See Rock City

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Byhalia, MS

A Brief History of Byhalia

Adapted from “A History of Byhalia” by D. Barton Williams (1987)

The history of Byhalia, Mississippi must begin with the land. Historically fertile, the land has rolling hills and abundant water sources. The first inhabitants of this region, the Chickasaw Indians, established their largest settlement in the Pontotoc Ridge area. Smaller villages scattered over North Mississippi with one small village founded at the current location of Byhalia cemetery.

The town of Byhalia was founded in 1838 when C.W. Rains and Wash Poe purchased Sections 35 and 36 of Township 2, Range 5 West and sold the property to the Chickasaw Land Company. This land was located at the intersection of Pigeon Roost Road (now Church Street) and the Collierville-Chulahoma Road (now Highway 309). Pigeon Roost Road was originally the Chickasaw Trail, the route followed by Hernando Desoto in 1541. Pigeon Roost Road had been improved in 1835 to accommodate the removal of the Chickasaw Nation to Oklahoma.

Byhalia was named for a creek spelled Bihalee. The Chickasaw word was Dai-yi-il-ah meaning “White Oak.” The U.S. Postal Service accepted the name Byhalia in 1846.

Marshall County, Mississippi, named for Chief Justice John Marshall, was established February 9, 1836, with a land surface of 707 square miles. Byhalia was an ideal location for an early settlement, lying near the crossroad site where the Pigeon Roost Road ran from Memphis to Oxford and Pontotoc. The land in Georgia, Virginia, and North and South Carolina was depleted from continuous cotton planting and lack of crop rotation, making the newly opened territory in North Mississippi an optimal opportunity. Many early pioneers brought families and friends to the new frontier. Tombstones in the Byhalia Cemetery and surrounding area tell of many founding families.

The town of Byhalia grew slowly due to the proximity of Holly Springs and lack of a railroad. However in 1885, completion of the railroad from Memphis joined the existing railroad at Holly Springs and spurred new growth. Most existing downtown buildings date from the period 1884 to 1920. Time, fire and the Civil War destroyed many of the early homes in Byhalia. A major fire around 1970 destroyed much of the northern section of downtown near Highway 178. New buildings have been built in that area since the fire.

Entering the 1850’s, Byhalia seemed well on the way to becoming a key trade center in North Mississippi. Even though Byhalia was small and lacked the advantage of being the county seat, growth potential appeared unlimited. Stagecoach service from Memphis to Oxford came through Byhalia in the late 1840s. Mail, light freight, and passengers traveled to and through Byhalia with this fast and reasonably comfortable means of transportation. Schools were established. As more settlers arrived, local commerce flourished.

However, two major events occurred within a four-year span that minimized Byhalia’s progress for some thirty years. First, Holly Springs obtained a railroad in 1852 making the stage line obsolete. Since Byhalia was only a stop on the stage route, and the stage line could not effectively compete against the railroad from Memphis to Holly Springs or Oxford, service was suspended in 1856.

Second and most devastating to Byhalia’s growth was the outbreak of the Civil War. In the early stages, young men from the North and South alike rushed to join. Byhalia’s men were no exception with more than 250 from this immediate area serving in the Confederate Army. After the war, the period from 1865 to 1874 proved frustrating and traumatic for both white and black Mississippians. The harsh Reconstruction period left scars that would not heal for the next one hundred years.

A national depression hit in 1873 which lasted for several years. A severe freeze in the winter of 1873 blocked traffic on the Mississippi River. Having survived the war and the Reconstruction, Byhalians coped with these two additional hardships.

In the early 1870’s, yellow fever occurred several times in the area. Even in 1873, 25,000 people fled Memphis but an early autumn kept the dread disease from becoming a major epidemic. The first yellow fever death in Holly Springs occurred on August 25, 1878 from a resident who left Grenada, already infected. Three hundred and four people died of yellow fever in Holly Springs; many stories were told of personal sacrifice and bravery. However, Byhalia appears to have escaped the wrath of the fever, as few tombstones in the immediate area reflect deaths in the summer of 1878

The early doctors practicing in Byhalia deserve credit for promoting a healthy environment in the town. They handled major tragedies including the yellow fever outbreak as well as a major train wreck in Victoria, MS in 1925. Listed in the Secretary of State’s Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1968-1972) are the names of the medical facilities located in the state. Included is the Leonard Wright Sanatorium in Byhalia. Dr. Wright established the sanatorium around 1949 in the former home of T.D. Burrow. Some local concern surfaced over having a facility in Byhalia that cared for patients with drug or alcohol addiction and minor nervous disorders. However, financially well-to-do patients from Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi frequented the successful sanatorium. The most famous patient was William Faulkner, noted Mississippi author from Oxford.

