Monument to completion of railroad to be unveiled at Depot
March 31 is an important day in the history of Hazlehurst. It was on this day in 1858 that Hazlehurst took a place in the history of the railroad when the last spike was driven here. This completed the line that had been built from Canton on the north and from New Orleans on the south. When the two lines met here the future of Hazlehurst, Crystal Springs, Wesson and other communities up and down the line was changed forever.
The name of the railroad was the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern Railway. In 1874 the decision was made to take the railroad north from Canton to Chicago instead of going northeast as originally planned. In 1882 the railroad became part of the Illinois Central Railroad. In 1998 the Canadian National Railroad bought the Illinois Central and made this line part of its system.
The growth of Hazlehurst began with the completion of the railroad. Businesses and people began to move from Gallatin to Hazlehurst. Gallatin was a prosperous town and the county seat. By 1872 Hazlehurst had grown to the point that the county seat was moved from Gallatin to Hazlehurst. Gallatin eventually passed out of existence. The railroad had passed it by.
One of the early economic activities that contributed to the growth of Hazlehurst, Crystal Springs and Copiah County was the development of the produce industry. The movement of large volumes of crops to other parts of the nation would have been impossible without the railroad. The first railroad car of tomatoes was shipped from Crystal Springs to Denver, Colorado in 1883. In 1936, over 4000 carloads of produce were shipped from Copiah County. The railroad made it possible for the Hazlehurst Box Factory and other box plants that developed along with the produce industry to ship crates and baskets to many parts of the country. For over 50 years a large percentage of the people in Copiah County derived at least part of their income from these industries that were railroad dependent.
Today the industries are different, but if you look around you will see that our economy after 150 years still has strong ties to the railroad. And we still have passenger service.
On Monday, March 31, at 2:30 p.m. at the Depot Museum the Hazlehurst Area Chamber of Commerce will host a ceremony to unveil a monument to remind us of this historic event in our town’s history. The public is invited and encouraged to attend this event.
In Hartwell Cook’s book “Hazlehurst” there is an interesting account of the driving of the last spike. The information for this story came from the Illinois Central Historical Society.
On March 31, 1858, a special train left New Orleans headed for Jackson and on to Canton. On board were John Calhoun, president of the railroad; George Hazlehurst, chief engineer, and many other distinguished guests. In front of the locomotive there was a cannon mounted on a flatcar. The booming of the cannon announced the progress of the train to everyone on the line. It was reported that “the shouts of the people proclaimed their appreciation of the great event – the linking of the two chief cities of Mississippi and Louisiana by railroad.”
When they arrived at Hazlehurst the train stopped and the officials walked to the spot where the tracks joined. George Hazlehurst acted as master of ceremonies. There was an invocation followed by a brief speech by President Calhoun, who was a tall man made to look even taller by the giant beaver skin hat he wore. Calhoun then stepped forward and drove the last spike. The line was completed. Sixteen hours after it left New Orleans the train arrived at Canton.