Train depot holds open house

Published 3:09 am Sunday, December 21, 2008

Picayune’s Intermodal Center held an open house Friday evening where attendees had the opportunity to tour the festively decorated building and talk with historians who know a thing or two about Picayune and its past.

Picayune Main Street members decorated the building in holiday theme, with Christmas trees, festive lights and many decorations. The still to be finished museum had interesting items and photos on display. Photos ranged from some of the first photographed residents of the area, Hobolochitto Indians, to an aerial shot of a recent street fair.

Local collector Gary Herring said several items from several local collectors were on display, such as an old clock, oil can, phone and spittoon.

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Visitors to the center also had the opportunity to talk to Picayune historian David Stockstill, who was quite popular at the event.

Stockstill said Picayune has been the name of this town far longer than originally believed. The old story goes that Eliza Jane Poitevant Nicholson, who was the literary editor of the Daily Picayune in New Orleans, was indirectly responsible for the town being named after a coin called the Picayune in the early 1900’s, according to the city’s Website. However Stockstill has found evidence that Picayune was known as such hundreds of years before the original account.

The earliest record Stockstill found in his research of Picayune was from 1539 Spanish land records. Those records were turned over to the state of Mississippi by Spain in 1991, Stockstill said.

Stockstill has an abundance of historic information on the town. He said one of the oldest standing homes in Picayune was built in 1742, which still stands in the 400 block of Fifth Street, and was originally the home of a teacher, Stockstill said.

Hobolochitto Indians inhabited Picayune long before any white settlements were established and the Indians were allowed to stay until the 1890’s when they left to live on the reservation in Philadelphia.

In the 1880s, the railroad came to Picayune, which turned the town into a fueling station for old steam engines. Between where U.S. 11 is now and what is now the police station were 14 tracks used to switch rail cars and an quarter-mile elevated platform used to fill steam powered train engines with coal, Stockstill said.

Illegal gambling also took place in Picayune using the rail system. Stockstill said he found a record of a police raid that took place in 1908 based on some shady activity in a mobile caboose. The suspicious activity caught the attention of the police chief at the time forcing the department to check it out.

The police found two slot machines, two card tables and $3,000 in cash in the raid on the caboose. Apparently the caboose had been traveling between Meridian and New Orleans during the two weeks prior to the raid, stopping in small towns, Stockstill said.

While the Intermodal Center museum is expected to become a permanent part of the train depot, Stockstill and his plethora of Picayune history was only freely available Friday night.