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Many people showed up at the whistle stops, the beginning of the trail, the end of the trail, and in Pontotoc Sunday afternoon as the grand opening ceremonies took place along the newly opened Tanglefoot Trail.
Sixty people showed up in downtown New Albany to commemorate the Tanglefoot Trail trailhead.
Betsey Hamilton, past chairman of the GM&O Rails-to-Trails Recreational District and current Friends of the Trail member, welcomed everyone to the opening of the trail.
“Welcome to the official opening of the Tanglefoot Trail – a day we’ve long been waiting for. We’re here this afternoon to dedicate northeast Mississippi’s 44-mile multi-use recreational trail and celebrate its history,” said Hamilton. “For the past eight years, it has been my pleasure to have been involved in this very worthwhile project. I’d like to thank Mayor Tim Kent and his board of Aldermen for allowing me the opportunity to represent the City of New Albany through this process.”
“It has been an amazing journey and one which exemplifies what can be accomplished when people work together cooperatively. The effort began in 2005 when a small group of interested citizens in Pontotoc called others to gather. Chickasaw County was the first to officially endorse preserving the corridor and the City of New Albany filed the necessary papers to railbank the corridor, thus setting into motion the establishment of the recreational district, the purchase of the right-of-way and the construction of the trail,” said Hamilton.
She said that there was so much support from the board of supervisors, city officials, board of directors, the staff at Three Rivers Planning and Development District, federal and state highway departments and Mississippi Development Authority, Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, Appalachian Regional Commission, foundations, and private donors.
“The communities along the trail have what no other area north of Hattiesburg can claim – not Jackson, not Meridian, not Oxford, Tupelo, Corinth or Southaven. Three counties and six communities have come together for the common good of all. We have a very special recreational destination attraction and for that we should all be extremely proud.
Enjoy the future as our communities fill with out of town users – bikers, marathon runners, nature enthusiasts and others who appreciate all we have to offer. It’s going to be an exciting time,” said Hamilton.
Jill Smith, director at the Union County Heritage Museum, said, “We are standing here on storied ground. What was first a path travelled in prehistoric times and became known as the Chickasaw Trail later became part of The Ripley Railroad. And this is what helped change the economy in the post-Civil War era here in New Albany and Union County. Transportation moved to a higher gear when the railroads crossed in New Albany.”
“Today the railroads serve as a benchmark in the history of our region and a major artery in the cultural bloodstream. As the Kansas City, Memphis and Birmingham raced with the building of the rails to New Albany, so did Col. William C. Falkner. The East-West line got to New Albany in Dec. 1886 and in Aug. 1887 the Ripley line arrived,” said Smith. “To build the Gulf and Ship Islands line from Ripley, Mr. Falkner used 250 prisoners as his labor force from the state prison, Parchman. So if there are any ghosts along the line, I would imagine it would be some of those nameless souls who died and were buried where they fell from overwork, underfeeding and trigger happy guards. The one testimony we have to those men is the Frenchman’s Grave at Gayle’s Crossing who was shot after he read the letter from his wife who was dying.”
In order to get more construction money to get the line built, Falkner had a bidding war between Glenfield and New Albany. New Albany merchants gathered up $10,000 and that is the reason that the line came through this town.
Smith said as the line became commercially viable, the No. 3 engine, The Tanglefoot, was one of three locomotives fed with wood and was one that continued to work after the line was completed. The narrow gauge was changed to standard gauge by 1905 and the narrower track ran along side the other one in some places and by 1925, the narrow gauge was abolished and the Tanglefoot engine was scrapped.
New Albany Mayor Tim Kent said, “I am glad to have been a part of the establishment of this trail. The opportunity to establish this fabulous trail began in 2003 when the Mississippi-Tennessee Railway abandoned the right-of-way, thus allowing the conversion of the abandoned railroad to a recreational trail. This was done under the Federal Railbanking Act, which keeps rail properties intact should they ever be needed again as railroads or for public utilities. In late 2005, the railbanking was about to expire. I had just taken office a few months before.”
