history was taken from the winning essay in a medal contest held
by the Wade Hampton Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The essay was written by Frankie B. Stewart. Ms. Stewart was
the great-granddaughter of "Poplar" Jim Smith, founder of Poplarville,
Mississippi. At the time of the writing, Ms. Stewart was a Junior
at PRCAHS. She attended Pearl River College in 1929-1930.
In the early 1800's pioneers,
venturing from the crowded conditions of the Eastern United States, found
their way to the Mississippi Territory. In 1817 Mississippi was organized
into the present State of Mississippi.
Mississippi was divided into
far fewer counties than now. As the state grew, these counties were
subdivided into the number of counties that are evident today.
In the southern portion of
the state, in the area between Marion and Hancock counties, the people
began efforts to organize another county. The plan was to take land
from both counties to make up a third county. The land area chosen
for this new county was occupied by a tribe of Native Americans (Choctaw)
called Caesar (after their chief). A large percentage of the people
attempting to organize this county were from Virginia and North Carolina.
The county of Pearl was organized
by legislation passed in the state house and senate in 1872. Jim
Smith, an early county landholder, was said to have given one of the Native
Americans ten bushels of corn for his claim. Much of the land was
public land. Pearl county's existence was brief. After the
courthouse (located in the Masonic Lodge at Byrd's Chapel) burned, destroying
all important records, and because there was not enough taxable land to
pay required debts inherited from Marion and Hancock counties,
the county was abolished
six years later by the state legislature and the land was returned to the
two older counties.
After Pearl County was abolished,
northern syndicates bought up most of the public lands for the virgin pine
forests. Land prices in this undeveloped area were extremely low
and were generally bought in vast tracts. D.A. Blodgett was one of
the primary landowners during this time.
In 1890 the county of Pearl
River was organized from two districts taken from Marion and Hancock counties.
Since Pearl could not be used for the new county name (according to state
law), River was added to the name, making it Pearl River County.
The new county utilized current county lines except for Lumberton which
was later annexed to Lamar County and the area below McNeill, which was
not added until an annexation in 1908.
Before the old Pearl County
was abolished, the New Orleans and North Eastern railroad began laying
track. This was completed around 1884 and contributed to the rapid
growth and, subsequently, to the reestablishment of a county. Principal
landowners were situated in a fertile area along the banks of the Pearl
River. Some of these landholders were: A.B.F. Rawls, "Poplar"
Jim Smith, Jim Bilbo, W. Calvin Stewart, Joel Baughman, Luther Rawls, J.E.
Stewart, Jim Wheat and Albert Amacker.
The first officers of the
county were appointed by Governor John Marshal Stone. They were:
Captain J.M. Shivers, sheriff; T.R. White, clerk; J.L. Bonner, Superintendent
of Education; and B.F. Rawls, generally known as the father of the county,
was selected as president of the board of supervisors. Supervisors
were: P.E. Williams, James M. Smith, Joseph Wheat, and Thomas Martin.
During the initial development of the county, each able-bodied man was
required to give two days a year to road work.
Poplarville, the county seat,
can trace its history to 1879 when the first United States Post Office
was established there. The Post Office was set up in a store owned
by "Poplar" Jim Smith, a local land owner, who got his nick name from the
Poplar Springs Branch where he built his home. Smith's house was
located approximately behind where Gandy's Sunflower Store now stands.
Smith's son-in-law wrote the Postmaster General submitting the name "Poplarville"
after the store's owner's nickname. The name was accepted.
By 1884, Poplarville was approved as an incorporated town under Mississippi
law. In 1892 the town petitioned the state legislature for recognition
as a separate school district. They received 2nd class municipality
standing in June of that year and organized Poplarville High School which
added grades 9 and 10 to the graded school system (grades 1-8) already
The first county court house
was built in 1892 by Camp and Hinton for $8,290. This two story building
became the county hospital when the new court house was built in 1918.
