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Railroad spike monument unveiled

SPIKE REVEALED – The mayors of Crystal Springs and Hazlehurst unveiled the giant railroad spike that commemorates the completion of the railroad 150 years ago. The last spike was driven during ceremonies in Hazlehurst on March 31, 1858. Unveiling the spike are Mayor Arthur Lee Evans Jr. of Crystal Springs, left, and Mayor Henry Banks of Hazlehurst. In the background are Randall Day, executive director of the Hazlehurst Area Chamber of Commerce; James Mitchell, 2007 Chamber president; and David B

SPIKE COMMEMORATION – Chamber president David Brunt welcomed the crowd to the commemoration of the driving of the last spike to complete the railroad 150 years ago. The Hazlehurst Area Chamber of Commerce donated the spike monument to the city.

CHAMBER PRESENTS MONUMENT TO CITY – The Hazlehurst Area Chamber of Commerce had the railroad spike monument built, with the help of local businesses, and then donated the spike to the city. Officials participating in the spike memorial unveiling included, from left, James Mitchell, past Chamber president; Arthur Lee Evans Jr., mayor of Crystal Springs; Henry Banks, mayor of Hazlehurst; Frank Jones and Daryl McMillian, Hazlehurst aldermen; Randall Day, Chamber of Commerce executive director; Davi

Not only has the railroad had tremendous influence on the economic development of Hazlehurst, it’s not a stretch to say that the city owes its very existence to those strips of metal passing through the town’s center.

“If not for the railroad, we might all be living and working in Gallatin,” said David Brunt, president of the Hazlehurst Area Chamber of Commerce, to the crowd assembled at the 150th anniversary celebration of the railroad’s completion.

The last spike in the railroad stretching from Canton to New Orleans was driven on March 31, 1858. The tracks were laid mostly through undeveloped forest, Chamber executive director Randall Day told the crowd. Towns quickly sprang up around the stations the railroad placed about every ten miles, including Hazlehurst.

Hazlehurst had grown so much by 1872 that the county seat was moved here. “Back then Gallatin was a prosperous town but it eventually passed out of existence,” Day said.

The completion of the railroad affected all of Copiah County. Crystal Springs relocated a few miles east to be near the tracks. The vegetable shipping and timber industries went on to make Copiah County towns grow and prosper.

The State of Mississippi issued rights of way to the New Orleans Jackson and Great Northern Railroad in 1852 to construct a railroad between Canton and New Orleans. Originally the tracks were meant to connect with the northeastern states, but its path was later changed to take the trains to Chicago. In 1882 the line became part of Illinois Central, and in 1998 it became Canadian National, which it still is today.

The tracks that came south from Canton and north from New Orleans were brought together at Hazlehurst a few days before officials arrived on March 31 for the ceremonial driving of the last spike.

“We’re not sure of the exact spot where it was driven, but it was near Hazlehurst,” said Day.

Among the participants in that ceremony 150 years ago was George Hazlehurst, chief engineer with the railroad. He owned the land where the town that bears his name is now located. There is also a town in Georgia named for him. John Calhoun, president of the railroad was also here for that occasion.

The train bearing the officials to the future site of Hazlehurst  had in front of the engine a flatbed car carrying a cannon. The cannon was shot at intervals all the way from New Orleans. Those living along the tracks turned out to cheer as the train passed.

“The future of Copiah County changed that day,” said Day.

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