This item was written by Mr. W. R. Wallis, beloved Civil Engineer of Marks, Mississippi, whose establishment of landmarks in Quitman County is recognized by most citizens as being as nearly correct as possible. Mr. Wallis has written this story about his activities here in the county out of his own appreciation for Miss Janie Allen of Lambert High School upon her graduation.
“I believe I am supposed to tell something of the progress of Quitman County since I have known it. My first view of the county and of the village of Marks was in June, or maybe in early July, 1908. With one engineer assistant and four negroes, rowing two skiffs with our company equipment on a program of setting gages to record the stage of the river from extreme low water to the highest, we entered Cassidy Bayou and landed just east of the former bridge which at that time was near 100 yards east of the present site of the courthouse. We set up our camp in a bunch of small trees on the north bank of the Bayou. I later learned public gatherings and political speeches were usually held in that bunch of trees.
Marks was a small village indeed, at that time, but I am not writing a history of the towns of the County. I traveled on down the River setting gages at important points along the bank, as far South as Greenwood.
Later that fall I occupied an old store building in Marks as an office and warehouse and started a survey for drainage planning, covering all the Delta land east of Coldwater River to near the foot of the hills in Panola County. This gave me a chance to know the territory–I believe it would be nearly correct to say that not much over 10% of the land was in cultivation. There were practically no roads. All then existing were dirt roads, not a mile of gravel.
The way from Marks to Belen was along the bank of Cassidy Bayou one on either side, with much of both under very high water. South from Marks the road followed the many bends of Coldwater River. There was no road north, except meandering paths through the woods on both sides of the river. To get to Sledge or Birdie, we had to go to Jonestown and then East. The same condition held true for each locality.
I left Marks in the fall of 1909, but returned permanently January 1, 1914. By that time the Courthouse at Marks had been built, and the road to Belen had been located and graded.
Among my first jobs after returning were locating several needed roads, and straightening others. This was done by the Supervisors of the several beats. Bridges were built and in 1915 or 1916 a start was made graveling some of the roads. Much woodland was being cleared for cultivation, and I think it was in 1916 or 1917 the first Drainage Districts were designed and work of excavation started.
Three of these districts were supervised by the Morgan Engineering Company of Memphis, two by Mr. Mashburn of Clarksdale, while one, the Panola-Quitman District was designed and supervised by an engineering firm from Indiana. The remainder, six in number, by myself. The result of this drainage work permitted the clearing of much land and aided in the elimination of mosquitoes to a large extent. In the early 1940’s the National Government commenced encouraging the excavation of many small lateral drainage ditches, looked after by local engineers. In 19– the Government took over the supervision of this work under their general plan of soil conservation. Much land has been rendered valuable by its program, but there is much still to be done.
Closing this general account of such improvements, I will add that by now, more than 75 per cent of the roads over the county have been well graveled while two concrete surfaced highways have been built across the county under the State and Federal Road agencies. Developments in other lines will doubtless be covered by others.
Works Progress Administration for Mississippi, Source Material for Mississippi History, Quitman County, Vol. LX, Compiled by State-Wide Historical Research Project, Susie V. Powell, State Supervisor, Illustrated, 1936-1938, Addenda
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