In the late 1940's the building was torn down and the lumber used to build
a new hospital, which served in that capacity for about a decade until
the new county hospital was built on the edge of town. The old hospital
was reclaimed by the court house and now serves as the Justice Court Building
behind the court house.
In 1892, a boarding school
was built. This was a two story building with 6 large classrooms
located about where the present grammar school is located. This boarding
school drew students from all over the southern part of the state.
W.I. Thames served as superintendent until 1906, when he established the
South Mississippi College (William Carey College) in Hattiesburg.
Two years later, the college lost several buildings to fire and Thames
became the Picayune High School Superintendent.
The first county election
was held in 1892 with N. Batson being elected as sheriff; W.G. Stewart,
Representative; G.W. Bilbo, Assessor; R.L. Ratliff, Chancery and Circuit
Clerk; W.C. Anderson, Superintendent of Education; P.E. Williams, President
of the Board of Supervisors; and the board, consisted of: G.W. Smith,
W.C. Stewart, R.T. Martin, J.L. Strahan, and Andy Smith (Treasurer).
Shortly after the turn of
the century, Lumberton, located in the north part of the county, withdrew
from Pearl River County and was annexed to Lamar county.
In 1908, The area south of
McNeill was a part of Hancock County. This included Picayune.
This section of Hancock County was denied court facilities in their part
of the county, and because of distance, the citizens sought to become a
separate county with Picayune as the county seat. The state legislature
denied this petition and, instead, annexed the north west section of Hancock
to Pearl River County. This was approved in an election held in the
annexed portion and Pearl River County annexed the land south of McNeill.
In 1908, the county school
board met to discuss the establishment of an agricultural high school.
It was supported by county tax payers before state appropriation was worked
out in the Legislature. In 1909, the building complete, Pearl River
County Agricultural High School opened for its first session. After
the courts declared the agricultural high school law unconstitutional in
1909, a number of Poplarville citizens banded together and borrowed money
to keep the school going until a new agricultural high school law could
be passed. This took place in the spring of 1910. This school
later (1921) became the first high school to offer college freshman courses
making it the first public 2-year post-secondary institution in the state,
first in the gulf south, second in the south, and 16th in the nation.
Pearl River County, an innovator
in the educational field, led the state in consolidated schools and teachers'
homes, and was, for four years, designated as a model county, receiving
a large appropriation from the Rockefeller Foundation.
Governor, and later, Senator
Theo. G. Bilbo was a native of Pearl River County who contributed greatly
to the establishment of the agricultural high school along with many other
In 1918 a new court house
(the present one) was built by Dabb and Wetmore of Meridian. The
total cost of the project was $130,000.
In 1891 the county was assessed
at $1,119,373.50. By 1927 this had increased to $14,000,000.
In 1927 the county's population was 18,000 and the population at Poplarville
was 1,800. There were 33 schools in the county, 2,100 automobiles,
260 miles of gravel road, and two experiment stations (run by Mississippi
Agricultural and Mechanical College, now Mississippi State University), one
at McNeill and the other at Poplarville. The county also boasted
four saw mills.
On June 3, 1926, the United
Daughters of the Confederacy erected a marble monument to the Confederate
Veterans and mothers of Confederate soldiers on the lawn of the court house
at a cost of $10,000 (a sizable sum in 1926).
The county employed a county
doctor and nurse, a county Home Demonstration Agent, and a County Agricultural
Agent. Three hospitals were located in the county: two in Poplarville
and one (Martin Sanitarium) in Picayune.
By 1927 most of the county's
timber had been cut and the residents turned to truck farming and raising
fruit. Picayune was the Peach center, even holding a Peach Festival
County officials were:
Arthur J. Smith, Sheriff; J.N. Stewart, Superintendent of Education; L.T.
Simpson, Circuit Clerk; H.K. Rouse, Chancery Clerk, H.S. Stewart, Assessor,
C.J. Blackwell, Representative; and J.S. Moody, President of the Board
of Supervisors. The Board of Supervisors were: Hamp S. Stewart,
W.C. Bass, M.D. Tate, and Pate Lumpkin.