Ripley, Mississippi was founded in 1837 as the county seat of the newly-created Tippah County, one of the original “Chickasaw Cession” counties.  By 1838, a brick Courthouse was built in the center of the new town and soon surrounded by commercial structures and then, further afield,  the homes of the first settlers. By the 1850s, the town had grown to include five dry goods stores, two grocery stores and two taverns, but most of these buildings were still frame structures.  Of the many antebellum homes built during this time, only two remain: the Cole-Thurmond House, built in 1850, and the John Murray House, built in 1860.

During the Civil War, Ripley was occupied by Union soldiers on numerous occasions.  During one of these occupations, in 1864, Union troops destroyed the original courthouse and much of the town center.  After the Civil War, Ripley lost some of its prominence when the Reconstruction government of Mississippi took parts of Tippah County to create two new counties: Union and Benton.  Beginning in 1870, Ripley began to rebuild from the Civil War, with a new Courthouse constructed and several new stores built around the Courthouse.  The Ripley railroad was incorporated in 1871, and by 1887 extended from Middleton, Tennessee in the north to Pontotoc, Mississippi in the south, with the main train depot being at Ripley.

By 1880, the population of Ripley was around 600.  During the 1880s, several grand Victorian houses were built in town, including the Falkner “Italian Villa”, the Carter-Hines House (both now destroyed), the Spight House and the Finger House.  In 1893, the Ripley “First Monday” trade day was created, and still meets to this day, on the weekend prior to the first Monday of every month, though no longer in the center of the town.

During this period, the most famous resident of Ripley was Colonel W. C. Falkner, the great-grandfather of famous Mississippi author William Faulkner.  Falkner was a dashing fellow, who killed two men in town (though he was acquitted of both murders) and a novelist, like his future great-grandson.  Falkner would eventually be murdered himself.  Falkner’s life inspired his great-grandson, who modeled his character Colonel John Sartoris after his ancestor.

By 1900, new brick structures were beginning to appear around the Courthouse Square.  The period between 1900 and World War II was fairly prosperous for the town, with the population exploding from 600 in 1900 to 2,000 in 1940.  A new Colonial Revival Courthouse was built in 1928, replacing the second Courthouse built in 1870.  The period after World War II witnessed a general decline in the town, including the loss of passenger services on the railroad in the 1940s, the destruction of the Ripley Depot by 1960, and the loss of several larger businesses.  The town recovered, and now has over 5,000 residents.  Today, Ripley remains a small but prosperous town in the Mississippi Hill Country.

4 thoughts

  1. Hi Phillip,

    There may be a typo in the Ripley narrative as the GM&O RR ran thru Ripley until the 60’s. I remember seeing the maroon and red engines pulling thru New Albany in the late 50’s and early 60’s. They were dirty and smokin’ Alco FA units dragging long freights. I believe passenger service was discontinued in the late 40’s when #’s 15 & 16 (The “Little Rebel”) on that line (the old GM&N) were discontinued. The “Big Rebel” on the old M&O still ran thru Tupelo after the 40’s.

    Keep painting and posting, especially about the Holly Springs area. I save some but enjoy them all.


    Curt Ayers III



  2. According to the following newspaper article that I obtained from Tommy Covington from the SOUTHERN SENTINEL, the “Little Rebel” last ran through Ripley on February 21, 1954. As for the “Big Rebel,” I was born in 1953 and remember riding it from Artesia to West Point when I was quite small, perhaps in 1957 or 1958. That was probably one of its last runs.

