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Oxford's Olden Days: Isom Place and Drug Store House

With the opening of Chickasaw Indian land in North Mississippi in the early 1830s, three men arranged to purchase land, which would later become the City of Oxford and Lafayette County. John D. Martin, John Chisom and John Craig were the three men that had an idea for a new settlement in North Mississippi.
isomhouseCraig had a nineteen-year-old nephew, Thomas D. Isom, who was working in the family trading post in the settlement of Hampshire in Maury County, Tennessee. He decided to send his nephew to the new settlement in Mississippi and have him open and run a trading post for the local Indians and white settlers. Craig built a log cabin on the site of what is now Local’s on North Lamar. Eventually most of the Isom and Craig family moved to Oxford. His nephew would come up with the name of Oxford for the new settlement in order to entice the state legislature to put the new planned State University in the town.
Around 1833 Samuel Carothers moved his family from Tennessee to the new settlement. He had been a Captain in the Army with Andrew Jackson and had fought at the Battle of New Orleans. He established a plantation on the Tallahatchie River. In May of 1843 he purchased a lot owned by Dr. Zebina Conkey in the town of Oxford. He would build his town home on the lot so his family could enjoy the comforts of town living.
After his death the home went through various hands and later became knownas Isom Place.
Isom had left Oxford to attend Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1836. When he returned to Oxford he needed a place for his medical office and he also needed a home. He lived in several homes around the new settlement and in 1848 he and his new wife from South Carolina purchased the home at 1003 Jefferson Avenue. He would use the home for both a residence for his growing family and for his medical practice. This is how the home came to be known as Isom Place and Drug Store House. The large Magnolia tree in the front yard was brought to Oxford by Isom’s wife, in a cigar box, and planted at their new home.
Isom became increasingly more involved in local and state politics during the period before the Civil War. He was an old line Whig, a party that faded out after 1855 to be replaced by the Republican Party. When a state convention was called in late 1860 to consider the question of secession, Isom was chosen along with Democrat L.Q.C. Lamar to represent Lafayette County. Isom continued to voice his long held pro-Union ideas but, knowing how the majority of the convention felt he was persuaded by Lamar to vote for secession When he returned to Oxford he threw himself into the war effort. He joined Featherstone’s regiment, the 17th Mississippi, and traveled to Virginia where he was the company surgeon. He returned to Oxford in 1862 and was nominated by Lamar to be chief surgeon of the hospital that had been established by the state on the campus of the University of Mississippi.
When Grant entered Oxford in December of 1862, Isom and his staff evacuated with the Confederate soldiers southward, to avoid capture. This left his wife at Isom Place alone. As the Yankees entered Oxford the soldiers fanned out through the streets of Oxford and ransacked the private homes. Some of the Yankees came to Isom Place and accosted Sarah Isom and searched her home. Later, when Grant had established is headquarters just down the block at William Turner’s home, Cedar Oaks, she walked to the headquarters to confront the General. After telling Grant about his soldier’s depredations, she requested a guard for her home. Grant complied with her request and she returned home with two young officers who were to prevent their comrades from causing any harm to her or her home.
For the remainder of the war Isom was the medical officer in Jackson and Columbus. He returned to his home at the war’s end and resumed his medical practice. In an advertisement in the November 28, 1865 issue of the OXFORD FALCON, he stated that he had reopened his practice and, since most people in Oxford were destitute, he would “accept corn, fodder, pork, or almost anything at market price for debts past and present”. In 1890 he was one of the framers of the State of Mississippi Constitution. He would die in 1902 and all the businesses and schools would close, on the day of his funeral, in his memory and honor.
One interesting sidelight to Dr. Thomas D. Isom’s life is his daughter, Sarah McGehee Isom. She was the first woman faculty member of a major university in the South. She was chosen to teach elocution at Ole Miss in 1885 and became an outstanding professor. For relaxation she would take her maid and drive out to the country where she could meditate and smoke cigars in private.
Mayfield 34Jack Lamar Mayfield is a fifth generation Oxonian, whose family came to Oxford shortly after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832, and he is the third generation of his family to graduate from the University of Mississippi. He is a former insurance company executive and history instructor at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs, South Panola High School in Batesvile and the Oxford campus of Northwest Community College.
In addition to his weekly blog in HottyToddy.com Oxford’s Olden Days, Mayfield is also the author of an Images of America series book titled Oxford and Ole Miss published in 2008 for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for restoring the post-Civil War home of famed Mississippi statesman, L.Q.C. Lamar and is now restoring the Burns Belfry, the first African American Church in Oxford.

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