of the Presbyterian Church objected to the paving project, but eventually agreed to go along with it. The most strenuous objection to the street improvement came from Mrs. T. H. Selby, whose husband kept books for the W. B. Richardson store. Prior to having gravel put down on South Main Street around 1918 or 1919, both sides of the street had high banks, and the houses on one side disappeared into the street. According to a story told by the late Miss Kate Williams, Mrs. Selby, who lived at 406 S. Main, objected so much to having her front yard hauled away by mule teams that one day she could stand it no longer, so she went out and caught hold of the mule’s harness in an effort to stop the proceeding. Obviously, her objections came to naught.
Blacktopping of many of Newton’s streets did not begin until 1948.
Almost all of Newton’s streets were not named until some time after 1916. The late Miss Kate Williams said that when she went to work in Washington, D.C. in 1916, the only two named streets in Newton were Main and Church.
On January 27, 1927, the Board of Aldermen discussed sidewalks to be laid out in Newton. The sidewalk was to be laid out from the “east side of Center Street from Tatum Street at northwest corner of old City Hotel property”. Another sidewalk was to be on the “north side of Dent Avenue from Scanlan Street west to a point directly opposite of the boys dormitory at Clarke Memorial College”.
Hospitals and Health Care
Another Newton public service, which has sometimes been privately owned, is the hospital, which in its present form was begun in the first decade of the 20th century. It was first known as the Newton Sanitarium, then Newton Hospital, and then Rush Hospital-Newton. One source says the hospital contract was let in 1909, but other sources say the Newton Sanitarium was built in 1908. The building in use before the present building was built is said by Mrs. Billy Beatty Hendon, a former night nurse supervisor who now lives in Mobile, to have been built in 1908 by a Dr. Berry, who came to Newton from Brandon that year. Around 1912, Dr. Greg Gil bought the hospital from Dr. Berry, and a few years later he started the nursing school, which was called the Newton Sanitarium Training School.
Dr. M. L. Flynt, Sr., and Dr. Hilliard McMullan bought the hospital from Dr. Gill around 1927 or 1928, and they added a wing, bringing the number of patient beds to 25. Dr. McMullan died, and Dr. Flynt moved to Meridian in 1934. After that, Dr. Dudley Stennis and Dr. Omar Simmons operated the hospital until the summer of 1936. Dr. M. L. Flynt and Dr. Mayo Flynt operated the hospital until 1940.
Dr. Omar Simmons, a native of Louin in Jasper County, operated the Newton Sanitarium from 1940 until the new hospital was opened October 1, 1954. Dr. Simmons was administrator of the hospital until 1967. At his retirement there was a great ceremony honoring him, and as many human beings he delivered into the world as could be found were invited. H. C. Majure replaced Dr. Omar Simmons upon his retirement.
The new hospital was built with a combination of federal (Hill-Burton funds), state and local funds. Though the new hospital was a town hospital, and not paid for with county funds, patients from surrounding communities and counties were welcomed. The new hospital cost more than $675,000, and L. E. Craven supervised the construction.
Newton Hospital had 40 patient beds when it opened in 1954, and oxygen was piped to every room. Dishwashing facilities were placed in a separate area so that no dirty dishes ever entered the kitchen.
When the new hospital opened in 1954, Lt. Carroll Gartin was featured speaker at the dedication. The Hospital Auxiliary with 70 members, Mrs. J. F. Ford as president, was organized at this time and helped with the reception. Around 1953 the late Mrs. J. D. Williams and the late Miss Ola May, Director of Nurses at the time, organized the teenaged Candy Stripers, and they helped with the reception, too.
In November 1962 a new wing with eleven patient beds on two floors was added at a cost of $123,000, again using federal, state and local monies. The federal share was $82,622. At this time a contract was let for air-conditioning the entire hospital.
When the new hospital was opened in 1954, white and Negro wards were segregated, but later the wards were integrated, and each room became a private room.
In 1970 additional space was added to the lobby and office area. By 1979 there were 51 patient beds.
