Thursday, June 30, 2022

Oxford Makes Final Seven

In 1840, the Mississippi House and Senate agreed to begin the search for the location of Mississippi’s first university. Previous blogs have outlined the nominations, the votes and the final decision to locate the University at Oxford.

As early as 1835, Governor H.G. Runnells recommended “the appointment of commissioners from the four extremes of the State, and one from the centre, whose duty it shall be to select the spot for its location, having due regard to the healthfulness of the situation.” In 1840, when members agreed to narrow the list from 46 to 7, they approved a bill “electing three Commissioners to examine and report” on the seven sites agreed upon by ballots.

Decisions about locating any type of business or organization even in the 21st century involve certain decisions. Once such things as marketing reports have been made, buildings can be constructed fairly easily at any place in the state. A Chamber of Commerce or city officials would be able to guarantee such things as an adequate water supply. And depending on the likely number of jobs to result, the state legislature would perhaps supply extra incentives. What, though, were the biggest considerations in 1840 and 1841 in making a decision about establishing a university in a place that had been a state only since 1817?

After the representatives and senators narrowed the list down to seven, the commissioners examined each of the seven places with these factors in mind:

1. “Its geographical centrality, and its centrality of convenience.
2. “The quality of its soil, and that of the adjacent country.
3. “The quantity, quality, and convenience of timber, and of all other building materials.
4. “The quantity, quality and convenience of water.
5. “The climate.
6. “The health.
7. “The characteristic diseases of the adjacent counties, and in what months they prevail.
8. “The character of the population.
9. “The variety, quality, plentifulness, and price of provisions.
10. “The general topography of the site, and of the adjacent county…”

Briefly, here are some of the findings of the commissioners about the seven sites:

Brandon. The commissioners found Brandon to have “good roads for a new county” (with only land accessibility at the time but soon to have train transportation), sandy soil, an abundance of timber, earth suitable for making brick, a supply of limestone nearby, a good water supply, a suitable climate, good health, “hospitable, enterprising and intelligent” citizens, and an abundance of provisions. The university would have been located about a mile from town.

Kosciusko. The Commissioners who examined Kosciusko, “situated near the centre of the State,” found thin soil, sufficient timber, earth suitable for making brick (but lime would have to be imported), good springs and other water sources, a “pleasant and delightful” climate, “remarkably good” health, “hospitable, virtuous and intelligent” people, and “rolling and uneven” countryside. The university would be located “about one mile and a half from the town.”

Louisville. Louisville was found to be “a small, neat village, pleasantly situated on a gentle elevation, and containing a population of about 250 inhabitants.” It had mail coaches three times a week, good roads, “thin and sandy” (but generally productive) soil, timber of good quality, “good materials for making brick ” (with lime manufactured only thirty miles away), good water, a “mild and agreeable” climate, “almost invariably good” health, a “generally intelligent, moral and hospitable” population, and adequate provisions. The university would have been located “about one mile north of the village.”

Middleton. Middleton, between Carrollton and Winona, once a beautiful little village, was known, because of its cultural and educational advantages, as the ‘Athens of Mississippi.’” The Commissioners found that It was “accessible by good roads,” had light but productive soil, sufficient timber, and suitable clay for making brick (but lime would have to “be procured from abroad”), was “well watered,” had a “salubrious” climate, had a population of people who “are temperate, intelligent, and hospitable, and take great interest in the subject of education,” and had provisions “raised in abundance.” The university would have been located about a mile from Middleton. (Interestingly, many Middleton residents strongly opposed the establishment of a university out of concern that another college would infringe upon the two established schools already there–Judson Institute, later renamed the Middleton Female Academy, and Peoples Academy, later renamed Middleton Male Academy.)

Mississippi City. As shown earlier, Mississippi City received more votes than Oxford during the first six ballots when the towns were first nominated and voted upon. After the top seven places were selected and voted on, once again Mississippi City received more votes than Oxford did on the first five ballots, losing by a vote of 57 to 58 on the final ballot. Commissioners who had studied the seven sites reported easy accessibility by steam boats,“ sandy and unproductive” soil, an abundance of timber, good soil for brick making , lime capability from shells or from New Orleans, a warm climate, and an abundance of fish and beef. The site to be used for the university was about a mile from the city “and is to be given to the State on condition that the University be located on the same.”

Monroe Missionary Station. In 1821 a station, named after President James Monroe, was established in Pontotoc County to minister to the Chickasaw Native American Tribes. The 1841 examination of places nominated found Monroe Missionary Mission to have good roads (the place was “accessible only by land”), “rich and productive soil,” earth suitable for making brick (with limestone nearby), plenty of good timber, a good water source, a good climate and little sickness, adequate provisions, and “moral, intelligent, economical and industrious” citizens. The location of the university would have been on the Old Natchez Trace eleven miles from Pontotoc and fourteen miles from Houston.

Oxford. Oxford was surveyed and incorporated in 1837, becoming the county seat for Lafayette. Commerce thrived in Oxford, and the town grew considerably in the early years. An 1838 account of the town reveals its early character: “Located near the center [of the county]…It is only one year and a half since Oxford was laid out into lots, and yet it now numbers four hundred inhabitants. It is healthy, finely watered, and one of the most pleasant towns in all that region. Its public buildings are a courthouse, erected, by donation, and tax on the proprietors of the soil, at an expense of twenty-three thousand four hundred dollars –– a jail at the expense of three thousand nine hundred dollars, raised in the same manner –– both of brick. There are as yet no churches, but arrangements are made for the erection of two. Oxford has two hotels, six stores, and two seminaries of education.” Commissioners inspecting the site in 1841 commented on such factors as “the great stage road,” the “dark, sandy, and productive” soil, abundant timber, good brick made in the town (with sandstone in the area and lime “usually procured from the Mississippi River”), good water, a “healthful and pleasant” climate, healthy citizens who were “temperate, virtuous, and intelligent,” and adequate provisions. The site selected for the university, about a mile west of the town, was “well timbered with oak, black jack, and some pine” and embraced “a beautiful eminence for the buildings.”

As it turned out, at least partly for the reasons mentioned by the commissioners, it was not a bad choice!

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