MISSION & HISTORY.
The year is 1831 and it has been one year since the Treat of Dancing Rabbit Creek was signed and the Choctaw Indians agreed to vacate their territory in the state of Mississippi. The first settler in the area was Virginia native, Richard McLemore. His clever way of drawing more people to the area by giving out free land jumpstarted the growth of the town, but ultimately it was the linking of the railroads in 1855 that would secure Meridian’s place on the map. Established in 1860 at the intersection of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad and the Southern railway of Mississippi, the city relied heavily on the transport of goods by rail for support. From the very beginning the railway acted as the heart of this town. Not only was it the heart pumping to keep the town alive, it also acted as the veins. The tracks going in and out of the town were crucial for keeping the heart of the city pumping and taking culture and goods out into other areas and bringing critical economic growth back to Meridian.
Over the years, most of the preservation and passion for what Meridian was founded on has been lost or put on the back burner. There are a lot of amazing museums and historical sites to honor the entrepreneurs, musicians, and even historical restaurants in our town – but there is no true place that honors the industry and culture that we our town was founded on. In February of 1864, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s army destroyed Meridian’s railroads by burning it to the ground. Sherman is credited for saying, “Meridian no longer exists.” To which the town replied by rebuilding the railroad in a miraculous twenty-six working days and continued to grow into what we now refer to as the ‘Golden Age’. From 1890-1930, Meridian was the state’s largest city and leader in manufacturing.
Although Meridian is presently not the largest city in the state, it has a story that is worthy of your ear. Without the railroad, so much of the integrated culture that is known across the United States would have never been shared if it had not been for the railroad. Meridian Rails Historical Society aims to honor the past and the present of what truly is the heart of Meridian; the railroad. As a non-profit, we aim to open the doors to a true railroad museum and to tell the story of not only the locomotives and the industry, but also the hard working individuals who worked and continue to work on them. Our museum is planned to be a combination of interactive exhibits, wooden train sets that are kid friendly (to spark the imagination of young engineers and promote parallel play) and of course an area for a large model railroad that would will be interactive for kids (and adults) to be able to interact and observe as the engines move around the track.
In addition to opening the railroad museum right on the tracks, we hope to move and restore the 1917 Baldwin Steam locomotive currently sitting in Highland Park along with other engines along the way. This is a piece of history that is deserving of a proper static display with a functional whistle and although it's a big goal, we hope to restore the engine to operational. The Golden Era may be long gone, but the only way we are going to encourage and motivate others towards achieving that success once again is to remind them that it is possible.