Rush Corporation, based in Meridian, Mississippi, owner of numerous medical facilities in east Mississippi and west Alabama, acquired the Newton Hospital in 1982, following which the hospital was no longer governed by a local board. Harold Pittman and later Dan Harrison served as administrators. As of September 1986 the hospital had 49 patient beds and was being served by a professional staff of six physicians and one dentist, with 75 additional employees. Since 1982, there were other renovations to the hospital and physical therapy was added as one of the services.
Throughout the years the town has existed there have been many serious diseases and epidemics to cope with. A 1914 item in The Newton Record stated that the health officer, Dr. A. M. Harrelson, was going to enforce the law against spitting in public to help decrease the death rate.
Spanish influenza invaded Newton in 1918. The schools were suspended and no public gatherings were held. There were 700-800 cases reported by Dr. T. E. Jarvis in the fall of 1918. The stores were opened only from 8:00 to 12:00 daily. Patron’s Union did not meet in 1918, according to one historical note in The Newton Record, because of health issues.
In The Newton Record for December 6, 1951, the local chairperson of the March of Dimes, and also for the local chapter for Infantile Paralysis, Mrs. Letha Wilson, stated that in 1951 the chapter had raised $1,572.06, but the funds were exhausted by June and the chapter had to borrow from the national foundation. Attention was called to the fact that during the preceding three years, there had been a record-breaking incidence of polio.
Mrs. Wilson stated that, “At present the local chapter is providing funds for the care, in whole or part, of five patients afflicted this year, in addition to underwriting the patient care of five stricken prior to January 1, 1951. These funds come from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis.”
Another public service of which Newton has cause to be proud is the U. S. Post Office. An early Newton Post Office was located at 121 North Main Street. The late Mrs. James D. Williams lived for a while in Newton in 1919 while her husband James investigated the seriousness of a revolution in Honduras, and she boarded with her husband’s relatives on Dear Street. Mrs. Williams had a very young 25-pound baby at the time and, since the mail was not delivered in 1919, she had to cross North Main by wading in ankle deep mud after every hard rain, since the street was not paved until much later. She said it was hard to perform this feat while carrying her heavy baby.
A number of rural delivery routes were established by 1903, and by 1913 there were five rural delivery routes in operation.
The North Main location was eventually outgrown, and on September 18, 1935, a lot owned by T. A. Baucum next to City Hall was bought for $5,000 for the new post office. L. G. White moved a two-story frame house off the Baucum lot, and the new post office was built at a cost of $64,000. The new post office was ready for occupancy in 1936, and was dedicated on November 24, 1936.
In 1936, Postmaster W. C. Mabry wrote Washington requesting a telephone for the post office, advising Washington that the installation charge would be $2.50 and the monthly rental charge would be $3.50. A previous communication method apparently had been the telegraph, judging by some of the messages preserved by the post office. In any case, Mabry stated that the new building on East Church, still used in 1986, was “located some distance from any telephone”.
The new building was heated by coal, and a good deal of correspondence passed between Washington and Mabry in June about how much coal was needed for the coming winter. The result was that Mabry ordered 40 tons of bituminous coal, and Washington told him he had 5,000 feet of storage space in the new building, and could store 74 tons at a depth of six feet.
In 1936 the post office was told to take a “census” for the Social Security Board in order to get employers and employees to register for Social Security.
In the 1940s the post office took part in the war effort and received communications from Washington pertaining thereto. For example, there was a communication concerning used ration stamps, which were to be sent by registered mail to a verification center run by the Office of Price Administration.
In 1903, the Newton Post Office advanced to become a third-class post office and receipts totaled $1,900. In 1959, receipts were less than $40,000, so the post office was demoted from first class to second class effective July 1 because, according to the postmaster, the Newton Company had moved the shipping department to an eastern plant in Delaware. Except for the Newton Company, local receipts showed an increase. In 1983, Newton Post Office was a first class post office with $273,372.30 in receipts.
Another significant internal development at the post office was the mural painted in 1941 by Frank and Mary Boggs of Knoxville, Tennessee. The mural depicts the most prominent industries in Newton at the time—oil mill, dairying, and lumber. An article in The Newton Record in 1942 states that the mural was executed with financial support from the Section of Fine Arts, Public Buildings Administration, Washington, D. C.