    SOUTHERN SENTINEL Ripley, Mississippi March 1954
    The Rebel Has Quit Running
    JACKSON, Miss. Feb. 22 – The Gulf Mobile and Ohio Railroad announced with “deep regret Monday the passing of the South’s first streamliner and admitted it had failed to stem the trend of passenger travel from the rail to the highways.”
    Announcement of the stopping of the only through passenger service on the GM&O from Jackson, Tenn., through Walnut, Ripley, New Albany, Pontotoc, Houston, Miss., and on to Jackson, Miss., and New Orleans drew an immediate reply from Howard Little of Corinth, member of the Mississippi Public Service Commission.
    Mr. Little said that the commission had not been notified the GM&O was stopping this service.
    As soon as the commissioners heard of the action they conferred with the state attorney general office and got a citation issued against the GM&O to show cause before the commission why train service should not be restored, Mr. Little said.
    I.B. Tigrett, chairman of the GM&O board said the “Little Rebel” made its last run Sunday night (Feb. 21, 1954) between New Orleans and Jackson, Tenn., leaving the line without through passenger service. The “Big Rebel,” added later between St. Louis and Mobile, Ala. is still in service.
    The speedy red and white diesel powered “Little Rebel” was put on in 1935 featuring the then revolutionary streamlining with three air-conditioned luxury coaches.
    “We hoped to stem the trend of passenger travel from the rails to the highways,” Tigrett said. “We instituted our hostess service on this train and put into effect some of the lowest passenger fares in the country.
    “We maintained our equipment in a high state, and nothing was omitted to attract passengers. Yet, the public has come more and more, for understandable reasons to prefer automobiles for most travel needs.”
    Tigrett, whose streamliners helped boost him to prominence in railroad circles as the tiny Gulf, Mobile and Northern absorbed the Mobile and Ohio and the Chicago and Alton, said the company lost $186,226. on the “Little Rebel” last year with only 13 percent use of its seats.
    “Discontinuance was long ago in order,” Tigrett said, “and doubtless would have taken place except for the sentiment of this company for the train and the territory it crossed.”
    Turnabout passenger trains will be run and mail will be routed by truck.


  3. The ending of the Little Rebel through Ripley in February 1954, triggered David Guyton of Blue Mountain to write the following reminiscence about the “Doodle Bug,” a nickname for the railroad when it was a narrow gauge under
    Colonel Falkner:

    My Daddy and the Doodlebug
    By David E. Guyton [21Feb1880-16Apr1964, buried Blue Mountain cemetery]
    Blue Mountain, Miss., February 27: The sudden and unanticipated elimination of the Little Rebel on my own birthday last Sunday, February 21, brings back many vivid recollections of the Doodlebug, of my father, Capt. J.J. Guyton [11Jan1840 NC-26Apr1919, buried Blue Mountain cemetery] and of Col. W.C. Falkner. My father served under Co. Falkner in the earlier months of the War between the States, remained his close personal friend till his death and served also as executor of the Falkner estate.

    Because of the close relationships between Capt. Guyton and Col. Falkner, the Doodlebug had particular attractions for me, especially since my boyhood ambition was to be a locomotive engineer. When I lost my sight in childhood, nothing about blindness hurt me so much as the fact that I could never run a locomotive and this ardent ambition will linger with me till the end with a hope that I may yet have an engine to run somewhere in the great beyond.

    My Daddy owned and operated a big plantation and plantation supply store [at Guyton, Miss.] two miles south of Blue Mountain and when Col. Falkner completed the Doodlebug to Pontotoc, Miss., Col. Falkner saw to it that Guyton, Miss. had a regular station rating with a sizeable and comfortable depot and with my Daddy, of course, as station agent along with being postmaster, merchant and planter with a business running deep into the hinterland in all directions.

    The Doodlebug at first, ran from Ripley, Miss., to Middleton, Tenn., a distance of 24 miles, making only three round-trips a week. It was a narrow-gauge railway and the tiny locomotive and coaches and freight and flat cars could not be shifted to the tracks of the old Memphis & Charleston R.R. at Middleton, making it necessary to transfer items of shipment at Middleton and later on at New Albany, Miss., when the Doodlebug crossed the Frisco R.R. The little steel rails were likewise tiny and all the bridges along the line were far from standard size and structure.

