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.