Another significant postal development in the 1940s was the person said by The Newton Record to be the first cabinet member ever to visit Newton County. This august person was Postmaster General James A. Farley, who arrived in Newton after attending a meeting of postmasters in Jackson, Mississippi. Two hundred citizens from Newton and surrounding area were on hand to greet Farley, who, when he arrived, shook hands with the employees, then went out to greet the people. Among those greeting Farley in Newton were the postmasters of Jackson, Vicksburg, Meridian, Union, Decatur, Louin and Bay Springs. After making other Newton County stops, Farley went to a meeting in Meridian, which was attended by some prominent Newtonians.
Other Depression Era Projects
Still another Depression Era government project for lasting public service was the construction of the Newton (or O’Keefe) Airport, so named for Major John O’Keefe, Adjutant General of Mississippi, and the person responsible for overseeing all such projects in the state. This Civil Works Administration program was the building of a landing field east of Newton for $12,000 in 1933. The completed field was dedicated on November 12, 1934 with Major O’Keefe, Sen. Pat Harrison, and Mayor J. L. Summer among those in attendance.
In 1934 Newtonians had an interest in aeronautical conveyances other than airplanes. A historical item in The Newton Record stated that in 1934, “The largest dirigible in the world, the Akron, took 40 minutes to pass over Newton at a height of 5,000 feet. Clarence Gilmore, a member of the crew, dropped a letter to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. W. A. Gilmore.”
Newton, like the rest of the country, suffered through some very sad times during the Depression, but one of the brighter spots for the Newton area during that time was the visit of Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, in March 1937. According to the account of the event appearing in The Newton Record, Mrs. Roosevelt made a short stop in Newton and made a brief talk from the platform of her train. Various Newtonians, many of whom still remember the presentation, presented flowers to her. Mrs. Roosevelt is said to have given the flowers to children in the hospital when she came to the next town with a hospital.
Many people came to Newton to get a glimpse of Mrs. Roosevelt, and some resorted to ingenious methods to see her. For example, James Nicholson and George Dearing walked to Urba (between Newton and Hickory), and when the train stopped in Urba for water, the boys got on. Schools were dismissed in Lawrence, and when some of the teachers heard the train was not going to stop unless someone got off, at least one teacher bought a ticket from Lawrence to Lake, so the train would stop and the children who came to the station could get a good look at Mrs. Roosevelt.
One historical note in The Newton Record stated that there were 40 government projects going in Newton County during the Depression. In Newton, Mrs. Linsey (Lazelle) Clark worked as a supervisor for the WPA programs. She worked in this capacity for eleven years, beginning in 1933. She said that applications for emergency orders were first taken in City Hall in an office originally staffed by five people. During the time government assistance was furnished, 800 families were receiving assistance and/or were registered in the work programs. After she stopped using the City Hall office, an office shared with the Red Cross was established where Hailey’s Hardware is now. Resources such as blankets were shared with the Red Cross.
Mrs. Clark said she was most happy to obtain the Depression job when she came back to Newton from Mobile, where she had been living with her husband who was often sick, and her two daughters. She needed a car for her work, and she was able to buy a two-year old Chevrolet from a Newton businessman, who had not had a job for two years and who, when he became unable to buy a license and gasoline, had put the car up on blocks. She paid $35 for it. The businessman later worked on some of the projects she supervised.
Many young couples seeking a better life passed through Newton during the Depression. Sometimes they spent the night in jail because they had nowhere else to go. Sometimes town people would rent them rooms. The object was to give them a little food and gasoline and pass them on to the next Traveler’s Aid Project. Mrs. Clark does not think they often misrepresented their circumstances.
Sometimes Night Marshall Ernest Baucum would come knocking on her door in the middle of the night and ask her to see the families. She would dress and go see them. For each of the transient families, often exhausted from traveling, Mrs. Clark wrote a narrative account of their plight. Newton couples also came home.
Mrs. Clark said, “Late in the Depression, a rehabilitation center was set up which provided the farmers who did not have a house, land, or tools, with all of these. Land with a vacant house was found for the farmer and his family. He was provided with a plow, an ox, a canner and a cooker for his produce, and left to work hard, which he did.”
Emergency funds were provided based on the size of the family, and the family was not expected to have any money in the bank. The president of one of the failed banks in Newton applied for a “job card”, but was turned down because he had too many resources.
