Independence County's Magness works to preserve railroad history

Three Rivers
By Michelle Wallace
    Sunday July 31, 2005
    The railroad has been a major part of life in Magness since its beginning, and townsfolk are now working to preserve this important piece of history.
    Located in east central Independence County, the small community came to life when the rails came through in the late 1800s.
    "The town was established in the 1800s when the railroad came through," Mayor John Hall said. This was around 1883.
   Those living in the area wanted the community that sprang up around the tracks to be called Magness in honor of Col. Morgan Magness, a prominent landowner, and his son William, who helped secure the right away for the railroad. The community was incorporated as the town of Magness in 1906 after being denied once for the request.
   "They celebrated by shooting anvils; "Hall said, as he flipped through a book chronicling the history of the area.
   By then Magness bustled with life. There were businesses, a school and, of course, a depot.
   "Magness used to be a lively town," Hall said, adding that the town of 191 was populated with upwards of 300 people in earlier years.
   A couple of the first businesses in town were Aldridge and Company, a general store at the turn of the century that became Ladd and Lewis in 1904. Other merchants in the first several decades of the 20th century were W.H. Gennis, Aldridge and Tomlinson, J.L. Brogdon, Snapp and Smith, Hilbert Jones, R.C.. Door Merchantile Company, B.A. Smith Merchantile, A.F. Miller and Company, Thomas Jones Dry Goods, Nora Freeze, who built a new building and went into the ladies' wear business in 1937; John Young General Store, Gardner Brothers Merchantile, Jim Troy, Duggar Merchantile, Yates Grocery, Fate Campbell and J.L. Carlton.
   "I remember this one," Hall said upon finding the name of the Carlton store in his history reference. The general store carried fish and tackle, clothing and gasoline.
   The Jones and Campbell stores were home to the town's post office, established around the turn of the century. Tom Waldrip was the first postmaster, and then the post office was located in Jones' store. until 1921. Jones served until his retirement in 1943, and then Campbell was appointed postmaster and the office was moved to his store. Campbell's business burned down in 1954 and the post office came under the leadership of M.C. Todd, who served until his death in 1973.
   Todd's post office was comprised of two buildings right on the railroad tracks. The Todd family lived in one part and the post office was in the other building. These structures now stand as one building that is currently a dwelling.
   Hall remembers Todd retrieving the mail from a hook near the tracks.
   "Not too long ago the pole was still there where they hooked the mail. Murmin Todd would go out there and get it."
   Hall kept the post office in town in later years when the building next to his house deteriorated and there was talk of leaving town. He and his wife purchased the land and leased it back to the postal service, which put a small modular building on the property. "So far we've still got a post office," Hall said, relieved his efforts worked.
   School was in session in Magness for around 100 years. A one-room school was among the slave quarters on Col. Magness' property on Big Creek, Hall said. The Magness School District was formed in 1875, with a new building constructed in 1905 for the 100 students. In 1949, Magness schools consolidated with Newark with the upper grades immediately attending classes in the nearby community and the elementary grades staying in Magness until 1954. The school district is now the newly-formed Center Ridge system.
   After the days of school in Magness were over, the building was a skating ring, a storage facility, and lastly was a youth shelter when the wood structure covered with fieldstone burned about 10 years ago.
  The old Yates Grocery store, a block building, is now the community center and city hall in Magness. In addition to town meetings, reunions and other gatherings are held there.
   The old railroad depot is still standing too, and once held city offices. Still in possession of the city, the depot may become a museum someday, or at least a monument of Magness' early days.
   "We would like to have it redone as a historical marker," Hall said.
   That's just one of the many big plans Hall has for his . hometown. He's seeking businesses to add to the few merchants in town, and is working on getting a sewer system installed.