While the Civil War ended the traditional way of life for large planters, the vast majority of Mississippians never lived the grand lifestyle of wealthy plantation owners depicted in books or movies. For the most part, local residents were simple living, hard working people who respected their neighbors and held realistic expectations from life. Byhalia gradually recovered from the effects of the Civil War and Reconstruction; by the mid-1880s prosperity was once again evident. The most important economic factor was the railroad coming through Byhalia. Irish laborers and convicts built the railroad.

When the depot was completed, Byhalia was indeed on the map. In 1880, the population of Byhalia grew from 346 to 474. No doubt establishing the railroad expanded commerce. The security of weekly wages attracted some workers from the surrounding farms.

Byhalia continued as an area trade center for many years. In 1887, W.C. McCrary established W.C. McCrary and Company. In 1903 this mercantile business incorporated with John Talbot Myers becoming Vice President. At one time this store sold everything from cradles to caskets. In the early 1900s, McCrary’s provided funeral services including a horse drawn hearse. Soon after Henry Ford began mass-producing the automobile, one of the first Ford dealerships in Mississippi was offered to the W.C. McCrary Company but was courteously declined, unconvinced there would be a market here for automobiles. A chapter of Byhalia’s history ended when the W.C. McCrary Company closed in 1970.

Each church in Byhalia has its own history. The most prominent church membership in Mississippi prior to the Civil War was the Methodist, with the Baptist a close second. The Farmington Methodist Church was the first known church in Byhalia established on the site of the present cemetery around 1845. The Byhalia Baptist Church was organized in 1865. The Presbyterians built their church about three miles northwest of Byhalia around 1853 but in 1872-73 decided to tear down the church board by board and relocate in the town of Byhalia. The carefully reconstructed building was bricked in 1948.

In March 1925, electricity came to Byhalia. M.A. Pool bought the electrical franchise and modernized the power distribution system. Byhalia entered the Twentieth Century in a cautious and conservative manner. However, the rapid national changes in education, farming, and business dictated adjustments throughout the country.

In 1992, a large portion of Byhalia was proclaimed a National Historic District. Historic preservation and rich history are some of Byhalia’s most marketable assets with buildings, houses, and churches dating from 1860 to 1920. Though economical by today’s standards, building a house in the late 1890s to 1920s was not a simple matter. In 1890, only about 1/3 of Americans owned their homes. Usually homes were inherited from parents and were shared by more than one generation.

This “History of Byhalia” is presented in memory of the early settlers of the town to preserve the heritage provided for today’s residents. The full publication, “A History of Byhalia” by D. Barton Williams (1987), is available for purchase at the Byhalia Chamber of Commerce.

Byhalia is a town in Marshall County, Mississippi, United States. The population was 706 as of the 2000 census.


The novelist and Nobel laureate William Faulkner died of a heart attack at Wright's Sanitorium in Byhalia in 1962 at the age of 64.

William Faulkner (born William Cuthbert Falkner), (September 25, 1897–July 6, 1962) was an American author. One of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, he was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. His reputation is based on his novels, novellas, and short stories. However, he was also a published poet and an occasional screenwriter.

Most of Faulkner's works are set in his native state of Mississippi, and he is considered one of the most important "Southern writers," along with Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, and Tennessee Williams. While his work was published regularly starting in the mid 1920s, he was relatively unknown before receiving the Nobel Prize. He is now deemed among the greatest American writers of all time.

Faulkner was born William Cuthbert Falkner in New Albany, Mississippi. He was raised in and heavily influenced by the state of Mississippi, as well as by the history and culture of the South as a whole. When he was four years old, his entire family moved to the nearby town of Oxford, where he lived on and off for the rest of his life. Oxford is the model for the town of "Jefferson" in his fiction, and Lafayette County, Mississippi, which contains the town of Oxford, is the model for his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. Faulkner's great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner, was an important figure in northern Mississippi who served as a colonel in the Confederate Army, founded a railroad, and gave his name to the town of Falkner in nearby Tippah County. He also wrote several novels and other works, establishing a literary tradition in the family. Colonel Falkner served as the model for Colonel John Sartoris in his great-grandson's writing.