Mrs. Clark told a number of success stories about people who worked on WPA projects in Newton during the Depression. For one project empty fruit jars were collected and given to people with gardens. At first there were no pressure cookers available, so vegetables were boiled. Later, the water bath method was used, and still later, pressure cookers were put into homes.
“Work cards” were issued to people digging ditches, doing construction work, etc. The “work cards” were used every day, and, contrary to the reputation of some WPA projects, Mrs. Clark thinks the workers put in an honest day’s work.
Soup lines were set up for children in Newton and in four or five rural areas. Each child brought his or her own cup and spoon. The government furnished the food and labor and the clubs in Newton helped furnish the containers for cooking. Soup lines first opened in the elementary school. Mrs. Clark said the soup furnished was mostly vegetable soup. Lunchroom programs grew out of the project. Workers were expected to feed the children for seven cents a day, and people from the country brought butter, eggs, etc.
Mrs. Clark also supervised the sewing room project for which the government furnished the materials and paid the labor. The women in the sewing project made shirts, pants, etc., which were distributed to needy children and adults. It is thought that making clothing by specific size grew out of this project.
A nursery was provided for the children of project workers. The government paid for trained nursery workers, and the nursery was able to provide a registered nurse, and, in this case, a woman who had previously been without a job was hired. The children were provided with books, toys, and games.
Mrs. Clark was making $78 a month at the time she stopped supervising the WPA projects. For each home visit she made, Mrs. Clark was obliged to write a narrative, and she had to supervise the narratives written by others. These narratives were inspected by the U. S. government and by the agency supplying the money. Mrs. Clark said she was told that the narratives would be sent to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
One program allowed destitute families to pick up a sack of commodities every 30 days. All the churches helped during the Depression.
Newton physicians Box, Simmons, and Stennis treated indigent sick children, often taking them to the hospital after a home visit. If the families were unable to pay, the government gave the doctors money, and, if a hospital visit was involved, the family received a “hospital bill” for payment. The doctors would go to a home and deliver a baby for $25.
A number of local young men went to work on Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects in this area and elsewhere. Among other projects, the CCC built Roosevelt State Park near Morton.
Charles “Duck” Williams was a Newtonian who went to work on the CCC projects. He received $1 a day, and the government furnished food, clothing, medical and dental care, and funeral expenses if a young man was killed while on duty with the CCC.
The object of the CCC was “to provide employment and vocational training for youthful citizens between 18 and 25, and to a limited extent for war veterans and Indians”. The members of the CCC were to do “useful public work in connection with conservation and development of natural resources of the United States, its territories, and insular possessions”. In May 1943 the Corps began converting to defense work, but a number of men from this area who were CCC members say it was a valuable experience.
There was a project which allowed workers paid by the government to set up a library. The library in Newton was a continuation of a library established by the 20th Century Club in 1928. The Depression library opened in March 1933 with 138 books and was sponsored by the 20th Century Club. In 1944 this organization gave a library of 1,743 books to the town of Newton and the library became tax-supported and governed by a board of directors.
The librarian is now required to have some library science training. A few years ago, the library became part of the Kemper-Newton Regional Library System.
For a while the library was housed on the second floor of City Hall, but in 1974 a new library was built on the site of the old oil mill.
- A. J. Brown, History of Newton County from 1834 to 1864
- This story originally appeared in The Newton County Sesquicentennial Edition of The Newton Record, December 10, 1986. The reader is advised that many of the locations described in recent years have changed in ownership. The original article has been edited for clarity and brevity.
- The historical location of early Newton is largely contained in Sections 27 and 34, Township 6N Range 11E. Federal patents were issued in Section 27 to Hugh McVay in 1835 and 1836, to Martin Moore in 1836, and Roger W. Doolittle in 1847, 1855 and 1860. Federal patents were issued in Section 34 to Martin Moore in 1836, Archilaus Wells on 30 September 1837 and 1 February 1841, to Roger W. Doolittle in 1854 and 1855, to John Hand in 1857 and Southern Railroad in 1856.
- This facility was later closed, but the original site was located immediately across the railroad tracks and south of the Newton Depot.