    The first two locomotives No. 1 and No. 3 were familiarly spoken of by everybody as Dolly and Tanglefoot. Dolly was a passenger type engine and Tanglefoot was a freight type with three little driving wheels on each side, hence the name Tanglefoot. These little engines naturally lacked power to pull long and heavily loaded trains and often on the steeper grades had to back up the track and take a fresh start to get over the grade ahead. All of the equipment, of course, belonged to the Doodlebug Line. Only a few little passenger cars were in service, but now and then, when some big excursion was run, such as a public hanging in Ripley, the little flat cars were turned into temporary passenger cars by having rough plank seat added with a brush arbor roof against the sunshine and showers of cinder.

    Col. Falkner hired convicts from the State of Mississippi to do a great deal of the construction work on the roadbed of the Doodlebug. I recall vividly how one of their convicts tried to escape and how he was shot down by Walter Ray of Blue Mountain less than a mile from my Daddy’s store. The convict was brought and placed under the protecting roof of my Daddy’s old fashioned cotton gin. Later he was taken to Blue Mountain where Mother Berry admitted him to her own home and where she saw that he was carefully nursed through a long spell of typhoid fever from which he died. This convict lies buried in the edge of the Blue Mountain Cemetery.

    After a while Dolly and Tanglefoot could not take care of the growing traffic and Col. Falkner purchased two larger second-hand locomotives No. 7 and No. 40. One of these was named the Col. W.C. Falkner and the other the Gen. M.P. Lowrey, Col. Falkner and Gen. Lowrey being close personal friends. The No. 7 was one of the passenger type but the No. 40 was long and heavy and had three big drivers on each side. After the death of Col. Falkner, the family purchased a brand-new, beautiful locomotive with air brakes, the No. 9, the pride of the Doodlebug till the gauge was widened [to]the standard size.

    C. Lee Cox of Ripley used to serve as a fireman on all of these Doodlebug engines. He and I were talking Friday of the way the locomotives used to be brought to Blue Mountain to the Big Lowrey & Berry water tank on the line to be washed out and made ready for better service. We all discussed the way the little locomotives had to be supplied with wood for fuel [a few words missing, perhaps—from a stop near Blue Moun]tain and another near Brownfield just below Middleton. Once in a while, when the wood supply in the tinder became too low to finish a run, the crew would get off on the side of the right-of-way and with axes kept for the purpose would cut up enough wood for the fuel needed for the rest of the run. Later, of course, coal was substituted for wood for fuel.

    Mr. Lee Cox’s father, Mr. Tom Cox and an uncle, Mr. John Cox, used to run these Doodlebug engines. Chesley Hines of Ripley lost his life near Falkner, Miss. [in ca 1878], while serving as an engineer, the only locomotive engineer, I believe, to die while on duty on the Doodlebug.

    Among these who were in service on the Doodlebug should be mentioned such conductors as Walter Harris, Sam Kidd, Claude Hines, and too many others to list in this limited little sketch. Capt. C.Lee Harris of Ripley, for years superintendent of the Doodlebug, played a large part in its success as did Mr. [A.E.] Davis who married, Miss Effie Falkner, one of the daughters of Col. Falkner. Capt. Harris moved to Memphis and lived there for some years before his death.

    One of the amusing features of the Doodlebug was the ambitious names for the line. The Gulf, Ship Island, Ripley and Kentucky R.R. used to be on the way-bill, I vividly recall. Later on, the Gulf & Chicago R.R. took the name though the Doodlebug was never nearer Chicago than Middleton, Tenn., and never nearer the Gulf of Mexico than Pontotoc, Miss. It was the ambition of Col. Falkner to build the shortest and most direct rail route between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. This dream was largely carried out by Mr. I.B. Tigrett; but the story of the Gulf, Mobile & Northern and of the Gulf, Mobile & Ohio came much later in the evolution of this great railway system which must long remain a monument to Mr. Tigrett and his brave and successful adventures.

    We who knew and loved the Doodlebug all along the line from Middleton, Tenn., to Pontotoc, Miss., still cherish fond memories of those pioneer days. We love the Little Rebel, too, and we miss its familiar whistles and attractive appearance; but Col. W.C. Falkner and my Daddy, too, kept a warm spot always in their loyal hearts for the Doodlebug and the territory it traversed and served so well.
    Southern Sentinel, March 4, 1954 Thursday.


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