Picayune’s train museum set to open

Published 1:48 am Friday, November 27, 2009

Numerous forms of transportation are the reason there is a town in Mississippi named after a Spanish coin, and a soon to open museum at Picayune’s Train Depot will pay tribute to one of those major forms of transportation still used today — railroads. The museum officially opens at 6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 4.

Museum Production Coordinator Gary Herring and several of his fellow volunteers have been hard at work on the museum for the past year, ever since the depot opened in October of 2008. This is the second such museum he has worked on, the first is in McComb. The museum is made up of donated items that he and his fellow volunteers have been using to build a formal showing.

“I’m kind of like the chef, everybody has the ingredients and I put them together,” Herring said.

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The theme of the display tentatively will be “Why is the Town Here?”. One of the reasons people have settled here or maybe used it as a temporary way station, was due to the proximity of waterways. Waterways are history’s highways. Herring said about 300 years ago pirates used to hide in the tributaries in and around Pearl River County after a big raid. American Indians also settled here before Europeans came to make a home.

Railways came later and then the government bought up land in the adjacent county of Hancock to build Stennis Space Center.

“It’s really about how people got around and how they lived,” Herring said about the museum.

In the days of rail, there were many ways to get around in this county, though mainly to cut and transport timber. In the time frame from the 1880’s to the 1930s, there were about 31 timber rail operations. Current county roads are built upon a number of those old rail paths.

The rail system also prompted a method of timekeeping now used worldwide, time zones. Herring said to avoid train accidents and conflicts of schedule, the rail system proposed to the nation’s government that a standardized method of time keeping be established.

Herring said in the heyday of the timber industry in Pearl River County there were pine trees that would take about six men to form a circle around, with their arms stretched out. Hard pine, found in the heart of a large pine tree, is highly sought after. Trees of that size take 400 to 500 years to grow, Herring said.

The waterways, such as the Pearl River, were home to a major form of transportation. River boats, which like the rail system were powered by steam and used the Pearl as today’s cars use Interstate 59. In those days, Walkiah Bluff was a river boat landing and the government hired snag crews to keep the Pearl River clean and clear so river boats could safely navigate it.

The museum was the idea of the Pearl River Valley Railroad Association and has been in the works for about 20 years, Herring said. On Dec. 4 at 6 p.m. the museum will be unveiled to the public for the first time.

In a tour of the museum, a person could learn about the role of the Shay. Picayune has one on display next to the Greater Picayune Area Chamber of Commerce. A number of items are currently in the museum that are not seen in everyday life any more, like an old manual drill press, lanterns used for communication on the rail systems, the last steam whistle of Pearl River County and a collection of old ticket stubs, the most expensive of which was a train ticket to Birmingham, Ala. for $8.30.

Picayune Main Street’s Manager Reba Beebe also had some items to donate, some old horseshoes that her children had dug up in the county.

“Before we had four wheelers, we had four hoofers,” Herring said.

Even though rails are still used today, there are other aspects of the city that were directly influenced by the old railways. Two streets in Picayune are actually named after old railway officials, D.D. Curran and J.C. Haugh, Herring said. There is a sign that used to be attached to a bridge with both names on it in the museum. Other items on display include hand made tools, signs from the era, an old mail bag, oil and battery powered lanterns and numerous photographs displaying the history of Picayune, all donated by local residents.

“Without these ingredients we couldn’t have cooked this cake,” Herring said.