Development Program, 1920-30
new management of the GM&N was acutely aware of the fact that its
timber tonnage would rapidly decline.
For this reason, as well as to be a good business citizen, the
road tried eagerly to assist in building more permanent sources of
of the GM&N’s territory in 1920 was not occupied by large groups
of people, nor did it seem to provide the bases for strong, permanent
economic activity. Population
in Mississippi actually showed a decline for 1920 from 1910, and the
timber which had been responsible for the opening up of South
Mississippi was fast being shipped out.
There were no visible signs of mineral wealth in Mississippi, nor
did the long-run prospects of cotton culture look promising.
The older farm lands of Mississippi had been opened for the
growth of cotton, and the state’s early prosperity had depended
entirely on that commodity. By 1920, however, the cotton economy of the South seemed to
be facing many difficulties. Overproduction
at home, growing competition abroad, and the boll weevil had all joined
to bring 30 years of decline to the profits of cotton growers.
“answer” which was not a workable solution to the problems of 1920
was reforestation. True,
the land was ideally suited to the growth of timber, but there were two
basic obstacles to this course. First,
in the early years after 1920 the growing of marketable pine timber was
assumed to take 50-100 years. Long
before these new trees would be ready for the logging crews, the people
in the territory would have moved away or starved to death.
Even the railroad would have salvaged its steel rails and closed
out its operations.
second big obstacle to the reforesting of large areas was the type of
tax law which Mississippi used in 1920.
Her basic levy was the ad valorem tax on real property, which by
its structure produced larger amounts of revenue as real property
increased in assessable value. Hence,
few people were willing to face 50 years of taxpaying at an
ever-increasing rate before reaping any benefit from the planting of
young pine forests.
Agriculture in Mississippi
only immediately apparent answer to development problems in 1920 was
diversified agriculture. The
territory seemed to have all the requisites for easy production of many
of the “small” crops of the country.
Because it seemed to be the only answer, and a relatively good
one, many community development groups turned eagerly to its promotion.
The GM&N joined forces with the state extension services, the
banks, utilities, and other institutions in advocating this innovative
agriculture, especially in Alabama and South Mississippi.
The road provided space along its right of way for vegetable and
fruit-packing sheds. In
some instances where a large production seemed imminent, the road itself
built the sheds as a public service.
The Company joined with the extension people in offering prizes
for poultry and egg production at the many county fairs held throughout
improve the sandy soil special low rates were set for the hauling of
manure from the stockyards at St. Louis.
Limestone was considered of so much value as a conditioner for
the crop lands along the GM&N that the road announced in 1922 that
it would refund its entire freight charges to any farmer who bought
limestone for the purpose of enriching his land.
road employed a full-time agricultural development expert who worked
with any community along the line willing to use his services. If a town or section decided it wanted to go into a specific
activity, such as syrup production, this agent of the road would procure
all available information about types of cane, methods of planting and
harvesting, as well as types of processing plant needed.
This was a valuable service, especially in the rural sections of
Mississippi, because few local citizens had access to such information.
partnership with a banking house in North Mississippi, the GM&N
sponsored a series of local showings of educational films on more
efficient rural life. Matters
of health and diet, as well as homemaking hints, were stressed along
with better farming practices. It
was so enthusiastically received that the road helped carry the program
throughout its territory.
of the land suitable for agricultural purposes in the North Mississippi
counties was already under some form of development. Hence, in these areas the land development program had to be
one of more intelligent or more intensive use of existing farm acreage.
In South Mississippi and parts of Mobile County, Alabama, there
were large areas of cut-over lands lying idle.
These acres were covered with fire-blackened stumps, some
blackjack oaks, and weeds or heavy grasses of low nutritive value.
In the main, this land was owned by lumber companies, though in
some instances it had reverted to state ownership through tax default.
1922 the GM&N took the lead in organizing a program to locate
farmers on much of this land. In
the early months of 1923 the Alabama-Mississippi Improvement Association
was formed, with headquarters at Laurel, Mississippi.
This was a co-operative effort on the part of landowners, banks,
and the GM&N to settle farmers on the cut-over lands between Mobile,
Alabama, and New Houlka, Mississippi, 300 miles to the north. J. G. Haman, of the GM&N, was named managing
director, and the road was to bear a heavy part of the expense of this
organization. The plan was
to allow a prospective purchaser five years’ use of the land without
payment while he established his “homestead.” If necessary to get a
farmer started, the GM&N was willing to lend him money enough to buy
five dairy cows and a pair of mules.
In addition, for the free use of these newcomers and others in
the community, the railroad promised to provide registered dairy bulls
to build up and improve local milk herds.
ambitious program for farm development was not very successful in
achieving its ends. It did
some good, but if the future of the road had depended entirely on new
settlers on farms in the cut-over areas, it is probable that the
GM&N would not have grown significantly.
Other programs sponsored by the Company also had a beneficial
effect on the basic agricultural practices of the area but did not
produce heavy tonnage for the road.
The other major development effort for the early
GM&N was at the port of Mobile.
The Company owned docks at Choctaw Point but facilities were not
adequate for all ships the GM&N hoped to serve.
For this reason, the GM&N, along with the Louisville and
Nashville, arranged to pay cost differentials for ships using
Turner-Hartwell Dock Company facilities.
The Company also spent a large amount of money on its own dock
facilities at Choctaw Point.
More important, however, was the effort by the GM&N and the
people of Mobile to induce the state of Alabama to build a system of
state-owned docks at Mobile. The
GM&N hired a highly qualified development engineer to work with the
people of Mobile and various Alabama legislative committees in studying
and planning this great project. Undoubtedly,
the resurgence of Mobile as a port dates from the decision by the state
to spend $10,000,000 on the modern facilities which began to serve the
needs of the city and harbor in 1928.
News of April 2,1926, carried a long story about an important
meeting of the Southern Industrial Conference of the American Mining
Congress. The GM&N was
represented in the sessions, and as a result of these meetings the road
employed a full time consulting geologist who was to make a careful
study of the mineral wealth in Mississippi adjacent to the railroad.
Some interesting if not valuable evidence was uncovered in the
course of these studies. T.T.Martin,
who assisted in the survey, later said: “They worked hard and
thoroughly, and turned up a great amount of information which was
scientifically interesting but commercially almost valueless.
We had iron ore, but in strata too thin.
We had lignite, but not in sufficient quantity.
We had limestone, too soft to use as building material or
aggregate. We had vast
quantities of bauxite but of the wrong composition.
We had commercially usable clays but not enough to balance the
loss of one saw mill.” In
spite of this fact the GM&N assisted in opening up some mineral
deposits along the line and in early 1928 conducted a tour of these
resources in conjunction with a meeting of the Southern Division of the
American Mining Congress.
Road continued its program of farm development throughout the period but
shifted emphasis in the later years to improvement of existing farms.
It developed its own farm experiment station in the cut-over
lands of South Mississippi to show what could be done with careful
management. S. A. Robert,
for years director of the West Tennessee Experiment Station at Jackson,
Tennessee, was borrowed for promotional work over a number of years, and
finally in August, 1929, The GM&N employed him to devote full time
to the GM&N program.
1930 the GM&N was hard at work trying by every available means to
counteract the creeping effects of the depression which grew out of the
financial and industrial East and North but was rapidly engulfing the
other sections of the country. It
cannot be said that the road had been spectacularly successful in its
development efforts, but certainly the people along the line of the road
knew that the GM&N was interested in their joint welfare.