The older Falkner was greatly influenced by the history of his family and the region in which they lived. Mississippi marked his sense of humor, his sense of the tragic position of blacks and whites, his characterization of Southern characters and timeless themes, including fiercely intelligent people dwelling behind the façades of good old boys and simpletons. Unable to join the United States Army because of his height, (he was 5' 5½"), Faulkner first joined the Canadian and then the British Royal Air Force, yet did not see any World War I wartime action.

The definitive reason for Faulkner's change in the spelling of his last name is still unknown. Faulkner himself may have made the change in 1918 upon joining the Air Force or, according to one story, a careless typesetter simply made an error. When the misprint appeared on the title page of Faulkner's first book and the author was asked about it, he supposedly replied, "Either way suits me."

Although Faulkner is heavily identified with Mississippi, he was living in New Orleans in 1925 when he wrote his first novel, Soldiers' Pay, after being influenced by Sherwood Anderson to try fiction. The small house at 624 Pirate's Alley, just around the corner from St. Louis Cathedral, is now the premises of Faulkner House Books, and also serves as the headquarters of the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society.

Faulkner served as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia from 1957 until his death at Wright's Sanitorium in Byhalia, Mississippi of a heart attack at the age of 64.

William Faulkner's Underwood Universal Portable typewriter in his office at Rowan Oak, which is now maintained by the University of Mississippi in Oxford as a museum.

In the early 1940s, Howard Hawks invited Faulkner to come to Hollywood to become a screenwriter for the films Hawks was directing. Faulkner happily accepted because he badly needed the money, and Hollywood paid well. Thus Faulkner contributed to the scripts for the films Hawks made from Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not. Faulkner became good friends with director Howard Hawks, the screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides, and the actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.

An apocryphal story regarding Faulkner during his Hollywood years found him with a case of writer's block at the studio. He told Hawks he was having a hard time concentrating and would like to write at home. Hawks was agreeable, and Faulkner left. Several days passed, with no word from the writer. Hawks telephoned Faulkner's hotel and found that Faulkner had checked out several days earlier. It seems Faulkner had spoken quite literally, and had returned home to Mississippi to finish the screenplay.

Faulkner's Hollywood experience is fictionalized in the Joel and Ethan Coen 1991 film Barton Fink, whose supporting character, W.P. Mayhew, is intended as a composite of Faulkner and his Lost Generation peer, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Faulkner married Estelle Oldham in June 1929 at College Hill Presbyterian Church just outside of Oxford, Mississippi. They honeymooned on the Mississippi Gulf Coast at Pascagoula, then returned to Oxford, first living with relatives while they searched for a home of their own to purchase. In 1930 Faulkner purchased the antebellum home Rowan Oak, known at that time as "The Bailey Place." He and his family lived there until his daughter Jill, after her mother's death, sold the property to the University of Mississippi in 1972. The house and furnishings are maintained much as they were in Faulkner's day. Faulkner's scribblings are still preserved on the wall there, including the day-by-day outline covering an entire week that he wrote out on the walls of his small study to help him keep track of the plot twists in the novel A Fable.

Faulkner accomplished what he did despite a lifelong serious drinking problem. As he stated on several occasions, and as was witnessed by members of his family, the press, and friends at various periods over the course of his career, he did not drink while writing, nor did he believe that alcohol helped to fuel the creative process. It is now widely believed that Faulkner used alcohol as an "escape valve" from the day-to-day pressures of his regular life, including his financial straits, rather than the more romantic vision of a brilliant writer who needed alcohol to pursue his craft[citation needed].

Faulkner is known to have had two extramarital affairs. One was with Howard Hawks's secretary and script-girl, Meta Carpenter. The other, lasting from 1949 to 1953, was with a young writer, Joan Williams, who considered him her mentor. She made her relationship with Faulkner the subject of her 1971 novel The Wintering.

Faulkner also had a romance with Jean Stein, an editor, author, and daughter of movie mogul Jules Stein.