by Ruth Morgan
for Starkville Daily News
The Illinois Central (IC) Depot, located at 223 South Jackson St. holds a treasure chest of memories for most everyone in the county as well as former college students.
The IC depot was completed in 1914 and, according to Dr. David Bridges, was used by the M&O until 1934. During those days every vehicle had to stop at the railroad crossing which had a sign that read “Stop, Look and Listen.” Today, there is no sign, but many passing the building still stop, look, and remember.
Prior to 1945, freight was shipped and received. After World War II, in 1945, the railroad sold the depot. O.F. Parker, retired county agent, remembers several federal agencies and the County Extension Office and the County Farm Bureau having offices there. Federal agencies such as the Soil Conservation Service, the Farmers’ Home Administration, the Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service and others sublet space.
The Oktibbeha County Co-op, specializing in the sale of farm supplies for farmers in the county, occupied the building for many years. Retired county agent J.K. Morgan was the co-op manager and held other agricultural duties also. Farmers would bring their produce to the depot parking lot to sell on certain days at the Farmer’s Market located there. This was the forerunner of the today’s popular Community Market, which is held on Saturdays one block away on the opposite side of Jackson Street at the signal light crossing.
Farm Bureau acquired the property from the co-op in 1975. The Oktibbeha County Farm Bureau was organized in 1923, and its office was in the T. E. Lindsey Building across the street from the depot. Years later, they set up an office in a little corner of the depot.
The Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation honorary vice president Warren Oakley served for 15 years or more years as president. When World War II came along, he arrived at the depot where he was put on a Pullman car traveling to Artesia where he was put in a passenger coach that was hooked up to an engine with a little coal car. He cannot forget peering out the train window and seeing his mother standing at the depot crying as he went off to war. Nor can he forget his battlefield injury, which put the Purple Heart medal on his uniform coat.
For many years, Oktibbeha County was known as the dairy center of the South and boosted of two milk plants, the Cooperative Creamery and Borden’s. In 1941, Oktibbeha County Farm Bureau was honored when the American Farm Bureau Federation recognized the Oktoc Community, where Warren Oakley lived, as the outstanding community in the country.
J. K. Simpson developed youth groups into organized activities in many parts of Mississippi and the Oktibbeha group was very active. Connie Jackson and Doris Morgan were part of this youth group for 10 or 15 years and attended the annual meetings and summer camps held at Choctaw Lake. They had about 25 members who kept up their friendships though the years.
Many key agricultural events came out of actions set in motion at the old depot. They played a role in the birth of Mississippi Chemical Corporation at Yazoo City. Although the basic idea of farmers themselves synthesizing anhydrous ammonia fertilizer was a result of a trip to Holland by the then MFBF President Ransom Aldrich, several key techniques went into it after research at State College.
Then County Agent J.K. Morgan and MFBF Director Shy Ramsay were primarily involved in touring an old ammunition plant at Prairie, which was being considered for conversion into the manufacture of liquid ammonia fertilizer to alleviate shortages such as those which occurred during World War II.
William White of Oktoc was also president of the County Farm Bureau and went on to become a leader in the development of Mississippi Federated Cooperatives.
The beautiful old red brick depot has witnessed the unfolding of many important agricultural events down through the years and the Oktibbeha County Farm Bureau has enjoyed a long and distinguished history while housed here.
O. F. Parker, retired County Agent and retired Chancery Clerk remembers: “I hitchhiked from Newton County to Starkville when I entered college and had my trunk shipped by rail. My first memories of the depot is going there to pick up my trunk with all my belongings for college. Then, I became assistant county agent in 1950; my office was in the depot. The building is well built. County Extension offices were there until 1962 when we moved to the Dr. J. W. Eckford Memorial Clinic Building on Washington Street across from the courthouse.
I have vivid memories of the dairy shows held there. I enjoyed working these shows, which were held in the back of the depot. The turkey days Mr. J. K. Morgan organized and held at the depot with the long lines of farm wagons and turkeys all over the place still linger in my memories of the depot.”
In 1962, Extension implemented Economic Development Plans (OEDP). Each local county agent was required to appoint various committees in different areas and one of the areas conceived was to sell farm produce. This started the local farmers market which was held on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The market was open from 7 a.m. - 11 a.m. Tables would be brought in from the old fairground for producers to use to put their farm produce to be sold.
I remember the key person instrumental in starting and keeping the farmer’s market going was Mrs. Horace Butler, who lived on the Maben Sturgis Road. She said, ‘You can count on me to bring in produce.’ She kept her word and did this for years. I would have to say Mrs. Butler started the farmers market and kept it going.”
Mrs. Melvin (Ruby) Butler remembers: “We have fond memories of going to the parking lot in front of the depot to sell produce. My mother-in-law, Mrs. Horace (Melda) Butler loved taking produce to the farmers market. She did this for many years and thoroughly enjoyed it. She did not drive so her husband or I would drive her and the produce to the market. The children often went along with us and had the best time. Her produce would include okra, tomatoes, beans, peas, squash, cucumbers, and peas and about anything you could grow. She was an avid gardener and instilled the art of gardening in most of the family. I have enjoyed many years of gardening myself. My grandson, Greg Jeffries, was an active participant in the Community Market before he moved to Texas recently, so our family has been very active in both markets and have enjoyed them immensely.”
Ed Williams, Retired County Extension Director remembers: “The Oktibbeha County Farmer’s Market was well established when I came to Starkville as Assistant County Agent in June of 1981. The open air market was held three times a week from June through August at the Oktibbeha County Farm Bureau parking lot on South Jackson Street. A four by eight foot plywood sign on a creosote post was erected each June when the market opened. County Agent Daniel Glover would check with the producers to see when vegetables would be ready before announcing the Market’s opening each year. The County Farm Bureau President was contacted to request the space each year. Farm Bureau office staff graciously gave up their primary parking spaces for the market for those three mornings a week. Many of them were regular customers for the market produce.
Market hours were 6:30 a.m. - 9 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, but vendors often sold out by 8:00 a.m. Although the official opening time was 6:30 a.m., vendors often would get their earlier since there were some regular customers who were early risers always waiting for them when they arrived. Before long, vendors would be setting up their tables and getting their produce out for display before sunrise in order to get the best customer flow.
There were twenty or more vendors that would furnish for the market during the course of each summer in the 1980s. Some of them were there all season long, while others would be there with a particular crop for a shorter time. Shriner’s Orchard brought peaches; Reeses’ Orchard had blueberries, peaches, and oriental persimmons. There was quite a variety of vendors from all walks of life including retired factory workers, truck drivers, butchers, and school teachers, students, coaches, golf course managers, college professors, as well as full and part time farmers. Some of the members providing to the market were Mrs. Jessie Baynham of Maben, Mr. and Mrs. James McCluskey of Adaton, and Mrs. Butler of Sturgis, Mr. Robert Parker of Starkville, Jimmy Dodd of Starkville, Mr. and Mrs. Eaves of Reed Road. Some of the other producers were Freddie and Anna Marie Rasberry, David Reese, John D. Turner and John Harvey Turner of Center Grove, Mr. and Mrs. Dodds of Maben, Mr. Bell from Bradley, and M. C. Ellis of Mayhew.
The number of vendors began to decline in the 1990s. Older producers retired and there were fewer younger ones to replace them. By 2003, there were just a few regular producers and customers became discouraged. Producers vacated the South Jackson Street location and set up for a few years at the Oktibbeha County Co-op.
But all was not lost. Fortunately, some enthusiastic and energetic citizens in the community from the city and campus who missed having a farmers market and knew its value were able to put forth the Community Market concept and gave us the weekly market that we have today.”