“Walkers, bikers, joggers, and nature lovers will enjoy this trail, but so will history buffs. What I love about this trail is that everyone can go on this trail regardless of race, physical ability, or income. There was a guy that was 80 years old and he traveled the entire trail to and from and if he can do it, we can all do it,” said Kent. “Locally, I want to thank the New Albany Board of Aldermen and the Union County Board of Supervisors for their contribution and participation. I want to recognize the former and current members of the GM&O Rails-to-Trails Recreational District board of directors-Betsey Hamilton, Ray Collins, Zack Stewart, and Sean Johnson, local political leaders, and I want to thank everyone for their cooperation as this project has been built over the past several years.”
At the Ingomar whistle stop, approximately 20 people showed up at the grand ceremony and around 10 bicyclists and/or joggers were using the trail at the time of the ceremony.
Hamilton said, “We have been waiting for this day for a long time and I hope all of you in the community of Ingomar will get outside and enjoy this trail. Of all of the whistle stops along the trail this whistle stop had the most individual donors.”
Smith said, “This rail line serves as a link from the past to the future in more ways than one. When Col. Faulkner built it in the after math of the Civil War, It was a link to carry goods and services and for more than 100 years it served as such. It is especially in Ingomar and the Mitchell Switch area that one can know that the path for the Tanglefoot Trail is on the original path of the Chickasaw Trail. It is on this path that we pass directly through the home site of Ishtehotopah, the last King of the Chickasaw.”
“I believe that Mitchell Switch was a watering station for the steam engine, named so for the large land-holding family, the Mitchells, who were business friends with Col. Falkner. It’s a physical cultural connection from the past to the future. The rails got to New Albany in August 1887 and to Pontotoc for the driving of the silver spike on July 4, 1888, when 700 tickets were sold at a cost of $1. So we know that somewhere in between, the rails made it to Ingomar,” said Smith.
Ingomar was not the name of the community at that time. Supposedly, Col. Falkner decided to name the depot of his railroad Ingomar after a Chickasaw Chief.
“I have always suspected that Falkner realized how close to the home of the Ishetopotah he was and that was another reason. He has a farm call Ishatubby farm that he sold for $25,000 when in trouble with finances during the building of the railroad,” said Smith. “The people who have traveled the path of the railroad starting in the times of prehistory are so numerous and there are so many stories, include the fact that Meriwether Lewis came this way in 1809 before the railroad was conceive. He and people who were important and those just regular folks like myself – have made use of the trail and will continue to. Isn’t that the beauty of it?”
Hundreds of people showed up in Pontotoc at the grand opening ceremony.
Mayors from all of the cities and towns along the trail were present, along with state and federal dignitaries, including the honorable Roger Wicker, U.S. senator for Mississippi.
Wicker began talking about his fond memories of being raised in Pontotoc and many of his childhood memories were of him living near the railroad tracks.
“We lived about 100 yards from the railroad tracks and me and my friends would put coins on the tracks for the train to flatten them. I have so many memories of the railroad here and it was such a setback for the city and the area when the railroad closed,” said Wicker. “I have to take my hat off to those in Congress who came before me who enacted support from the federal level. We are all together taking an economic setback and making something good come out of it. Today is the culmination of so many efforts and today we are opening something worthy of remembering.”
Randy Kelley, director of Three Rivers, said, “Today is the celebration of a nine-year project. Nothing worth having is easy. I commend all of you who made this happen and I think future generations will commend you as well. I thank you for your vision. Betsey Hamilton was one of many local citizens who saw this vision and made it happen.”
Ray Collins, chairman of the GM&O Rails-To-Trails Board of Directors, said, “Railroad spikes are iconic, yet simple. On July 4, 1888, excitement filled the air in Pontotoc when nine cars, two locomotives, 1,000 people on the train, and 10,000 people attended the railroad grand opening ceremony.”
Hamilton said, “This afternoon we are here to celebrate as bicyclists along the trail relay silver spikes from Houston and New Albany through each community into Pontotoc as occurred 125 years ago with the arrival of the railroad. Both events, then and now had one name in common – Tanglefoot.”