Last year, the Oxford Lafayette County Heritage Foundation dedicated a Historical Marker on the site of the renovated Oxford-University Depot. The marker was donated by Betty Mullen White and her family in honor of her father-in-law who was a worker on the mail trail that stopped in Oxford. In next week’s column I shall report on the White Family, but this week I want to give you some history behind the old Oxford Depot.
If you will remember from previous columns I have touched on some of the history of the Mississippi Central Railroad and its long service to Oxford and the University. The railroad came to Oxford in 1857 when tracks were completed to run from Grand Junction, Tennessee to Grenada through Oxford. At first the railroad was to go through College Hill and not Oxford. Col. J. B. Brown, who was an Oxford resident and part owner in the railroad, wanted people to be able to look out the window and see the University of Mississippi of which he was a Trustee. The track route was changed to come between the City of Oxford and the University.
There was one problem with this change and that was the steep grade that would be to the south of the depot. This problem was averted when the railroad, with the assistance of slaves from local townsmen, dug the Hilgard Cut. This cut would become the deepest cut on the Illinois Central Railroad from Chicago to New Orleans. The railroad would now pass the University but because of the cutting of the grade you could no longer see the Lyceum and Brown’s university campus.
The first Depot building was constructed around the time the railroad came to Oxford in 1857. This building was burned by the Yankees in their visit to Oxford in August of 1864. After the war the Mississippi Central built a new depot building. Due to the fact that in 1866 the City of Oxford was also rebuilding, and there was a shortage of bricks, the building was constructed from wood. In 1872 this building would be replaced with the current renovated Oxford-University Depot.
In the March 1, 1872, issue of the “Oxford Falcon” it was reported that the publishers were, “gratified to notice that the Lessees of the Central Railroad are putting up a large and magnificent depot house in this place. The framework is already up and the building covered. In the course of the present month the structure will be finished. The building is larger than the former one and will be amply sufficient meet the wants of this growing flourishing town.”
In 2003 the new/old Oxford-University Depot was restored to its former architectural beauty. Susan Ditto, in her book on the history of the Depot, written for the dedication of the renovated building, wrote about the architectural structure of the 1872 building, “The 1872 depot was a handsome red brick structure in the trendy Italianate style. It was 2,200 square foot rectangle, one story tall with a single pitch. Side gabled roof. Like most depots, it had a wide wooden platform along the length of one side where cargo and passengers alike could board and disembark, protected from the elements by the building’s deep overhanging eaves. This canopy was supported by elegantly curved Italianate scissor brackets. The subtly arched windows on the building’s north and south ends and arched brick reveals over the double loading bay doors further contributed to the depot’s stylishness.”
“Italianate architecture, also known as “bracket style,” was at the height of its popularity in 1872. Part of the general fascination with historic European architecture that characterized American buildings during the Victorian era, the bracket style sought to emulate the rural elegance and old world craftsmanship of Italian country villas. Thanks to advances in lumber milling technology, the cost of aesthetic luxuries like scrolled brackets and arched windows was substantially lower that it had been for the owners of actual Italian villas, whose ornamentation had to be carved by hand.”
One of the first endeavors of the Oxford Lafayette County Heritage Foundation was to assist in the renovation of this depot building. This was in 1996 when the Foundation was formed by local Oxonains who wanted to preserve their heritage. The dedication of the historical marker for the Oxford-University Depot will mark the 10th anniversary of the Foundation. The dedication is also a celebration of this anniversary. All past members and board members, along with any interested citizen are invited to attend this anniversary celebration and the marker dedication on Sunday afternoon at 4 PM. Come out and view a little of Oxford’s past. Walk in the steps of L.Q.C. Lamar, Jacob Thompson, W.C. Handy and many others that have passed through the Oxford-University Depot.
Jack 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.